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21 December 2014

Christmas time and a lucky Bodhi

Christmas has really snuck up on  me this year.  In previous years I've been counting down the days from the end of October and usually have my Christmas shopping nailed by mid-November.  This year it all feels a little last minute and I'm not sure I'm really ready for it - I could do with an extra couple of weeks before the big day! (Though I feel like I need some time off work, so Christmas Eve can't come quickly enough in that respect!) Every year I pore over the Good Housekeeping Christmas special and plan to make homemade hampers; full to the brim with homemade chutneys, jams, fudge, biscuits and so on - and I've never quite managed it yet - maybe next year! It's quite hard to get your Martha Stewart on when you work full time and have a busy lifestyle isn't it? I always end up feeling a bit like a Christmas failure and shunning my collection of DIY Christmas pins on Pinterest!

At least it's looking suitably Christmassy in our house, with the tree up and lots of twinkly lights and decorations.  We put our tree up in the first week of December - it always feels so magical to come downstairs and see the lights flickering away - makes it a little easier getting up in the dark!  The present pile underneath is also starting to grow, ready for us to pack them all up to take to my Mum's on the 23rd.  I can't wait to spend some time at home with my family; it's what makes the Christmas period especially special as we don't get to all be in the same place at the same time very often, particularly since my brother moved to Aberdeen.

Christmas

(One of my favourite decorations - the mini Christmas jumper!)

Christmas

Selfridges kindly sent me a hamper of treats to celebrate the launch of the new Paddington film on the 28th November.  I'm so excited to see it, I used to be such a huge fan of Paddington as a child and had a little Paddington teddy and a Paddington that you made out of cardboard with a little suitcase and jar of marmalade! Paddington is currently watching over our tree (and we've also been tucking into the Paddington marmalade they kindly sent!)

Christmas Christmas

Talking of generous gifts, Bodhi got a hamper of treats this Christmas from the lovely people at Petplan. I wish I'd made a video of him opening it; he knew straight away when I brought it home that it was for him.  As soon as I put the beautifully wrapped collection of goodies on the floor he got straight into tearing into it!

Petplan
Petplan

I think this blue rope toy was his favourite, he immediately dragged it off and refused to surrender it!

Petplan

He also took a liking to this grey squeaky bone, which he dutifully did 'paw' for!

Petplan

The Mutts and Hounds bed they sent us is just beautiful, it's so cosy and Bodhi adores it.  It's the first bed he's had that he willingly hops into at night, he curls up inside it and just looks the picture of comfort!

Petplan

Petplan are a really lovely company who support over 1,000 charities and who really care about pets - I'd encourage you to check them out if you are considering insuring one of the four-legged members of your family. I owe them a big thankyou for the lovely gifts they sent Bodhi, he is one spoilt little doggy! I'm sure there will be a few more treats under the toy for him this year, we've even bought him a special little Christmas dinner to have on Christmas Day.

How are your Christmas preparations coming along?

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20 December 2014

The ultimate roast chicken

We were talking 'death row' meals at my parents' house the other day (a bit of a morbid discussion but we're one of those families - especially my Mum and I - who are usually found either eating food or talking about food).  I am a die hard pizza enthusiast, Tom loves his burgers, my Dad is also a huge burger fan and my Mum was unwavering about her love for the great British roast dinner.  Now, I must admit straight away that I'm usually pretty on the fence about a roast dinner. I'll order it on a Sunday in a country pub if I need some comfort food, but we don't often cook one up on a Sunday. Apparently I'm not the only one either - as apparently less than a third of Brits have a roast dinner on a Sunday; with more opting for a takeaway or another international dish.

Oven Pride recently challenged me to try out a roast dinner recipe from a top cookbook and report back as to how it went, and I was keen to give cooking a roast dinner a try, and see if it could become a staple part of our Sunday traditions.  A little surprise package arrived for me a few weeks ago, and inside was a copy of Slow Cooking by James Martin.  (Just as an aside, this cookbook is amazing, with recipes like chicory and ham gratin, baked potatoes with pancetta and Taleggio, and meringue, lemon curd and passion fruit torte.  I dribbled my way through the contents pages and did lots of bookmarking!) The ethos of the book is 'family favourites' to 'take your time over' - and what could be a better way to cook a Sunday roast than preparing and tending to something slowly, filling the whole house with the delicious smells of a gently roasting chicken? (Oh and FYI the book is £5 on Amazon at the moment and would make the perfect stocking filler!)

oven pride

You can find the recipe here on Google Books.  I won't reproduce it here as I don't want to get busted by the Copyright Police but I'd definitely encourage you to give it a try - and I think you might want to after you read my review below!

Oven Pride recently discovered that one in four Brits have never cooked a Christmas dinner, so they asked me to review this recipe and share it here to encourage others to give cooking the ultimate roast dinner a try!  Here is my review....

"The recipe we used for our roast dinner involved soaking the chicken in brine for two hours prior to cooking; so the first step was to make the brine, which we did on the Saturday evening.  The brine contained salt flakes, garlic, lemon and bay leaves.   The brine needed to be cool before adding the chicken, so we made it the night before to avoid having to heat up our fridge!  The chicken was then placed in the fridge, in the brine, for two hours on the Sunday morning, which was the perfect window for chopping and preparing the rest of the accompaniments to our roast dinner.

The chicken was taken out of the brine, rinsed off, and then was cooked on a bed of chopped onion and carrot and drizzled with rapeseed oil.  The chicken was cooked for about an hour and a half.

oven prideThe recipe itself was incredibly easy.  It took some preparation and isn’t a recipe you could decide to make at Sunday lunchtime (due to the brine having to be prepared and cooled) – but was well worth the extra preparation.  We cooked the chicken at the same time as our roast potatoes, parsnips, cabbage, broccoli and carrot and swede mash, so it was all ready at the same time with minimal fuss.

oven pride

The chicken itself was absolutely delicious – so tender and tasty and undoubtedly the best roast chicken I’ve ever had.   I sometimes find roast chicken a little dry, but this was so moist and flavoursome.   There was very little mess in the kitchen and the oven, and bar preparing the brine a few hours before cooking the chicken (or the night before, as we did), it didn’t take much effort to prepare or cook.  I would absolutely make this recipe again – the ‘melt in your mouth’ chicken was absolutely amazing and I can’t wait to share the recipe with others next time we have friends and family over for a roast dinner."

oven pride
oven pride
oven pride

Do you regularly cook roast dinners? Will you be cooking a roast this Christmas? (It goes without saying that we used Oven Pride to clean up our oven after putting it through its paces with this recipe!)

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15 December 2014

Goals and (no) motivation in the winter months

This morning my alarm went off at 6am.  This is not an unusual occurrence because I set my Sleep Cycle Alarm for 06.00 - 06.30 (you set a half-hour window and it wakes you up in your 'lightest' sleep phase) and my Sleep Cycle Alarm hates me.  That or I'm an extraordinarily light sleeper - either way, it usually goes off in the first five minutes of the half an hour period.  I may as well just use my normal alarm.

Anyway - so, whilst I say it's not unusual for me to set my alarm for 6am, this is actually a relatively new routine as I've been trying to fit some runs into my mornings before work.  I have to leave for work around 7.45 so a 6.00 wake up call gives me time to pull my running gear on (a fatigued affair which usually involves a protracted search for one, if not both, of my running socks), get out of the door, jog around the block for half an hour and then get back, showered and changed and off to work. This morning however, I took one look at the screen, silenced the cacophony of jangly noises intended to wake me up, and went back to sleep.  My reasons for doing so can broadly be summed up via the following;

1. Too cold
2. Too dark
3. Too tired
4. Too Monday

To backtrack a little - my reason for pushing fitness up the agenda is not only because of a general feeling of wanting to get healthier and slim down a little, but also because of two upcoming dates in the diary - one slightly more important than the other;

1. February 22nd (Brighton Half Marathon)  
2. April 17th (Wedding)

Why I chose to train for a half-marathon and tone up to feel more confident in my wedding dress through the winter months, I don't know.  Not besides anything else, I actually find it quite difficult to run when it's colder and have to take my little blue inhaler stashed in my pocket and wear a neck-scarf-thingemy that leaves me looking like I'm about to rob a bank (it's a strong look).

found on: thetweedfox

But running obviously isn't my only fitness pursuit at the moment - actually, like an old teddy, it's sort of been forgotten and (metaphorically) pushed under the bed for the last few months in favour of my shiny new toy, my gym membership.  Most weeks over the last few months I've had a Personal Trainer appointment on a Monday or a Tuesday and then been to the gym twice more during the week (and then sometimes to a class at the weekend).  But as Autumn has crept in, along with rubbish weather, dark mornings, and chilly temperatures, I'm finding both running and the gym increasingly difficult to motivate myself to get out and do.  On nights when I've scheduled a gym session in my diary I find myself gazing out into the darkness and my rapidly frosting car and thinking 'Really? Do I have to?'

I sometimes wonder if I'm too hard on myself.  In an already pretty full life, three gym sessions and a couple more runs per week feels like a lot.  But then I also sometimes wonder if I'm just being lazy. There are plenty of people (I know so, I follow some of them on Strava or Nike Running) who do a lot more than that - who work 12 hour shifts and then stop off at the gym on the way home, who run 10+ miles at the weekend, or who go to the gym twice a day.  Surely I should be able to summon up the energy for one, measly, 30 minute trot around the neighbourhood of a morning? There are 24 hours in a day, as they say (well, that's fairly well proven actually) - I have enough time to make fitness a priority (or even just bump it up the list).

from last thursday's rather dark morning run

The thing is - I must confess - it's not just physical exercise that's leaving me reaching for the metaphorical (and literal) snooze button at this time of year, it's well, pretty much anything I can't do in my pajamas.  I usually get home around 6.30, get my dinner on, get into something more comfy, and then contemplate how soon I can legitimately climb into bed.  It's fair to say that at the moment I have little motivation for anything other than wrapping presents and reaching for another mince pie.

But this attitude isn't doing any wonders for my least favourite constant companion (no, not my muffin top - well, that too) - GUILT.  There's very few occasions when I'm not feeling guilty about something; usually something I've eaten, or a workout or opportunity for physical activity that I've dodged.  And so December and January end up being a shame spiral of Christmas food overindulgence + not enough running/gym = feel sorry for myself + eat another Matchmaker.  I just can't help it - the allure of the sofa and my duvet is too strong and I am too weak.

Which brings me back to those two milestones - do I drop out of the Brighton Half-Marathon on the grounds that fitting running into an already pretty chock-full schedule is going to be too much for my diary as well as my sensitive chest? And do I try and give myself a break and accept that if I'm not a slim and toned bride it's not the end of the world? Who knows, but in the meantime - pass me the Matchmakers....

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