The highs of 2014 & wishes for 2015


Where did 2014 go? I swear one moment I was eye deep in dissertation research and next thing I know I’m half way through my next course and haven’t blogged for nearly three months! The shame! This post is just going to be a round up of some of my 2014 highlights, including those I haven’t blogged about and my Tone It Up #LoveYourBody aims. I use to use TIU when I was at uni to get some variety into my fitness routines but as will everything else since moving home and starting my PGCE, it’s slipped down the priority ladder… but 2015 will hopefully settle back into the old uni me!

A few highlights from 2014 (in no particular order):
* Running 10k
* Researching and writing my dissertation … and enjoying it!
* Graduating from Liverpool Hope with a 1st class honours
* Making and keeping some life long friends from Hope and Shotton
* Liverpool jaunts to catch up with said uni friends
* Surviving (and enjoying) my first term and placement on my teaching course
* Surprising my cousin with the rest of the family by turning up for an 80s themed party for her in Ireland
* Completing my Guiding holiday license after a little confusion
* Queen’s Guide adventure in London doing the monopoly board
* Spending quality time with my family and friends

And here’s my #LoveYourBody aims which I hope to complete by Valentine’s Day!


I’m going to apologise now for the potential dodgy editing of this post – I’m typing it from my mini and I’m not sure how it will turn out… but at least I’ve broken my unintentional silence!

I hope you have all had a fantastic 2014 and that 2015 is as kind or better to you!


From a lifestyle change to a 10k run…

I don’t intend for this to be too sentimental or clichéd but I still feel amazing after yesterday. I’m not going to repeat too much of what has already been mentioned on this blog in the past, but running the whole 10k yesterday made me realise just how much I have achieved since I decided back in January 2012 that enough was enough.

It has never been a diet or a set plan, instead I kept a record of what I ate and made a conscious effort to make better choices with regards to my health. I have been incredibly fortunate in the copious amount of support and encouragement I receive from my family and friends. My dad was going through a similar change and it had a massive influence on my attitude towards the whole thing. We supported each other and shared tips, recipes and morale. I guess I had my own little support group free of charge! I had considered joining a slimming group but the local ones in Liverpool all clashed with other commitments. In my own way I created a healthier lifestyle that suited my student budget and busy schedules. It hasn’t been easy, but since then I have lost four stone and gone from a size 16-18 to a 8-10 (UK sizing). When I joined Hope University, I was happy, but there were occasional body-conscience moments, something I have experienced throughout my life. Now I still have the occasional twinge, but that’s all down to personal vanity! I feel happier than ever and delight in trying new styles and make-up. I’m still the same shy, slightly awkward bookworm that I have always been (and I have no intention of changing that!) but I feel more confident in how I appear to the rest of the world.

I love looking through old photos and seeing the changes to remind myself that I have come a long way. Now my focus is to keep the shape I currently am – I love my curves and I’m proud of them – and to remain active. It’s always difficult when I return home as I don’t cook all my meals and I don’t walk as frequently as I do when I’m at uni because home is more isolated. However I have every intention of joining a local running group when I return and I’ve bought a set of resistance bands to try some different workouts. Of course I will also be doing plenty of walking with Mabel and Marvin and once the weather improves I’ll be back on my bike. By setting out my goals, it gives me something to focus on and I know that I’ll succeed. Like I said, I never felt unhappy before, but I prefer my current lifestyle.

Anyway, back to yesterday’s run. After months of training (Hannah was better at that than I), we found ourself on the starting line (or a good five minutes from it seeing as we were in the slowest group of runners) and we were both nervous and elated that we had succeeded in getting that far. Once we crossed the start, we set a good, steady pace and we said from then that we were determined to keep running throughout the 10k, regardless of our speed. By 2k, there were a fair few who were alternating between running and walking and between 3 and 4k, we were lapped by one of the elite men, who finished the whole thing in 31 minutes. And still we kept running. It felt like an age before we reached the half way point which was the water point. We stopped at the side of the road to refresh although I barely drank anything, the main focus being to try to cool down, as I find it uncomfortable to drink and exercise and my low blood pressure was a concern. Back we went, again at a steady pace, and in a way it was quite relaxing. Sometimes we chatted, sometimes we just absorbed the scenery and enjoyed the atmosphere. It was a cracking route and the public were excellent, very supportive! We had to stop briefly around 8k because my body had a hissy fit and I felt a little nauseous but after a couple of mouthfuls of juice we were back on track and the end was once more in sight. We put on a spurt of speed once we spotted the finish line and our official finishing time was 1 hour, 13 minutes and 33 seconds. The combination of amazement, disbelief and exhaustion just about floored me but we collected our goodies bags, located Hannah’s fiance, who was our bag boy and supporter, and settled down on the grass to catch our breath. I have truly never felt as proud of myself as I did lying on the grass trying to cool down. We had done it. We ran the whole thing, despite a few hiccups, and my goodness did it feel amazing! I think our Nike+ apps said our average pace was just over 11 mph, which was slightly slower than our usual running pace, but the furthest we’d ran together was just over 2 mile, not the 6 and a bit we did yesterday, so I think that was a perfectly acceptable pace. Especially when you consider the work load we have both been balancing! We have decided that we will continue to do organised running events, alternating between Liverpool and Newcastle, again something I never thought possible. I’ve been bitten by the running bug and never again will I mock others for the madness I now truly enjoy!

I hope that this has inspired or motivated at least one person to make a healthy change in their lifestyle or to continue with their hard work if they already have. It’s never completely easy and sometimes you may feel like giving up but seriously don’t. Weaknesses are there to be overcome and to make you stronger in the end. Who knows, maybe you’ll achieve something you never thought possible too.

What a difference three years can make! Just a selection of my favourite photos from yesterday

I thought I’d share with you one of my least photos of myself from before I started to lose weight and compare it to how I look now. I felt beautiful on that day in 2011 when that photos was taken, but looking back on it makes me proud to see less of that belly! I wasn’t ashamed or disgusted by my figure then, in fact I don’t believe I ever will be, but it certainly produces a sense of satisfaction and disbelief when I see a comparison like that. It is possible and if I can do it, anyone can! You just need to determination and encouragement. The other picture is a selection of my favourite photos from yesterday. I never said I was an attractive runner and my goodness do I go beetroot when I exercise! I think these photos sum up exactly how we felt on the day and my favourite is still my selfie just after completing the run – knackered but still with a look of ‘who’d have thought I could do this?!’ on my face! So far a total of £108 has been raised towards the RSPCA Newcastle/Northumberland branch and donations can still be made via – a final shameless plug that while I did it purely for selfish reasons (ie to see if I could run 10k) I’m pleased so many people have generously donated towards improving the lives of animals like Mabel and Marvin.

What’s occurring

  • As I mentioned in last week’s ‘Feel-good’ post, my life for the next couple of months is going to revolve around uni. After my loss of confidence last week, I’ve had my pep-talks from my family, friends and tutor, and everything is back on track, although I do still have mild panic moments. This is just the normal have-I-left-it-too-late panic, and while I know that I haven’t left it too late, I also need this background concern to remain in the background to let me know that I can’t ignore it any longer. That’s what got me into my panic in the first place.
  • Anyway, I’m one essay down, with only one left to do (by next Wednesday), then it’s just my SALA portfolio to be handed in, apply for my summer job, and write my dissertation. Third year may be manic, but apart from last week, I think I’m dealing pretty well with it all. I’ve broken all my tasks into bitesize chunks which I cross off once complete as a visual reminder of what I have achieved and what’s left to do. Add to that the copious amount of incense sticks or oil burning going on and my room is a clean, organised, and peaceful area to work in and I’m much better with giving myself sensible breaks/work periods/goals. I then tend to reward myself as I go along (usually with an episode of Castle).
  • I also use exercise as a way to relax and clear my head. I’m going swimming at least two mornings during the week and go out for short runs several times through the week. I managed to injure myself on Monday (apologies for the slightly gross photo I instagrammed, but I had to show you just how bad it was). I kicked the wall whilst on my final lap – no biggie, I’ve done it several times – only this time I chipped part of my toenail and skinned the top of my toe! Just from kicking the wall. It bled for the most of the morning and since I’m allergic to plasters and my blood doesn’t clot as quickly as it’s supposed to, I had to resort to wrapping a cotton pad around my toe. It’s a bit better now – no more bleeding unless it gets caught – but it needs to get back to normal in time for summer sandals!
  • I went home briefly after class on Tuesday and returned this afternoon as I had to sort out some paperwork for my PGCE, I had my birthday present of tickets to see Miranda Hart at the Metro Arena and a funeral to attend. My next door neighbour lost her battle with breast cancer last week and it was her funeral today. We’ll all miss her in our neighbourhood and that was shown in the turn out to her funeral. I donated to breast cancer research with my #NoMakeUpSelfie – I’d been nominated and I thought it was a fitting way to mark the celebrations of her life – spreading the word through photos in a harmless and fun way and I know Brenda would have laughed at it. Mum and I thoroughly enjoyed Miranda Hart last night. It was so funny and honest. It worried me a little bit how relatable I found her show! Overall I had a wonderful stay at home, it was just the refreshing refuel I needed, but it’s back to work for me now.

Fairtrade Fortnight: 24 February – 9 March

Now I am well aware that this is nearly over, but I want to mention this event to raise awareness of the vast quantity of fair trade products that available, particularly in the UK. The first two that usually spring to mind are chocolate and bananas – purely because they are the most commonly spoken about. The current campaign for this year is to Make bananas Fair – you can read about it and the Fairtrade Foundation here and sign the petition here. I’m going to sign the petition after work today – we need to make our voices, and the voices of the farmers, heard and acknowledged. I’ll admit I’m not all that snazzy when it comes to politics, but I truly believe that we need to do more to ensure that fairness is achieved for all.

Now I’m a student. I live on a tight budget. Yet I still try to buy fair trade products as often as I can. I am partly able to do this because I volunteer in Oxfam and our store in particular has a huge selection of fair trade products. It’s not just about food either. As I mentioned in a previous post, you can get Fairtrade lip balms, hand creams, BB creams, condoms, shampoo, washing powder … the list goes on! It’s well worth having a browse online and seeing where you can buy fair trade items. Yes it can be a little bit more costly, but not by a substantial amount and treat it like your good deed of the day! Your hard work is improving someone else’s life and making a big difference to them, their family and community.

The photo contains just some of my favourite Fairtrade products that I regularly buy. The coffee is beautiful and the stem ginger biscuits are simply divine. I always buy a packet for Mum when I go home as they are a household favourite. The dark chocolate, orange and ginger chocolate is my little pick-me-up luxury. I also use some of the household products and the quality is exceptional. It’s worth paying the extra for.

Seeing as it is the start of Lent, instead of giving alms why not buy something Fairtrade every week? Even if you’ve given up sweet treats, there are still many other things you could buy. To make things a little more cost-effective, up until the end of Fairtrade Fortnight (9 March) you can get 20% all Fairtrade food products (excluding the Easter range – yes there’s Fairtrade Easter Eggs!) in Oxfam shops. Go on, make a difference and let’s get fair trading for all!

What’s occurring

I just thought I’d give you all a little update on how my first week back at uni has been so far. I can’t believe it’s only been a week as well! It seems to have simply flown by.

  • I’m due back two essays: one tomorrow – which is dictators and the one I’m most worried about – and maritime is due next week. Fingers crossed I’ve done ok on them!
  • I’ve set myself a couple of challenges this term. The first is to stick to a budget of £30 a week. To try to make this easier, I have planned each day of the week onto a little notelet and stuck it to my wardrobe. I’ve done this to plan my meals and to make sure I’m being economical with my shopping. It also makes life a lot easier during the week as I don’t have to think about what to cook and it should motivate me to do more research!
  • The second challenge is to participate in the Liverpool Spring 10k in May. I signed up for it yesterday with my friend Hannah as we decided we wanted to finish university on a real buzz and this seemed like an ideal challenge. I’m honestly running it just to prove to myself that I can do it because it’s something I never thought I’d want to do, let alone be able to complete. Most people assume that it’s being ran for a charity, so I’ve chosen the RSPCA Newcastle & Northumberland Branch as my charity because without them, we wouldn’t have Mabel and Marvin. Check out my page (to offer motivation, donations etc) or text MARB47 £1 to 70070
  • And then to add onto the fitness news – not only have I been getting back into my gym routine (and trying to break in my new running trainers despite their best efforts to eat/destroy my ankles) I’ve also signed up for unlimited swimming at the nearby pool with one of my course friends. We swam roughly 1,000 meters last night!

Slow-cooked wonder no. 2: Chilli con shin

After last weeks amazing stew (can you tell I’m still in love with it?), I thought it was time to get the slow cooker out again and create something with the remaining shin beef. I opted for a chilli because the slow cooking would draw out the heat and it was an excuse to try to cook rice. I know that sounds really simple, but I’ve never cooked rice in a pan before, I’ve always used the packets. Don’t get me wrong, those packets are a real life-saver at times, but it is nice to be able to cook things from as close to scratch as possible.

Chilli con shin

So here it is – my chilli con shin and how to make it

  • 200g of shin beef
  • 1/2 tablespoon of plain flour
  • Seasoning
  • 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
  • 100g of frozen mixed peppers
  • 100g of frozen onions
  • 1 level tablespoon of frozen chopped red chillies (I got mine in Morrisons)
  • 1/2 tablespoon of tomato puree
  • 1 tin of mixed beans in tomato sauce (I used a tin of ASDA’s own mix which is roughly 400g and contains haricot, borlotti, cannellini, red kidney beans)
  • 1 1/2 tins of cold water
  • 1 packet of chilli con carne sauce mix
  • 1/2 cup of brown long grain easy cook rice (per person)

This morning, between bites of porridge, I was up preparing this delicious meal for tea. As with the stew, I began by making a seasoning for the beef. Inside the food bag (it had been defrosting overnight) I added half a tablespoon of plain flour, a couple of twists of black pepper and shook the bag until all the meat was coated. Into the wok it went with a tablespoon of vegetable oil. I fried the meat until all sides were brown and tipped it into the slow cooker.

Entertaining pre-lecture wake up

Next into the slow cooker went my frozen veg. I used 100g of both mixed peppers and chopped onions because I wasn’t adding a great deal of variety into it. As an experiment I added a level tablespoon of frozen chillies. I saw them when we went on our big house shop and thought they’d be a handy thing to keep around. They certainly added a nice kick to the mix. On top of the frozen stuff I added the tinned beans. Now these mixes are really handy to have in for this kind of thing because they don’t take up a lot of space and I love to have a variety of beans in my chilli. The fact that it comes in tomato sauce means that you don’t need to add a tin of chopped tomatoes. I’m saving them for a lentil soup instead. I then filled the bean tin up with water and added it to the mix to create a nice sauce. The final item to be thrown in was a packet of chilli con carne sauce mix. I’ve had it in my cupboard for a while so it needed to be used. I think I might try a different spice mix in future, just to compare the results. Once everything had been stirred around and thoroughly mixed, it was lid on and cook on low for seven hours.

Ready to cook

About an hour before I wanted to eat it, I turned the slow cooker from low to keep warm, purely because I nearly burnt my tongue last week. I cooked half a cup (75g) of brown rice whilst the chilli was cooling down. I couldn’t believe how simple it was to cook the rice and I’ll definitely be doing it a lot more in the future. I served my chilli with a little bit of light salad cream because I like the tang cutting through the heat. The meat was once again very tender and I thoroughly enjoyed my meal. I got another three portions out of the slow cooker so they’re currently cooling before they go in the freezer.

And that’s all there is to making a delicious chilli

Nutritional information for the chilli (minus the rice/salad cream) based on my portion size and exact ingredients/measurements according to MyFitnessPal:

  • 259 calories
  • 30 carbs
  • 7 fat
  • 18 protein

The best meal I’ve ever made

Now I’m not normally one to blown my own trumpet, but this meal that I’m going to share with you is amazing. It’s ideal for the cold nights that are creeping in and it’s also really healthy. I’m a huge lover of veg and barley, to the point that I always prefer to eat more of them than meat. This personal preference is reflected in the recipe, so feel free to play it by eye as you make it.

Slow cooked shin beef and barley stew

To make this shin beef and barley stew I used:

  • 300g of diced shin beef
  • 1 tablespoon of plain flour
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 300g of Iceland’s frozen casserole vegetable mix
  • 150g (dried weight) of pearl barley
  • 1 beef stock cube
  • Some gravy granules
  • 1/2 tablespoon of tomato puree
  • A splash of Worcester sauce
  • Seasoning

Now I went to the butcher’s yesterday and asked for a lb of diced shin beef. I got just a bit more (a total of 592g) for £5.21. This price may seem steep, especially as the meat doesn’t actually look that appealing, but as you can see I only used half of the amount in this dish. The other half is in the freezer waiting to be made into a chilli. When you buy the meat, ask for either skirt or shin beef, as these are the two tenderest cuts ideal for this time of stew. This is my Mum’s recipe which I have adapted to suit my own personal taste and size of my slow cooker. I would recommend either using a slow cooker if you are out all day, or a large pan if you can be near it the whole time as the meat needs to cooked on a low temperature to make it melt-in-the-mouth beautiful. Honestly this meal is worth the prep and time as it tastes divine!

Last night I weighed out the pearl barley in the measuring jug and then topped with lukewarm water up to the pint mark. It’s best to leave them to soak overnight as they get all plump and it’s one less step to do in the morning, but you can soak them in boiling water for thirty minutes and they’ll taste the same. After all they’re going to be stewing with everything else and absorbing all that goodness for a fair while.

This morning I got up a little bit earlier to prep everything to cook before I went to the gym. Firstly I split my bag of beef in half and bagged the remaining to be frozen. Like I said, this is simply because I prefer more veg and less meat. However I did keep in mind that my housemates would also be eating it, so that’s why I used 300g instead of 200g. The meat that was being used today was placed back in the butcher bag along with the flour and some black pepper to season. You could use a stock cube at this point, in fact I would’ve because that’s how Mum does it, but mine don’t crumble, they just dissolve. Close the bag and shake it to coat all the pieces with the flour/seasoning as it helps seal in the flavour. Then fry in the oil until the meat is sealed and coloured. I tried using fry-light at first but it didn’t work, the oil in this case is a necessary evil, just don’t go nuts with it. I only used about a tablespoon and my meat cooked nicely in that.

Shaken not stirred

Nicely coloured and ready to be slow cooked

I then measured out my veg mix. I have to use frozen mixes like this one because I only get two shelves in a small freezer. Such is the sacrifice of shared accommodation. However it is convenient and cheap – it contains leeks, onions, turnip and carrots – and it’s a fraction of the individual prices per veg given the weight of the mix. Usually I would also add in frozen peas (because I love them) and maybe some mushrooms depending on if anyone else is eating it. Personally I like mushrooms, but not everyone in the house does. Again I was going to put in 200g but once I’d added it, I decided to chuck in another 100g to pad it out. It’s all about personal preference.

Next into the slow cooker went the barley. I’d tipped the steeped barley into a sieve and then poured cold water over them to remove any other starchy stuff from them. That’s what Mum told me to do. I’m not entirely sure why, but it doesn’t do any harm. I then poured in a pint of boiling hot water mixed with the beef stock cube. The liquid level in the slow cooker looked a little low seeing as the barley could possibly still absorb more and I like gravy with my stew, so I made up half a pint of gravy with some beef gravy granules. This looked much better. The final touches were just to add a little more flavour to the stew. I stirred half a tablespoon (probably equal to one teaspoon but I had already used the tablespoon) of tomato puree in and then added a splash of Worcester sauce. That’s the recipe that Mum uses and I saw no point in messing with it.

Now to cook

If you are doing this in a slow cooker like I did, I left it on low heat from 9am until 5pm and it was beautiful. If you are doing it in a large pan and staying nearby, cook on a low heat for roughly three hours, stirring often as the barley likes to stick to the bottom of the pan. Mum does hers in the big cauldron/jam pan and once the meat is completely tender, that’s when it comes off the heat. That’s probably the most crucial thing about this dish – the tenderness of the meat. I couldn’t believe how much it changed from start to finish! I didn’t think I could feed it to the others until I checked it when I got in and saw/smelt it. The stew goes really sticky, almost like a risotto with the barley in it. It’s a definite comfort food hug that will warm you from the inside and keep you going for ages.

Ta da – now to dish up and serve

Now I was going to serve it with some mustard smash (my ultimate fave student mash) but I didn’t have either ingredients in (not for long though). Instead I half filled my bowl (three heaped ladles) and had it with some crusty multigrain bread that I made yesterday. Seriously making your own bread is really easy and I find it cheaper and more satisfying than shop bought. I do cheat though – I use a bread mix of my choice and then knead it by hand. This was easier at home because this student house, especially in the kitchen, is pretty cold, but I’ve got a method now. I also know were it went wrong yesterday with them as they ended up looking like little boulders rather than buns – my water wasn’t lukewarm enough. I’m not going to be beaten by that though as they tasted really nice. Just what you need to mop up any excess gravy! I’ve frozen the remained of the batch to use when I want them.

Multigrain boulders

The perfect meal after a busy, cold day

I got six portions out of my stew – four my size portions featured in the photos and two for my housemate and I don’t know how much they ate. I’d say roughly for the average person this would serve between four and six depending on how you ate it (ie serve with mash you’d probably get six portions out of it).

Nutritional information for my meal shown in the picture above according to MyFitnessPal using my exact ingredients and measurements:

  • Stew: 155 calories,14 carbs,6 fat,12 protein
  • Multigrain boulder: 137 calories, 27 carbs, 2 fat, 6 protein
  • Total meal: 292 calories, 41 carbs, 8 fat, 17 protein.

I wasn’t really that bothered about the numbers of the nutritional info – as far as I’m concerned it’s got everything you need in it and tastes fantastic. The fact that it isn’t hugely calorific is just an added bonus.