Always look on the bright slice of life

Happy 2018! Or, should I say, Happy 20-GREAT-een!

Many people set themselves New Year’s resolutions, wanting to capitalise on the opportunity to try new things, improve on current things, but ultimately hoping the year starts off the best it can.

So, when we set our resolutions with our expectations too high, we can leave ourselves feeling failures. When you suffer with depression, this kind of failure can trigger a spiral of negative thoughts about ourselves, and we feel more deflated than ever.

That’s why this year my resolutions, or more ‘promises to myself for 2018’, are solely based around self-care, and include a few simple bits of guidance to myself, making sure I approach each ‘resolution’ positively and, importantly, without the pressure.

EXERCISE

Mid-way through December 2017 I saw this:

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Now, it’s said that ‘curiosity killed the cat’, and there was a thought of mine that ‘running may kill the Meg’. BUT, my overriding thought was…

‘Hey, I could promote better mental health, influence people to take better care of themselves, spread awareness and understanding of depression and anxiety- AND all the while get myself in a better physical and mental state’.

… So I signed up, and, for over 2 weeks now, I’ve plagued social media platforms with selfies (classic Meg) and videos of my running journey.

And you know what? I’ve loved every bloomin’ minute.

This hasn’t always been my mindset. Gosh, no. Having suffered with depression since age 16, I would be a millionaire- well, out of my overdraft- for all the times a doctor has told me the benefits of physical exercise on your mental health. But that wasn’t me, no. I hated exercise. I was that girl that would go to the gym regularly for a month, lose interest, and pay for 3 extra months without visiting, before finally admitting defeat and cancelling my membership. It’s because of this that I coined the label of ‘exercisephobe’, which I really think should be considered an entry into the English Dictionary at some point.

With that self-assigned title, and knowing how much of a flake I am at sticking to ANYTHING, I did worry I wouldn’t be able to complete #REDJanuary. Was I setting myself  up for a fall? As it turns out, no, I wasn’t. The beauty of #REDJanuary lies in its name: ‘Run EveryDay January‘. Running everyday, and not just 2 or 3 times a week, makes it a commitment you cannot avoid or ‘blow off’ until another day. Its also shown me how quickly your body can adapt to exercise. On Day 1, I couldn’t run 2 minutes without needing a break/walk. Maybe it was the NYE hangover or the- frankly hideous- amount of pigs and blankets I devoured over Christmas, but I felt so unfit. 2 weeks on, I can go for 15-20 minute runs. Yes, I’m knackered afterwards, but more importantly I am so, so proud of myself. That feeling is something that can really escape you when you’re going through dark times, so to feel it again genuinely means the absolute world.

So, here’s to the rest of #REDJanuary, and to the 5k I plan to take part in next week! You really, really can surprise yourself.

 

You can visit my JustGiving page at: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/meg-manganaro2017

 

SLEEP

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Those suffering from a mental illness can have their sleeping patterns affected in different ways. You can experience insomnia, feeling you’re unable to switch-off from your thought processes. When this happens, it is a very dark and lonely place to be. Conversely, you can find yourself more tired than usual, and therefore needing more sleep than your ‘norm’.

Either way, disturbed sleep can have a massive knock-on effect to your mood and functionality. Because of the power a good night’s sleep can have, it is really worthwhile practicing good sleep hygiene.

During my days as a student, I can admit I definitely neglected the importance of sleep. Now, however, I’ve adopted my very own toolkit:

  • Screens away an 30 mins/1 hour before bed. Exposure to light in the late evening tends to delay the phase of our internal clock and lead us to prefer later sleep times. So, pop that laptop, TV or mobile phone away for the last part of your evening- Instagram can wait until tomorrow.
  • Avoid consuming caffeine in the late afternoon or evening. I now swap my normal cuppa tea for a herbal one, or even a hot chocolate when it reaches 4/6 hours before my desired bedtime.
  • Keep to a general bedtime. 
  • Use sleep-inducing fragrances. I use a lavender spray over my bed linen, and ‘Sleepy’ body lotion from Lush, just for that extra bit of snooziness. Zzzzz.
  • Herbal tablets. I occasionally use Kalms Night tablets when I’m experiencing a period of sleep deprivation, just to help me get back on track and sleepy around my desired bedtime.
  • De-stressing activities. Have a bath, read a book. Chill.

 

As with any symptoms you might experience as a result of mental illness, keep your doctor in the loop. I’m lucky enough to have a lovely doctor, who clearly cares a lot about my wellbeing, and now also- in my eyes, at least- she’s a sleep guru.

 

ALCOHOL

A few months ago I wouldn’t want to admit that sometimes I have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. However, I also made a pact to myself not too long ago to be open and honest about as much as I can- because it really is liberating and healing.

I have occasionally used alcohol as a way to self-sabotage. It is something I can abuse, so that I feel more relaxed, or even to ‘numb’ myself. Equally, I have sometimes found that alcohol relaxes me in social situations, and when enjoying myself I can sometimes mistake that more alcohol equates to a better time.

The difficulty is that doing so, hurting myself in this way, feeds into my depression. On nights out, detrimental thoughts I have internalised can emerge, such as feelings that I’m undeserving of friends. This obviously affects the way I’m feeling, and no doubt those whom I am with, who have no idea why all of sudden I may have changed in mood. I think we can all agree, that is no fun for anyone.

As a response to this, I have decided to treat alcohol with a great deal more care in 2018, and beyond. I have limited my drinking to weekends and social occasions, and already feel better for doing so.

It’s far from the end of addressing my drinking behaviour, but it’s most definitely a steady and positive step in the right direction!

 

BASICALLY… BE KIND TO YOURSELF

Before experiencing depression to the severity I have, I never realised it could be such a triumph to just get up in the morning. But, it is.

The most simple of everyday tasks can, and should, be celebrated. Looking after yourself should be celebrated. Fighting for those better days in the future- that WILL come, you cannot lose sight of that- should be celebrated, especially when depression has sapped you of your self-belief.

I know all too well that saying this stuff is far, far easier than believing it, let alone practicing it. If, like me, you struggle to be kind to yourself, here’s a great place to start: An open letter to anyone currently struggling with their mental health. Equally, if you know someone suffering with depression or just simply want to understand more about it, this is a super helpful insight.

Other, frankly soul-warming, resources worth taking a peek at include:

Why we need to celebrate small act of ‘boring self-care’

Why surviving deserves more credit than we give it

How to be a friend to ourselves

Or, if you fancy self-care you can literally get your hands on, I could not praise this book enough. The Blurt Foundation has always spoken to me in the most raw, understanding way- and now they have a book! The reviews speak for themselves.

 

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And if, or when, you’re ready to put that self-care into motion: when you wake up tomorrow, do what I plan to do. Tell yourself just 4 words:

‘You are good enough.’

Because, you really are.

 

From ingredients for my happy and healthy 2018, to ingredients for this week’s bake:  Lemon & Elderflower Marble Cake 

 

 

With a showstopper of a cake comes a lot of work, so I baked over 2 days. On the first I made the lemon curd and the macaroons, and stored them until the following day, but it is completely up to you how you tackle it…

LEMON CURD
Zest and juice of 1 large lemon
1 large egg
90g caster sugar 
55g unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
¾ tsp cornflour 

Lightly whisk the eggs in a medium-sized saucepan, then add the rest of the ingredients and place the saucepan over a medium heat.

Whisk continuously until the mixture thickens – about 7-8 minutes. Next, lower the heat to its minimum setting and let the curd gently simmer for a further minute, continuing to whisk.

After that, remove it from the heat. Now pour the lemon curd into hot, sterilised jar(s)*, and seal while it is still hot. Allow to cool and set before using it later to sandwich your cake.

Any leftover curd will keep for several weeks, but it must be stored in a cool place.

* To sterislise jars, they should be washed in mild soapy water, rinsed and dried and heated in a medium oven for 5 minutes.

 

ROSEWATER & WHITE CHOCOLATE MACAROONS
Makes approx. 50

180g ground almonds 
175g icing Sugar  
4 egg whites 
½ tsp rosewater 
3 Drops pink food colouring 
50ml water 
160g caster sugar 
150g white chocolate 
75g double cream 

Mix the ground almonds in a food processor for 30 seconds and then sift to ensure they’re as fine as possible. Sift the icing sugar into the ground almonds.

Measure 60g of egg whites and stir in to the almonds and icing sugar along with the rose water extract and colouring to make a thick paste.

Place the water and the golden caster sugar into a small saucepan and heat. Bring to the boil and cook until the temperature reaches 118°C. Do not over stir or the syrup will crystallise. Remove from the heat.

Place the remaining egg whites in a bowl. Whisk into soft peaks, gradually adding the sugar syrup. Whisk on high until the mixture has thickened and stands in firm peaks. Fold the mixture into the ground almonds.

Heat oven to 170°C (fan 150°C, gas mark 3). Line three baking sheets with baking parchment and pipe your mixture in rounds roughly the size of a 10p piece (or, for a cleaner finish, I used a silicon macaroon mould). Leave for 30 minutes at room temperature before baking.

 

Bake for 10 minutes then cover with baking parchment and bake for a further 4-5 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

Place the cream and white chocolate in a small saucepan and heat until melted and smooth. Leave to cool and then use to sandwich your macaroons together.

Store in an airtight container.

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CAKE
250g butter
300g caster sugar
4 large eggs
zest of 2 lemons
350g (gluten-free) self raising flour
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp elderflower cordial 

DRIZZLE: 
juice of 3 lemons
200 g icing sugar
2 ½ tbsp elderflower cordial

BUTTERCREAM 
100g butter
250g icing sugar
zest of 1 lemon
3 tbsp elderflower cordial 

Preheat your oven to 180C/ gas 4. Grease and line two 20cm cake tins.

Cream together butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs one by one, beating well after each, and then lemon zest, beating again. Sift the flour and the salt together and then fold them into the mixture. Once combined, add the cordial and mix again.

Divide the batter between your tins as evenly as you can, and bake for around 45 minutes, or until the cakes are risen, golden, and firm.

While the cakes are baking, make the drizzle. Put the lemon juice and icing sugar into a small saucepan and heat gently until the sugar dissolves. Take the pan off the heat and let the mixture cool slightly, and then add the cordial.

Immediately after you take the cakes out of the oven, puncture all over with a skewer or a fork, and pour the syrup over the cakes while they are still warm. It will seem like there is too much liquid, but the cakes will eventually drink it up.

Once the cakes have cooled completely, remove them from the tins. To make the buttercream, beat the butter with an electric whisk until it’s completely soft. Sift the icing sugar over the butter, then add the cordial, and beat. Add the lemon zest and blend again.

Up-end one cake on a plate and spread lemon curd over the surface. Repeat with the buttercream (be careful at this point to leave enough buttercream to cover the cake with a thin layer of icing, known as a crumb coat), then top with the remaining cake. Now the cakes are sandwiched together, cover completely with the remaining buttercream.

 

MARBLE FONDANT  

Assortment of coloured royal icings  

-OR- 

1 pack of white royal icing 

Assortment of food colourings 

If you have bought white royal icing, tear into several chunks. To dye, use a few drops of your desired food colouring and knead.

Press pieces of coloured fondant icing/roll-out icing together. Knead briefly to blur the colours.

Dust your worksurface and rolling pin with icing sugar then roll out the icing.

Carefully transfer to your cake, smooth down the surface starting at the top then trim the base with a small sharp knife.

See how it’s done right here: How to make marble fondant

 

A great way to further decorate your cake while attaching your macaroons is with…

WHITE CHOCOLATE BUTTERCREAM
100g unsalted butter
¼ tsp vanilla extract
250g/1lb 10oz icing sugar
50g/5½oz white chocolate, melted 

Cream the butter, vanilla and icing sugar together in a bowl until light and fluffy. Stir in the melted chocolate.

 

 

 

Decorate as desired; I used an edible glitter spray to add that little bit of extra sparkle!

 

Until next time,

Meg xoxo

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Mini Cheeseburger Cakes

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This was such a fun bake. It was my flatmate’s birthday and, as you can guess, he liked burgers. As students, it was only right that a bottle of vodka was involved in the making of these cakes… But just as a make-shift rolling pin to roll out the fondant icing ‘cheese’! As well as the ‘cheese’, there’s a vanilla sponge ‘bun’, a chocolate brownie ‘burger’ and vanilla buttercream ‘mayo’. The great part about this is that you can make all the different elements up as and when you want. I actually made the brownies the night before and stored them in an airtight container before making the other elements the next day and assembling. They definitely looked the part, and went down a treat too!

Vanilla Sponge Bun

This is just your normal vanilla cupcake, which I then cut in half to make into a bun.

110g/4oz butter or margarine, softened at room temperature
110g/4oz caster sugar
2 free-range eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
110g/4oz self-raising flour, sifted

Preheat oven to180C/350F/Gas 4 and grease a 12-hole cupcake tray. Grease it well so that the cake won’t stick!

Place all ingredients in a bowl and mix until combined.

Spoon the mixture into each of the holes of the tray and bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes, or until golden-brown on top and a skewer inserted into one of the cakes comes out clean. Set aside to cool for 10 minutes, then remove from the tin and cool on a wire rack.

Once cooled, cut each of the cupcakes in half to create the mini buns!

Brownie Burger

For this part of the bake I made a tray bake of brownies and, once cooled, simply used a small cookie cutter to create burgers 🙂

275g (10oz) butter, softened

375g (13oz) caster sugar

4 large eggs

75g (3oz) cocoa powder

100g (4oz) self-raising flour

100g (4oz) plain chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Fan 160°C/gas 4. Cut a rectangle of non-stick baking parchment to fit the base and sides of the tin. Grease the tin and then line it with the paper, pushing it neatly into the corners.

Measure all the ingredients into a large bowl and mix with a hand-held electric mixer until evenly blended.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin, scraping the sides of the bowl with a plastic spatula to remove all of it. Spread the mixture gently to the corners of the tin and level the surface with the back of the spatula.

Bake for 40–45 minutes, until the brownies have a crusty top and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.Cover loosely with foil for the last 10 minutes if the mixture is browning too much.

Allow to cool in the tin. Once cooled, turn out the brownies and cut into 12 small rounds (or ‘burgers’!) using a cookie cutter.

Vanilla Buttercream Mayo

175 g butter (at room temperature), cut into pieces
1/2 tbsp vanilla extract
2-3 tbsp milk
350 g icing sugar, sifted

Put the butter, vanilla extract, two tablespoons of the milk, and half the icing sugar in a large bowl and beat until smooth. Beat in the remaining icing sugar, and pour in the rest of the milk if needed to make the icing the right consistency.

Lastly, assembling the burgers…

Spread a small amount of icing on each of the vanilla sponge halves

Place a brownie burger on half of the vanilla sponges

Place a small dot of buttercream on top of the brownie (this will be to hold the fondant ‘cheese’ in place)

Roll out the yellow fondant icing (supermarket bought!) and cut into small squares to resemble slices of cheese. Place one on top of each of the brownies

Place the rest of the sponge halves on top, to create your burger!

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Oreo Cookie Cupcakes

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Said to taste every bit as good as they look. Give ’em a go!

For the cake:

1 pack oreo cookies
75g self raising flour
25g good quality cocoa powder
100g light brown sugar
100g butter, room temperature
2 eggs (preferably free range or organic)

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees
Place a oreo cookie at the bottom of each of the cupcake cases
Sift the flour and the cocoa together and put aside
Beat the butter and sugar until creamy
Add the eggs one at a time, alternating with a spoon full of the flour and cocoa
Fold in the remaining flour and cocoa
Divide the mixture between the cases and bake for about 10-15 minutes until when you insert a skewer it comes out clean and the sponge is springy when touched
Leave to cool while you make the icing…

Icing:

3/4 (approx.) packet oreo cookies
75g butter, softened
125g icing sugar, sifted
A few drops of vanilla essence

Beat the butter
Add the icing sugar and vanilla essence and beat until a smooth butter icing is formed
Place the oreo cookies into a sandwich bag
Using a rolling pin, roughly smash the cookies into small chunks
Add most of these chunks to the icing and stir so they’re distributed evenly
Spread the icing onto the cool cakes
Decorate by sprinkling the remaining oreo chunks on top of the icing

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Chocolate Cake with a Caramel filling and Chocolate Ganache

I love to bake so I don’t really need a reason to grab a wooden spoon and bake a few treats. However, this weekend was an special exception as it was my Grandad’s 80th birthday celebrations, so the thinking cap went on and ingredients were gathered to make a feast of cakes! So here’s one of the few bakes I did, a chocoholic’s delight: Chocolate and Caramel cake…

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Cake:

35g cocoa powder
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
100ml boiling water
2  eggs
185g light muscovado sugar
90ml vegetable oil
100g self-raising flour, sifted

Preheat oven to 160 degrees
Grease and line 2 sandwich tins
Pour the boiling water over the cocoa powder and whisk so there are no lumps
Add the bicarbonate of soda and whisk again until smooth
Leave this mixture to the side to cool
Using an electric whisk, combine the eggs, sugar and vegetable oil
Fold in the flour, followed by the cocoa mixture
Split the mixture between the sandwich tins and bake for 25-30 minutes
*While the cake is cooking, you can make the caramel filling (recipe below!)*
Once cooked, remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes in its tin, before turning out onto a wire rack to continue cooling

Caramel filling:

125g light soft brown sugar
75ml double cream
70g butter
1/4 tsp salt

Heat the sugar, cream and salt in a saucepan until the sugar dissolves 
Allow it to bubble for a few minutes (be careful it doesn’t burn), then remove for the heat and allow to cool completely
Beat the butter, then add the cooled caramel mixture and mix until combined
Leave to chill in the fridge until it is needed

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Chocolate Ganache:

115g dark chocolate
65g double cream 

Gently heat the cream in a pan, take off the heat when it starts to simmer
Pour the heated cream over the chocolate
Leave for a minute for the chocolate to melt, then stir until it is all melted and becomes smooth and glossy

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Once cooled, remove the cake from the sandwich tins
Spread the caramel icing on one of the halves, then sandwich together with the other
Pour the ganaches over the cake so that is drips down the sides, use a spatula to make sure it is distributed fairly evenly

Decorate as you wish! I used small pieces of honeycomb. 

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Oreo Cookie, Lemon Drizzle and Coffee cupcakes completed the baking bonanza. Recipes to follow in my next few posts!

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