Monday, 12 October 2015

Baked camembert and roasted tomatoes with pasta and courgetti

It's impossible to dress this up as a healthy dish, even with the added courgetti. What it does promise is a hearty, unky, warmth that will leave you feeling thoroughly satisfied. And cheese. Lots of cheese. So the next time you encounter a cold, dark, dreary evening, pop on your comfiest pyjamas, whip this up, slob on the sofa and tuck in. I promise you won't be disappointed.

Ingredients: A punnet of cherry tomatoes | a boxed camembert | olive oil | balsamic vinegar | spaghetti | fresh thyme | garlic | 2 courgettes.

Step 1: Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Unwrap the camembert but leave it in the box. Slice slits into the surface and stuff with thyme leaves and peeled garlic clothes.

Step 2: Drizzle with olive oil.

Step 3: Wash tomatoes in a colander and place in a roasting tray. Sprinkle over more thyme leaves.

Step 4: Drizzle with a tablespoon of olive oil and a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, season and give the roasting tray a good shake to mix.

Step 5: Place tomatoes in the oven for 15 minutes. Then pop in the camembert for a further 15 minutes.

Step 6: Spiralize 2 courgettes into long strips and place in a large bowl.

Step 7: Cook your pasta 10 minutes before the tomatoes and camembert are ready.

Step 8: Mash the tomatoes with a fork, drain the pasta and add it to the courgetti.

Step 9: Tip the camembert and tomatoes into the pasta and courgetti and give it a good stir.

Step 10: Season to taste, serve it up and enjoy!

Saturday, 10 October 2015

On happiness and mental health

A lot of my effort in recent years – both physical and emotional – has been in the pursuit of happiness. This probably sounds obvious, I mean, everyone wants to be happy, right? But as I’ve grown older I’ve found myself becoming a little more selfish (in a good way) and a little more ruthless when addressing the things that don’t make me happy. So, because today is World Mental Health Day, I thought I’d spend a little time reflecting on mental health and some of the ways I’ve learned to look after myself.

For the record, I’m not so much referring to people with clinical depression (which is a whole other issue that requires medical intervention), but rather the negative place we all find ourselves in from time to time that can be overwhelming (and often paralysing).

With this in mind, the British attitude towards mental health frustrates me. Sometimes it seems that we either feel embarrassed or ashamed of our negative feelings, or we wear them as a badge of honour to inspire pity and attention. I also think people often believe that the phrase ‘mental health’ doesn’t apply to them, that it’s only relevant if you’re clinically depressed. To me, mental health is exactly what it says: the health of your mental state, whether that’s positive, negative or somewhere in between, and that affects everyone, old or young, rich or poor, happy or sad, male or female. Everyone, EVERYONE, without exception, has times when they feel sad or lonely or confused or unfulfilled. It’s how we behave towards ourselves, and each other, during these times that matters.

Working in the charity sector for the past decade has really challenged my views on mental health. My colleagues have always talked about gaining ‘perspective’ when working with people in need. After all, how can you compare your troubles with a Colombian woman whose husband and three children were murdered by a guerrilla group? Or a 16-year-old single mother whose parents are both heroin addicts? Or the parents of a 3-year-old boy who has just been diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer? For years I felt racked with guilt for having ‘problems’, and it’s only now that I realise that mental health and happiness are completely relative, and just because I haven’t experienced these awful things, doesn’t mean I don’t deserve to feel sad or lonely or confused or unfulfilled sometimes.

One in four people a year will suffer from a mental health condition. Every single year. Right now I consider myself to be in a pretty happy place. I’m newly married, I have a good job, a disposable income, a happy home. Like everyone I have niggles and frustrations, but on the whole I’m in a good place. But there have been times when things have been very different, and for me it’s about using my happy time to build up the resources within myself so that I can tackle periods of low mood or difficulty when they arise.

For example, I often use Pocket to save interesting articles, like TheCircle’s article on loneliness, which I can then refer back to when I need a boost. I’m also a big fan of Medium, a blog-publishing platform that’s full of interesting social journalism. You can look for specific tags, for example ‘mental health’ and read lots of pertinent pieces that can give you a useful perspective.

As I’ve got older, I’ve been a bit more decisive about who I choose to spend time with (and this includes relationships). If I notice a friendship is feeling toxic or stale, I try to address it head on, and if repeated attempts are failing, I’ll move on. I choose to surround myself with people who love me and want the best for me, and who will be there for me in times of need.

I’ve also learnt some of my sadness triggers, such as spending too much time indoors, being alone for too long, feeling hungry or tired, and I plan my week in order to avoid these situations arising. If I feel ‘hangry’ (that’s hungry-angry in Sally speak), I make sure I have a snack in my bag. If Frank is out watching the football, I make plans to see a friend. This is not to suggest people with severe mental health problems can simply ‘snap out of it’, but for most of us who experience a low mood at times, these preventative measures can be invaluable when sadness creeps up on you.

Lastly, if you are feeling sad, I thoroughly recommend this online tool, which guides you through some simple questions and steps to take better care of yourself.

Collaborative post

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

One dress: two ways

I'm a couple of months into trying out a capsule wardrobe and I have to admit that I'm a complete convert. I've learnt a lot about choosing the right items to slot into my wardrobe and right now my mind is full of cosy jumpers, dresses with tights and thick layers as the colder (and wetter!) winter months approach. In general it's been a big success. My wardrobe feels versatile and comfortable and bar a couple of questionable decisions I wear nearly everything I have. I'm planning to blog about some of the tips I've picked up in the future, but one big lesson I've learned is that versatility is key. For example, this shirt dress from George at Asda is regularly pulled out of my wardrobe and I've worked out lots of different ways to wear it: cinched in with a belt and heels, loose with Converse, tucked into a skirt. I can be a bit guilty of identifying one bottom/top/shoes combo that works and wearing it over and over without mixing things up, so today I thought I'd show you two looks I've been wearing with the same dress: my slightly more dressed up version for going to the pub, and an unbuttoned version that I throw on with a pair of jeans and a cosy cardigan. This oversize cardigan is also a George find and is so cosy I struggle to take it off!

What I'm wearing: oversized cardigan - c/o George at Asda | Jeans - New Look | cami top: Warehouse | bag - Michael Kors | trainers - New Balance

What I'm wearing: coat - c/o George at Asda | bag - Mango | boots - Dune

So there you have it. I'm looking forward to sharing my next capsule wardrobe once I've whittled it all down! I can't wait to be stocking up on thick knits and chunky coats for my first northern winter!