Monday, 29 June 2015

bookclub #2

Welcome back to my second book feature; an online bookclub I'm sharing with Lorna and Leanne. Remember last time I said my biggest fear was not reading quickly enough? Well, I had no reason to worry! Lorna's choice of our second read was so good I read the majority of this book in just one day. Yeh, I know... whadda geek. I took up residence in Costa with a cappuccino, and three hours later was nearly finished! I felt mildly guilty at only spending £2-something in that time, so made a quick escape. I made it all the way home before I found myself curled up in my reading chair finishing the last few chapters.

#2: The Day We Disappeared by Lucy Robinson.

As you may have been able to tell in my previous bookworm post, I love a bit of a mystery. So when I saw the blurb starting "Annie has a secret..." I was in. The blurb actually gives very little away, which I like. Make me work for it! You can probably guess what I'm going to say - I loved this book. The fact I read it so quickly is testament to that.

I started off, however, not quite so impressed. The story starts with Irish Kate moving to (unwittingly) work on a farm as an assistant to famous horse eventer Mark Waverley. I felt like I'd read that storyline several times before, and wasn't sold. Kate's story was contrasted with Annie's troubled life in London, which I found much more interesting - this story appealed to me more. But as the novel progressed I got more and more engaged and by about a third of the way through I was hooked.

I had an funny feeling about Stephen from the off, and just had to keep reading to find out what he was all about. Like I've said in my bookworm posts before, I love trying to suss out the mystery before characters reveal it, and this book is perfect for that! A saw a couple of revelations coming, but others were a complete surprise to me which I loved. The ending left me feeling satisfied - I've read so many disappointing endings recently it was nice to see one finished off well.

Have you read The Day We Disappeared? What did you think?

Thursday, 25 June 2015


My running journey.

Back in April I went for my first run in a long while. A stop/start run around my local park - very hilly, and completely knackering. But I survived! Since then I have completed 20+ runs between four and eleven kilometers in length and am starting to really enjoy running. Yes, enjoy!

Last month I shared with you my health and fitness changes for 2015 and my successes so far. This time round I wanted to post a few words on my running journey. I am by no means an expert on fitness, health and the like but I do see value in personal experience - how ordinary people make changes that work for them.

So, here goes!

Start slow. I am by no means a fast runner. I average around 6 minutes per kilometer depending on energy and whether or not I am running alone. It's an obvious one but don't start off with a sprint because you wont be able to maintain it. Slow it down, take it easy. There's a lot of research suggesting LISS (low intensity steady state) cardio, where you can run/jog at a pace where you can hold a conversation without too much strain, is an effective weight loss tool. Some say as effective as HIIT...

Find a buddy. This is a really personal one, but for me running with a friend works. It keeps my mind occupied and helps me maintain a steady pace. Last week I ran on my own and my pace varied so much I couldn't run nearly as far as I do with a buddy. I do most of my running with Hannah - we have a good old gossip and the time quite literally flies by.

Change it up. Route, music, weather conditions, buddies. Keeping it fresh means you can avoid boredom or over-saturation. I try to vary my routes - I'm a nosy person so running through town means I can people watch (I'm not even joking), but at the same time a scenic run can feel therapeutic. I'd go mad if I ran the same route each time! But most of the time my routes are really just arranged around avoiding as many students as possible... no one wants to see their teacher red faced, sweaty and in shorts!

Combine with other exercise. I've been combining my longer runs with HIIT (high intensity interval training) - 30 second sprints followed by 60 second jogs. This helps build stamina, strength and fitness and essentially helps you run further. I do this in the gym, alongside resistance training, to create some variety and work different muscles.

Find the right gear. I hate running in gym leggings - I'm a shorts girl. All that freedom and they have built in pants... yeh. It doesn't get much better than that. Go with what your comfortable in, but is also supportive and flexible. If buying some new trainers or a sports bra gets you motivated, in my eyes that's no bad thing!

Set a goal. Next weekend I'm running the Race for Life 10k with Cancer Research UK and Scottish Power and for me that has been a huge motivator. I would usually aim for around 5k in distance, but the race has pushed me to further distances. The best thing? I can do it! Sometimes a little nudge is all you need to motivate you and propel you further. You may not be in to races, so try something else - a distance, time or weight-loss goal. You'll be surprised how quickly you reach it.

Listen to your energy levels. I run my longest distances after work. No idea why, but I really struggle with morning runs and never manage the distance I hope for. I imagine it's down to energy levels, and have to make sure I eat right before a run. If I'm running after work I have to make sure I eat a suitable lunch - lots of pasta with a bit of mayo and a tin of tuna is the perfect fuel for me! If I don't eat a big enough lunch I lack the energy to run and end up feeling awful afterwards. Not worth it. And fasted cardio? Let's not even go there...

As I said, I am by no means an expert but these pointers have really helped me over the past few months.
What are your running tips?

Monday, 22 June 2015

easy breezy

Dress Topshop
Top Primark
Sandals Birkenstocks (via TK Maxx)
Sunglasses Urban Outfitters

To me, there's nothing better than throwing on a slightly oversized denim shift and sandals, finding a sunny pub garden and catching up with friends. Bliss!

I picked up these Birkenstocks from TK Maxx for £29.99, around half the price of buying them elsewhere. I love TK Maxx (and it's sister store Home Sense) for bargain homewares, but more recently have found myself browsing the footwear aisles and workout gear. Think top brands (and some lesser-known) on offer for a fraction of the price. You may need to have a little dig around, but it'll be worth it!


Thursday, 18 June 2015

curry club

In the past year or so, my love for a good cuzza (sorry, curry) has increased ten-fold. I mean, I've always enjoyed a curry, but recently I find myself hankering after fiery spices and South Asian flavours more frequently. When it comes to a takeaway I'm pretty set in my ways; its either a chicken saag or lamb bhuna, please! 

I firmly believe you shouldn't deny yourself life's little pleasures, and I see curry as one of those. I'm more than happy to indulge in a takeaway curry every so often, but more recently have been trying to find ways to take the guilt out. The good news is that making your own curry is not only super easy and incredibly tasty, but also means you can avoid the fats often found in a takeaway.

Most supermarkets stock the spices you'll need for this, but if you're struggling try your local Indian supermarket. They're usually much cheaper in smaller, local stores than supermarkets for much greater quantities. Once you invest in a decent set of Indian spices you'll be set to try a whole range of recipes and create your very own favourites, at home.

First up: a tarka dhal. 

Naturally, I turned to Google for a quick and simple tarka dhal recipe, and the first hit was this recipe by Jamie Oliver. Having now made this three times, I can confirm it is both simple and delicious. Score! I've tweaked it to make it Slimming World friendly, and this makes a big old batch. Enough to freeze into multiple tubs to enjoy as a side dish or on it's own with rice as a great veggie curry. 

Check out the recipe here!

Slimming World - syn values
Completely free!
(Well, the ginger paste is 0.5 syns per teaspoon. But seeing as this is split over several portions, it's basically syn-free)


Tuesday, 16 June 2015


Last month, my family and I nipped up the M4 (and the rest) to Newport, Pembrokeshire for a few days of relaxation and family-time. The four hour drive was, admittedly, fairly tedious but once we arrived we knew it was worth it. On the way back we stopped in at Cardiff - we went to Uni there so was great to go back - which makes a great mid-way stop off. On a side note, how amazing has Cardiff become? We were blown away! It was probably for the best that St David's wasn't there when I was living in Cardiff!

Newport itself is a gorgeous little seaside town situated in the heart of the Pembrokeshire coastline. It's by no means big - think a few independent coffee shops, a handful of good pubs and a couple of little seaside nic-nac shops. It even has its own Norman castle tucked away (sorry, standing proudly) at the top of the town. The countryside surrounding is absolutely gorgeous; some great coastal walks and a beautiful sandy beach, it's just dreamy. We were lucky enough to have one really hot day and several days of patchy sun, which really showed Newport in it's best light. 

Best place to eat? We loved The Canteen for great pizza and super friendly staff. 

Whilst we were there we made a little day trip to St Davids which was about a forty minute drive away. We visited the cathedral and mooched around the town before doing what we do best - finding a nice pub and getting lunch! 

This year is the first year for a while where we've not booked a summer holiday abroad, which fills me with terror and sadness. We've been on some pretty incredible breaks over the past few years so this summer will be an odd one. Call me a diva, I don't care, I just need some sun! This break couldn't have come at a better time and really allowed us all to get some proper R&R - even with my two little nephews zooming round the place! 

Are you going on a UK break this summer?


Sunday, 14 June 2015

up close

I promised a while ago that I'd show you some pictures of my new Lotta's in action. 

Highwood Brown Nubuck from Lotta from Stockholm*

I have two other pairs from Lotta, both of which are a size 5 and are true to regular sizing. These I had to exchange for a size 6 so allow a bit of space for my toes. The super soft brown suede means these are not only aesthetically pleasing, but also super comfortable. And don't be fooled by the seemingly hard wooden sole - I can wear these for hours on my feet at work without a worry. 

Styled with some distressed black skinnies and a go-to striped tee, they are laid-back perfection. 


Wednesday, 10 June 2015

fragrant fish

I first saw this recipe in the Waitrose Magazine - a tilapia and aubergine coconut curry. I didn't have any tilapia but did have a freezer full of cod fillets which worked perfectly. You can see the recipe here, but here's my simplified version with some small tweaks. This is said to serve 6 people, but I would say it serves more like 3-4. 

You will need
1 onion, diced
6 garlic cloves
1 tsp ginger paste
Cod fillets (we use Lidl frozen fillets, 2 small fillets per person)
1 aubergine, cubed
2 green chillis, diced
1 tbsp madras curry powder
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground turmeric
2 tomatoes, cubed
200ml reduced-fat coconut milk
300ml fish or vegetable stock
Coriander to serve

Start by popping the frozen cod fillets in foil and in the oven per packet instructions. 

In a non-stick pan, dry-fry the aubergine cubes until golden on all sides. Set aside. 

In a separate pan, fry the onion in Fry Light for a few minutes. Then add the garlic (via a garlic press - this one is my lifesaver), a couple of squeezes of ginger paste and chillis and cook for a further few minutes. Add the dry spices and tomatoes and cook, stirring. As soon as it starts to dry out add the coconut milk, a little at a time. Once all added, add the stock a little at a time. Season, reduce the heat and simmer gently for 10 minutes. 

Add the aubergine and oven-cooked fish and take off the heat, leaving the residual heat of the pan to warm everything through. Serve with rice and garnish with chopped coriander. 

Slimming World - syn values (remember to split by portions!)
Coconut milk, reduced fat, 200ml - 9 syns.
(Well, the ginger paste is 0.5 syns per teaspoon. But seeing as this is split over several portions, it's basically syn-free)

Monday, 8 June 2015

bookworm #34

The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain

Every week when I do our weekly food shop, I peruse the book aisle in Sainsburys. For weeks this cover caught my eye and I resisted... then it disappeared. So naturally I had to have it, and hunted it down until it was mine. Yeh, I get that obsessive - nothing haunts you like the things you didn't buy! 

The back cover blurb hooked me. "Riley MacPherson has spent her whole life believing that her older sister Lisa died tragically as a teenager. But now she's starting to uncover the truth... Lisa is alive. Alive and living under a new identity."

I absolutely loved this story! A ridiculous number of plot twists that kept me hooked right from the start, I read this in just a couple of days. Usually I'm such a slow reader, so this was a real success for me. I love a mystery, and love looking for clues and hooks as I read, trying to beat the characters to the truth! This didn't disappoint, forever tricking me and taking the story down routes I didn't expect. The story went back and forwards in time, and to and fro between Riley's story and her sister Lisa's story. This really helped you empathise with the characters, keeping you hooked and pressing on. Unlike many other books, this flowed smoothly between past, present and different characters. Prepare yourself for twists, turns, shocks... and hours lost being sucked into this fast-paced novel. 

I haven't read anything by Diane Chamberlain before but will definitely be looking out for her name on the charity shop book shelves. I counted an impressive twenty-five other titles at the back of this book, so hopefully will stumble upon one sooner rather than later. My 'must find' list is getting pretty expensive now and I'm fast becoming a regular in my local Oxfam Books. The chaps who work there are so helpful and often go and hunt out titles for me in the stock room if I can't find them on the shelves. 

Have you read The Silent Sister?


Friday, 5 June 2015

forty winks

Sleep. Catching some z's. Forty winks. 

For me, sleep is crucial. If I'm lacking sleep and I can almost guarantee to get ill, see my stress levels rocket and generally turn into a bit of a monster. Since I was little I've relied on getting a good eight hours - I was always the kid who was in bed by seven o'clock whilst everyone else was out playing... thanks Mum! Whilst I hated that growing up, today know that it's key to my overall health and wellbeing.

The science bit: why a lack of sleep really is detrimental to your health. 
According to the NHS, one in three British adults suffer from a lack of sleep. It can heave serious effects on your health and make you more susceptible to conditions such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes. It can also have perhaps a more obvious and immediate impact on things like focus and temper. An early night seems a little bit more appealing now, hey?!

I don't know about you but one of the biggest problems for me is switching off. If I've worked late, exercised, had a coffee or two too many in the day or am worried about something, the chances of me drifting off peacefully are pretty low. Throw the constant distraction of an iPhone into the mix and it's a recipe for disaster! I'll say the obvious - put the phone down. Read a book. Do some meditation. Have a relaxing bath. Get into a routine. The lovely folks at Hilary's have put together a whole load of sleep tips to help you drift into the land of nod swiftly, and hopefully get better quality sleep whilst you're at it. 

One thing I read time and time again is the importance of getting morning daylight to help waking up naturally. Serotonin boosting goodness. In recent weeks I've been waking up feeling more refreshed - possibly due to a more relaxing period at work, but most definitely helped by the early sunrise. To me there is nothing more depressing and difficult than waking up in the dark.  

When struggling with my sleeping patterns a year or so ago, a friend recommended I try a Lumie BodyClock* - they replicate sunrise and sunset and help waking during those oh-so-difficult dark mornings. Of course, at this time of year the majority of us don't need to replicate sunrise - at the moment sunrise starts before 5am, when I am more than happy to be asleep still! I'm so looking forward to testing the sunrise setting out in the darker months and seeing if it improves that 'morning, already?!' feeling. But for now I've been enjoying the sunset setting - shutting my curtains and popping on a slow sunset sequence. I can read a few chapters of my book with the light slowly dimming, naturally tuning my brain into sleep mode and helping me switch off. 

So what can you expect to notice when your sleep improves? Good news - the list is pretty extensive! Improved immune system, mood, focus, sex-drive, mental wellbeing, memory, creativity, ability to deal with stress ...even an increased life expectancy. And for those of you who are, like me, trying to shed some pounds there is lots of evidence suggesting sleep makes weight-loss easier and more effective. Sleep to help weight loss? I'll take that!

What are your top sleep tips? 

This post contains a sponsored link which I was reimbursed for. All thoughts my own!

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

fully loaded

You want to know the #1 thing I love about Slimming World? Carbs, all the carbs. I'm a greedy gal who loves potatoes, pasta and rice. History has taught me that I don't last long with any diet which denies me these - what I see as my basic human rights (!). That said, I'm feeling the need to diversify and change things up a little. I have a jacket potato for lunch a couple of times a week, and usually for dinner once a week... it's starting to get a little dry. 

Introducing super-skinny loaded jackets. Ta-da! 

You will need
Potatoes (Desiree are a good bet)
Laughing Cow Triangles (extra light)
Crème Fraiche (half fat)

Although simple to make, they do take a little patience. Start by cooking the potatoes in the microwave - cooking time will depend on size but usually around a few minutes. Check they are cooked by inserting a sharp knife, you should be able to tell when they're done. Leave them to cool for about 10 minutes. 

This is where it takes a little patience. Using a desert spoon, scoop out the centre of the potato being careful not to tear through the skin. Try and take it as close to the skin as you can, without tearing! Put all the potato centres into a bowl and mash, adding a small handful of finely chopped chives, Laughing Cow triangles to taste (I used 1 triangle per whole potato) and a couple of tablespoons of crème fraiche. The crème fraiche helps to make it a little more light and fluffy!

Pop in the oven for 20 minutes on around 180C. You'll want the shells to be crispy and the centres to be golden. 

Want to make them even more loaded? Try adding cooked diced bacon - just be sure to remove all visible fat and fry in FryLight for it to be syn-free. Paprika or chilli flakes would also be a good addition if you want to spice it up a bit. Serve them with home made chilli con carne. 

Slimming World - syn values
Laughing Cow - extra light, 1 syn per triangle
Crème Fraiche - half fat, 1 syn per tablespoon

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