Walking for Wellbeing

Walking for Wellbeing

As I approach the end of my second year of training to become a counsellor I am really focussing on wellbeing within our society and what people can do in their every day life to look after their metal health. As part of this I have become a wellbeing champion at my place of work to help fight the stigma of mental health and promote general well being.

Today is the launch of the Get On Your Feet Britain campaign which encourages people to get up and get moving to increase both physical and mental health. I have taken this to work and started a team steps challenge where teams are encouraged to record their steps, the highest stepping team wins a fruit basket! Every little counts and I aim to get those who are already active to encourage their less active colleagues to contribute by taking the stairs, having a walking lunch break or arranging a team ramble.

Day 1 of the steps challenge I awake feeling groggy with a banging head ache!….Typical. Laying in bed I realised I had not yet figured out how to track my steps so I browsed the app store and chose Pacer which seemed to fit the bill and its free! I dragged myself up and opened the curtains to find the April showers were in full force, instead of heading back to the duvet I did a gentle 20 mins yoga practice to get my body moving and ease me into the day.

After brekkie I piled my bowl into the sink full of dirty dishes and went to get changed. You can tell its the end of the week as no clean jeans! Given the weather I dug out my winter waterproofs instead, the dog did not look impressed at the prospect of a wet walk but I wrapped up and we headed out.

Fresh air and a bit of rain never did anyone any harm, it certainly perked me up and even the dog had a good old run around once he was out. It wasn’t long before my head was clear and it felt good to start the day racking up some steps for the team.

In todays hectic world it doesn’t take long to find reasons not to exercise or get active. You can see from the highlighted words above the things I could have used as diversions to cut a walk short or not go out at all. So get up and get out there because chores can wait but your health shouldn’t.

Take Care xx

 

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Making Sense of Mindfulness

Making Sense of Mindfulness

Mindfulness has been a part of my life for a while now, in one form or another. I first became aware of it through yoga where you are encouraged to relax into the moment and appreciate where you are rather than worry about where you “should” be.

Although the mass marketing of ancient wisdoms puts me at slight unease it can only be a positive thing if it helps people with busy lives slow down a little and enjoy what they have in front of them.

There are plenty of on line courses, books and classes on mindfulness and meditation but I thought I’d share a few simple ways you can re-focus using your 5 senses.

SIGHT:

It’s all to easy to rush through life with our blinkers on, I mean who hasn’t driven to work and then thought…..”how did I get here?”. Our brains are amazing things and can sort masses of data per second, the issue is the more familiar that data the less the mind will dwell on it. Instead of rushing through the mundane walk to school or quick marching the dog in the rain how about using that time to have a look around. Notice the seasons change as the buds appear on the trees or watch the birds gathering twigs for their nest. You don’t have to be in the country to focus your mind on the beauty around you; a window display, market traders setting up, the rain dripping from the shop canopy or the light reflecting off the windows of an office block. You may even be lucky enough to live in a historical city with gorgeous architecture but you’ll have to take your eyes away from your phone to notice. Using what we see around us is a really simple way to declutter the mind and focus on the here and now.

SOUND:

I’m not a fan of whale music (is anyone??!!) but what we listen to and how we hear it can make the difference between a frantic mind and one of peace. No matter where you are reading this there will be sounds all around you, natural or man made. Close you eyes, breath slowly and listen…….. what can you hear? You may get distracted by thoughts of to do lists or deadlines but bring your focus back to the sounds. Let them wash over you, be part of you and breath. With practice even a dripping tap can become a lullaby.

SMELL:

Smells can be powerful things, the whiff of suncream transporting you back to the beach or the scent of lavender reminding you of hugs from nana, smells can often have emotional connections (sometimes good, sometimes bad). Aromatherapy oils can be used in burners or baths with fragrances to uplift or relax you. Find a blend you like and focus on it, breathing it in visualise the colour it may represent, how it feels as the fragrance hits your senses and flows through your body. Put distracting thoughts to one side and slow your breath down to be in the moment.

TASTE:

We can be at our least mindful whilst eating, especially if we are really hungry as our main focus is to fill our tummies. Most people are familiar with the concept of certain foods being of benefit to our physical health e.g. protein helps repair muscles but we are less attuned to consider how what we eat impacts our mental health. Strangely we consider healthy foods as some kind of punishment “you can only have dessert if you eat your greens”! Really it’s the opposite as nourishing your body is the greatest act of self care. Thinking about what we eat and taking the time to savour it is a great way to focus the mind away from life’s distractions. Shopping for the ingredients, preparing the veg and sitting down to enjoy the meal are all acts in which you can quiet the mind and be in the now. I’m not an advocate for the chew 30 times per mouthful fad but I feel it is important to eat mindfully as it will help you focus, digest and know when you are full.

TOUCH:

This one can be done anywhere, at your desk, on the train, as your falling asleep at night. We are in constant contact with the world around us but we often don’t take time to notice. Wherever you are now take a moment to mentally work your way up from your toes to your head. Perhaps you can feel you feet against the carpet or snuggled into socks; are your legs resting on the couch or supported by a chair; what is supporting your back, let it support you, feel your hands relax onto the cushion or arm rest; are your shoulder hunched up tight, feel them soften; your head, is it resting or self-supported, is your face tight with a frown, can you relax your mouth and unclench your teeth – smile a little and breath.

It can sometimes feel a little self indulgent to take time for ourselves, especially if others depend on us. The weight of the world is a heavy load to carry on your shoulders and lugging it around for too long is going to slow you down. It’s important that we don’t just exercise our physical bodies but also check in with our minds. Give it a chance to reboot and for the sake of just a few minutes a day you are likely to see benefits such as improved focus, a feeling of calm and better control over negative thoughts and rumination.

Give it a try, I’d love to know how you get on 🙂

Cake Diary: Lavenham Blue Tea Rooms

Cake Diary: Lavenham Blue Tea Rooms

The sad thing about friends moving away is that you don’t get to see their lovely face everyday. The good thing is you get to visit them and find new amazing tea rooms!

A dear friend from work moved to Suffolk at the end of last year and last weekend another friend and I finally got the chance to visit her. Knowing me as she does she found a beautiful little tea room for us to visit in the quaint medieval village of Lavenham.

My friend and I had hit the road early to find this rural retreat, winding our way through country lanes, the grey sky draping itself over naked trees, surrounded by muddy, fallow fields patiently awaiting spring. Amidst the grey February drizzle the new pad emerged and like a pocket of sunshine in the gloom there she was welcoming us with open arms.

On such a dreary afternoon it is a struggle for anywhere to look appealing, but Lavenham still managed to entice us. Narrow streets lined with wonky cottages lead us to the village square, frozen in time you can visualise the bustle of a medieval market horse and cart now replaced combustion engines and sat navs!

Tucked just off the main square is Lavenham Blue Tea Room. A stunning 15th Century listed building, it was once the village barber but now welcomes people for tea and cake. Amanda, the owner, welcomes you with a smile, a picture perfect tea lady with her pinnie round her waist, clutching a cosied tea pot. She was so accommodating, moving tables to fit in our party of 5 and making sure we were comfy throughout our visit.

Amazingly this tearoom is set in the downstairs of Amandas home. Lovingly converted it displays nicknacks from her life including four generations of family photographs. A grammar phone plays in the corner transporting you back to the 1940’s as you peruse the RAF memorabilia. Lavenhams RAF base was utilised by the USA during the second world war leaving it’s international influence across this traditional British village. The artefacts and photos take centre stage on the white washed walls, framed by exposed beams and surrounded by antique furniture.

The menu was a delight with locally sourced produce at its heart; the bread from the main square and scones from just two doors down, handy should they need a fresh batch. Breakfasts and brunches, soups and sarnies all homemade and hearty. I opted for the ploughman’s lunch, a platter to nibble on leaving room for cake of course!

None of us were disappointed as the food arrived, fresh and delicious. The portions were generous with the cheese cut in slabs and the bread served in hunks. Thankfully there is no rush in Lavenham and we were free to graze as we chewed the cud.

With time to rest before we embarked on cake I was ready for something sweet. The counter was laden with everything from traditional Victoria sponge to warming ginger cake and indulgent chocolate fudge. The toffee apple cake had caught my eye, topped with slices of fresh apple and doused in thick, gooey caramel dripping down it’s sides. To accompany it I ordered a pot of Assam, warming and malty it was the perfect brew.

The lace covered tables were set with doily adorned plates, vintage china tea sets and cake stands. Dainty sugar cubes ready to be tonged and a china bell on each table which can be chimed to summon a free teapot refill. Our cakes arrived with a side of ice cream to compliment the flavour of the slice, for me vanilla and caramel.

The cake was stunning, moist chunks of apple encased in light, gluten free sponge. The caramel on top was rich and smooth, the cold ice cream cleansing the pallet between each bite. The apple on top gave the slice freshness and crunch to contrast the soft, sweet apple within. All I needed was a sparkler and it’d be like bonfire night all over again!

With our bellies satisfied we kept the afternoon nap at bay with some fresh air and a wander around the local antique store. This little village is ripe for exploring but both time and weather were against us on this occasion so we headed home. The perfect excuse to head back when the sun is shining!

No matter the time of year Lavenham Blue Tea Rooms will bring sunshine to your day. The drives around the Suffolk countryside are stunning and the welcome you receive is whole hearted. So whether with new friends or catching up with old ones, order a refill and catch up over cake.

Lavenham Blue Vintage Tearoom, 6 Market Place, Lavenham CO10 9QZ    

TEL: 01787 248295  

Cake Diary: Flourish

Cake Diary: Flourish

One of the many joys of having an artisan baker as a friend is that she finds little bakery gems and invites me along to test them out. Purely market research you understand as we would not normally like to spend our days off chit chatting over cups of tea and enjoying freshly baked produce!……. It’s a tough life.

This week we discovered Flourish, a craft baker tucked away on an industrial estate in Watford. As the sat nav led us past tyre fitters and wholesalers I began to think we were in the wrong place (I don’t trust sat nav’s at the best of times) but then it emerged before us. In contrast to it’s run down industrial surroundings Flourish stands proud with grey painted brickwork and slick black signage; a clean and sleek oasis.

The building is huge with the bakery taking up the majority of it, they need the space as they supply several high end hotels in London as well as The Grove locally. Sitting proudly at the front is the cafe with rustic, warm decor of reclaimed wood panelling and worn leather seats, welcoming you in to the comfortable, relaxed atmosphere. Vintage pastry trays and pans line the walls while wooden crates display goods for sale, simple yet elegant. Above each table a low hanging pendant light keeping an intimate feel and your focus on the food before you.DSC_0112

The wood panelling is punctured with bright windows of white light showing you the inner workings of the bakery. Machines whirring and hands kneading, just a pane of glass between the creators and the client.

The breakfast and brunch menu is simply mouth watering, there are no greasy spoons here! Fresh, vibrant ingredients lovingly put together to satisfy your hunger, the difficulty is deciding what to have. Having tried and failed to cook the perfect poached egg more times that I care to admit I now leave this nemesis of mine to the experts. Clearly these guys knew what they were doing so I ordered the smashed avocado and poached eggs with halloumi, on sourdough.

I had prepared myself for the menu choices and I knew the selection of breads and bakes would be varied. I had not, however, expected there to be such an interesting tea selection. The brand stocked is Birchall’s, an eco-concious London tea company who have developed plantations around the world. They work closely with the communities they’re in, are rain forest alliance certified and fair trade. Amongst the more familiar blends I noticed one on the menu I had not heard of before, Virunga….I was intrigued.

Virunga tea is grown at high altitude in Rwanda, close to the Democratic Republic of Congo in the Virunga National Park. Not only does this park nurture exquisite tea plantations it is also home to endangered wildlife such as Mountain Gorillas. You can read more about Birchalls conservation work at their website where they also recommend a Netflix documentary called “Virunga” for an insight into the area. One for the watchlist me thinks. Large companies have such an obligation to the nations they work with, amazing produce can be grown whilst still caring for the environment and local communities.

In the bag Virunga is a fine black tea and in the cup it brews a warm russet colour. I found it a little strong to drink without milk – as my friend described it “It’s very Tea-ee”! I would have to agree. A strong and earnest brew it will appeal to those who like a DSC_0097“proper cuppa”. Slightly more refined around the edges that a builders brew but still packs a punch. Virunga also comes in earl grey and Chai blends which may be softer on the palate but I am yet to try.

Brunch was nothing short of eggy perfection. The sourdough, toasted but still soft, had a delicious chewy crust, slathered with creamy, smashed avocado. The halloumi was pleasingly squeaky (I expect nothing less from squeaky cheese!) and not as salty as many supermarket brands. As I popped each egg the golden yolk flowed dressing the plate with sunshine. A gentle sprinkle of chilli & chives graced each fork full providing just a tingle of warmth. My plate was cleared and my tummy was full. So full I had to get my sweet treat to take away!

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The counter had plenty on offer, from huge slabs of carrot cake to delicate fruit tarts. It’s not often I go for a chocolate choice but I was enticed by the coconut brownie. A good few hours later that afternoon as the 4pm slump hit and the kettle was on I tucked in. Not as gooey as some brownies but I don’t think thats a bad thing. Sturdy enough to hold and bite in to, the desiccated coconut adding both texture and flavour to the bitter sweet chocolate. Deliciously satisfying and definitely worth the wait!

The vibe of Flourish is very much of an artisan bakery but their wealth of experience and expertise comes across in droves. There is little reason to visit this North Watford industrial estate but for the delicious food, welcoming service and artisan loaves that entice people back time and again. I doubt you’ll be passing but I highly recommend a detour.

Flourish, Unit 2 Garnett Close, Watford, WD24 7GL         TEL: 01923 630588

Hello 2018

Hello 2018

Firstly I’d like to apologise for my disappearance for the later part of 2017, how time flies when life takes over. I began an exciting new venture in September, attending college to train to become a counsellor. I have dabbled in psychology and wellbeing throughout my life and find human behaviour and the mind a fascinating subject.

I have alluded to my personal experience of anxiety in previous posts and a few years ago I was struggling so attended counselling to face the demons I was battling. It was a revelation and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed exploring me!! It’s a relatively selfish pass time in that you get to sit with another human being you know nothing about and talk solely about yourself. Your fears, thoughts, emotions and anger laid bare, such a daunting yet liberating experience.

After working on myself for nearly 2 years (and still to this day I hasten to add), I wanted to learn the theories behind the scenes and how to use my experience to help others. Working full time and studying in the evening means it will be a few years until I am fully qualified, however I am going to enjoy the journey as I continue to develop my self awareness along the way. Needless to say finding a place for study along with my current commitments has been a challenge, hence why Tea & Happiness took a back seat. So what does 2018 have in store?

I am not one for New Years resolutions, being a realist I refuse to set myself up to fail! The streets are dotted with regretful runners, the gym full of fledgling fitness freaks and supermarkets are selling out of kale & avocados faster than you can say “superfood”.

We all want to be better (whatever that may look like) and I believe it is important to set goals and try something new. But why do that in January?! It’s notoriously dark, cold and with the disappearance of Christmas sparkle, pretty darn miserable. I listened to a Radio show which discussed resolutions and one caller said he treated January like a 30 day free trial to try something out and see how it fits. Come the end of the month you can adapt it, drop it or just keep the bits that work for you. This seems like a healthier approach to the New Year, New Me farce.

So in light of that healthier attitude I am not going to berate myself for letting my blog slide. For 2018 I aim to combine my education with my creative expression as I have so much I want to share with you. Not just new teas I have discovered over the last few months but also insights into mental health and personal development. I’d love to hear what your goals and ambitions are so please share in the comments below and let’s see what the next 12 months has in store!

In the meantime I wish you all a happy & healthy 2018 🙂

7 Day Rebalance

7 Day Rebalance

It’s amazing how resilient the human body can be, as we go about our daily business our bodies are sorting and storing memories, fighting germs and regenerating cells. Meanwhile we keep marching on the treadmill of life as time just passes us by. I find myself constantly planning for the future; what to eat this week, when to see friends and family, upcoming work deadlines and saving for house/car/holiday/stuff. My brain is so full of the future I struggle to recall what I did this morning!

Some may say this is life and it’s best to suck it up and get on with it. That’s fine to a certain degree, I mean let’s face it if we didn’t plan for the future at all we could very easily find ourselves in difficulty. However there comes a point when we need a stopping cue. Stopping cues are something I learned about in a TED talk in relation to social media. It explained how without a natural stopping cue such as the end of a chapter in a book or an ad break in TV programme we can find ourselves mindless scrolling through pages of social media that has no end. If we’re honest that’s a bottomless pit we have all found ourselves in!!! We need a moment that makes us consider our options and what we want to do next.

So what about life? what are our stopping cues? I guess the sun sets and seasons change but this doesn’t always cause us to pause. With shift work and overtime, 24 hour bars and restaurants, movies and box sets at our fingertips, it’s all to easy to stay on the treadmill, in fact even our Gyms are open 24hrs if you want to make that analogy more literal!!……. just keep going, just keep going.

You have to ask yourself what toll this takes on our body, not just physically but mentally. Personally I find myself getting tired, no matter how much sleep I get. I recently came down with cold, in the middle of August, so I knew something was up. My concentration lapses and my temper can fray, the longer I trudge away on the treadmill the weaker I become.

The great thing is that this is all reversible and the more regularly we tend to this fatigue the less time it takes to recover. So this week I have booked myself a rebalance week. Time out of the office where I can tend to myself. The “staycation” is not a new concept but I’m not filling my time with day trips or house renovations. I am allowing myself space to iron out the kinks that have formed over the last 6 months or so, slow the treadmill down a few notches and catch my breath.

There are 4 main ways I will be doing this:

  1. Sustenance
    Often when life gets manic my meal plans and balanced diet are the first things to go. I reach for quick and easy meals which don’t fuel me efficiently and, if I’m honest, don’t taste that great. I aim to bring the joy back to cooking, try some new recipes, lower the meat content and increase my fruit and veg intake, simple stuff but we all need reminding occasionally.
  2. Movement
    When you are feeling run down it’s hard to motivate yourself to exercise and before you know it days are spent at a desk and evenings sat in front of Netflix. I was shocked by a recent BBC news report which found 41% of adults in England (aged 40-60yrs) do not manage a 10 minute walk per month!! Despite my recent sedentary lifestyle I am being kind to myself (guilt and punishment have never produced the best results in me). I aim to practice yoga and take the dog for a nice long walk each day and as the endorphins reintroduce themselves to my system my fitness regime will kick back in.
  3. Create
    Let’s face it there’s a ton of stuff we’d rather be doing than work; writing blogs, taking photos, drinking tea etc. etc. So I will be carving out some time to reconnect with what makes me smile, looking through the lens and finding inspiration. There are numerous studies linking creativity to improved mental health so don’t be shy – go write, paint, sing, dance or invent your way to happiness.
  4. Connect
    Human beings are not lone creatures, we are designed to connect with each other. You may spend your work life “connecting” but how much of it do you enjoy? I will be catching up with friends and family whether face to face, phone or Skype, it’s time to listen and reconnect in a more meaningful way.

So it seems I will be pretty busy after all, but it will all be at my own pace. Schedules and appointments are not the way to rebalance! I’ll be taking a leisurely stroll through the week, acknowledging my progress and any hurdles with gentle kindness.

I’m lucky enough to have a week to do this, which I understand is a complete luxury. As I said before the more we make rebalance part of our routine the less time it takes. So think about scheduling yourself some time and prioritise what you could address to feel more balanced. It’s as easy as A,B,C……..

Allow yourself time and space
Be present
Care for yourself

I’d love to hear how you rebalance, please share in the comments below and follow my week on Instagram #7dayrebalance

Tea & Happiness’ Top 5 Teas

Tea & Happiness’ Top 5 Teas

Tea

Nearly a year on from starting my blog I have had the pleasure of trying a wide variety of teas from around the globe. Although it is hard to pick a top 5 I have selected some teas that I would consider daily staples as well as something a little different should you wish to challenge your taste buds. So put the kettle on and enjoy………

5) In at 5 is an after dinner favourite Fresh Mint TeaGreat to settle a full tummy and can be enjoyed hot or cold. There are plenty of mint tea bags on the market but there is nothing wrong with simply grabbing some fresh mint from the garden and plunging it into boiling water.

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4) Warming your cockles at number 4 is Chilli RooibosThis is blend I found at Kanuka tea house and although it’s an acquired taste it soon becomes addictive. With dried chillis and rose buds in the mix it has floral notes with a sting in the tale. It can be like tea roulette as each cup can vary in spice levels depending how much chilli you scoop up. Great for the metabolism and Rooibos has suburb health benefits as well as being caffeine free! Give it a try if you’re feeling fiery.

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3) Bringing balance at number 3 is OolongI have recently discovered how wonderful this tea is for both it’s flavour and it’s healing properties. It’s a beautiful tea to look at, tiny rolled pearls which unfurl in hot water to reveal their natural green leaves. This tea fills the gap between green and black teas so carries many of the properties of both. Don’t be put of by it’s earthy fragrance as it is much lighter on the palette than you’d expect. If you can’t quite handle the bitter quality of green tea but want the same antioxidant power then give Oolong a try.

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2) A classy cup of Afternoon Tea is number 2 on my list. Most tea houses will offer an afternoon blend on their menu and the exact blend of leaves will vary from brand to brand. I enjoy a blend from Tealicious which is a subtle blend of Assam & Ceylon. The brew is light and creamy so I find no requirement to add milk but you can to taste. It’s a perfect cup for a summers afternoon with a slice of something sweet. I find this blend satisfying and reliable so it’s worth having in the cupboard for when you feel like adding a little sophistication to your day.

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1) So top of the teas is the beautiful and tasty Genmaichaa Japanese breakfast green tea blend. I recently found this little gem at The Camden Tea Shop in London. This is green tea blended with popped rice which gives a toasted warmth to the brew. It looks so pretty, speckled with popcorn and rice grains, and although you can taste the green tea the rice adds a depth of flavour that eliminates any bitterness from the leaves. It’s currently my favourite way to start the day and I highly recommend it for a breakfast cuppa with a difference.

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I hope you have enjoyed this run down of my current top 5 teas. I’d love hear what your favourite brew is……who knows perhaps it’ll feature in my next review 🙂

Thank you for reading and happy brewing!

5 happiness tips from Dexter T Dog

5 happiness tips from Dexter T Dog

There’s a lot we can learn from our K9 friends especially when it comes to leading a care free and happy life. Here are some tips I try to take on board from my gorgeous dexter dog:

1) Know when to play and when to rest
I consider myself very lucky that Dexter is the K9 version of a lazy teenager, this dog knows how to sleep! He is happy to lay in with us on a Sunday and if I am up before 9am the only movement he will aspire to is getting from his bed to ours.
However when it is time to go for a walk he makes the most of it. Exploring his surroundings, running, playing and enjoying every second of it.
We dwell too much to on the guilt of being inactive and often make exercise more of a chore than it is. Embrace the balance by giving your all to the activities you do so when it is time to recuperate you know your body is getting what it needs.

2) Look forward
K9 interactions can often be hit an miss, as with humans you can’t get on with everyone! The key thing is the ability to walk away with nothing but a forward focus. Dexter wont spend the rest of the walk worrying about what that dog thought if him, feeling guilty for stealing her ball or considering a myriad of reasons the dog may have barked at him. The moment passes and the journey continues.
Rumination is a human trait that we would all be better off without; Why did that person look at me like that? How did I come across? Did they like me? How? Why? What if? We exhaust ourselves reviewing insignificant interactions when we should be leaving things in the past to focus on a positive future.

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3) Broaden your mind
Saturday morning is dog school and from the minute I wake up Dexter is pestering me to leave the house. He loves seeing all his friends, getting fed treats and having to engage his brain. Although the commands are often simple and ones he has done a hundred times before the mental stimulation keeps him active. As humans we tend to focus education on the young when there are too many other distractions going on to get the most from it. Without using the cliche about old dogs and new tricks it is important to learn new skills, broaden your mind and spend your time on this planet developing yourself.

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Dexter and his class mates at a recent trip to the beach 

4) Eat well
Being a dog, Dexters diet is not one I’d recommend to any human; although it will give you strong teeth and a glossy coat! However, his attitude to food is something we can learn a lot from. Yes he’ll sneak a treat here and there, even if a treat to him constitutes some cat poo or a mouldy banana skin! But each day when he is presented with a bowl of his dried dog food he greats it with such enthusiasm it may as well be a full roast dinner or hearty fry up. He knows it is sustenance & fuel for his body which gives him the nutrition and energy he needs to chase that squirrel or catch that ball. Granted he has little control over his diet and perhaps if we all had our own private chef a balanced diet would be easier to achieve. Only you are in control of what you eat so next time you look at a bowl of salad or a plate of greens appreciate it for the fuel it is and enjoy that you are giving your body what it needs rather than what your brain thinks it wants.

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Not a diet I’d recommend!!!

5) Be yourself
My favourite thing about Dexter is that he is truly himself (as are most dogs). Dogs don’t put on an act to get people to like them or hide their feelings for fear of rejection. He will try and lick your face no matter your size, religion or pay packet – you’re just another human that needs a kiss! Dogs have no perception of their size or breed, they meet each other and with a sniff and a bow they’ve made a new friend. Our preconceptions can hold us back as we convince ourselves that we wont fit in or we have nothing in common with other cultures. Instead take a moment to have a conversation, you’ll probably learn something and your life will be richer for it.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this blog which is a fun way of thinking about the bad habits us humans come to form. What could you learn from your pets? I’d love to hear your stories and photos of your 4 legged friends. Take Care x

Chinese Tea Tasting

Chinese Tea Tasting

For any tea enthusiast China is a dream destination where days can be spent getting lost in tea plantations and tasting all the amazing brews on offer…..I can but dream! However my Aunty & Uncle were recently lucky enough to travel around parts of China and kindly brought back two types of tea for me to try.

So here they are in all their glory:

Pu’er Tea 

This is a black tea which originates from the Yunnan province of China. After a complex process of fermentation the matured leaves are pressed into cakes for storage and sale. These can range from 50g to 1000g  in size, shaped into bricks, balls or domes. My gorgeous gift tin is filled with individually wrapped mini cakes, the golden foil more familiarly associated with sweets and chocolate rather than our daily cuppa.

Just half a cake is required per brew and this can be reused 7 or 8 times. You don’t get that sort of value with your standard supermarket bag! The cakes are sturdy little things but with a snap in the middle I pop half in the pot to make my first cup.

The dried leaves have a strong peaty aroma which is released when dowsed in the boiling water. This is a grounding brew, powerful and earthy it’s not messing about. I fill my cup with the stunning russet liquid, like the embers of a camp fire smouldering away.

Thankfully not as ferocious on the palate as you may expect. It’s strength is contained in the fragrance which gently washes over your tongue to leave a smoky after taste. Cleansing and moreish I enjoyed this brew, not least for the health benefits it boasts; assisting weight loss, reducing blood pressure and cholesterol.

 

Ginseng Oolong Tea 

Oolong is distinctive by it’s small, smooth pellet form. The leaves are worked through a process of bruising, withering and shaping to reach the desired texture. Falling between the gap of black and green teas, Oolong is the middle ground where many of the health benefits of green tea are present but the flavour is milder thanks to the longer oxidation period.

These leaves can also be reused, with the 3rd or 4th cup being rumoured to be the best flavour. It’s hard to believe the tiny green pearls are tea leaves but as they begin to steep the hot water entices them to unfurl and release their flavour.

This brew shines golden orange in the cup with a sweet honey suckle fragrance. It’s feels light and summery on the palate making it very easy to drink. The smooth, sweetness of honey is kissed with a subtle after thought of liquorice from the ginseng. No matter the weather outside the sunshines on you as you enjoy this brew.

I was aware that Oolong was readily available here in the UK but I am pleased to find that Pu’er (aka Pu’erh) is also available from most good stockists in either loose leaf or cake form. So next time you stick the kettle on why not try and taste of the orient and enjoy a little ceremony with your tea.

Lu Tong’s Seven Bowls of Tea 七碗诗 卢仝(唐. 790~835)

The first bowl moistens my lips and throat; 一碗喉吻潤,

The second bowl breaks my loneliness; 二碗破孤悶,

The third bowl searches my barren entrails but to find 三碗搜枯腸,

Therein some five thousand scrolls; 惟有文字五千卷,

The fourth bowl raises a slight perspiration 四碗發輕汗,

And all life’s inequities pass out through my pores; 平生不平事盡向毛孔散,

The fifth bowl purifies my flesh and bones; 五碗肌骨清,

The sixth bowl calls me to the immortals. 六碗通仙靈,

The seventh bowl could not be drunk, 七碗吃不得也,

only the breath of the cool wind raises in my sleeves. 唯覺兩腋習習清風生。

Where is Penglai Island, Yuchuanzi wishes to ride on this sweet breeze and go back. 蓬萊山﹐在何處,玉川子乘此清風欲歸去。

{Lu Tong, Chinese Poet}

 

 

Cake Diary: Camphill Cafe

Cake Diary: Camphill Cafe

With the weather being as glorious as it has been of late my other half and I decided to explore somewhere new to walk the dog. We headed up to Milton Keynes (the land of round abouts) to enjoy a picnic by Willen Lake. Amidst the sprawling housing estate that is Milton Keynes is this oasis where you can do as little or as much as you choose. There is an array of water sports on offer on the lake, from rowing to wakeboarding and most things in between, but as tempting as the swan pedalos looked we kept our feet (and paws) on dry land!
The park is vast and once within in you soon forget that you are in the middle of suburbia. We walked around the lake trying our hand at some of the exercise pit stops along the way (this challenge came to an abrupt end when I beat my other half on the monkey bars!). So to keep the peace we kept moving, meandering along the banks enjoying the sunshine.
In contrast to the sporty, fast paced South Lake the North Lake is home to a Buddhist temple and the first peace pagoda to be built in the western world. We clambered up the hill beyond the pagoda and found the “one world tree”, its branches heavy with messages of hope, photos of loved ones who have passed and ribbons of remembrance. We took a moment in this peaceful place, surrounded by cherry trees, to read some of the messages.

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Just a short stroll took us to the perfect spot to sit and unwrap our sandwiches, overlooking the labyrinth and the lake beyond. The dog was content playing fetch and returning in hope of a spare crust to keep his energy up. Hours could be spent enjoying this clean and open space but cake was calling our name and I had found somewhere nearby to satisfy this urge.
Just across the road from Willen Lake North and the car park for the peace pagoda is a wonderful place called the Camphill Cafe. Camphill is an organisation that offers support and development for adults with learning difficulties or disabilities. They run a community where residents live as independently as possible whilst being supported for their individual needs.


Co-workers live alongside the residents assisting them with day to day activities and as many of the workers visit from abroad the residents, in turn, assist them in practicing their English language skills. It is a partnership throughout and the residents are encouraged to take part in various activities and workshops that are available on site on site.
One of these workshops is the cafe where residents develop their social skills, customer service and food preparation knowledge. Serving seasonal lunches, hot beverages and cakes baked on site in the Camphill bakery. The bakery and gardens are other areas where residents can learn about growing plants and vegetable or making bread and baked goods, all of which go on to be sold in the cafe. The pickles and preserves the residents are taught to make are also sold in the community shop. It’s a hands on environment making the site essentially self sufficient, its great to be able to meet those who have hand made many of the products on offer.
As we arrived it was like entering a small village, peaceful and slow paced. The gardens are exquisite with the residents clearly taking pride in the pruning and planting. The shared accommodation wraps itself around a small green area, with residents milling about running errands or off to their scheduled workshops. The cafe is modern in it’s decor, pine furniture and simple table dressings. Every wall filled with art work for sale and murals of the community, the space is filled with colour and light. We took a seat outside in front of the lawns to enjoy the sun.
Our dog attracted a lot of attention as numerous residents came over to enquire about him and take an interest in our day. With our order taken we welcomed the interactions, finding out more about the residents and how they fill their days. Some, it seems, have a preference for working in the cafe whereas others like to mix it up by spending each day doing something different. It is clear that they all get a lot of satisfaction out of what they do and a real sense of independence.
The cakes and scones on offer all looked delicious and the slices were generous to satisfy the appetite we had worked up walking around the lakes. Today my slice of choice was coffee and walnut. Not being a coffee drinker I am often cautious when it comes to this flavour but to my delight the balance of coffee to cake was perfect; soft sponge with just a hint of coffee, complimented by the sweet icing and bitter walnuts. My partner in cake ordered the Victoria sponge which was equally healthy is size with a generous layer of icing in the middle.


We selected a pot of mint tea to accompany our cakes, I always find this brew more refreshing on a warm day as it is still palatable as it cools down. I was impressed that the cakes are baked on site and the residents should feel a great sense of pride in the products they produce. I am not encouraging you to visit Camphill out of obligation or to feel good that you have contributed to those who require support in day to day living. I am encouraging you to visit because the cake is delicious, the produce is fresh and seasonal and it is the epitome of locally produced. The fact you’ll meet some amazing people and support this fantastic charity is just the cherry on the cake.
Camphill Cafe, Japonica Lane, Milton Keynes MK15 9JY TEL: 01908 308738