Tuesday, 20 June 2017

The Recipe Post #15: Chickpea and coriander curry

This is one of my favourite go-to dinners.

It's quick to make and can easily be adjusted to use up any veggies that aren't going to be at their best for much longer.

I've made this for friends and family plenty of times, and it's also a great one for leftovers, when the spices have had even longer to combine and sit together.

I originally used a recipe from The Pool (one of my favourite websites ever, hands down), but as mentioned I now sort of throw together different variations based on the same core dish.


  • 1 chopped onion
  • 1tsp ground ginger (or small knob fresh, grated)
  • 1tsp ground coriander, plus some fresh
  • 1tsp ground cumin
  • 400g tin chopped tomatoes
  • 1 vegetable stock cube, dissolved in water
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 red pepper, chopped
  • 1 courgette, chopped
  • 1 tin chickpeas, drained
Fry the onion in some oil, then add in the garlic and spices for a few minutes.

Next, add in the vegetables (here I've used pepper and courgette, but plenty of other veggies would work well). When softened - about 5-10 mins - add the chopped tomatoes, stock and chickpeas.

Bring to the boil then simmer for about 15 minutes.

I didn't have any on this occasion, but I often stir through some spinach towards the end to add another hit of greens.

I like to add naan bread (this was Aldi's garlic and coriander naan), but rice would also work well. If I eat leftovers for lunch I tend to just eat the curry alone.


Monday, 12 June 2017

Happiness Planner - My 100 Days

I've been eyeing up people's Happiness Planners on Instagram for a while now, and my sister clearly read my mind, presenting me with my own on Christmas Day.

I waited to start until I had finished a couple of other journal-style projects I was working on, and dived into the first pages at the end of February.

I've now completed my '100 days to happy', so thought I'd share my experience with this beautiful little journal.

I haven't planned a structure to this, really, so I'll just put my thoughts under headings as they come to me...

Daily habit

One of the things I've been really working on is adding in little daily habits to my routine. I add one in, get used to it, then throw in an extra. That way, it's a little change at a time but they add up to have a big impact. I've written a post about my habit of reading for 30mins a day, and the rituals now also include meditation, foam rolling, and my pride and gratitude journals.

This was another of those daily habits, and one that really allowed me to focus on goal setting in the context of my feelings. It wasn't just about ticking off a to-do list, but about noticing how my actions were affecting my day-to-day mood.

Weekly reflection

Through my daily habits, I've really been working on reflecting on my days, on what I'm grateful for and proud of, and what I have achieved and would like to improve on. An extra addition from the happiness planner was the weekly reflection. I used to fill this in on a Monday morning and it really got my week off to a good start.

In case you're interested, here are the thoughts and questions included in the weekly reflection:
- describe the past week in three words
- scoring different emotions numerically, such as stress level and happiness levels
- the week's highs
- the week's lows
- what I learned this week
- who and what I'm thankful for
- what I'd like to improve on/what I hope for

As you can see, it's a fantastic way to reflect on what the week has brought, and I particularly liked ending the roundup with considering what I want to continue working on and improving.

Opening questions

Before you begin the Happiness Planner, there's a section to assess your start point. You need to set aside time to work through these exercises and questions as you do need to think about them, but I found them really worthwhile. I've read a lot of books in the 'self-help' or personal development genre and gone through counselling with various people, and I really liked the fact that these questions were different. Too often, I feel we're asked the same questions, which are meant to motivate or inspire us, but it's often not until that question is altered that you actually get that moment of realisation.

I think this section alone is worth buying the planner, even of you didn't want to take it further - that's how invaluable I found the process of answering the questions in these first 10-15 pages. You think hard about your strengths and weaknesses, character traits and what you're grateful for in your life, before moving onto your dreams, what you hope to bring more of into your life, and where you see yourself over the next few years.

Finishing questions

At the end of the Happiness Planner is a similar section full of questions, which are again interesting but I wasn't as taken by these. I think that by the end of the process I had got into such a routine of being aware of my feelings, setting and achieving mini goals, and doing other personal development work alongside the Planner, that I sort of didn't need such a long set of questions. I've got to take into account that fact that I've been going through a pretty intensive process of changing my life after reaching a real low point with my anxiety and depression last year. For me, the Planner was one part of a whole host of tools I've been using. For anyone using the Planner just as an addition to day-to-day life, these questions would most likely be far more interesting.

This section is very self-reflective again, and allows the opportunity to look back over the whole Planner and consider what has changed. It's about the happy moments, the skills you've learned, the habits you've cultivated and what you discovered about yourself.

Overall verdict

Without a doubt, the Happiness Planner has been a beautiful fixture in my life for the 100 days I used it, and it helped me focus. It was a daily habit that focused on gratitude, on looking ahead and on making each day better than the next in a very realistic fashion. The message of the Planner is that small daily and weekly steps can add up to have a huge impact over only 100 days, which is certainly true.

If you don't like routine and structure, or aren't prepared to spend time on self-reflection, you're going to need to alter that mindset before investing as you'll only get out what you put into it. It doesn't take hours, but it does involve taking proper time each day and week for reflection, in order to continue to make progress.

As mentioned earlier,  I've been using the Happiness Planner during an intense period of change in my life, so the Planner hasn't been the sole reason for my progress and change in mindset, but it's been a really important and valued part of that process.

It's a beautiful book, and an ideal gift to yourself or someone you know would spend the time and really appreciate it. I was excited when I received it, but by the end of the 100 days I liked it far more than I had expected to (and those original expectations were high).

Monday, 5 June 2017

The Recipe Post #14: Roasted Pesto Salmon

Today's recipe post has become a firm family favourite.

It's so simple but full of flavour.

The pesto seems to enhance the flavour of the salmon fillet even more, the roasted tomatoes are delicious, and we team it with brown rice and veggies, or simply a roasted vegetable selection as shown here.

You will need:

  • Pesto 
  • Salmon fillets (1 per person, and we usually make extras for lunches)
  • Cherry tomatoes, halved
  • Accompaniments of your choice - pictured here are roasted sweet potatoes, butternut squash, courgettes and red, green and yellow peppers, and some garlic spinach. In the past we've served it with brown rice, broccoli and peas.

 This couldn't be much more easy if it tried.

Preheat the oven to about 200 degrees Celsius.

Line up the salmon fillets on a baking tray and spread a layer of pesto across the top of each.

Top each fillet with some halved cherry tomatoes for a burst of flavour.

Pop into the over for about 15 minutes.

Serve with sides of your choice!

We've been eating this every week or two at the moment, and every night I say I'm making it the news is definitely welcomed!

Simple, tasty and full of goodness.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Hello, June 2017

What a year it's been so far.

As we move into the sixth month of a year that has been eventful both in the wider world and in my personal life, I'm feeling reflective.

The past six months have been full of change.

I've been back up north since December, now, and focusing on recovery from four years of anxiety and other related issues, which all came to a head almost exactly one year ago.

In June 2016, the picture looked very different to today's.

The issues I'd been ignoring or hiding from those around me refused to be ignored any more, and I was in a complete state.

I couldn't eat or sleep, everything terrified me and I'm not going to lie: it was a scary, scary period.

That was my signal to change my life.

For years I had been trying to pretend I could cope, but my body was now telling me I couldn't - I needed to face it all head on.

After a period working with an incredible counsellor in London, I left the big city to practice what I had been learning and change my whole lifestyle.

The focus has been bringing back the Sophie that was lost years ago, and adding to that new practices, new happiness and a focus on an exciting future.

2017 so far has seen huge change.

I can quite honestly say I feel like a completely different person.

I've been doing weekly yoga sessions with someone who is teaching me so much not only about yoga, but about contentment and happiness.

I've got a personal trainer, and for the first time in my life am working out properly, heading toward a goal of feeling strong and healthy.

I joined a group following the Couch to 5K programme and I'm looking forward to being one of those people who would choose to 'go for a run to clear my head'.

I've pretty much doubled my food intake (I'm not eating as much as I should be just yet, but I'm well on my way) and I'm slowly reintroducing foods I'd ruthlessly cut out of my ever more restrictive diet.

I'm getting outside more, I'm meeting new people and I'm really focusing on enjoying friendships with some of the amazing people I have in my life.

Last week, I sang in front of people (microphone and all) for the first time in about four years - one of my all-time favourite things to do and something that always used to make me so happy.

I keep getting comments from people that they feel like the old Sophie is coming back.

The old Sophie, but with some extras.

I've learned a lot about myself and others.

My confidence is growing.

My happiness and sense of gratitude are growing.

I'm working towards all-round health (mental and physical).

It's been quite a journey, so far.

I think June is going to be a GREAT month.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

A simple way to learn a little more about depression and anxiety

Depression and anxiety are a huge issue for many people, and I myself have been diagnosed with both.

However, there's still so much misunderstanding around the topic of mental health, and that's why I'm so passionate about talking about it.

The more we talk about mental health, the more we as a society will understand and the more we can help those around us who are struggling.

One of the ways I love to learn about new things and broaden my horizons is through listening to podcasts, and I wanted to share a couple of episodes of one of those podcasts.

Ladies Who Lunch is a podcast hosted by YouTubers Ingrid Nilsen and Cat Valdes, on which they focus on a different topic each week. They've covered politics, friendships, relationships, sexuality and makeup.

They're two close friends having a chat, openly discussing topics people often shy away from, or don't know how to talk about. I absolutely love their honesty, and within the last six months or so they've covered a number of mental health topics.

If you're looking to get a bit more understanding of depression and anxiety, either because you're struggling yourself or know someone who is, I think the two episodes linked below are well worth a listen.

They provide a great, well-rounded introduction to the conditions, with both Ingrid and Cat sharing their own experiences candidly.

They discuss how differently the conditions can present in different people, the huge range of triggers people experience and the reason why they speak out about their experiences.

There is also open, frank discussion about therapy and medication, and why they each chose the routes they did, and how those choices affected them.

Here are the two episodes I'm talking about:

Episode 33: Attacking Your Anxiety

Episode 46: Dealing With Depression

I hope these help in some way, or just open your eyes to the experiences of more people.

I'm so encouraged by the amount of people who are speaking up about conditions like anxiety and depression, and will continue doing all I can to make sure I don't stay quiet.

Monday, 29 May 2017

The Recipe Post #13: A chickpea burger with potential

Burger time again!

I posted not too long ago about the most incredible Spiced Chickpea Burgers, and realised I haven't yet shared chickpea burger attempt number one, so here we are now.

I had tried these Jamie Oliver burgers first, ambitiously named 'The Best Vegan Burger'... but this recipe didn't go quite to plan.

The idea was good, the ingredients were nice, but I think the quantities were all wrong. Firstly, it called for far too much sweetcorn. A big 340g tin, alongside only one tin of chickpeas. The overall effect was a sweetcorn burger.

Don't get me wrong, I like sweetcorn, but I don't want a sweetcorn FLAVOURED burger, to the point I can taste nothing else. Also, there was far too much moisture, meaning they took a long time to cook and never reached the ideal firmness of a burger.

I'm going to share it here because it has potential to become a firm favourite, but will add commentary throughout of what I will change the second time around...

  • 400g tin chickpeas
  • 340g tin sweetcorn - I'll definitely decrease this next time, maybe to about 100-200g
  • half bunch fresh coriander
  • half tsp ground coriander
  • 1 lemon
  • oil, for frying - I had to over bake to finish these off because of the extra moisture from excess sweetcorn!
  • half tsp paprika -  I think I'd up this a bit... certainly if you keep the original amount of sweetcorn because you could taste nothing else
  • half tsp ground cumin
  • 3 heaped tbsp flour, plus extra for dusting
  • burger buns and desired sides - we went with salsa instead of ketchup, which was delicious

Drain the chickpeas and sweetcorn then add to a food processor with half the coriander leaves and all the stalks. Add the spices, flour and some salt, grate in lemon zest, then pulse until combined but with some texture.

On a floured surface, divide the mixture into 4 patties, and allow to firm up in the fridge for about half an hour. Pan fry for about 10 mins over medium heat, turning halfway through.

Serve with desired toppings and sides.

Overall, I was pretty disappointed with this recipe, because the amount of sweetcorn meant all other flavours were drowned out and the mixture had far too much moisture. However, I do like the idea of it - the ingredients, the little kick from the paprika and cumin... So this will need to be experimented with further!

Friday, 26 May 2017

The Reading List #43

Having shared this week about my daily ritual of spending at least 30 minutes of reading a day, it seemed about time to share my next reading list and some of the pages I've been turning.

The Lake House, Kate Morton

This book falls into the style Morton does well; two stories unfold at once, one of a missing child in the 30s and the second set 70 years later. The stories clearly have some kind of connection, but that's revealed only very slowly. It's certainly gripping and interesting, and there are some lovely passages of description. 

Whilst I enjoyed the read, as I have with Morton's previous novels, the style and formula are very distinctive and familiar, and it felt a little predictable towards the end. If you're looking for some escapism, though, a decent story and some good little twists, it's worth picking up.

Reasons to Stay Alive, Matt Haig

This book is raved about by so many, and for very good reason. I'm not actually going to say too much as I think I want to re-read it for a second time and then dedicate a post all of its own to one of the best books I've read in a very long time.

Using his own experiences, Haig weaves a beautiful, difficult and insightful look at depression, suicidal thoughts and other facets of mental health and metal illness. He tells his story, tells of parts of his recovery and shares key tips or lessons he has learned. It's one of the first things I've read that really captured the way I feel when my depression is most heightened, or described those feelings I recognise as surrounding my own panic attacks.

Truly outstanding, and should be essential reading.

My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You, Louisa Young

This story follows young Riley Purefoy, serving at war in 1917 and his childhood sweetheart, Nadine, whom he leaves behind. He never thought he had a chance with her, as she was from a more privileged background, so believed by going away he could move on with his life.

It's a beautifully written story of the war, from both the front line and the home front, focusing in particular on hospitals for wounded soldiers. It was easy to get invested in the characters, and I particularly loved Riley's journey through pride, injury, blame and embarrassment. He was believable, but your heart broke for him.

However, the novel never quite goes as far I wanted it to, when I wanted it to, but maybe that's part of why it was a page-turner. It was a quick-ish read, but full of emotion.

One Foot Wrong, Sofie Laguna

Hester, who seems around primary-school age, lives at home with 'Sack' and 'Boots'. The story is narrated mainly inside her head, a young girl who doesn't attend school and has been brought up in an incredibly strict household, with bible stories her only tool with which to connect to and understand the outside world.

This was a really unusual read, with a truly shocking ending. It's intriguing and clever, but there were moments where I felt the voice was lost, or the narrator used a metaphor she would have had no way of comprehending. However, I would say the voice was far more consistent than some other novels which try to adopt this childlike voice. Well worth a read.

A mixed bag, as ever, but that's the way I like to read! I've already read plenty more since these few, so expect more reading lists on the way soon...

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