Monday, 25 November 2013

One Month To Go...

I have two official milestones when it comes to celebrating Christmas:

1. 25th November - when I'm allowed to enjoy one or two things Christmassy without feeling too bad about it.
2. 1st December - when I'm allowed to enjoy all Christmassy things in a public fashion without feeling subjected to ridicule.

My unofficial milestone is probably the beginning of December when Christmas 24 starts on the telly (gotta love those cheesy Christmas flicks), when I secretly slip in a few festive tunes into my ipod's repertoire and when I contemplate wrapping all the presents that I pretend I've yet to buy.

Unfortunately, this unofficial milestone actually makes it quite difficult to get excited for Christmas in the correct way. I feel the giddy, naughty excitement from the beginning of November. It's illicit, secret and fun!

But I have a sensible side that tells me I'm not allowed to reveal my secret joy lest I get lambasted much like the Christmas music does when it's played in September in shopping centres across the land!

So I tamp it down and try to act normal. But, by the time it is socially acceptable to celebrate Christmas - wear the earrings, jumpers, headbands, brooches, rings, necklaces, tinsel etc - I feel like I've lost that loving feeling. The excitement never is the same.

Not this year - I'm determined to feel the excitement throughout December.

So, I've already changed my computer screen to my lovely Christmas scene. I've even decorated it with some gorgeous USB lights which block the screen in multiple ways but I forgive them because they're so cheery!

The next book I'm reading will be the Harlequin Blaze Christmas anthology - nothing quite as good as hot stories on chilly nights. And to top it off, yesterday we went to the live feed of Andre Rieu's Christmas Concert in our local cinema.

We sat in the back row, decked out in all our Christmas finery and had a blast. There's nothing quite like music to get you into the Christmas spirit!

Not long to go now...

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Tattoo Time

I never did show off my tattoo!!

I got it the same week that I got my ears pierced another three times.

Despite evidence to the contrary, I'm not having a breakdown or a mid-life crisis! I just had a notion to start doing things that I'd always wanted to do. To tick things off my bucket list, if you will.

I'd always wanted a tattoo but being a worrier at heart, I feared that as soon as the needle was placed on my skin, I would jump 10 feet and leave myself with an inky line across my body. Yep - these are the kind of things I think about.

Anyway, the pain was more akin to a scratch (I got it on the back of my neck as you can see below) and I wasn't overly traumatised (or etched with a permanent inky line right up my back)!

After the fact, I have to admit that I was a little apathetic about it. I wondered if I'd done the right thing despite little being able to be done to rectify it. That lasted less than a week and now I'm delighted with it. My only problem is that I can't see it without the use of a mirror!

I now have grand plans to get another couple of tattoos. Small ones like the first that are discreet and pretty.

I also have to admit to a secret thrill every time someone comments on it in that incredulous way. I know it's a teeny, tiny heart but I like the fact that I'm surprising everyone who probably looks at me and suspects that I'm a little bit too vanilla to be doing something badass. Again, I know teeny tiny hearts aren't generally badass but I get my kicks where I can!

Since this picture was taken (thanks to my big sis who also did my hair), I've had my hair bobbed so that my curls sit round my face like a little mop. And yesterday I dyed it a sort of milk chocolate brown. We'll see how long that lasts!


Saturday, 23 November 2013

Three Cheese and Roasted Tomato Tear & Share Bread

Being a sweet girl rather than savoury (in tastes if not in personality) - I am much more likely to reach for a slab of chocolate or cupcake rather than a piece of bread. I was going to add 'when I'm hungry' but who am I trying to kid?

Anyway, things change.

And this bread recipe definitely contributed to that.

Let me introduce to you... Three Cheese and Roasted Tomato Tear & Share Bread.

I'll pause a second while you digest the yumminess of that name.

And while you're waiting, I'll show you a picture of it to whet your appetite.


Not only does this look good, it tastes rather fab, too. I've seen other tear and share bread recipes around the internet but putting your own little spin on something really makes it personal and makes it sure that it will be something you're sure to enjoy.

It was a good day for making bread yesterday. Although it was bitterly cold, the sun was shining in through the windows. Despite this, my old stone house didn't stand a chance of heating up so the heating was on full blast. So that's sunny and toasty conditions on the windowsill. Two very enthusiastic thumbs up.

So let's crack on with the show.

Three Cheese and Roasted Tomato Tear and Share Bread

What you need:

For the bread
8oz white bread flour
4oz plain flour
250ml (approx 8 1/2 fl oz) warm water
1/4 oz instant yeast
1 1/2 oz castor sugar
A generous pinch of salt (I used about 1/4 tsp)

For the filling
A good dash of herbs (either fresh or dried)
2 oz butter, melted
A decent handful of cheeses (I used edam and mature cheddar)
Some soft cheese (I used a garlic and herb variety)
3 tomatoes, roasted in the oven, skins removed and left to cool


I'm not a baking puritan (except when it comes to using weights to measure out ingredients!) so I used my Kenwood to do all the hard graft. Feel free to do this by hand if you fancy - more power to you!

1. The first thing to do is roast your tomatoes. Pop them into the oven (at about 180 C) for approximately 20 minutes until the skin has puffed up. Take them out the oven and leave them to cool.

2. In your mixing bowl add the water, sugar and yeast. Using your 'K' beater (or general mixing paddle) gently add in the bread flour and mix on a slow speed. This is simply to stop your flour going everywhere except where you want it to be! This didn't work for me as my flour always has a mind of its own. I'm going to pretend it's all part of the experience!

3. Change onto your dough hook (which looks suspiciously like something Cpt. Hook donated) and add the plain flour until the dough forms. If you need to, add a little more water so that it comes together. Let the machine knead the dough for 10 minutes until it has come together nicely and isn't sticking to the sides of the bowl.

4. A little bit of kneading is required now but just a little. Pop the dough onto a floured surface and knead so that your ball of dough is lovely, smooth and round. Lightly oil a bowl (bigger than the size of your dough - it's going to get bigger!) and add your dough. Put cling film over the top of the bowl and leave it in a toasty place for a couple of hours until it's approximately doubled in size. It pains me to say that this break gives you an ideal chance to tidy up as you go along. Or, you could just watch Christmas movies like I did and leave the clearing up until much, much later!


5. Once it's puffed up (and your movie has finished) place the bread onto a floured unit and give it a pounding until it's a flat shape resembling a large rectangle approximately 1cm thick. I don't know why I don't have a picture of the bread once it's on the unit but here it is after rising!

6. Now it's time to melt your butter and grate your cheese. Drizzle the melted butter over the top of your dough rectangle. Generously sprinkle your grated cheese and herbs over the top so that it covers every piece of dough. Now put some blobs of soft cheese all over the dough so that it's evenly spaced but quite sparse.

7. Now get your tomatoes. They should easily be cool enough to handle and the skin should easily slip off. Pop a knife into each tomato and allow the majority of the juices to flow out. Chop (or just tear with your hands) so that the tomatoes are in bite sized chunks. Scatter these over the dough and cheese.
8. Find a standard bread tin for your loaf. Tip it onto its short side in preparation for receiving the dough. Check the size of your tin so that you can begin to cut your dough into the correct size pieces. You should be aiming for bits of dough that are roughly the size of the tin but this is a grabby time of bread - the more rustic it looks, the better!

9. Cut your dough into squares and pile them into your tin. Your filling will fall out - just pop it back in or sprinkle it over the top once you're done. All the dough should fit roughly into the tin.

10. More rising now - cling film your loaf tin again and put it back in its cosy home for about 40 minutes. More time for clearing up - sigh.

11. Pre-heat your oven to 180 C and bake your loaf for about 45 minutes until the top is golden brown. I used foil over the top of the loaf which ended up being a little bit of a mistake. It stuck to all the glorious, bubbling cheese! It did come off but perhaps I should have popped it in the oven naked!

12. It's ready! Unlike other breads, don't expect this one to sound hollow when you tap the bottom. I wouldn't recommend even looking at the bottom if you're used to making standard loaves - it looks a little soggy but I promise you, that's what it's supposed to look like!

13. Eat and be happy.

An interesting note about my experiment with this bread. Have you ever asked yourself - can I use yeast that's out of date? Well, based on this particular experience, I would say the answer is yes. My yeast was dated best before 6 months ago. I gave it a go, not really expecting anything to come of it, and it worked perfectly. Happy days.

This bread doesn't really need anything added to it to be enjoyed. Even the next day, cold, it tasted delicious and didn't need any additional flavours. I consider butter to be a flavour, by the way!

This is a really easy recipe so adapt it to make any tear and share bread that takes your fancy. How about chocolate and orange tear and share bread? Or apple and cinnamon? Cheese and bacon? Oh - bliss!

Thursday, 21 November 2013

The Hot Man Conspiracy

I have realised that there is a conspiracy afoot. A really annoying conspiracy that is out to turn me into a bluestocking spinster.

Or at least not let me leave the current bluestocking spinster club of which I am a current member.

Hell, who am I kidding? I'm the bloody president!

Anyway, the story starts off like this...

It was lunchtime and I decided to take a trip to the local supermarket.

I could have walked but it was lashing down with rain and gale force winds were picking up speed I was far too lazy for such things as health and exercise. Bear in mind that I was heading to said supermarket to drool at their Christmas aisle while picking up a sandwich for my lunch - not exactly the actions of one who is particularly concerned about her health. Not right at that precise minute anyway.

I parked up, wondering all the while whether everyone had to submit to a partial lobotomy before entering a supermarket car park or if it was just the woman who stepped into the path of my car, then deciding to look, and then deciding to stop. Still in the path of my car. My moving car. *Sigh*

Into the shop I went, and made a beeline for the Christmas stuff. I stopped at a people snarl only to look right into the oddly shaped hairstyle on the back of one of my colleague's heads. It's distinctive. I guess this would be good time to point out that I am something of an introvert. I can speak to people and if you were to talk to me, you probably wouldn't realise my horror at having to do so. But afterwards, I must run away and hide, all the while running through every. single. nuance of the conversation, facial expressions, outfits and etc that just transpired. It's exhausting!

So it was true to form that I quickly snuck past and headed for the sanctuary of the clothing section. Thus started a conversation in my head that attempted to calculate the destination, route and probable shopping habits of someone who I barely know.

Another aside - does anyone else have this problem with people you barely know? The people I don't know - I can ignore if they ignore me. The people I know well - I'm not scared of. It's those middling people - the people with whom the conversation is awkward even before I've joined in. I'm not a fan of those people.

Anyway, I thought and contemplated and calculated. I took a trip to the back of the store and eyed up all the aisles. Sensing the coast was clear, I headed back down to the Christmas aisle. Who is likely to return to an aisle after they have been there?

I got to the bottom and, horror of horrors, spotted my colleague. And, to make matters worse, she had another colleague with her. Double the trouble, double the awkward. I did a u-turn and found myself aimlessly walking down the baby aisle. I don't have a baby. By the end of the shopping trip I had also found out that I don't have a dog, a drinking problem, a cheese obsession or a need for large quantities of sandwich bags for only £1.

I calculated probable routes once again and determined my next course of action. Heading back to the tills, I arrived at the self checkouts... and bumped straight into my colleagues. How? How does this happen?

"Oh, hello," they said. "Oh, hello," I replied, with a great imitation of someone who hasn't been running round a giant superstore trying to dodge these exact people for the last 20 minutes. I then offered them a carefree laugh that sounded more like a strangled hippo (mahhh hehrrrr rarrrrr) and strode off in the direction of the busy manned tills like a woman on a mission. I waited a good 10 minutes in a queue, all to avoid more banal chit chat and hippo sounds.

After all that, this is my gripe...

The shop is big. There are probably hundreds upon hundreds of folk in said store at any one time. Of all those people, on this occasion, I was trying to avoid just two. Yet, on multiple occasions, despite my planning and strategising, I managed to bump slap bang into them. Dammit.

With so many other people in the store (other than those I was trying to avoid) I will have to assume that at any one time, there also has to be at least one hot, single, delectable man in the store. The law of averages would assume this to be true. Ergo, whenever I am in the store, there should always be a potential husband on the loose.

Do I bump into hot, single men on multiple occasions when I'm shopping? No.

Do I have to worry that I will meet hot, single men so often around the store so that it gets embarrassing? No.

Do I see them so often that I need to plan and strategise in order to keep away from these hoards of sexy, hot men (ooh look, it changed!)? No.

Do I see hot sexy men wherever I go? Well, yes, actually.

Just kidding. No. It's always no.

Despite using the words 'potential husband on the loose' above - I can assure you that I'm not a crazed stalker in jungle khaki walking around stores with a hot, single man sized butterfly net. Because of this, I don't have any reason to think that said men are all hiding from me in the store or out (and having better luck at avoiding people than I seem to do). Please also remember that I wouldn't be able to talk to them (because I'm ignoring them as above) so they have no reason to suspect that I'm a) a babbling idiot who often imitates hippos in conversation and b) a little bit weird in general.

I can therefore only come to one conclusion: there is definitely some sort of conspiracy here.

Until I start to bump into hot men on a more regular basis, I will continue to believe that.

I'm just putting it out there into the universe to let it know that I'm onto it. I know there are games afoot and I am wise to it.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

A Happy Place Tuesday

I woke up this morning long after the sun had risen. Actually, it's winter so it wasn't that long after the sun rose which doesn't make me any less lazy but does make me feel better!

There's nothing quite like waking up and knowing that the day is all your own. It's the last day of my holidays so, despite feeling slightly under the weather (damn UC), I was determined to pack as much in as I could before my time is under someone else's rule.

After a fairly lazy rising mixed together with a little panic when I realised that I'd sold something on ebay and needed to package it up for posting, I met my mum and we hit the superstore. While mum went round and actually did her weekly shop, I went round and was transported to childhood as I stared in awe at all the Christmas decorations and scrummy foods. Did I mention that I LOVE Christmas? But more on that in another post... (probably numerous other posts!)

I forgot to mention one fab detail of the day - the weather! It was the first proper frost of the season and the whole world had been doused with silvery glitter. Add to that, the lovely winter sun was out full force which made the glitter sparkle and made me all dreamy for skipping through the park on a crisp morning. However, I just stared at it from my window. Much warmer that way.

Shopping was done. We took my granny to the library where I hadn't been for months and months. In my experience, old ladies like to take their time with certain tasks and excursions. Not my granny. Not today at any rate. I was holding some books to look at to see if I wanted to borrow them when it was suddenly time to go. And when it's time to go, it's time to go. So I rushed away with several books:

1. Super Stretch. Creating a more flexible me in only 1 hour a week - I'm happy with that.
2. Is Gluten Making Me Ill? A doorstop book that I hope to build up the enthusiasm to read. I also might just wait until my Dietitian's appointment at the end of December and ask her!
3. A book about button crafts. I don't know the name of it because I left it with my mum for her to read for the moment.
4. The Waist Line Plan. I was happy with this choice until I finally got around to reading the cover once I was home. The subline of the book is: Beat Middle-Age spread in just 6 weeks.


Hmmm - maybe not so happy any more but what the hey - I'm only 30 and 18 months so it's obviously just a book that's not for me. Then I turned it over and read the blurb: "Essential reading for anyone over 30..."

*Angry tumbleweed*

30 is middle aged? How to make a girl feel down in one easy sentence!

I'll still read it and probably it will be the most interesting book of all my picks. But then that might be the senility kicking in!

After that, it was a double whammy of happiness as I read some of the new Nora Roberts book (The Dark Witch) and watched an episode of The Pioneer Woman as she cooked her way through chocolate recipes and a chowder.

The characters in Nora Roberts' books never fail to make me happy. I want to be them (even the ones that fight the forces of darkness!) and I want their lives and their relationships. Not to mention their houses, gardens, dogs and etc. It's a happy place. If I had to choose one to be - I want to be Parker from the Bride Quartet. But that's for another post, too!

I've recently discovered that Ree Drummond's kitchen is another happy place. Her family, life, ranch - everything looks so idyllic and I covet. How I covet!

From there it was onto another happy place. Fair enough that any place that serves delicious food must be a happy place! In this case it was Wok and Spice - a Chinese buffet in the next town over. I ate heartily and of things that I know are a little, shall we say dubious, to one with my bowels! But it was goooood.

The afternoon pretty much consisted of a mixture of recovering from lunch and experimenting with a new tear and share bread recipe. I'm thinking of calling it Three Cheese and Roasted Tomato Tear and Share Bread. It's just done the second rise and is about to be popped in the oven. If the recipe works out (and tastes delish) then I'll share it tomorrow!

So what's next for the rest of the day? Well, I have plans to go for a walk with my dad. The sun has now been down for a couple of hours and the frost didn't lift all day. Without the sun, I'm anticipating a bitter cold but it does give me a nice excuse to wear some cute woolly bunnets and scarves and wrap up all snuggly.

Speaking of snuggly, I have more grand plans for this evening. I think, to honour my last day of freedom for a while, I will snuggle up with my cosy trousers (polar bears, no less), a warming cup of tea (in a very apt mug) and Christmas movies. Sounds delightful.

And the perfect end to what has been a really fun time off. But useful too, I have only a few other bits and bobs to go and I'm ready for Christmas!

Not long to go now!

J xx

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Project: Love Myself

My biggest challenge in life is to accept myself for who I am. Actually, not just accept myself but to love myself.

I have to remember that I don't have to be like other people and also that other people don't have to like me for me to be valuable.

And this is how Project: Love Myself was born.

I am going to make it my goal, going forward, to start to fall in love with myself. At the start of any budding romance, the first thing is to get to know the person that you're hopefully going to fall in love with. As this is an arranged marriage, of sorts, I already know that we are destined to be happy together so I don't have to worry about hopefully turning into definitely.

So, for this to happen I have to set myself a list of 'love' challenges.

Based on nothing more scientific that I think they sound like a good idea, I will do the following:

  • Wink at myself in the mirror each morning as if I have an exciting and mysterious secret. This is to make me like myself and become my friend. What are friends without secrets?
  • Put links to my Pinterest and Twitter accounts on my blog so that I can force myself not to be ashamed or try and hide who I really am. If I'm happy with myself then why should I care whether other people know the 'real me' or not?
  • Stand naked in front of the mirror (when I'm getting dressed or undressed - otherwise it's just weird!) and see my real body. Like what you see. Tell myself that.
  • Practise the art of speaking to myself as if I was someone else. You wouldn't tell someone else they were a fat, unlovable waste of space. Or at least I hope you wouldn't!
  • Write down lots of random things about myself that I'm 'secretly' proud of. Stop them from being secret just because I think that other people will judge me for them.
  •  Don't try to tone down your enthusiasm over things that you like. Even if other people don't like the same things - you do. And that's fine. What fun would it be if we were all the same? To gain extra credit - in conversations, tell people about the things that you like without expecting affirmations.
  • If someone gives you a compliment - say thank you! You don't have to tell people that it's a hand me down, cheap or just from the supermarket - you don't owe anyone explanations!
  •  If someone doesn't like something you do, own or wear - that doesn't matter. Take criticism in the spirit that it's delivered to you but the underlying thing is, if I like it and feel good with/in it then that's all that matters.
  •  Smile - I'm cute when I smile! (That was really difficult to write but well done me!)
  •  Remember that nobody's perfect. Everybody has hang ups. Everybody worries. Everybody is real.
Here endith the list.

J x

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

I can feel it happening...

It's hard to describe how I've been feeling of late. I suppose you never really realise how far you've come until you actually stop and take stock. Or, in my case, when you feel like the path you are travelling has suddenly turned into an escalator and you're walking up the down side.

I have this panic - I look back and see where I've been and I really don't want to go there again. It's so far down yet so close. But the escalator is speeding up and I need to walk twice as fast just to stay in the same place. But I'm getting exhausted and I don't have the energy to keep going. So I sit down and slip slowly back down the escalator until I have gathered up enough energy to walk again. Yet the tired moments are coming thick and fast and after each burst of walking I'm still finding myself a little bit further back than I started.

I don't want to be this person. I don't want to be depressed.

I don't want to be in constant fear of the swirling vortex of darkness that's at the bottom of the escalator.

The sad thing is that I thought I was getting better. I have been getting better. Compared to this time last year I am doing much better. But now I know what it's like to be mired in feelings of utter despair, the fear of returning is added into the mix of feelings I'm experiencing.

I'm depressed.

That doesn't mean I'm sad and it doesn't mean that I'm grumpy. If I could 'cheer up' I would - believe me. I wish I could 'cheer up'. I wish that I didn't keep coming back to this place. This lonely, all-consuming place that I hate.

As it is, I'm on that escalator and can't get off and can't stop.

J x