How to Spend: October

It never fails to amaze me just how much everyone loves October. I’ve always been more of a summer person, and surely everyone loves Christmas, but it turns out that for most – autumn rates pretty highly.

And I can see why. The world looks stunning in its autumnal get-up, I love pulling out all of my jumpers and coats again and the slight nip in the air is a reminder that Christmas is on its way… But there is the other side to the change of seasons as well. It’s getting dark and cold, everyone is coming down with some sort of illness and the disappearance of the sun is just a bit, well, miserable.

We don’t spend nearly enough time looking after ourselves, so this month remember to schedule in some time for just that. Buy all the bath bombs, put on a face mask, read a book, catch up on Bake Off… The summer was so busy for me and I feel like I’ve been running around without ever stopping. Use October to finally catch up with yourself, because Christmas is on it’s way and it’s all going to get really busy again before we know it… But until then enjoy the changing leaves, don’t forget that the clocks turn back on the 29th and prepare to scare yourself silly on the 31st!

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*Have a pamper night: Even if you can’t spend the entire month looking after yourself, one night isn’t too much to ask. Say no to going out and put yourself first for once – the world won’t end! You can’t go wrong with a Lush bath bomb, a face mask (Glamglow is my personal favourite) and a good book. Use the time to catch up on Bake Off, watch a film and get a really early night. They say that no good stories start with an early bedtime, but it’s OK to opt out of that for once and just look after yourself.

*Explore somewhere close to home: Part of taking things a bit more gently this month for me has been using the weekends to explore what’s on my doorstep. The summer is the time for jet-setting, and my head has been filled with plans for far-flung places for months now, but with the arrival of autumn something has just switched. Suddenly I don’t want to be up all hours, boarding flights and living out of a suitcase anymore. But that doesn’t mean staying at home and doing nothing – I’m never one for that. There is so much to explore just outside your front door when you open your eyes. Things as simple as breakfast in the nice cafe you spotted to a walk in the park are just as wonderful as Instagrammable holiday destinations (and maybe even better…)

*Go pumpkin picking: Finally, my favourite suggestion for this month, there is nothing more fitting for Halloween than to go pumpkin picking. This is really taking off in the UK (or maybe I’m just really slow to the party), so a quick Google should bring up something local to you. At our local one you get to pile onto a tractor down to the pumpkin fields, pick as many pumpkins as you can carry and feast on pumpkin soup served in tiny gourds. And then of course, back home, you get to carve them… Don’t forget to put your finished creations out to encourage the trick or treaters to come knocking (but don’t forget to buy sweets!)

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Where to Eat in Edinburgh

August turned into a bit of a miserable month. The weather was awful and I hate the feeling that everything is at a standstill, while the rest of the world holidays. So to remedy that, Tiarnan and I booked a last minute Air BnB and hopped on the train to Edinburgh – a city that is most certainly not at a standstill.

Quite the opposite – August is Edinburgh’s moment. Being at university in Newcastle, I have visited the Scottish capital a few times but never during the Fringe. The streets were alive with actors determined to get every punter to their show, stuffing leaflets into your hands as you try to shuffle your way down the Royal Mile amidst the chaos. It was so much fun.

Before we headed north though, I tried to research the best eateries – something I always do before landing in a new city. To be honest, I didn’t find much on Edinburgh and we ended up making rushed decisions on where to eat by Googling ‘best lunch spot near me’, or similar. Surprisingly – it was a method that really worked. Here it what we found…

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*The Manna House Bakery: We had just stepped off the train and it started pouring with rain. It was too early to head for the Air BnB so we needed somewhere to stop and eat – The Manna House Bakery was Google’s recommendation and now it’s mine. This was a little out of the way for us and somewhere I would never have found alone, but it was a great lunch spot. Fresh loaves filled shelves around the bakery, to accompany salad dishes for lunch and sweet treats for afters. A great lunch spot if you are in the area.

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*Under the Stairs: Located just off Grassmarket, this bar is very easy to miss at street level. It literally is under the stairs. With mix-matched armchairs, an enormous fireplace and huge cocktail list to choose from, this is a unique pre-dinner drinks spot. The cocktails were a little strong for us (they nearly blew our heads off) but the food looked delicious and I imagine it would make a very cosy spot in autumn and winter.

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*Badger & Co: Badger & Co is an old favourite, we visited last year when it had just opened but enjoyed our second trip just as much. Centrally located on Castle Street, Badger & Co is the former home of Wind in the Willows’ author Kenneth Grahame, and the classic tale is the inspiration of the restaurant. The menu uses local and seasonal produce, and really is comfort food at its best. The pies are the stars of the menu, but they also have a creative drinks list and serve food all day. We have never tried the breakfast, but that will have to be one for next time…

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*Cuckoo’s Bakery: I tentatively headed to Cuckoo’s Bakery on Dundas Street late on Friday evening, telling Tiarnan they may have no cupcakes left – to which he replied “what sort of cupcake shop runs out of cupcakes?” But, indeed – they had. Cuckoo’s Bakery bake their cupcakes fresh each day using local ingredients and is becoming something of an institution. The owner told us to come back first thing the next morning, so we did and our efforts were rewarded. There’s a huge range of flavours, including raspberry and white chocolate – voted the best cake in Scotland for two years running – so we couldn’t help but go for the six-cake box to sample as many as possible…

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*Hula Juice Cafe: London has exploded with healthy brunch spots, but I haven’t found any I’m as keen to return to as Hula. Hula Juice Cafe & Gallery is like a healthy spot for normal people – no need to be vegan to fully enjoy the menu. There’s a juice and smoothie list longer than your arm and the breakfasts have a healthy twist but nothing too scary – porridge, yoghurt and granola, toast (with an avocado toast option, of course) etc and they are all delicious. There’s a no reservation policy so prepare to queue, but this cute little cafe, sunk to half-above, half-below ground level at the bottom of colourful Victoria Street is definitely worth the wait.

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*Fudge Kitchen: We first discovered Fudge Kitchen hidden in the Shambles when York was Tiarnan’s university town, so as soon as we knew they had a branch in Edinburgh, we had to visit. Fudge Kitchen is the best fudge out there. They have the most incredible flavours, from Vintage Vanilla to Lemon Drizzle, and they let you try everything. Everytime we have visited we end up rolling out, having filled up on so much fudge. Buy a six slab box and take it home – it’s a LOT of fudge but the only way to do it.

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*Artisan Roast: And finally, Artistan Roast was a final, spur of the moment Google suggestion when we found ourselves wandering around Stockbridge on a sleepy, Sunday morning – a really beautiful, residential part of Edinburgh. Artisan Roast is a cosy little cafe that takes great pride in their coffee. Dogs amble around beneath the tables, there’s an enormous sofa to while away the morning on, the counter top is filled with pastries and the sun streams through the huge glass frontage. The perfect Sunday morning breakfast spot.

Breakfasting in Amsterdam: Pluk

If you thought that my last post looked suspiciously unlike London, you were right. Just last weekend Tiarnan and I hopped over to Amsterdam for the marathon. I refuse to allow our marathon weekends to only be about limbering up and eating shedloads of pasta, though. We had Saturday for exploring, and explore we did.

After some minimal research I decided that I most wanted to visit The Nine Streets, or De Negen Straatjes, area. Just outside the centre and the very heart of Amsterdam’s canal district, it is a beautiful place to wander with plenty of independent shops and small cafes along the 17th century canals. It was here that we discovered Pluk.

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I challenge you to leave Pluk with just a full stomach. It is the most gorgeous café meets gift, stationary and interiors shop and not picking up an entirely unnecessary treat to self is almost impossible. From wooden platter boards, travel mugs, notebooks, photo frames and an enormous selection of fresh fruit and veg, it is only a small shop but you are completely spoilt for choice.

The café is on a mezzanine level overlooking the shop. The girls in there are absolutely lovely and as it was full when we arrived, while we were browsing the shop one of them hovered by the door looking for any leavers whose table we could take. Pluk’s menu is all about healthy and fresh food, with a huge selection of breakfasts, lunches and homemade cakes. We opted for breakfast and ordered a generous selection from the acai bowl to yoghurt to homemade banana bread – all delicious.

It’s only small and incredibly popular, so expect a little wait but the shop will keep you more than occupied. It is the perfect place to fuel up before a morning of wandering the canals. It was my favourite place that we visited over the weekend and the best introduction to Amsterdam.

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Thoughts on Being a Runner

A few months ago I confessed that I’d signed up to the British 10k. I’d spent the day watching the London Marathon and if the London Marathon doesn’t inspire you to put on a pair of trainers, then nothing will. Watching those many thousands of people of all ages, shapes and walks of life running that incredible distance, you can’t help thinking “maybe I could do that too…”.

Well, in my blogging absence I did it. I didn’t run a marathon (God forbid!), but I did run 10k. Ten whole k’s. I used to only run for the bus. Then I met my boyfriend – my Strava-addicted, trainer-obsessed, marathon nut of a boyfriend – and in my attempts to hold an intelligent running conversation with him, I got a bit interested. Now look at me! I’m a changed woman.

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Going from the sofa to a 10k finish line is not impossible. Far from it. Most people have run at some point in their lives (even if, like me, it was only for the bus). For a 10k that just needs little refining. If I can do it, you can too.

*Sign up for a race: Give yourself something to aim for, it’s the easiest way to keep motivation high. I’d recommend a local race but with as many participants as possible so you have the excitement of a large event but without all the stress of travelling. Don’t be put off if the entry fee is a bit steep – it usually means you’ll get a good t-shirt and medal at the end.

*Get the kit: Everyone knows that a new hobby opens up a whole world of shopping opportunities. Embrace it. You don’t need to buy huge amounts, and running kit can get very pricey, but I would recommend a few items. First and foremost, a good pair of trainers. Did you know that some trainers are ‘fashion trainers’ and not meant for any proper physical activity? AVOID those trainers. Places like Sweatshop analyse your running style so they can recommend the best trainers for you. This is quite scary, but definitely worth it. Secondly, proper running socks. Seems silly but normal socks will rub your feet. And lastly, if you’re a girl, a sports bra. A great one is truly life-changing.

*Get a running buddy: Talk one of your friends into signing up with you and then support each other through the whole process. Go shopping together, drag each other out for runs in the rain and hold hands over the start line. It’s the best way to keep motivation high. Preferably, find someone to run with who is better than you. If they really know their stuff they’ll be able to pace you properly, recommend the perfect pair of trainers and encourage a little healthy competition – noone likes being left behind.

*Remember that it’s OK to hate your running buddy: The aforementioned marathon nut of a boyfriend was my running buddy. We had some tough runs. He lied about distance, tricking me into running 2k further. I told him I wanted to punch him in the face. He ran off without me. Expletives were hurled. He quoted Muhammad Ali at me (irritating), he didn’t need a post-run shower (devastating) and he foam rollered my legs until I screamed in pain (entirely unnecessary). Just remember that running you and rational you are two entirely different beasts. And know when to say you’re sorry.

*Create a running plan: Draw up a plan of all the runs you want to do leading up to the race. Remember to taper the week before the race. This is the best week where you don’t have to run and, instead, eat as much pasta as you want (apparently it’s good for you). Include some interval sessions, long runs and short, easy runs. Think about what you want to achieve from each run – for the longer distance ones forget about time, they are just about upping the kilometers. You don’t need to do the full 10k before the race, but if it’ll reassure you that you can actually go the distance then do it.

*Don’t stress out too much about said plan: Sometimes it’s raining. Sometimes you’ve had a bad day. Sometimes it’s raining and you’ve had a bad day and there’s a pizza in the oven and a new PLL episode on Netflix. Treat your running plan as a guide rather than strict commandment. Missing a couple of runs won’t kill you. If your running buddy refuses to get on board with this attitude, see above point that it’s OK to hate your running buddy.

*Get involved with Parkrun:  Parkrun is the absolute best. Granted, the 9am Saturday morning start time doesn’t feel so wonderful but the fun, community atmosphere and encouragement does make it all worth it. Parkrun is all over the country and is simply a free, timed 5k. There are the super-keen fast runners but the huge majority are just there to have a good time and run the best time they can. And a volunteer runs at the back so you will never come last. Genius.

*Enjoy it: Running can be fun. It’s so good to get outside after a long day in the office, feeling yourself improve and getting involved with the sportswear obsession. And to run a proper 10k race and have a proper medal at the end does feel like a huge achievement. Just remember, the day after the race, that noone has ever died from a pulled muscle. And that you’re entitled to not take the stairs for at least a week.

New on the Block: Farmacy, Notting Hill

There’s a new kid on the block in Notting Hill, and it’s one of my favourite recent discoveries.

Farmacy opened just last month on Westbourne Grove. It is open throughout the day for breakfast, lunch and dinner and already causing a bit of a stir. Their philosophy is ‘clean indulgence’ – something I’m very willing to get on board with.

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Their menus are all about healthy choice comfort foods, no rabbit leaves here. It is incredibly rare that I look up a health restaurant’s menu online and decide I’d rather go for dinner than brunch. I’m all about the healthy brunches – homemade granola, smoothies and (if all else fails) avo on toast – but Farmacy’s evening menu was unmissable.

The menu is still a little small and rather pricey, but with delicious options such spelt sourdough pizzas, a clean curry and the Farmacy “burger”, I was willing to forgive those drawbacks. I opted for the porcini mushroom spelt pasta, which was delicious. If you’ve never tried spelt pasta before, then definitely do. It doesn’t have the grainy texture of other wholewheat pastas, but remains all the health benefits.

They also have a really interesting drinks menu (again, I’m never particularly fascinated by drinks menus, my interest can only be slightly piqued by cocktails). I went for the lemon-aid, an alkalising lemon juice, apple syrup and coconut water. It was amazing. I’m normally a bit scared of those kind of lemon drinks, as often they are too sharp. This was nice and sweet, but not sugary, as well as being healthy.

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If you’re in the area be sure to swing by (and don’t under any circumstances miss the lemon-aid!).

London’s Farm Shop: Daylesford

Being in a city doesn’t mean you can’t have farm fresh food.

Last Saturday the sun put in a very decent appearance in London (hallelujah!) so to bask in the warmth and find a delicious breakfast, Tiarnan and I took to the streets of Notting Hill.

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Westbourne Grove is a little like the Portobello Road’s big sister. Slightly more refined and much less crowded, it offers an escape from the never ending throng of tourists. Don’t get me wrong, wandering down the Portobello Road is one of my favourite activities but sometimes you don’t want to fight the crowds. Westbourne Grove has plenty of delicious breakfast options, but we settled for Daylesford.

Daylesford is essentially a farm shop given the London makeover. You won’t see any muddy wellies there, but plenty of farm fresh food. It began as an organic farm in Staffordshire and is now one of the most sustainable farms in the UK, with another one in the Cotswolds as well as various London greengrocers and restaurants. They also have a cookery school and hold various events throughout the year including supper clubs, masterclasses and a summer festival.

Daylesford’s menu is made up of fresh, seasonal produce from the farm’s market garden, cheese and bread from the creamery and bakery and meat from their animals. And if you eat something you really love, it’s pretty likely you can pop into the farmshop and buy it to take home with you.

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How to Spend… May

We’ve had our first sunny snap – summer is finally on it’s way!

I love how the sun instantly lifts everyone’s mood. Suddenly we’re planning BBQ evenings, sharing round the Pimm’s and remembering what it feels like to sunbathe. Of course it won’t last, but the promise that summer is coming is more than enough to keep me smiling throughout May. And I’ve got plenty of suggestions for when the rain inevitably returns and we have to put away the sunglasses again…

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*Go for a bike ride: When it’s nice out, it’s really nice out. There are still some lambs frolicking in the fields, but otherwise there’s a real sense of summer. The parks are filled with picnickers, flower beds are blooming and the unmistakable scent of BBQs fill the evening air. Now is such a lovely time to go for a bike ride. You can explore so much with relatively little effort, and always stop off for a sunbathe halfway round. If you’re in London definitely set a date to explore the parks on the Santander bikes – there’s no better way to spend a sunny May day.

*Make rainy day plans: But, May is a bit unpredictable and sadly the sunny weather will not be a constant. Rather than mope around inside when it’s miserable, make plans specifically for a rainy day and save them for when the weather turns. There are so many good things on at the cinema (cannot wait to see The Jungle Book!), but you don’t even need to leave the house to have fun on a rainy day. Bake up a storm in the kitchen, soak in the bath with a good read or do some of that spring cleaning you meant to do in spring (if you feel really productive). Miserable days really don’t have to be miserable.

*Set a summer fitness goal: By this I do not mean to get bikini-body ready. But summer does mean clothing gets skimpier, so set yourself a fitness goal and start to dedicate some real time to it. It doesn’t have to be anything major. From signing up for a marathon to deciding to take the stairs, making a conscious effort to get moving will have you feeling so much more confident when summer rolls around.

Healthy Chocolate and Almond Spiced Cookies

Since working in an office, I have become much more interested in what I’m eating.

I’ve never eaten particularly badly, but I would always eat what I wanted without giving anything a second thought. It turns out that attitude doesn’t cut it in an office. When you’re sat at a desk all day, burning those calories is so much tougher. And therefore, I have entered the wonderful world of healthy snacking (and it really is a whole world of deliciousness).

While I usually make a beeline for WH Smith’s ‘nutritional snacks’ stand, these cookies are one of my first homemade efforts. They aren’t the sugar explosion you expect when you bite into a cookie, but that is part of their charm. You can eat them all day and not feel sick! The banana really sweetens them, and the spices make your entire house smell incredible while they’re in the oven. I followed this recipe – they are so easy to make and turned out really well.

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YOU WILL NEED:

  • 2 cups ground almonds
  • 2 heaped tbsp coconut oil
  • 9 small squares dark chocolate
  • 1 1/2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 small banana
  • 1 tbsp almond butter
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger, nutmeg, salt and baking powder

TO MAKE:

Preheat the oven to 170C. Mash the banana together with the chocolate.

Heat the coconut oil on a low heat. Add the syrup, spices and salt and stir until combined.

Mix the ground almonds, baking powder and almond butter together with the banana and chocolate. Add the melted ingredients and stir until combined.

On a tray, take a tablespoon amount of mixture and press down to form a cookie. Bake for 10-15 mins and enjoy!

Sunday Brunching: Farm Girl

The perfect Sunday always involves pancakes. And today I’ve got a stylish little brunch spot for you all which lets you indulge entirely guilt-free.

In prime location on the Portobello Road, Farm Girl cafe opened last summer to bring the Aussie cafe culture to the heart of Notting Hill. Set back from the main market drag with a cute little courtyard terrace it is hard to stumble upon, but if you do you’re in for a treat.

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Their menu is a health nut’s dream, but Farm Girl puts a nutritional twist on the naughty dishes we all know and love. Their signature offering is a coconut BLT which replaces the bacon with coconut flesh (and tastes convincingly bacon-y, so I am told).

We opted for brunch though, as that really is the star menu. With the classic avocado toast, açai bowl and eggs almost any way amongst others, it’s a tricky choice but we couldn’t miss the buckwheat berry pancakes. They’re refined sugar free (so no munching guilt here) but entirely heavenly.

So soak up the sun at the candy pink courtyard tables or sink into the squishy sofa benches and stay all day, Farm Girl is welcoming, cosy and surprisingly quiet for the heart of Notting Hill. You’ll probably have to queue, but it is definitely worth it.

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Bank Holiday Brunching: 26 Grains

It’s been a little while since I last ventured into London on the blog, but today I’m making up for it with a great recommendation.

With the bank holiday weekend happily freeing up a sunny Friday, I decided it was about time I started ticking off some of my London bucket list. Neal’s Yard is a colourful corner of Covent Garden, tightly packed with health food eateries and, of course, Neal’s Yard Remedies. It’s only small, but there’s more than enough to keep you occupied.

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For this trip though, we had to sample London’s prettiest porridge. Absolutely dominating Instagram, 26 Grains is a teeny tiny little health cafe serving wholesome, grain based dishes. Don’t be put off by the health side though, everything they serve is ridiculously delicious.

They aren’t limited to enormous bowls of steaming porridge either. As they source their fruit and veg from local producers, their menu changes seasonally. Currently they have an enormous array of porridges (sweet and savoury) as well as bircher muesli, a winter smoothie bowl and lunch bowls if you’ve already had breakfast. They aren’t preachy about health either, and will enquire whether you want almond or whole milk in your coffee (a nice touch, I thought). Definitely worth skipping the main drag of Covent Garden for.

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