Sometimes it takes a good friend to help you realise you didn’t “do nothing” all week. My weekly blog series was always designed to share the bits and bobs I get up to in between the day job and the bigger blog-worthy adventures. And while some weeks that will involve great short hikes and philosophical revelations, other weeks it will all be much more, well, normal.
Sarah (you really should follow Sarah, she has a great blog and talks a lot of sense), reminded me this morning what is normal is… It’s the nice stuff you do in an ordinary week. And so that’s what you’re getting today. Normal. Ordinary. Nice.
Thoughts on My Week
The fact is that work has been super busy, stressful even, and I have been very tired. I’ve slipped back into poor routine with home working, starting early and finishing late. But that’s okay, I have been productive, and I will be much stricter with myself this coming week, getting back to starting each workday with a short workout and ending with some stretching to reclaim that time for myself (read Weekly Blog Episode 52).
Add to that the very difficult conversations that have been going on around mental health struggles and the death of Sarah Everard, and I’m spent. I’m afraid that while I have been following what’s been going on, and have added my voice here and there, I have simply been too emotionally drained to write useful or meaningful words on the topics at the heart of it all.
At the same time, an old foot injury which was never really defined or treated has returned. Really odd. Basically, the area at the base of my middle toes is a bit swollen, which pushes my toes a part, and makes it painful to put the front of my foot on the floor. Great for someone who maintains their sanity through daily walks and is trying to hit 10,000 steps every day for Lent (read Weekly Blog Episode 58).
Last time I sought medical help and it was all a bit of a mystery. X-rays showed nothing and there didn’t seem to be any bruising anywhere, so I was simply told to rest it, wear proper shoes when I did walk, take painkillers for the pain, and not walk on uneven ground for a few weeks. It eventually went away. This was way back before I did the West Highland Way, which I did foot-pain free. Who knows, other than it’s very painful now, and makes me sad.
But I have still had some lovely times this week. Sarah reminded me that we’ve chatted about a whole bunch of stuff in our daily catchups on twitter that would make up a decent weekly blog.
And so here I am, with a pot of tea on the go (Whittard’s No 24 if you’re interested – send me your loose leaf tea suggestions), sharing slow cooker meals, a great flapjack recipe, how I’m getting on with my Spanish learning, trying out eco-friendly toothbrush heads, and what I’ve been reading and watching this week.
In the Slow Cooker
One thing that I always find comforting and nice regardless of what else is going on around me, is food. Especially food that is cooked low and slow, and eaten out of a bowl with a spoon. My slow cooker is probably my most favourite kitchen gadget (after the kettle…), and it gets a lot of use. This week I used it a couple of times, to make a beef stew with dumplings, and a massive pot of vegetable curry.
Beef Stew and Dumplings
Beef stew and dumplings is probably one of the most comforting eat-from-a-bowl recipes out there. Big chunks of beef (I get mine from my local butcher), carrot, parsnip, leek and onion, served with herby dumplings.
This is the Beef Stew and Dumplings recipe I use, give or take a carrot or two. It’s very easy to prepare and tastes great. One thing I do recommend adding to the pot before you put the dumplings in, is a tablespoon or two of an onion chutney. This adds such a great depth of sweet onion flavour you can’t get from dump-and-go meals, it makes a massive difference to the gravy.
Oh, and I halve the dumpling recipe because there are only two of us; I just make the dumplings fresh when we eat the leftovers.
Sweet Potato and Chickpea Curry
I love a sweet potato curry, it’s a great vegetable to add curry spicing to, and works very well in the slow cooker. I leave the skins on and cut it into chunky pieces so that some of it helps thicken the curry but the rest still offers some texture.
I cheated with the spicing this time and used a curry mix from a jar. I don’t profess to be an expert in spicing, and allowing someone else to mix the cumin and turmeric and other things in a tasty ratio works for me. Cooking a curry in the slow cooker means the flavours really get time to develop, although as with any spicy food it always tastes better the following day.
Other than the sweet potato and chickpeas, I also add tinned tomatoes, carrots, a couple of bell peppers, courgettes, onion, and closed cup mushrooms. My quantities were so big this time I had to wait for some of the veg to cook down before I could add the mushrooms… oops. Right at the end, with five minutes left to go, I added a whole bag of spinach and a small can of coconut milk, just to give the curry some freshness and creaminess.
Future Zoe will be very happy with the curry, especially that there was so much of it, as there are five more portions-for-two sat in the freezer. Batch cooking wins for me, it’s so worth the one-time effort of chopping extra veggies, and means I rarely need to grab processed food even when time is short.
Chocolate and Cranberry Flapjack
I absolutely love flapjack. Not only good as hiking food, it’s an excellent snack at any time of the day. Especially with a cup of tea.
I now almost always use this BBC Good Food recipe as my base. It’s a reasonably recent find, and I was dubious to start with as all other flapjack recipes have you melt the butter, sugar and syrup together to pour over the oats. Not in this one, you use fridge cold butter and combine everything in a food processor. But it honestly works a treat, trust me.
I introduced this quick method to Sarah and she’s been experimenting with different additions. This week I tried one of her recent tests; chocolate and cranberry. I used the recipe as given, and added a couple of generous tablespoons of cocoa powder, and about 100g of dried cranberries (my favourite of the dried fruits). Not only did it smell amazing while cooking (mmmmm chocolate), but it tasted fantastic. A winner. I will be making this again.
I want to try making an at-home version of Nakd bars (hint for my Currently Loving post coming later this week) and The Protein Ball Co balls. If you’ve got recipes for those that don’t take a bunch of expensive ingredients, then send them my way.
A 50-Day Streak
I reached a bit of a milestone on my attempt to learn basic Spanish using Duolingo this week – I hit my 50-day streak. That’s a short (sometimes very short) Spanish lesson every day for 50 days. Does it count as a daily habit yet?
It’s been going reasonably well. My vocabulary is improving and I have definitely learnt more words than I managed when reading a phrase book before heading to Spain on a holiday.
But I am starting to find it much more difficult now. It feels like in the last week or so the level has really ramped up. I can recall the words themselves most of the time, I can remember donde (where) versus aqui (here) and mi (my) versus tu (your) without too much strain. But whether something is masculine or feminine is really pushing my brain, and I’m constantly getting a (to) and el (the) mixed up. I don’t like it when I get marked wrong!
Clearly the point of doing a little bit every day is that eventually, however many red marks, it will go in and stay in. Here’s to the next 50 days!
Eco Friendly Toothbrush Heads
I’ve been making the switch to more eco friendly products gradually over the last few years. Most of the time it’s about replacing disposable items with reusable ones, such as bar soap and shampoo, washable cotton pads instead of cotton wool. But sometimes it’s about finding an alternative that is still disposable in many ways, yet is much kinder to the environment. This week I am trying the latter, with the heads for my electric toothbrush.
I’ve been served ads for LiveCoco on my social media feeds for months. It’s so hard to know if companies that go big on social are the real deal, and so I decided to give LiveCoco a try to see if they are up to the constant barrage of advertising.
I chose these recyclable toothbrush heads by LiveCoco, just two to start with to see if they hold up against the official Oral B ones. I bought them on Amazon because they were quite a bit cheaper, and I’m afraid that looking after the pennies is very important, but if they work out then I’ll buy in bulk directly.
So far so good. They fit the toothbrush well, seem well made, and are doing what feels like as good a job at cleaning my teeth each morning and night. If I am still happy in a couple of months I’ll buy more, and will let you know.
The premise with these is that you return them to LiveCoco (how to do that is explained on their website) to be recycled properly. They are made from a thermoplastic which can be melted down and reused, and the bristles are also made from recyclable nylon.
Assembled: The Making of WandaVision
I thoroughly enjoyed WandaVision, it was a superb piece of cinematic television, including all the things I enjoy – superheroes, comedy, a heap of intertextuality, fight scenes with lasers, and even philosophy. As soon as the final episode aired last week, Disney Plus released its now traditional making-of documentary.
Assembled: The Making of WandaVision takes a look behind-the-scenes of the series, including how they made the sitcoms look and like real sitcoms (with a live audience – no canned laughter), a look at the various filming methods, insights into the music composed for the series, and interviews with cast and crew. It’s basically the extra bonus feature you’d get on the WandaVision DVD if you had it, a very enjoyable watch.
If you’re looking for something to watch on any of the on demand services available here in the UK, I highly recommend Vodzilla for news and reviews.
Four Hour Work Week, Tim Ferriss
I’m not sure if reading (listening to) Tim Ferriss’ Four Hour Work Week helped or hindered my emotional state this week, but one thing I do know, I want some of that! I mean, I remain quite sceptical in a lot of ways, I’ve not developed any ideas for muse products and am not about to see if work will allow me to spend six months working away in some hot country on the other side of the world. But sometimes you just need to do a little work on the old mindset, and remember that life is for living now rather than waiting for retirement. And it was a reminder that I should check my email and social media feeds much less than I do at the moment (read my post about doing a digital declutter).
I don’t know. As someone who really would like to create more time for road tripping and hiking adventures, there were certainly some lessons within the book I can use to my advantage. The most important one for me where I am right now is to really think about what I really want and take conscious and intentional actions towards that goal every day. And, even more importantly, not being defined by what I do. I am not my job. I am not my blog. I am just me.
I’ve been reading a lot of non-fiction recently and one of the recommendations Tim Ferriss made is to do less of that. So, it’s back to fiction for me. I’ve got Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel and The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham lined up next, and I’m looking forward to a bit of escapism over the coming days.
Keeping Me Honest
I guess the moral of the story this week, and a weekly blog that turned out quite long in the end (I hope you made it to the end!), is that having a good friend is priceless. Not only did does Sarah keep me honest with our daily chatter, but she also helps me see the bigger picture when things are otherwise fraying around the edges.
I hope you have someone like that in your life. And if you fancy it, or need it, feel free to start a conversation with me on twitter any time, I love to chat online.
As always, I would really love to hear from you in the comments below. Let me know what your favourite thing about the last seven days has been, and don’t forget to get your One Hour Outside today… whatever day you happen to be reading this on!
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