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  

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

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

Cake Diary: Petersham Nurseries

Cake Diary: Petersham Nurseries

Being a foodie people regularly recommend places which I may enjoy visiting for food, drinks and, of course, tea. A colleague of mine had been urging me to visit London’s Borough Market for some time, with stories of street food and fresh produce from around the globe, eclectic backgrounds come together for the love of food and the vibe of our great capital city. Several months ago we put a date in our diary so she could share this amazing place with me but sadly it was not to be. Just one week prior to our planned visit 3 men took innocent lives in this vibrant market place and with the Police working hard to investigate it the market remains closed at this time.

Despite the inevitable fear and caution I felt inside I knew that acts of terror must not deter us from living our lives. The closure may have caused us to change our plans but London would still be our destination. Even during world war 2 milkmen made their deliveries, we are British and no enemy, near or far, will stand between us and a brew!

London milkman, 1940
Photo by Fred Morley – Learn more here

The weather was kind to us as we left the Shires and headed into the city, first stop Camden Town. The streets were heaving with rivers of people flowing in and around the market stalls and we were soon swept away. My senses over whelmed with colours and sounds from each of the stalls. Bespoke handmade jewellery, scarfs and bags through to antique books, records and clothing. Truly something for everyone which is reflected in the clientele.

Our noses lead us to the food stalls where you can travel the world in just a few paces. When offered the world on a plate where do you start?! Thailand or Mexico, America or the Middle East? In the end I landed in Greece with fresh falafel and halloumi wraps drizzled in yogurt dressing, crunchy salad and topped with pomegranate it was the perfect lunchtime treat.

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Leaving behind the white water pace of Camden we hopped onto the water bus to head west. The dockside was lined with swinging legs soaking up the sun, passing them we meandered through Regents Park to our next stop, Little Venice. Tree lined avenues radiate out from the Grand Union and Regents canals with ornate barges decorating the waters edge, city life slows down to just four knots. You can re-fuel at the quaint floating cafe before walking the tow paths to explore this picturesque area.

Despite tea and cake being on offer this was not our destination de jour. A short tube ride from Paddington took us to Richmond where it is hard to believe you’re so close to central London. We walked along the Thames which was littered with rowers and paddle boarders, passed meadows of grazing cows in search of a hidden gem called Petersham Nurseries. This is not your average garden centre as tucked among the roses and evergreens is a Tea House with a difference.

Welcomed through an ornate oak doorway you find yourself in a secret garden greenhouse where you can enjoy tea and cake amongst the flora. The metal furniture is beaten and worn as if hidden here for decades, painted bright colours it blends in with the surrounding plant life. Relaxed and open plan privacy between diners is provided by orange trees, shrubs and vines which scent the room with citrus and jasmine. As well as the Teahouse they also offer a more extensive menu in their cafe, although this should be booked well in advance

Although we arrived late in the day there were still plenty of cake options on offer. My partner in cake ordered the lemon and poppyseed which did tempt me until I spotted the elderflower sponge. Given the surroundings I felt something floral was appropriate. To accompany it, the Petersham afternoon tea blend.

I was disappointed the elderflower flavour did not pack more of a punch but the sponge was deliciously light. Scattered with almonds throughout it did not loose moisture and was topped with sweet Italian meringue icing. The loose leaf brew was a simple black tea, light and refreshing with a splash of milk. The perfect pick me up after a day of exploring new sites. We soaked up the magical atmosphere and enjoyed the warmth of the afternoon sun as it shone through the glasshouse.

It’s hard for words to do this place justice, I feel even my photos don’t convey the experience in full technicolour. I often find cities claustrophobic, with towering concrete, exhaust fumes and people – oh so many people! Petersham offers an oasis of calm where I could almost feel the fresh oxygen emanate from the plants all around us. Wandering back to the tube riverside the sky opens up above you and you can’t help but smile. Richmond is a place you want to be, on or off the water it’s somewhere to slow down and enjoy what we have, for it is magic and cannot be taken from us.

“Sometimes since I’ve been in the garden I’ve looked up through the trees at the sky and I have had a strange feeling of being happy as if something was pushing and drawing in my chest and making me breathe fast. Magic is always pushing and drawing and making things out of nothing. Everything is made out of magic, leaves and trees, flowers and birds, badgers and foxes and squirrels and people. So it must be all around us. In this garden – in all the places.”
― Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, TW10 7AB       TEL: 0208 940 5230 

The Art of Artisan Chocolate

The Art of Artisan Chocolate

Last weekend I had the great pleasure of returning to The School of Artisan Food to take part in an Artisan Chocolate making workshop hosted by the award winning Ottar Chocolate. It was such a joy being back on the historic grounds of The Welbeck Estate, its sandstone buildings glimmering in the spring sunshine, framed by fields in a rainbow of green.
Shelly was our guide for the day and it was apparent from the outset that chocolate runs through her veins, blood may be thicker than water but chocolate is thicker still! She shared her knowledge about the origin of the beans and I found it fascinating to learn what real chocolate is. The link between cocoa beans and tea leaves is clear; it truly matters where the product comes from and how it is processed. As with many crops the soil, altitude, weather and atmosphere all impact on the flavour. This seems a logical link when talking about wine, coffee and tea but chocolate seems to be the black sheep of this family. Let’s face it we all reach for a bar of galaxy or dairy milk when we get a sugar craving but that is exactly the issue, it’s a sugar craving and so far removed from chocolate.
My palate is used to detecting the subtle flavours in tea, appreciating hints of malt, spice or fruit in different brews, but could I tune in to chocolate? We took a taste test with beans from two origins, Madagascan and Brazilian. Like a sommelier of chocolate we used all of our senses to experience each. Starting with the Madagascan I noted it didn’t immediately melt with the warmth of my fingers into a gooey, sticky mess. Snapping the chocolate drop in half released the familiar aroma before I popped it into my mouth, letting it melt slowly. Solid dissolved to liquid on my tongue and it hit my taste buds with an unexpected citrus zing. The texture was unmistakably chocolate but the flavour was creamy, cut through with sharp lemon and a floral undertone. The Brazilian taster was still smooth but held a more nutty, toasted flavour. Deeper and richer it stayed on the palate with a comforting warmth of roasted beans. The differences were notable and could not be disputed; I finally understood what chocolate tastes like!
My taste buds were alive and in turn ignited my imagination. The kitchen soon became a hive of activity with a smorgasbord of fresh ingredients on offer; herbs, spices, fruit, nuts and, to my relief, teas! Shelly guided us through making salted caramel and tempering chocolate. She offered advice on balancing flavours as we raided the ingredients to create the perfect truffle. I was content lost in this chocolate paradise, coco powder in my hair and a workstation looking similar to an edible Pollack masterpiece.


It was a day spent with like minded people, learning and laughing. As always the school were attentive hosts offering an array of freshly made salads for lunch, the pea and mint hummus with herby focaccia was so delicious I had to have seconds…..and thirds! You can taste the freshness in every dish and the ethos of the school runs through every product and course they offer.

A perfect part of this artisan puzzle is Ottar chocolates, creating divine sweet pastries and truffles from high quality ingredients. The cocoa beans are ethically sourced from farms where the workers are treated well, their children are in school and the product is processed with care and respect. The passion for every step of this artisan process is evident in the work this husband and wife team put in, lovingly transforming chocolate into delicious treats which can be enjoyed (almost) guilt free.

Next time you have a chocolate craving think about the bar you choose. Don’t automatically reach for the sugar hit, why not explore the bean to bar process and select something where you can savour the flavour and awaken your taste buds!

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Salted caramel heaven
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It’s all about balance
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Earl grey and lemon truffles

Ottar Chocolate, The Welbeck Estate, Worksop, S80 3LT            TEL: 01909 512579

Cake Diary: Brownlow Cafe

Cake Diary: Brownlow Cafe

Having a cheeky weekday off work can mean only one thing, time for tea and cake. With my other half and our four legged friend in tow we heading up to the Ashridge estate. I have been visiting this national trust site since I was a child. Memories of school trips to go pond dipping and collect soil samples, climbing trees and getting lost away from the beaten track. No matter the weather I have enjoyed long walks around the acres of forest, secluded meadows and rolling hills.

We parked up near the Bridgewater Monument, named after a historic Ashridge resident, the third Duke of Bridgewater. The imposing granite column towers above the surrounding ancient trees allowing stunning 360 degree views from the top, thats if you can handle the 172 steps to get there!

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We stayed at ground level venturing deep into the forest, soon the groups of ramblers, horse riders and young families were far behind us. The dog ran free, picking up sticks far to large but his perseverance meant they were dragged for several meters. The spring canopy was filling up with new green leaves and a carpet of bluebells softened the forest floor. With wildlife all around us we walked and talked, building up an appetite for lunch.

Brownlow’s cafe is situated between the monument and the Ashridge visitors centre where you can pick up walking maps, books and gifts. All the seating is outside so opening times vary between the seasons but large umbrellas protect you from the worst of the elements if required. Dogs are welcome and lay strewn between tables or looking hopefully at their owners plates, wide eyed and waggy tailed.

On offer is locally sourced produced on a varied menu of hot and cold dishes. An all day breakfast, or a jacket spud laden with tuna or cheese, baguettes and panini’s, fresh chilli con carne with crusty bread or home made quiche and salad. The portion sizes give exceptional value for money but you have to leave room for cake!

Slabs of the classics such as lemon drizzle and carrot cake are on offer alongside chocolate brownies and muffins with plenty of tea to wash it down. Hearty brews to warm up walkers rather than dainty cups and saucers. I saw several people opt for the hot chocolate which comes pilled high with mini marsh mallows. I chose a cup of english breakfast to go with the locally renowned scone with jam and clotted cream, which didn’t disappoint. To say it was giant is an understatement, it was a scone on steroids!! Huge and fruit filled it bulged with enough cream to feed a hoard of ramblers. I felt the ratio of cream to jam was a little unbalanced and as they are preprepared you cant personalise the toppings. Never the less it was light, creamy, fruity and delicious! Despite the miles we had walked the scone beat me, but having polished off his more reserved slice of brownie my other half stepped up to assist.

All the fresh air, exercise and cake made for a sleepy trio heading home. The dog, free from human chores, snored as preparations were made to head back to work tomorrow. In fact he still snores as I type…….it’s a dogs life!!!!

Brownlow Cafe, Moneybury Hill, Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire HP4 1LX 

Tel: 01442 851670 

Mind Surfing

Mind Surfing

via Daily Prompt: Pause

Over recent months I have learnt a valuable lesson in relation to our state of mind…….nothing is permanent.

Your current state of mind will not be the same next month, next week or possibly even in the next hour. Just as it is unlikely your current state of mind is an exact replica of those in the past. This may seem like an obvious concept but too often we find ourselves feeling a certain way, in fear that we will never adapt. Teenagers are pro’s at this, every break up or mistake made is the end of their world and they can’t see beyond it. Although we grow out of this as an extreme it is still a place we can find ourselves visiting. The horizon gets closer as our view of the future narrows, unable to even imagine cracking a smile or laughing with friends.

Or perhaps you are searching for an elusive state of mind believing that once you reach it you can relax as all will be as it should. It’s healthy to strive for something, follow your dreams and set goals but don’t allow this to distort your vision of now. I see so much on social media about happiness; Where to find it, what it looks like, how to get it. But what happens when you get it? Happiness is no more permanent than fear or anger or sadness. It’s simply another emotion that makes up the patch work of you. Of course we’d all like our patch work to be happiness heavy but how do you know your happy if you’ve never been sad?

Try to face your emotions as a surfer faces the ocean. You don’t know what the next wave may bring The only thing we can reply on is that the crest always crashes, dissipating into the next swell. If you can learn how to successfully navigate these waves your state of mind becomes a far less daunting place. Let yourself experience each feeling, acknowledge it and ride it out. This is not a simple task, anyone who has tried surfing will tell you that it’s never an easy ride but it is one that can offer great reward. The process can’t be rushed, you stand up too soon and you’ll have to swim, fight it and you’ll fall. Take your time, pause and just be with your state of mind, remembering that it’s only for now.

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