Wednesday, 3 December 2014

What I Read in November 2014

November was a really busy month, and unfortunately that meant not a lot of reading was done. I've been doing a leadership development course, catching up with friends, having guests over to stay, and watching a lot of movies. I've also been feeling a little under the weather and I can tell my body is looking forward to Christmas and a nice rest!

Here's what I've been reading this past month:

The Dogs of Littlefield - Suzanne Berne (Paperback) 7/10

I'd had this on my wishlist for ages after it was on the longlist for the Bailey's Prize and then picked up a copy during a mega spree in Foyles recently.

It's about the residents of Littlefield, Massachusetts, voted one of the top places to live in America. Following the deaths of several dogs who have visited the local park, the locals begin to suspect each other, bringing many of their fears and anxieties to the surface of their everyday lives. Of course, it doesn't help that a sociologist has moved to town to uncover the secrets to a good quality of life.

At 288 pages, it's quite a short book so good if you are looking for a something you can read over a couple of days but although I enjoyed reading it, I did find it largely forgettable.

The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern (Paperback) 9/10

The Night Circus appears without warning. It opens at dusk and closes at dawn. 

Without ever having been made aware of the others existence, Celia and Marco are bound to each other as children and set forth in a game which neither knows how to win, each unaware of their opponent. Their connections to the Night Circus differ greatly; Celia travels with it, Marco admires from afar, and they share their worlds with a host of strange and mysterious characters.

This is such a rich, magical book that I long to be able to visit the world the Night Circus inhibits, and I've been shoving my copy into the hands of anyone who'll listen ever since. It's one book I would absolutely LOVE to see made into a film soon!

Love, Nina: Despatches from Family Life - Nina Stibbe (Paperback) 8/10 

After loving The Man At The Helm back in October I was desperate to read Nina's first book and it did not disappoint.

This is a collection of letters Nina lovingly wrote to her sister when she moved to London in the seventies to work as a nanny for a family. The letters are one way, we don't see her sister's response, but it's a real pleasure to see how Nina grows during the time she spends there.

She shares tales of the kids she looks after, and their bonkers Mum, as well as of the neighbours and the revolving cast of friends who visit the house. I particularly loved the way Nina talked to her sister about her friend Nunney. 

Nina is also brilliant on Twitter

Sunday, 2 November 2014

What I Read in October

October is the dawn of my favourite phase of reading, the nice cold winter months where I get to spend more of my evenings curled up with a book and a glass of wine and a candle or three. Except this year October has been incredibly mild, we took a mini-break to Barcelona, and just two days ago I was out in a thin summer dress and bare legs even late into the evening. As a result, my reading hasn't quite slipped into full 'Autumn' mode just yet but I'm curating a nice little pile to get through in the coming months.

I did do quite a bit of book buying this month, what with it being Super Thursday, and I also had a trip to Foyle's with my favourite bookish friend Nicola when she visited last weekend. You can take a look at her YouTube channel to find out about all the books she likes.

But let's move on to what I liked last month!

Straight White Male - John Niven (Papeback) 9/10

Kennedy Marr is an absolute wanker.

Working as a script-writer in L.A., all Kennedy really cares about is drinking hard and shagging every woman he sees, and it's not getting him very far. He owes the taxman a tonne of money, and has a strained relationship with his ex-wife and daughter, and his family back home in Ireland.

Unexpectedly, Kennedy is awarded a prestigious literary prize that comes with a hefty cheque, and the unfortunate requirement to spend a year teaching in a English university, the very one where his ex-wife works. He accepts.

If you knew him in real life you'd think he was such a shit and you'd never want to see him again, but here Niven has created a character who is such a hopeless mess that you can't help but love him a little bit. I enjoyed Straight White Male so much that I've been telling everyone about it since and I suspect Kennedy will be one of the most memorable characters I've spent time with in 2014.

Before I Go To Sleep - SJ Watson (Hardback) 7/10

I've had this book for ages and was determined to read it before I saw the recent film adaptation.

Years ago, Christine had an accident that meant she loses her memory every time she goes to sleep. Each morning she wakes to find a man in her bed, and has to piece together the discovery that this man is her husband, and his name is Ben.

Amongst her belongings Christine finds a notebook that Ben doesn't seem to know about, and where she's been recording notes about her day. A lot of these contradict each other and Christine finds herself trapped in an endless cycle of memory loss, unsure who around her she can really trust.

If you're a fan of an unreliable narrator, like I am, then this is the book for you!

Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She's Learned - Lena Dunham (Hardback) 7/10

One of the most hotly anticipated books of the year amongst my fellow twenty-something book/TV fans, Dunham's debut does not disappoint. And yet, somehow it didn't quite grip me in the way I'd hoped but I think this could be down to hype, and the number of interviews with Lena I've already read.

Dunham has a spectacular way of recounting the tales of her youth in a way that had me often putting the book down to spend some time working through my own stirred up memories. She's not afraid to tell the world about all the things that made her a weird child, and a confused adult, and I found comfort in that.

What was especially fun to discover, was just how many of the storylines in Girls are based on Dunham's own experiences such as coping with OCD, working in a high-end children's clothing boutique, and  a horrible thing involving a cotton-bud, but I sometimes felt that because I'd seen this on screen, it didn't have the same impact when written down.

Dunham is understandably an inspiration to a generation of women and it's refreshing to read that she's not perfect, and is still figuring her shit out too. If you're going to buy this book, get the hardback, because I have a feeling you'll want to pass it around to all your friends, just like I have.

Spoiled Brats - Simon Rich (Paperback) 8/10

Simon Rich is the author of two of my favourite books from last year, YA novel Elliot Allagash and short story collection The Last Girlfriend on Earth, so I was pretty excited to read this.

Spoiled Brats is another short story collection where Rich explores the relationships between children and parents, and issues a satirical takedown of everything that is wrong with the hip young people of today.

There's a story about a classroom hamster who has to protect his family from the monsters who are supposed to care for them, and another about a man who was pickled in brine 100 years ago and has returned to Brooklyn with fresh eyes to meet his only living descendent.

It's a rare book that has me laughing out loud on public transport but Rich never fails to deliver on that front. While I did absolutely love this book, I was a little disappointed that some of the stories were taken from his regular work in The New Yorker, and so big fans will likely already have read some of this.

Everything Is Perfect When You're a Liar - Kelly Oxford (Kindle) 8/10

I've been reading this book on and off over the course of 2014, not because it wasn't interesting, but because I find Oxford's essays perfect for those moments when I fancy a short funny read. 

Kelly rose to fame after being hilarious on Twitter landed her various TV writing gigs but her biting wit really comes to life here in these essays. This is her first book (I hope there'll be others!) and she shares stories about growing up awkward, becoming a parent, learning to work in a care home as a backup plan, and generally just stumbling through life without going insane.

My favourites are the chapters about her running off to L.A. to try and meet Leo DiCaprio, and taking her whole family to Disneyland, a place her husband hates with a passion.

Kelly is still brilliant on Twitter, so if you don't buy this, you should at the very least follow her there.

Hons and Rebels - Jessica Mitford (Paperback) 8/10

It's quite rare that I re-read books but I enjoyed giving this another go for book club this month. Hons and Rebels is second youngest sister Jessica's memoirs of her childhood growing up in one of Britain's most famous families.

Decca, as she was affectionately known, is my favourite Mitford and the feistiest of the lot. I loved her sense of adventure, particularly in saving up her Running Away Fund and joining a group who called themselves Bright Young Things and threw an array of wild parties to which they had to bring increasingly bizarre items including a lampost, a policeman, and a duck from St James' Park.

I also found it fascinating to read her impressions of sister Unity, who went off to Germany and befriended Hitler, quite at odds with Decca's communist beliefs. There is a stark moment where she imagines what would happen if they had to execute one another which made me want to hug my own sisters forever.

Hons and Rebels is a great look at the lives of aristocracy in the earlier part of the 20th century. If you're a Downton Abbey fan, I'd suggest this is a must read as a lot of it reminds me of The Mitford family.

I've been a fan of Jessica's since reading her book The American Way of Death several years ago and if you don't know the sisters well, Hons and Rebels is a fantastic place to start, as is The Mitford Girls. Be warned, with other Mitford's writing books too, it's not uncommon to read something by one of them and want to devour everything else they've ever written.

What have you been reading this month? Have you got a recommendation for a perfect wintery read that I should add to my list? Let me know in the comments or come chat with me on Twitter.

Monday, 27 October 2014

What I Read In September

Well that was QUITE a September I had there. I moved house early in the month so spent most of it packing, moving boxes around, unpacking, and going to bed early. The great thing about my new place is that I now get to commute (said no one, ever!) and this means a solid hour of sitting on a train, reading a book, every single day. HEAVEN! Also, my new home is at the end of a line so I get a lovely wee seat every morning. This reader couldn't be happier!

October on the other had has been madly busy, hence the delay in this post, but you'll get to hear all about that in a few days time.

Inadvertently, I read two almost identical books back to back in September. Liane Moriarty's Little Lies (audiobook) and Mark Lawson's The Deaths (Kindle) are both about a murder, you know this from the start, but you don't know who has died, or how. Both feature an array of characters, most unlikable and irritating. Both are about secrets, lies, wealth, and parenting. And deaths. On paper, they're the same thing, but in reality they're pretty different and were equally enjoyable.

Little Lies - Liane Moriarty (Audiobook) 8/10

Six months after Jane moves to a small coastal town in Australia, there's a death at the school trivia night. The story begins the week of her arrival, is told from the perspective of Jane and a cast of school mums including Madeline (bonkers) and Celeste (beautiful) and Renata (a snob), their partners, their kids and their teachers.

A misunderstanding between the five year olds on the first day of school sparks a playground war between the parents that has the parents bitching and back-stabbing until the fateful trivia night that leaves one parent dead.

I loved this book from start to finish and was kept guessing the whole way through. Nobody comes out clean here, and I felt my allegiances shifting throughout.

The narrator of Little Lies does a great job of covering a huge range of character's voices but I think credit is due to Moriarty for capturing so many different, and realistic, characteristics in this book. I felt like I could picture each person so clearly so it was easier to keep track of who was who, not always easy in a book with 20+ characters.

The Deaths - Mark Lawson (Kindle) 8/10

The Deaths is not set in Australia, but instead in a posh village somewhere near Milton Keynes. Four wealthy families are so close that they are nauseatingly referred to as "The Eight". Their kids go to school together, they holiday together, the men get the train to their high-flying jobs in London together. Couldn't be closer.

Except there's been some deaths and, like Little Lies, this story starts a year earlier as we meet the families and get to know their secrets and troubles and watch their lives unravel as we turn the pages. There are money problems, infidelity, redundancies, and when their dreams lives are threatened, the unthinkable happens.

I found The Deaths to be an enjoyable scathing commentary on the pitfalls of wealth, success, and the age of having-it-all. Again, I was left guessing right until the end and never quite sure who to trust.

I think that because I read these in completely different formats, I got a lot more enjoyment from them. I recommend both Little Lies, and The Deaths, but perhaps not back to back unless you're picking up the audiobook of one.

If You Find Me - Emily Murdoch (Paperback) 9/10

After reading two books with sprawling casts of characters, it was a welcome change to read something that focused on one person's story.

If You Find Me is the story of Carey, a fifteen year old girl who lives in the woods with her mum and her little sister Jenessa, who never speaks. After their mum fails to return from a trip into town, Carey must protect her sister from unwelcome visitors who are determined to take the girls away.

I loved the narrative style of this book. Carey's voice felt so authentic and moving as she figures out how to grow up fast and keep her sister safe, while also navigating her own teenage years.

This is YA at it's absolute best, a book that I'd recommend to any adult reader.

Bad Feminist - Roxane Gay (Paperback) 8/10

I've followed Roxane Gay on Twitter for a year or so now and I feel like I've learned more about feminism, race, and cultural criticism from her writing than anyone else.

Bad Feminist is a collection of her essays, some of which I'd read before, lots of which I hadn't, where she explores some of the key themes around race, sexism, media, and sexuality.

Gay's is a distinct voice in this world, never afraid to admit her own shortcomings, while continually championing the rights of other women. She says "feminism is a choice, and if a woman does not want to be a feminist, that is her right, but it is still my responsibility to fight for her rights." I don't think I'll ever see feminism described more fittingly than that.

Her writing is thought provoking, but there are some funny pieces in here too. Her essay about the Scrabble championships had me in stitches and I was so charmed by her retelling of her early years as a professor that I wanted to ditch everything and enroll in her class.

The Wicked Girls - Alex Marwood (Paperback) 7/10

For a while I decided I wanted to avoid books about violence against women. I felt I'd read more than enough books using rape, vicious abuse, and gory murders as a plot device, but recently I felt like I wanted to read a good thriller again.

The Wicked Girls fit the bill as it's fast paced and intriguing, but not so overloaded with violence that it became unbearable.

Meeting for the first time as children, Jade and Bel make a tragic mistake, and find themselves charged with murder. Twenty-five years later, with new lives and new identities, they meet again after a spate of attacks on tourists lure journalist Kirsty to the seaside town where Amber lives.

The most interesting themes in this book were the portrayal of the mob culture our media stirs up, and the exploration over whether justice can ever truly be served. I went from loathing the characters to feeling completely sorry for them and if you're looking for a gripping crime novel to get you through some winter evenings, this should do the job nicely. Still about murder though, so best avoided if you've had enough of that.

DASSIT! Let me know on Twitter what you've been reading, you know I love a recommendation or three. Until next time (literally in a few days) xx

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

9 Day Liver Detox - Days 8 & 9

Well just like that, the 9 Day Liver Detox is over. Need a recap? You can read all my posts to the previous days here:

I can't lie, I felt absolutely horrible on Day 6 (Monday), mainly down to totally overdoing it with the enthusiastic Sunday morning run. I seemed to forget that when you start running after a massive break, you will feel sore afterwards. Well I felt so sore I could hardly walk, particularly not down stairs, and I had a dull headache all day which I was worried would be down to the milk I'd consumed from the yogurt on Sunday. I'll be keeping an eye on how I feel the next time I have milk products to see if there is any similarity.

Lunch was leftover bean and artichoke stew and dinner was some roasted vegetables followed by a warm bath and an early night. I didn't have much of an appetite on Monday.

Day 6 (Tuesday) was probably the hardest day about from Day 2. As it was the last day, my brain gave me quite a lot of "well what's the point, it's just the last day" chat and I had to stop myself from going out in the afternoon to buy a treat after a really busy morning. 

Lunch was a portion of chickpea and sesame salad (really quick, really filling, really tasty) and for dinner I made a carrot and courgette soup with LOADS of garlic and ginger to give me a boost and hopefully stave off a cold I can feel coming on.

So now that it's all over I'm feeling pretty great, and superduper proud of myself for sticking to the plan for the whole 9 days. I'm surprised that it was over so quickly. I feel healthy but not astoundingly so. I have been sleeping more deeply and waking up feeling rested, but this could also be down to my new house which is much quieter than the last. My skin feels clearer, no doubt down to how much water I've been drinking every day and the abundance of nutrients from all the fruit and veg.

The biggest difference is that I don't seem to crave sugar as much as I did before. I did wonder if I'd wake up this morning and head straight to a shop to say HELLO to my old friend, the chocolate croissant, but it honestly didn't even cross my mind.

Doing this plan has forced me to get into the habit of eating a good breakfast each morning and encouraged me to eat more fruit and vegetables, cook from scratch and manage a weekly meal plan. Writing out the meals for each day helped me focus so I'm going to keep doing that. Sometimes I moved things around where it was convenient, but for me this is much better than getting home and having to choose what to cook.

It's also armed me with a few lunches that I know I can prepare in advance and that will keep me full from the afternoon and avoid the 3pm slump where I'm normally trotting off to the vending machine. I'm going to start carrying healthy snacks, nuts, seeds, veg sticks and seasonal fruit as I find that when I have something healthy to snack on, I don't crave something chocolatey. 

Patrick Holford's 9 Day Liver Detox is the name of the book, I thoroughly recommend it if you're looking for a way to kick start some healthy eating habits. Almost all of the recipes I've had have been really tasty, and I'll definitely be eating a few of them again, particularly the salmon with leek and lentils, the fennel pilaf and the bean and artichoke stew. The soups are also really yummy, and would freeze well if you wanted to make a big batch.

Thanks for all the comments and support I've had from everyone (both on and offline), I appreciate these posts can be a bit boring but writing about my experience has really helped me stick to the plan. I'm going to check in again in a week to update on how I've felt about reintroducing milk, wheat, caffeine and alcohol - fingers crossed for no problems!

Sunday, 21 September 2014

9 Day Liver Detox - Days 6 & 7

Doing a meal plan like this on the weekend is an absolute joy when there is time to cook at leisure

This is our first weekend in our new home and with very few plans so it was nice to have a lie in (or two). Saturday was day 6 and I decided to deviate from the meal plan at breakfast but stick with the principles and have smoked salmon, scrambled eggs (cooked in a little coconut oil instead of my usual slab of butter) and avocado on toasted rye bread. This is a regular weekend breakfast for us except we'd normally have have a couple of nice buttery slices of wholemeal bread. I hadn't missed bread at all this week until then, despite the rye bread being a perfectly tasty substitute.

Yesterday afternoon we popped out for a bit of shopping and then caught up with some friends for coffee. This was my first time in a coffee shop since I started the detox and I was a little anxious about it and planned to only drink water. However, when we got there I opted for a decaf latte with almond milk which sated my palate if not my caffeine craving.

We also found a fab and bustling food market on our ventures and picked up a huge punnet of peaches for £1, and some juicy figs which were 5 for £1 but as it was closing up time the chap gave me 8. Late in the day is definitely a good time to visit a market!

Dinner yesterday evening was my favourite so far. A mix of sweated leeks and green lentils cooked with onion and garlic then topped with a steamed salmon fillet. I love fish and even beyond this plan I want to make an effort to eat more of it. This was absolutely delicious and really quick and easy to cook, especially with canned lentils. I'll definitely cook this again.

I have noticed that despite my anxiety from the past few days, I do feel that I am sleeping better and waking feeling a lot more energetic than I have over the past few months. On Sunday morning (day 7) I even got up and suggested we go for a run first thing. AND THEN WE BLOODY WELL DID IT! I figured a run would be a nice way to explore the streets around our area then unfortunately I led us down a road which turned out to be a massive hill. Fine on the way down, a horror show on the way back up. This is the first time I've run in about 2 years so I'm hoping I can keep it up. I'm also hoping to find a local yoga class to join soon.

Post run I had some fruit and seeds for breakfast and then popped out to visit the Crystal Palace subway with some friends. The subway was abandoned 60 years ago and is now closed to the public but was open for tours this weekend as part of Open House London. It's an absolutely beautiful piece of architecture and I feel lucky that I was able to see it.

Once I got back I made a recipe called "Cleaning Bean and Artichoke Salad" which made my boyfriend laugh a lot because "cleansing" clearly has certain connotations! This wasn't so much a salad, more like a stew made with mixed pulses, cherry tomatoes, chopped artichoke hearts and lots of fresh basil. Once again, this one is a winner and I've made extra for lunch tomorrow and will definitely have it again and again.

Despite milk being banned from this plan, there is a recipe in this book for a berry frozen yogurt made with live bio yogurt, which still contains milk. I was a bit confused by this but decided to have it anyway and see how I got on. I felt absolutely fine when I was eating it but did notice than my stomach felt quite rumbling afterwards. I'm not sure if this is an intolerance to milk, but I'll be keeping an eye on it once the plan is over.

Dinner this evening was actually quite similar to the lunch, a borlotti bean and mushroom stew with baked sweet potatoes. I'd had lunch a little later than usual so didn't have much of an appetite for this but still managed a reasonable portion. There are leftovers so I think I'll just have this for dinner tomorrow too.

After dinner I decided to use up some of the figs and peaches by stewing them with some cinnamon and ground ginger then topping with a mix of toasted oats and nuts mixed with a little coconut oil. As a quick and easy crumble, this was really good but I couldn't help thinking it would be better topped with lashings of custard.

So it's been a full week now and I feel pretty good, but it's not an astounding difference. I'm really pleased to have stuck to the plan so far but also quite looking forward to it being over. I really want to stick to planning my meals in advance and eating lots of healthy fresh food, so I'm going to spend some time this week planning some other meals in for beyond Tuesday. Once the plan is over my boyfriend and I are going to cook together to celebrate and I quite fancy something spicy so I'm off to bed with a cookbook to see what I can come up with. Hope you all had a great weekend!

Mood: Happy and healthy after a great weekend
Motivation: 8/10 - Probably just really excited to finish the plan now!
Stomach: 9/10 – No complaints this evening despite a few rumbles post-yogurt.
Energy: 8/10 – I'm tired, but in a good way, the way you are after a run and the company of good friends and an evening eating stew and crumble in front of Downton Abbey.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

9 Day Liver Detox - Days 4 and 5

I'm not going to lie, the past two days have been really tough.

Thursday was day 4 and I had my now standard breakfast of muesli with seeds and blueberries followed by another portion of sweet potato soup for lunch. Thursday was the first day of the detox where I'd had some evening plans so I'd prepared a dinner of rice and super-greens pesto to take to work and eat before I went to a pub to play board games with some workmates. I felt very organised!

Except when the time came to eat the rice it just seemed really unappealing. In the pub I showed great restraint as everyone nibbled on loaded nachos and juicy burgers, washed down with a cold beer. It felt OK not to be eating and drinking that stuff, I realised that my default reaction would normally be to eat just because everyone else was, but actually I wasn't hungry at all.

Unfortunately the rice was also my lunch option for Friday (day 5) but after waking to the news that Scotland (where I'm from) had voted to stay in the UK I spent the whole day feeling teary and upset. Eating was the last thing on my mind. I couldn't even have a whisky to drown my sorrows because alcohol is one of the prohibited items on this plan. Maximum sad face!

Here's the cake my sister and I made to celebrate our future. I did not eat any of it or even lick the bowl.
By mid-afternoon on day 5 I felt like I'd completely lost my way with this detox, despite still sticking only to meals and foods from the plan, and not giving in to any cravings. There was also a moment where I realised how much of an emotional eater I am. Despite physically having no appetite, I felt like all I wanted to do was scoff a big piece of cake or have a coffee (ideally both). I'm really proud of myself that I managed to power through and not lose my way.

After work last night I went to the supermarket to stock up on ingredients for the last 4 days and bought some lovely fresh fish for dinner which I ate with a selection of roasted veg and steamed greens. I think it's exactly what my body needed because I've woken up today feeling more energetic physically, if not emotionally, though I'm sure that will come in time.

It's our first weekend in our new town so we're off exploring. I've also got my deposit back from my old flat so might treat myself to something to cheer myself up.

Mood: Miserable, but it's nothing to do with the food.
Motivation: 8/10 - I've bought all the necessary ingredients and feel well prepared for the final four days.
Stomach: 7/10 – In anxious knots, but again it's nothing to do with the food.
Energy: 8/10 – Well it is Saturday and I've had a nice lie in.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

9 Day Liver Detox - Day 3

Onto day 3 and I'm feeling SO MUCH better. The headaches have gone and although I woke up feeling a bit cold and weary, a tasty bowl of warm breakfast muesli perked me right up.

Following this plan has made me realise how hard dieting is. Although I'm not doing this to try and lose weight, I've never followed a plan like this before so it's all new to me. I expected that taking all the choice away from my meals this week would make me think about food less but in truth it's the total opposite. Like yesterday and the Wotsit craving, random foods that have popped into my head today are:

  • Pizza hut stuffed crust pizza
  • Chorizo in red wine
  • Scrambled eggs (fortunately I can have these, and probably will soon)
Today's food was a breakfast of muesli with seed mix, cinnamon, chopped mango and blueberry. I'm gradually getting used to eating breakfast first thing and I've noticed it does make me a lot less hungry throughout the morning. Definitely going to keep this habit up!

Snacks today were plums and cashews in the morning, then carrot sticks in the afternoon. I may have neglected to chop my carrot into sticks and instead just nibbled on it like a rabbit, but it's all the same in the end isn't it?

For lunch I had leftover sweet potato soup from last night, and for dinner I've had a really delicious aubergine and borlotti bean dip with toasted rye bread. However, this was the first thing that I've had that I felt a bit weird. It was absolutely delicious, but it was listed as a lunch item and I swapped it dinner to spread my cooking times more evenly. I think this was a bit of a mistake because toast and dip would be an OK lunch but seemed like a really odd dinner. It tasted nice and smoky and would be great with a MASSIVE BAG OF KETTLE CHIPS so I'll be making that again.

The plan recommends that you have a smoothie every day and so after dinner I made one with banana, mango and coconut milk but kept it quite thick so it was a bit more like a yogurt.

I really surprised myself today with a few moments that could have been a challenge. A tin of Quality Street chocolates has appeared at work and I only felt tempted for a very fleeting moment. Then my sister came home and wanted me to help her bake a carrot cake and I didn't even consider licking the bowl. After dinner we watched The Great British Bakeoff and didn't even feel like the ravenous beast the show normally inspires in me, so I'm pretty sure my cravings are in check now. 

Hope this continues into tomorrow because I'll need all of my resolve as I face the biggest temptation so far...the pub!

Mood: Slightly above average. Vast improvement on yesterday but not amazing.
Motivation: 7/10 - I'm 1/3 of the way through already!
Stomach: 7/10 – No discomfort.
Energy: 6/10 – Fell asleep on the train on the way home so I'm off for an early night.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

9 Day Liver Detox - Day 2

Well it's day two and as I near the end of it I'm feeling quite positive, but today has been a struggle if I'm honest.

Patrick's book talks about possibly feeling withdrawal symptoms as your body reacts to ridding itself of toxins and a life without wheat, milk, caffeine and alcohol but I didn't honestly expect to feel so shitty. I've had a weird, all encompassing headache all day, and a couple of strong waves of nausea. My mouth feels claggy (normal, apparently) and I just wanted to crawl back into bed the moment I got home from work.

Despite not being a huge caffeine drinker, I have really craved a coffee today, not helped by some people on my floor at work brewing a delicious smelling cup the moment I walked in the door! I've also been craving milk a lot. A milky drink specifically, despite the fact that I never drink it. A longing for the sweet hot chocolates of my childhood I think. This is a very silly craving because I don't think it's actually that unusual for me to go two days without milk, so perhaps it's all in my head. Or possibly I consume more of it than I think, as milk is in so many food products that it's hard to keep track of.

Randomly I've also got a really strong craving for Wotsits, which I don't think I've eaten for about 15 years!

I've stuck to the plan all day though starting with a breakfast of mixed fruit pieces sprinkled with the essential seed mix. I've ground a whole jar of this and am keeping it in the fridge so it's a very easy breakfast to prepare. Snacks today were hummus and crudités (a regular fave!) followed by leftover pilaff from last night for lunch and then pomegranate seeds for afternoon snack. Dinner was a sweet potato soup boosted with coconut milk, ginger, garlic and a big dollop of the super greens mix. This helped with my milk craving a lot as it was so smooth and delicious. I've made a big bulk batch so I can have it for lunch tomorrow too.

I did almost have a slip-up at work as word spread around the office that there were free cakes in the kitchen. I managed to restrain myself but may have actually asked a colleague if I could have a sniff of her red velvet cupcake. She kindly obliged but definitely laughed at me!

The food has been great so far and I'm really enjoying cooking a lot with fresh ingredients. I used to be such an organised and healthy cook but have fallen way out of good habits so more than anything I hope I'll be able to keep this up beyond the 9 days. I wish I felt better physically, as so much of my attitude is connected to that. I know that this is normal though and I just have to persevere.

Mood: Ugh
Motivation: Varied between 4/10 and 7/10 – Hard to feel enthusiastic with a headache and weird sicky feeling.
Stomach: 5/10 – Wibbly, feels like a hunger feeling but I've actually eaten plenty all day. Must be missing cakes!
Energy: 4/10 – Can only improve from here I hope!

Monday, 15 September 2014

9 Day Liver Detox - Day 1

I don’t really buy into dieting and detoxing and fasting. For every bit of information out there, there’s usually something else debunking it. I'm also not really one for talking about weight, eating and health habits so I wasn’t sure whether to blog about this at all. However, a few people on Twitter said they’d be interested so I’m planning to do this overview and then a short daily update to let you know how I’m getting on. 

I’ve always been big into food and happy with the way I look and feel, except over the past year or so I haven’t always felt 100%. Sometimes I’m knackered even though I’ve slept for hours, or I seem to have an constant sore throat and runny nose. I sometimes feel uncomfortable and bloated after eating and so I feel like something needs to change.

I also know that I don’t eat particularly well, and I’ve only got myself to blame for that. Breakfast is sometimes often a chocolate croissant from Sainsbury’s, I don’t put the effort into meal planning that I know I should, I take a bit of every single cake going around the office and I don’t eat enough vegetables even though I do genuinely love them. I also know that in the last couple of years I’ve been drinking wine more frequently, and moving around a lot less. I used to have an on-the-move job and now I’m desk based and naughtily don’t always take a lunchbreak or move around much during the day.

I mentioned all of this to a friend of mine who told me she’d followed the plan from Patrick Holford's 9 Day Liver Detox and was impressed with how much better she felt afterwards. She gave me her copy so I thought I’d give it a try and see if I can get some noticable improvements in how I feel. It’s also a chance for me to kickstart some new healthy eating habits now that I’ve moved in with my boyfriend and to a new area in South London.

Now, obviously I’m not a health professional, and you won’t find me telling anyone what to eat or drink or do or think or feel, this is just my experience following this particular book.

Holford’s meal plan encourages you to spend nine days without milk, wheat, caffeine, alcohol and bad fats. Caffeine and alcohol I can manage no bother, but I love bread and cereal and cheese so it will be interested to see how I fare without milk and wheat. Once the nine days are over these foods are gradually reintroduced so that I can pay closer attention to how they make me feel.

The book includes a nine day meal plan covering breakfast, morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack and dinner. The meals seem really varied and interesting, and all the recipes are included. There’s not a single one I don’t like the sound of which is a good sign! There are two key things that you have with your meals every day:

Essential seed mix – this is a mix of flaxseeds (linseeds), pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and sunflower seeds ground up and then sprinkled over porridge, soups or salads.

Super greens mix – this is a pesto-like blend of spinach, watercress, basil, parsley, lemon juice and olive oil which is added to at least one meal a day. It smells AMAZING and I’m really looking forward to having this a lot more.

The book recommends starting the meal plan on a Saturday, presumably to give yourself a bit of breathing space in the first few days if you have any withdrawal symptoms from sugar/wheat/dairy, and also the time to be organised with cooking. I don’t think you could just start this diet without a fair bit of preparation, both mentally and physically. I know from experience that the biggest thing that gets in the way of my meal planning is my social life. I’ve found a space in my diary where I don’t have many plans for the next nine days, so I decided now would be the best time, and I’m keeping my evenings relatively free so that I don’t get tempted by wine and cheeseburgers!

There is also has a shopping list section in the book where it details what you need to buy for days 1-5 and then another list for days 6-9. I typed this up and over the past few weeks I’ve been picking up the dry ingredients, then did a big shop on Saturday morning for the fruit and veg I’d need for the first few days. Again, preparation is key to success here. In total I’ve probably spent about £50 so far as, although fruit and veg can be cheap, items like nut butter, rye bread and nuts and seeds can really add up. Buying things in batches helped spread the cost.

I love to be organised when it comes to food and cooking. If not in the fridge, I’ve stored everything in a few big plastic tubs so that the ingredients are easy to access and I don’t get distracted rummaging around the kitchen. We’ve just moved house and still have a lot of boxes to unpack so I think this is going to be really helpful for me. My plan is to prepare in advance by making meals the night before, including portioning up my daily snacks. Having lots of Tupperware in varying sizes helps massively! Some of the evening meals are things which can be eaten for lunch the next day.

So, on to the food...

Day 1 has been pretty great. Breakfast was a muesli made of porridge oats, ground almonds, seed mix and blueberries. Really tasty and although I don’t normally have breakfast as soon as I get up, I did manage to eat it all and though I am normally reaching for a biscuit at 10am I didn’t feel peckish again until about 11:30. Snacks were things like plums, nuts, olives, all stuff I really like. Lunch was a salad of chickpeas, celery, artichokes, sesame seeds and a serving of the greens mix I’ve mentioned above. 

Dinner was a fennel, mixed rice and green lentil pilaf which I really loved and that'll be lunch tomorrow too.

Yes that looks a bit rubbish, but it was really delicious. I feel like I'm off to a great start and am really excited about the next eight days, even though my sister has just wandered in eating a packet of chocolate digestives!

Mood: Excited
Motivation: 10/10 – Feeling really eager and, most importantly, prepared. I really want to see this through to the end of the 9 days.
Stomach: 7/10 – Not too much discomfort, but to be honest I’m not really sure what is good and bad.
Energy: 6/10 – Well it is Monday!

Thursday, 4 September 2014

What I Read in August

Hello book fans! Oof, that August went by a bit quick eh? It's been a funny old month for me split between extremely awesome things like a week at the Edinburgh Fringe, babysitting my boyfriend's nephews and discovering that the Ritzy in Brixton does a steak dinner for £13, and extremely rubbish things like a chest infection, a visit to A&E, and a woman shouting at me in the street for no discernible reason.

Oh and here's me feeding our newest calf Elsie, when I went back to my parents' farm for a few days. Isn't she the cutest?

On the books front, it's been a fantastic month and I've read some really varied things with only one minor stinker. Here goes...

Landline - Rainbow Rowell (Hardback) 8/10

Hey Holly June favourite, Rainbow Rowell, has taken a step back from writing YA to release this beautiful book about a woman who discovers that the phone from her teens is actually connecting her calls to the past. Stick with it, this ain't no sci-fi whackness but instead it was a really moving read that stirred up lots of those brilliant 'early days' feelings that we get about relationships.

I picked this up when I went to Rainbow's reading last month, and while it's not quite as brilliant as Fangirl,  main character Georgie is beautifully written, and full of realistic flaws; forgets to call people back, wears the same t-shirt days in a row etc.

I loved the way relationships were written in this book, particularly Georgie's relationship with her teenage sister and her step-dad who isn't much older than she is. Capturing blended family dynamics is something Rainbow Rowell excels at. And more than anything, this really made me just want to pick up the phone and have a proper old-school call.

Open City - Teju Cole (Kindle) 5/10

This was one of my book club choices for August, but sadly I couldn't make it in the end because of the aforementioned and HIDEOUS chest infection which thankfully I am finally over. However, I am assured everyone felt much the same as I did about this book.

In Open City, a young Nigerian doctor spends his free time walking the streets of Manhattan in a bid to unwind and process his feelings about his past, his relationships and his future. He meets people from different walks of life and explores the intricacies of race, displacement, loss and forgiveness.

While there was nothing wrong with it, I just didn't feel particularly absorbed by Open City, nor enamoured with the main character Julius. The writing was a bit dry and I looked forward to finishing it so I could move on to another book, not a good sign.

A Man Called Ove - Fredrik Backman (Hardback) 8/10

This was my other book club's choice and SUCH a contrast from Open City. I absolutely adored this story, seamlessly translated from Swedish, about a grumpy old man called, you've guessed it, Ove.

Ove is a guy who likes things done a certain way. He gets up early every day to perform a neighbourhood inspection, hates the cat who is hanging around outside, and shouts at anyone who gets in the way.

But when a pregnant neighbour arrives, with her lanky husband and two small girls, Ove is forced into a number of situations that he is not best pleased with, that interrupt his plans, but that ultimately make him see the world a little differently.

This book is one of those lovely ones that has you laughing one minute and crying the next. It's so beautifully written that I am absolutely desperate to see it adapted into a film, and we had a good chat about who would play Ove. If you read it, come and chat to me about who you'd pick!

The Holford 9-Day Liver Detox: The Definitive Detox Diet That Delivers Results - Patrick Holford (Paperback) 8/10

If you know me IRL you'll know that diets and detoxes are SO NOT ME, but over the past six months I've been feeling a bit sluggish, unfit and unhealthy. I don't sleep well, I lack energy, and as I approach my 30's I fear that after years of eating cakes and biscuits my body is crying out for a break.

My super friend Dionne read this book and did the 9 day detox and said she felt noticeably better afterwards, more alert, clearer skin, better sleep etc. After filling in a questionnaire it made me realise that a lot of my health issues probably are down to food; questions like "Are you rarely wide awake within 15 minutes of rising?" (A: Never), "Do you get irritable if you go six hours without food?" (A: SIX HOURS? Unthinkable.) and "Do you suffer from a stuffy nose or sinus problems?" (A: Yep.)

This book was really helpful without being too overwhelming. I learnt a lot about the science of the liver, how it functions and how it processes what we eat and drink.  It's got a really simple and easy meal plan to follow for the nine days, and there are shopping lists so that you don't have to do too much planning. A huge help for someone like me who is often a bit too knackered to think of things to cook.

The detox itself cuts out dairy, wheat, caffeine, alcohol and bad fats. I haven't done it yet but am planning to do this mid-September so I'll be writing a blog post about that soon. Most importantly, I actually feel excited and prepared for it, which can only be down to the reassurance of this book.

The Leftovers - Tom Perrotta (Paperback) 9/10

I first heard about this book via the TV adaptation which has started on HBO in the US recently and has been adapted by Damon Lindelof of Lost fame (don't let that put you off).

The Leftovers is about the aftermath of a mysterious incident where a small percentage of the world's population disappear. Literally just disappear, from the spot where they stood, or sat, or slept. Rather than looking at the global impact, here we meet the Mayor of Mapleton, Kevin Garvey, whose son has joined a cult, whose daughter has started skipping school, and whose wife has moved into a house of silent worshippers who call themselves The Guilty Remnants, and are convinced the disappearing was The Rapture.

Three years on, the townspeople are still in disarray and this is a stunning look at how we cope with unexplained tragedies and find ways to move on. I really, really loved this book, and I've been thinking about it a lot since. I haven't seen the TV show yet but by all accounts it's one to watch!

What have you all been reading this month? Come and give me your recommendations on Twitter. And just a little reminder that if you buy any of these books using one of the links above, I'll get a small kickback from Amazon. Your local bookshop or library should also be able to help you out!