Anything in my life I feel like sharing is posted here.


Spring has Sprung: Plans for my Garden

As a gardener, early-Spring is one of my favourite times of year. Although everything is still meant to be quite wet and cold outside, spring seems to have sprung early this year and is the perfect time to see the awesome power of nature. Despite the fact that the ground is still frosty here on some early mornings, spring shoots have recently started to force their way through the hard ground and have started to thrive. The snowdrops and daffodils are already in full bloom, adding beautiful splashes of colour to the garden.

Spring also means that I get the chance to think about what I want to grow in my vegetable garden in the coming year. I have just cleared out the last of the winter crops and now have a blank canvas for spring planting. A few fast growing crops, such as Spring Onions (salad onions or scallions) can work really well whilst summer crops are still in their seedling stage. Last year I had a dedicated salad bed where I was able to grow crops like lettuce, basil, spring onion and tomato. Perpetual spinach is also a firm favourite. Of course, salad beds are also firm favourites of a lot of garden pests, so I had to plant a range of companion plants to try to keep them all off my dinner!

I have just ordered some new packets of seeds, in anticipation of being able to grow a Mediterranean vegetables bed. Good fortune has meant that I have access to a new patch of allotment this year, which I am hoping will be perfect for recreating the Mediterranean climate. The new raised bed will be situated in a well-drained area which has sun for pretty much the whole day. Theoretically it should be the perfect spot for Mediterranean produce in the United Kingdom. The list of seeds which I have purchased for this new bed includes; chilli peppers, sweet peppers, aubergines, courgettes and fennel. I also have plenty of tomato seeds left over from last year.

I am also going to try growing a few fruit and vegetable varieties on my patio this year. Seed specialists are now starting to offer more and more varieties which are ideally suited to growing in small pots. As the housing crisis in Britain continues, more and more people will be forced to garden in smaller areas. Patio gardening is expected to become more popular than ever.

For my patio pots, I have bought a pre-established blueberry bush. It is a year old, so it will not have fruited yet. Hopefully I will be able to create the right conditions for a successful harvest. I have also chosen some carrots which are supposed to be ideal for pots. Carrots normally require a lot of space for deep rooting, but these carrots are a special stubby variety which needs very little downwards growing room. They almost look more like turnips and beetroots than carrots! Other easy patio crops include herbs and cut-and-come-again salad leaves. Lastly, I will add a splash of colour with some marigolds.


Going Pancake-Crazy

On a happier note to my personal injury categorised post from a couple of weeks back, Pancake Day is one of my favourite days every year. I just love pancakes in all of their forms. The taste, the beauty and the simplicity just push all of my buttons. Whilst I was at university (I won’t say when that was!) I even used to try to eat nothing but pancakes for the whole day. Although I do still get the urge to do this, my body will no longer accept pancakes for every meal. Having an adult job in an adult office also makes it very hard for me to get my lunchtime pancake fill, but thankfully being semi-retired I can live with it! On the other hand, sustaining myself over 24 hours of pancakes has taught me to step away from the classic lemon and sugar option and choose other pancake toppings.

This year’s main event was a delicious spinach and ricotta offering. The pancakes that I made to go with this dish were a very thin type of pancake, which were very similar to continental crepes. To make the filling I initially layered spinach leaves over the pancake base and then I covered them with a simple ricotta mixture. The ricotta mixture included a pinch of nutmeg to help to give it a lovely hint of spice. Once the pancakes had been topped, I rolled them up and put them into a baking dish. Before baking, I added a little smattering of grated Comte cheese to the top. I baked the pancakes for about 15 minutes and then served them with a simple green salad. Although it can hardly be considered to be a low-fat option (given all of the cheese which it contains), the dish is certainly a more mature option than some of the other pancake choices are.

Nonetheless, my dessert pancakes were a return to student form. For these pancakes, I made a slightly thicker, cakier iteration. These pancakes were actually far more similar to the American-style pancakes which are often served as part of brunch dishes. I sliced up a banana and then sprinkled on some finely chopped hazelnuts to give the topping a little bit of crunch. I also made a simple chocolate sauce by combining milk, chocolate, golden syrup and cocoa powder. Drizzling this chocolate sauce over the pancakes helped to give the dessert some much-needed moisture. Of course, this is a delicious combination.

Every year after Pancake Day, I always wonder why I stick to eating pancakes on one day only. There are plenty of healthier options that I could eat for dinner on other days, but for some reason I never move past Shrove Tuesday. This year I have decided to make a conscious effort to make savoury pancake dishes on days that are not specifically Pancake Day. There are plenty of cultures that enjoy pancake or crepe-style dishes as part of their national cuisine, so I am going to explore some of these ideas. Maybe it will stop me going pancake-crazy next time Pancake Day rolls around? In fact, I have already got an Indian-style Keema pancake lined up for dinner this week!

mr and mrs

March Wedding

Last weekend I attended my first wedding of the year. A good friend was marrying a partner who she had met at university. Despite the fact that they had been together for nearly 8 years, I had never actually met her fiancé/now husband. It was nice be able to finally put a face to the name; even if you only ever get a few minutes to speak to the bride and groom at their wedding.

The wedding took place in a small village church close to where my friend grew up. Although my friend isn’t especially religious, not enough to go to church every Sunday at least, her husband is very religious and wanted to get married in a religious space. He had actually visited this particular church when he was younger, as part of a church choir, so he felt like he had a pre-existing connection to the area. I am not that religious myself, but the ceremony was lovely. They chose some very upbeat hymns which were representative of their love. At some church weddings it can be difficult to get people to sing along with hymns that they do not know, but there were no problems at this wedding.

Their reception was held in an old theatre in the West Midlands. It was a gorgeous space which is now used as a community area. The town apparently holds performances, exhibitions and public forums in this building. After each event, the building is returned to a blank canvas state so that each user can put their own spin on it for each event. My friend has always been design minded, so the décor was absolutely wonderful.

They had been permitted to hang up a mesh of fairy lights across the ceiling of the premises, so that it looked like a sky full of stars. This was a very subtle touch, because the theatre had such a high ceiling.  My friend is a literary editor, so the venue contained a lot of literary references. She had even managed to borrow a few fun props from the theatre’s old costume and staging department.

The food was really good at the venue too. The couple had hired in an external caterer who attempts to use local and seasonal produce wherever possible. We had some of the first lamb of the season for the main course (apologies if you’re not a meat eater), served with some well-prepared veg. The dessert was a posh version of a rhubarb crumble. I have literally never enjoyed rhubarb before, so I was a little worried when I saw it on the menu card. However, when I tried it I thought that it was really nice! The chef had managed to take away some of the tartness that rhubarb can sometimes have.

Instead of having a baked wedding cake, the bride and groom had chosen to have a cheese cake. It contained 4 wheels of cheese, including a huge wheel of quartzy cheddar for the base. I must have eaten more cheese than I have ever had before in my life! So good, and such a wonderful day.

losing weight

In Praise of Fitness Trackers

In November of last year I was invited to a good friends wedding which is happening next month and have been trying to lose a little bit of weight since January through a combination of healthy eating and exercise. Although there have been a few minor blips, I feel like I am generally doing quite well. As a bit of a techie, I have also felt the need to digitise my efforts. Despite the fact that wearable fitness trackers and digital scales have been getting bad press in the last few months, I am here to sing their praises and extol their virtues.

As part of my Christmas stocking, Santa brought me a fitness tracker and a digital body weighing scales. Both of these devices connect up to smartphone apps to help you to monitor your progress. The tracker even “awards” you with electronic badges and milestones when you meet pre-set targets. I have recently been told that I have walked the width of England and more since starting wearing the device on New Year’s Day, which is about 5 miles a day, 7 days a week!

I wear the tracker all of the time and it measures a variety of different things. As well as telling me how many steps I have done, it also monitors my heart rate and how many flights of stairs I have climbed. Based on my exercise levels and current health, it also estimates how many calories I have burned over the course of the day. It even tells me how long I have been asleep for! If I wanted to, I could even input my food data into the app to help to track calories in, compared to calories out. I haven’t been doing that yet, because it does take a lot of time to break everything down into individual components. However, I still feel as though I am getting a lot of relevant information out of the app. The tracker encourages you to try to reach 10,000 steps over the course of the day, and I do feel inclined to walk that extra bit to reach my daily goal. The tracker even gives a little vibration to warn me when I have been sitting still for too long!

My smart weighing scale also offers loads of useful functionality. As well as telling me my body mass, the scale uses electrical pulses to calculate how much of my body is fat, water and muscle. Since January, I have been gradually reducing the fat percentage and increasing the muscle percentage. The scales also send all of this information to an app, so that I can track my progress. I find this much easier than using a standard body weighing scale, because I don’t have to remember all of the figures in my head. My mind would constantly play tricks on me with my old scales, so I would think that I had lost or gained more than I actually had.

Although the two devices are not made by the same company, I have been able to link both of the apps together with one another. This means that they both share data with each other to increase their functionality even further!


My First Tri!

I just took part in my first formal triathlon! Granted, it was only a super sprint event, but we all have to start somewhere. The distances for this event were 750 metres swimming, 12 miles cycling and 3 mile running. These aren’t far off the kind of distances that I normally practice in-house at the gym, so it was good to finally be able to put it altogether in a semi-competitive setting. Although it is called a super sprint event, most people seem to be using this event as a way into triathlon, rather than an opportunity to show off just how speedy they actually are.

The event was organised by a local triathlon club and there were alternative longer races for people who wanted to test their skills on other distances. The main event was the “Olympic” distance triathlon, which required participants to swim for 2.5 miles, cycle for 25 miles and then run for 6.5 miles. I’m hoping to be able to compete in this version of the race in the next few years, not!

I met a person at the race who actually uses the same gym as I do. We have seen each other in the training room, but haven’t actually really spoken to each other before. They had taken an interest in the triathlon after seeing the British success in the last couple of Olympic Games, and we’re both mightily looking forward to next years games in Rio. Although they had only started training last year, they were already competing in the middle distance races and were nearly ready to move onto Olympic distance events. They are a few years younger than myself though which is an advantage of course! We have agreed to meet up with one another next time we are at the gym, so that we can share our training routine. I have always thought that it was easier to achieve things at the gym when you had a training buddy to work with.

Martine Griffin

Daddy’s girl!

For this event, we started swimming in the pool. The club competes in a lot of outdoor events throughout the rest of the year, but the water is still far too cold at this time of year, even in a wetsuit. I am down to compete in an outdoor super sprint later this year, but I have been advised that I need to try outdoor swimming in a wetsuit before event day. Outdoor swimming is very different to swimming in a pool, because there are different currents and more waves.

The cycling part of the course involved one fairly tough section of incline, which involved powering up a hill in the final section of the course. This was tough going on the legs and I felt very wobbly when I first got off the bike. This slowed my transition down a tiny bit, but other than that I was away fine.

Running has always been the easiest bit for me. I ran before I came to triathlon, so I have always thought of this area as my chance to shine. I caught up with a few people during the final half mile, and ended my race somewhere in the middle of the pack. A great result!