Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Browned butter banana bread.


I buy bananas almost entirely with the intention of letting them go brown and making a loaf of warm, sweet banana bread out of them. It's best about an hour after it comes out of the oven; when it's at its optimum level of moistness inside and satisfyingly crisp on top. An accompanying cup of tea is non-negotiable. 

As I've said about a billion times before, I get pretty anxious. When it all gets a bit much and I've spent too much time on my own at home thinking about the never ending pit of misery that is my life (hyperbole), I like to bake something comforting. It gives those few hours a bit of purpose, my brain some distraction, and my tummy some DELICIOUS BAKED GOODS. 

Banana bread is a staple. It's very easy - I never mess around with silly things like sieving - and it makes your home smell like angels have flown in and brought a french bakery with them. That doesn't make a huge amount of logistical sense but let's go with it.



I made this banana bread with browned butter (butter that's been left in the pan for longer than your mother told you to) and soft brown sugar, for optimum sticky comforting pleasure.

I'll pop the recipe below so that if you too are suffering from a bout of the blues - or simply enjoy a cake or seven - you too can make your day that bit better with some old, manky bananas.



Browned butter banana bread:

Ingredients:

1/2 cup browned butter
1 cup soft brown sugar
2 large eggs
3 bananas
1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups self raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

Method:

Brown the butter by heating it in a saucepan until it goes a medium brown colour (simples)
Put all the ingredients into a bowl and MIX
Cook for 1 hour at 175 C

Monday, 21 March 2016

How to cope with London when you’re RIDDLED WITH ANXIETY

 :

Crippling anxiety and big, busy, dirty cities can make for some particularly sweaty panic attacks. A disastrous combination. When I feel as I do now, I want to run for the hills. Preferably the beautiful snow-capped mountains of Switzerland where they are rich in quiet and tranquillity. But alas.

When someone is already prone to 3am-panic attacks, one does not take kindly to being woken in the night by a deafening siren or a women, quite possibly, being physically abused outside their window. It's just not a life I want to live.

The tube is so packed I’ve managed to have worryingly regular intimate but short-term relationships with some strangers, and the streets are dirty and full of lost but enthusiastic tourists. You have to queue for 45 minutes to get into most restaurants, and then, when you finally manage to enter the hot, industrial-style eatery, you sit shoulder to shoulder with the person beside you, trying desperately not to flick bits of ramen onto them. Which is hard when you’re as expressive a person as I am.

I live and work in London so there’s not much chance of escape for me, bar the odd trip up the Metropolitan line to rural old Hertfordshire, or as I like to call it: home-home. So I’ve had to come up with some coping mechanisms, and I thought I’d share them here, in case they are any help or comfort to others with anxiety, or just others with an aversion to the sweaty armpits of strangers.

Claire's top tips for living with anxiety in smelly old London:

Cycling – boy do I feel good about myself when I’m cruising down the canal with the wind in my hair, gleefully picturing what parallel me is up to on the Bakerloo Line.

Saying no to going out – I’m really good at this. My sofa, a takeaway, and some kind of cheesy action film/romance novel gives me that little bit of solitude I so crave in London.

Embracing the urban greenery – we’ve got a couple of lovely parks nearby our flat and I love to take a stroll through them on a Saturday afternoon, to maybe say hello to a local dog or two.

Go out with friends at OFF-PEAK times – Thursday evening meals out FTW.

Find little coffee shops not many people seem to know about – Flat Planet in Oxford Circus for instance – it’s a little haven of quiet in the busiest, most panic-inducing area of London (and they do great hot chocolate).

Podcasts – when I do have to get the tube I often listen to a particularly gripping podcast to take my mind off the fact that I’m underground. It sometimes works, it sometimes does not. Being underground is scary, yo.

Headspace app – I KNOW EVERYONE LOVES THIS BUT I LIKE IT TOO, OKAY?


Hygge – that Danish word I love so dearly, which sort of translates as “cosiness and the absence of anything annoying or emotionally overwhelming”. I try to make my flat as hygge has possible with candles, blankets and hot drinks a-plenty.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Not doing it anyway.


I woke up at 3am this morning and found I'd forgotten how to breathe.

That sounds ridiculous I know, and I'm still here, so obviously somehow I worked it out.

But it keeps happening. Sheer panic in the middle of the night, when everything is dark and you're convinced that you're going to need to be rushed to hospital but also incredibly embarrassed by the idea of people having to go to such trouble on your account when they should really be cosy in their beds.

I struggle with that internal monologue - wanting to be heard and understood, and simultaneously wanting to be swallowed whole by my duvet. Never a burden to anyone. Never a burden to anyone.

When I was a kid my mum would always tell me that things would feel better in the morning. And they did, normally. Last night I sat up awake, waiting for the sun to come up so that my fear would fade. As I watched the light swell and start to stream through the blinds I could feel my eyes getting heavy, my body and my mind were ready to rest and prepare for the next attack.

I'm trying to find a way to manage, as so many of us are, with this companion I did not invite into my life. Quietly, often silently, going about our days, sometimes hiding, sometimes sucking it up and acting "normal" for an hour or two, a day or two, and then retreating to heal. I'm reading a book at the moment called Furiously Happy. The author, Jenny Lawson, has near enough every mental ailment under the sun, and sometimes at dinner parties she hides under the table because she can feel a panic attack coming on and that's just what her particular brand of misery needs her to do. She tells her friends about her problems, just like they'd tell her if they had a cold or had been diagnosed with cancer. She talks and she understands what she needs to do to be able to cope with life. What to do and what not to do.

I think it's important to acknowledge that mental illness is, in its essence, pretty selfish, but also not to become consumed by that. We're not our mental health, our mental health is just a very real part of us.

I was walking home from the cinema with my boyfriend the other night and a panic attack came on. He was talking to me about the film - debriefing - as we always do after a trip to the movies. But I couldn't listen. I found the sound of someone being normal and upbeat infuriating. I acted like a bitch. Anxiety can do that.

There's plenty that I want to do and I'm not in the market for a month-long stint in my bed. However, just like when you're recovering from any  illness, you have to know your limits and find your own personal coping mechanisms. They may not always be understood by those around you, but they are wholly necessary to survive.

Anxiety and depression are serious, life-threatening illnesses and they need to be taken seriously. We need to talk more, and we - the people who experience this special kind of torture - need to find a way to be okay with our limits. Sometimes I need to wrap myself in a blanket and listen to sad music and cry, and sometimes I need to watch true-crime shows on Netflix for 12 hours straight before I feel able to face life again. I'd go crazy if I didn't have a job to do or kind friends to see, but I'm also struggling, and it's important to accept that too.

#timetotalk

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Viva la revolution! (NO MORE GREEN JUICE).

When all you want to do is sit on your confy sofa and read a great book <3:

I would argue that January is, in fact, the perfect time to eat a lot more and do a lot less. Like, I’m talking more than you ate at Christmas and less than you did in those few days before New Year's Eve when your brain function was so low you couldn't remember the names of members of your own family.

I implore you: don’t take up HIIT training or buy a billion pound juicer, join my revolution.

The relaxation revolution. Where we say no to diets and exercise for the entire month of January, and embrace the warm, cosy cocoon of an evening on the sofa, binge-watching Making a Murderer with a glass of wine and a huge slice of cheesecake, and moaning as much as is humanly possible in the hours that the law of time permits about how shit the weather is and how many days it is until Christmas 2016.

January sucks. Gone are the twinkly lights and promise of mulled wine and upon us are grey mornings and luke-warm cups of tea (that you probably forgot about because you were so distracted by how miserable you are). We’re all back at work, which is tough, let’s face it, and frankly the last thing I want to do when I get home is change into lycra and return to the cold outdoors for a run. No, I want to eat a steaming pile of cheesy pasta and be asleep by 9pm.

Make the most of the thick knits that cover your bulging bellies so tenderly and effectively, dear readers. And another tip for you: big scarves that cover your entire front section (technical term) are fantastically handy when you’re feeling particularly bloated.

Rather than spend money on a gym membership and a nutribullet, I’ve invested in a new pair of Trackie Bs that are SOFTER THAN CLOUDS and intend to constantly restock my cupboards with mini eggs from now until Easter. It’s in my weekly budget people. This shit is real.

You’ve got May to go “oh crap it’s nearly summer, I should probably fake tan so it’s not so obvious how disgustingly fat I’ve become” all month. For now, relax. Those out-of-date mince pies aren’t going to eat themselves.

VIVA LA REVOLUTION!



(DISCLAIMER: I am not a nutritionist, personal trainer or life coach. My opinions are founded only in my own laziness. If you choose to take my advice you do so at your own risk).

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

2015.

It cannot be a year ago that 2015 began and I last reflected on the year gone by. And yet somehow, it is. It’s January. A blessing and a curse.

I’ve been toying with the idea of not sitting down and writing this, as I have done for the five years previous, but here I am, doing it. It settles and focusses my mind, and it’s an important ritual to me, particularly when things feel a little scary and out of my control.

I should clarify. I’m not miserable, or permanently fearful, or any of the negative implications I’ve probably just thrown up. It’s been a good year, a progressive year – but it’s also been a year that has shed unflattering light on the precariousness of it all – of our lives – and on the importance of savouring quality time.

My dad – a man I deem capable of sorting out pretty much any problem and, bar the odd cold, unnaturally immune to illness – got very ill last year. I won’t go into all the details, mainly because I don’t understand medical jargon and dad’s condition is rare and complicated, according to doctors, but after a year of being in and out of hospital, copious tests and procedures and finally an operation on his heart, he now enjoys a plethora of drugs with breakfast, lunch and dinner. He’s okay, his terrible sense of humour is firmly in tact, and he’s the calmest person I’ve ever known. We’re just getting on with life pretty much as normal now, but it’s been really scary and eye-opening. And life is fragile.

I don’t believe dwelling or wallowing is productive. And I’m not going to get all emotional and drippy on you, that’s not really our style. But dad’s life, and ours with it, won’t be quite the same again. All of it, everything that’s happened this year, the worry, the hospital visits, the moving into my own flat, the starting a new job, the scary, exciting reality of it all – it’s highlighted what’s important to me.

Overall 2015 was a year of reality. The beautiful and the ugly of it. I’d like 2016 to be about finding what makes me content with the time I get to spend here. When someone asks me how my day was, I want to tell them it was good, more often than I say it was okay.

Right now, peering out at the “new start” that is January, as I watch everyone make plans and resolutions and drink more green juices than can actually be healthy, I feel busy and overwhelmed and tired. I’m no busier than anyone else and I do tend to spend a large proportion of my evenings lying horizontal on my sofa because I don’t mentally feel up to much else, yet I considered not writing this because it felt like too much. I don’t think I’m lazy, I certainly like sleeping but not enough to give up my zest for life, I suspect I am just exhausted from the monotony of it all. Of the pressure and of London and being expected to get drunk on Fridays because I’m 23 and I live in Britain. 

Maybe this is just a phase, maybe I’ll feel differently once dreary January has said its goodbyes, or maybe this lingering sense of dissatisfaction is just something I need to work out – either way, I’ll keep you posted.




Also view 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011

Sunday, 22 November 2015

A winter walk.


The temperature had dropped and the light was waning. I pulled on a thick jumper, boots and my winter coat and we walked through the park in search of coffee. Clutching warm cardboard cups we visited a Christmas tree hut that has just opened down the road. We're in the market for a small, fat guy, but were gifted a free miniature which we've taken home as a substitute while we continue to make the very important decision. The sky turned from grey to pink to orange to a deep blue - my personal favourite - and now, home again and drinking my apple and cinnamon tea, the last of the sun has gone. It's still early, but there's plenty of telly to watch and at least three blankets available.


Friday, 13 November 2015

Lisa's - a Scandinavian review


We wandered down to Portobello Road. It was around 11am on a Saturday morning and my friend Juliet and I wanted to have a serious catch up over a delicious but reasonably-priced breakfast. After a fight through the crush of the market we found our chosen destination, Lisa’s, my first Scandinavian café experience, where two enviably pretty girls setting up the tables outside welcomed us in.

The Swedish café had just opened and we were the first customers there. It was impeccably clean. We were ushered past carefully sanded wooden tables and benches covered in cushions, through to the conservatory at the back where we sat at a sweet little table in the corner. There were jars of fresh flowers everywhere and I got a bit emotional about how visually pleasing I found it all.

One of the waitresses came over and offered us teas and coffees to start. It all felt very relaxed and sophisticated. We ordered tea for Juliet, which appeared soon after in a tall glass, and coffee and fresh orange juice for me. I’m fussy about my coffee. I drink a lot of milky lattes from Starbucks that I’m suspicious don’t even contain coffee so can’t offend me too much, but if it’s too strong or too bitter, or has a little bit of a burnt aftertaste, I just can’t stomach it. However, as was the case on this occasion, if I can contentedly drink that sweet nectar black, I’m probably going to inappropriately embrace the barista and adopt a very good mood for at least the next 3 hours.

We chatted and sipped our drinks in the peace and quiet. Juliet is an old colleague of mine so there was much to catch up on – namely office gossip and Major Life News. A Swedish family soon joined the large table beside us. They seemed to be regulars and I’m pretty sure that’s a good sign.

The menu featured meatballs, pickled vegetables, pastries, and fras vafflor (crispy Swedish waffles) and much else besides. We went for the fras vafflor. And they were good.

My very-clearly freshly made waffle was both crisp and doughy, and adorned with fresh berries and a generous dollop of whipped cream. It was light but decadent. My only complaint being that it was quite small and I could have quite easily put away six.

The dinner and lunch menu also looked excellent, and I plan to make a return in the very near future to test it. I’ve got my eye on the meatball sandwich with pickled cucumber and the Swedish apple pie for afters.

I was very, very impressed with Lisa’s.  I'd go so far as to stay it's jumped to the top of my list of London cafes. It met my very high expectations of an idyllic Scandinavian haven and since that Saturday morning I’ve been desperately trying to shoehorn another visit into my schedule.


Read about my obsession with Scandinavia here. There will be another blog instalment in my pursuit to live a more Scandinavian life in London very shortly.