I was just looking at my blog and realising how full it is of cancer, death and dying. Now sure I’m cool with talking about that stuff but it does give (even me) the impression that my life must be horrendously difficult. That’s not to say it isn’t at times, but it is only at times, some of the time I get to enjoy normal stuff as well and in the past six weeks despite my Dad’s and my Grandad’s health declining quite significantly I also got a long weekend away for the Jubilations (nice of Her Maj to give us an extra day off and even nicer to move it to that weekend – my birthday was the following Wednesday).
I thought I’d share a few of my favourite photos from that weekend, as a reminder that life is sort of normal too, in amongst all the doom and gloom. There was a lot of food:
a lot of Baby Jack:
and a lot of Ruby:
I’ll not share photos of the impact of having Jack (and his 24 hour stomach bug) with us, suffice to say about three of the eight adults managed a crash diet that weekend and it wasn’t due to the alcohol, even though there was quite a lot of that also.
It is really hard to take time away when you don’t know what will happen at any moment, but it was also a perfect tonic to quite a hectic few weeks. The only downside was that I couldn’t visit Dad for a week, until I was completely sure I was short of Jack’s bugs, not that in itself that was a problem either because it probably just added to my sense of having a break. I just wish I could give my Mum the chance to have that break, as we come into Carers Week I’m more aware than ever of the toll that Dad’s illness and my Grandparent’s increasing frailty is having on her. I’m off to visit her the family this afternoon and will again encourage her to try and take some time out. It’s absolutely essential.
A couple weeks ago I asked the twittersphere for recommendations of foodie hotels that are either good for staying in, or visiting for nosh. A number of people replied with recommendations, but unfortunately I’ve lost their twitter tags so apologies if you sent one of these and aren’t getting your deserved credit. Here are the hotels that were recommended:
There was one Welsh offering - Morgans Hotel, Swansea billed as a boutique hotel in the maritime quarter. There were also two Westcountry recommendations:
Cary Arm’s in Babbacombe, owned by Peter de Savary is the Inn on the Beach, with 5 AA stars and 5 Visit Britain stars it’s absolutely stunning – I’ve eaten here a few times too and it is lovely, especially when you can dine outside in the summer evenings.
The final offering was Old Quay House, Fowey overlooking the estuary.
I’m going to keep updating this post so if you have any recommendations you’d like included please just send me a tweet or add a comment. If you check any of these out please also let me know what you thought. Thanks.
Am I happy? Yes. No. Maybe. Sometimes. Rarely. What makes me happy? Depends what mood I’m in. What the weather is like. If I’m hungry. Whether I’m working. Arrrgggggggggggh I don’t know, who cares anyway?
I feel like I *should* be happy, I have a loving family, great relationships and friendships, supportive networks, I’m healthy, I have a great job that stretches me and rewards me in equal measure, I have a home, a feline companion, not as much time as I’d like but who cares about housework anyway! Some days I feel happy being happy, some days I feel at my happiest being miserable – and there in lies the rub with a happiness discussion. I’m never sure what we mean when we talk about being happy.
A conversation in the pub last week with @gerrynos and @fergusbisset got me thinking about this even more. We concluded (nothing earth shattering here folks) that happiness was a very personal construct, partly cultural and likely also to be related to upbringing and what was attributed value within that. Throughout my entire life my parents have been very focused on us kids being happy, the focus of my childhood was very much about doing your best coupled with happiness. Success in my parents eyes (I think – I might double check with them, but I’m 99% certain) is measured by being happy, it’s not about careers, exam results, fast cars, exotic holidays, having stuff, but more about how life feels. As an adult I think I live my life with similar standards, to be honest its challenging to always do your best (in fact I’m beginning to think near impossible but that’s a blog for another time) and hard to always know whether something will lead to happiness, but I try to focus on keeping a balance – I’m not happy all the time, I don’t even try to be happy all the time, but I do monitor life and know when it is out of sync. My latest theory for my own happiness is that a few basic things count. These are as follows:
1. Time spent sleeping – I can survive on 4 hours a night, I was renowned for it in college and nicknamed Maggie for the privilege. I’ve always been rather proud of not needing sleep, I’ve had an almost constant refusal to accept the fact that most humans function best on significantly more than that, until recently. I’ve come to realise that I quite simply perform better when I’ve had more sleep, I’m aiming for an average of 7hours a night, more at weekends.
2. Time spent outside – I am convinced that there is a direct correlation between the amount of time I spend outside and how happy I feel. This is unfortunate as I have a job that takes up a lot of my waking hours, and most of them are spent sat at a desk, or sat on a train, or sat in a meeting (I’ll come on to the sitting in a mo). I’m trying to get out more between meetings, walk around the building, soak up the oxygen to recharge and I’ll move to my outside office (the picnic table) as soon as the weather allows.
3. Time spent moving – this is another obvious one, I simply feel better (and I suppose happier) when I’ve exercised regularly. I’m in a constant battle with myself to overcome all the excuses I have for not running, but I simply have to do it because it works. It wont be running for everyone but it definitely helps me and I know that, so I’m going to start scheduling my runs to see if that helps.
4. Time spent singing – little left side for me this one. I’ve not really sung much since leaving school at 16, except weddings and funerals and in the car on the drive to work. I love it. I don’t (yet) love it enough to join a choir or do anything that’ll put pressure on me to perform at singing, but I have realised lately how much better I feel if I’ve had the chance to sing – so I can often be seen bopping along the A38 exercising my lungs of a morning!
5. Time spent achieving – this comes back to the do your best mantra I think. Basic human psychology and behavioural conditioning – I like rewards for doing something well. I’m a little obsessed by statistics and data and measuring progress. Few thing make me feel as content as seeing my blog hits on a good day! It’s the relativity that counts, and changes over time, not the numbers in themselves. I know my blog gets insignificant traffic by some people’s standards, but I like to compare day to day, week to week and see what has grabbed people’s attention. I got a fitbit for Christmas – best pressie *ever*. It’s an activity tracker that counts your steps, stairs climbed and calories burned – it also rewards your progress, I’ll do a post on that another time, but it’s really brought home to me how much I like little rewards.
There are other things that make me happy, such as feeling like my life has a purpose, holidays and time out, wearing hats, cold dry weather, postcards – sending and receiving, feeling connected, and perhaps most significantly relationships with friends and family but these are slightly more complicated than the five things I’ve outlined above. They are all things that I know improve my sense of happiness the more I have or do of them, my own recipe for happiness that works for me I guess.
I know that research tells me some of these things matter, but others do as well. A quick look at the Action for Happiness website tells me that yesterday was World Happy Day and they put together a Happiness Action Pack. The pack contains ten keys to happier living, as follows:
I’d love to know what makes you happy. Whether any of the things I’ve mentioned, or the research highlights, work for you. Better still I’d love to hear of alternative suggestions, however wild and wacky. Look forward to hearing from you.
This weekend I headed to River Cafe Canteen at Axminster. I’ve been a couple of times now and keep coming back – so something must be good. I thought I’d blog this time, mostly because I’ve got some piccies of the food that I thought you might enjoy.
First up the actual canteen space. I love it, the perfect mix between a proper nasty old school canteen, and a fabulous nice cafe; blackboards, bunting, wooden tables, can’t go wrong.
Next up starters, we had one Pork and Bacon Terrine:
Cornish Blue and Roast Butternut Squash:
River Cafe Ham and Shredded Red Cabbage:
and one Crab on Toast:
In a party of six, we had four people tempted by the Sausage, Lentils and Salsa Verde:
Mussels cooked with Bacon and Cider:
Cottage Pie with Greens:
with a side order of Chips:
and Chocolate Mousse with Brandy Cream:
All of this was accompanied by a couple drinks and coffee and a trip to buy some coronary clogging delicious cheese and bread on the way home. So, what’s the verdict, well I’ve been to the canteen three times and will definitely be back again. That said I thought they were understaffed in the canteen, which meant that service wasn’t as attentive as it could be. For example, I really don’t mind standing in a queue, but when I get to the front of it I’d like to be acknowledged and told how long I will be waiting for a table. Again, there was gorgeous looking bread up near the counter, we weren’t offered any (maybe we should have asked) but if our waitress had a little more time I can’t help but think she’d have offered some or explained whether bread was or wasn’t included. So, the food was fantastic, the atmosphere was great, the wait was bearable (and well worth it), the service was good but it felt like they could have done with another pair of hands on the canteen floor.
That said, I’d definitely recommend a trip if you’ve not already been – you can judge for yourself then.
The lovely @hadleybeeman was asking today if I had a gluten free chocolate brownie recipe. The truth is I don’t, but, I have adapted the Hummingbird Bakery recipe that features in their awesome Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook on three occasions – none of them came out perfectly, but they were all completely edible; let’ be honest with this much chocolate you can’t go wrong
200gm dark chocolate
175gm unsalted butter
325gm caster sugar
**130gm plain flour**
icing sugar, to decorate
a 33 x 23 x 5cm baking tray, lined with greaseproof paper
Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 3 (170C/325F)
Smash the chocolate against the worktop to break it up (very therapeutic) – put chocolate and butter in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (usual caution about not letting bowl touch the water but I have to confess that I’m way too impatient for that so I always make sure it is in the water, just not touching the bottom of the pan)! Leave until melted and smooth.
Take off the heat. Add the sugar and stir it all together. Then add flour** and stir until well mixed. Lightly beat the eggs and stir them into the mix until thick and smooth.
Pour/spoon into baking tray and bake in preheated oven for about half an hour – the idea is to get brownies that are soft in middle and flaky on top. I have cooked these loads of times and nearly always leave them in for too long! I check after 30mins, get concerned that the mix is still a little wobbly looking, bottle it and put them back in for five mins….only to end up with overdone brownies with crispy edges – which are still beautifully edible but not as nice as they should be.
Leave to cool before decorating with icing sugar. Serve with clotted cream, ice cream, yoghurt if you insist on pretending to be healthy, on their own. I’ve never had anyone complain about these!
**Gluten free alternatives**
As I said I’ve made these three times for those pesky people who don’t do gluten One of the times I did a straight swop for almonds, so instead of the flour just 130gm ground almonds; one of the times I replaced with a mix of half almonds and half rice flour; and one time I just used gluten free flour from Doves Farm.
IMO none of these substitutes work as well….but they were all still very edible and very yummy.
This week the ever resourceful @dalekdoctor spotted this and sent me a link to the Edge Brownie Pan – I have yet to indulge in a purchase but if I do I’ll let you know how I get on – it makes perfect sense to me as a solution for the is it raw…damn it’s crusty challenge I regularly seem to face.
Need an excuse?
Just in case you are one of those strange, restrained types who needs an excuse to get baking – don’t forget it’s @macmillancoffee today and let’s face it, we shouldn’t need a special day to eat cake or raise cash for them – they’re worth it anyday, so get baking
The other week I sat down to watch The Bucket List, I didn’t really know much about it, except that it was a comedy and that Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson starred in it. In a nutshell, for anyone who hasn’t seen it, it’s about two terminally ill cancer patients and their quest to achieve a number of things on their to-do list before they die. It’s a little cheesy, it’s easy watching, there’s a moral (kinda), you can probably take as much or as little out of it as you like. The tag lines of the film probably tell you all you need to know:
When he closed his eyes, his heart was opened
You only live once, so why not die with style?
If you’ve not seen it I’d recommend it.
Except it left me thinking. A lot. Regular readers (all two of you ), will be aware that my dad has terminal cancer, cholangiocarcinoma (you’d think after three years I wouldn’t need to double check how to spell that bloody word but no such luck). At his last appointment he decided not to have chemo for now (it was only likely to give him extra months not years) and to just carry on as normal – whatever normal is. The irony of the situation is that my dad is, or at least looks, fit and well; you wouldn’t know he was ill, indeed if it wasn’t for the routine scan earlier this summer I’m not sure we’d have been giving it a second thought. Dad was given three months to live, three years ago this week; he has surpassed all the odds already.
Last week was his birthday. What do you get a man who is dying for his birthday? Getting my dad a birthday present is an epic task at the best of times. He’s almost Buddhist in his approach to life and possessions – nothing is permanent so why want for anything? The only answer my dad has ever been consistent with when asked what he wants for his birthday – or for Christmas – or any other occasion is three well behaved children. We’re not too bad, us three, and we’re all adults now – so hopefully that need is met. So, true to form, what did I get him – I got him nothing, I baked instead. Double chocolate brownies for my pa on his 63rd birthday.
Which loops full circle to the point of this post – having just watched the Great British Bake Off on BBC2 I’ve decided that I’ll be baking tomorrow night for the World’s Biggest Coffee Morning on Friday. It’s not too late – you can still register to raise incredibly valuable funds for Macmillan Cancer Support. Trust me, Macmillan do really make the difference between a good and a bad day and just £25 could pay for a Macmillan Nurse for an hour; to be blunt that hour could change someone’s life.
You can help Macmillan continue their fantastic work – and you get to eat cake; what more could you ask for?
If you type Hinton St George into google, this map is the first thing you find:
and to be honest it’s about all you would need, it’s tiny.
Last Friday myself and Ferg had the pleasure of visiting Hinton St George, on the recommendation of Mark. It hadn’t been the best of weeks, I didn’t get to leave work early as planned and it was all a bit of a rush to get there; but it was truly fabulous and definitely worth the effort of getting there.
We stayed overnight at the Lord Poulett Arms where we ate and drank the night away.
We had a fabulous room complete with an old fashioned bed, one of those ones that makes you feel like a kid because it’s so high your feet don’t reach the floor. The bathroom, just across the corrdior, had a beautiful free standing iron bath that also made you feel a little special. The view from the room was also truly awesome, check out the rose, postbox and red phonebox….could you get a more ‘quaint English village’ look?
The Lord Poulett Arms was a fab place to stay, the only criticism is that it was a little busy on the Friday night when we arrived and when shown to our room we weren’t told the times for breakfast. We didn’t realise this until after everyone had left for the night and hesitated a guess at getting down for 09.45, assuming it would probably finish at 10am.
When we got there on Saturday morning we were greeted by a lady complete with hoover cleaning the pub. I think she saw the look pass between us, the ‘oh bloody hell we’ve missed breakfast’ look. What then happened was really ace customer service in action. She checked whether we were expecting breakfast, explained that we should have been told it finished at 9am, apologised that we hadn’t been and offered to get us something, but it wouldn’t be cooked. She then proceeded to get us fresh coffee, cereals, fruit, yoghurts, fresh orange juice, toast, two types of jam, butter, marmalade, croissants…and not once did she complain (despite the fact we were obviously holding her up from her cleaning duties) and when we came to pay she apologised again.
I am so glad that we missed brekkie! What we got instead was a really lovely start to our day, we hadn’t had to get up hideously early (looking civilised before 10am on a weekend is hideous to me), and I really felt that her customer service was above and beyond what was required. After brekkie we took a stroll through the village (took about two mins) and went to the local Personal Services Store (am saving that photo for a work presentation!) and managed to grab a jab of *the* most amazing jam I’ve had in years.
Made by the wife of the man who runs the village shop, and served in the pub, at the ridiculously cheap price of £1.85 the Strawberry and Gooseberry Jam is worth a trip to Hinton St George all in its own right! Go on, check it out, Somerset at its best.