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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GBBO Week 2: Biscuit Box Showstopper

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Gluten-free Lemon & Elderflower Shortbread Box with Raspberry and White Chocolate Biscuits

First things first, I don’t particularly thrive at biscuits. I like baking cake- I know cake, I can do cake. Biscuits, however, have never really been my bag… So, with it being biscuit week in the tent and having yet to have participated in the Great Blogger’s Bake Off 2015, I plucked up the courage and decided to face my biscuit fear. The best way to do that… The showstopper challenge of course! It took a lot of effort and patience- having a few mishaps along the way- but I did it! (And I have to say I’m pretty chuffed with it too!). To see other fab recipes and entries, visit: www.mummymishaps.co.uk 

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So, starting with the box…

Lemon & Elderflower Shortbread

400g Gluten-free Plain Flour

150g Caster Sugar

150g Butter (Cubed)

2 tbsp Golden Syrup

100ml Elderflower Cordial

Rind of 1 Lemon

A few (Approx 5) Boiled Sweets

Pre heat the oven to 220°C.
Sift the flour into a bowl and add the cubed butter. Use your fingertips to rub the butter into the flour until it looks like breadcrumbs.
Heat the elderflower cordial, lemon rind and golden syrup in a small pan. Pour into the flour and butter mixture and add the sugar.
Continue to mix all the ingredients together with your hands until it comes together in a ball.
Remove and divide into two balls and place on a floured surface.

Butter a large baking tray.

Roll out the doughs one at a time and using a template/ruler, cut out the 4 walls (W 12cm x H 6 cm) and a lid (W 12cm x H 12 cm) of the box

With remaining dough, cut shapes to decorate the box (I used heart cookie cutters!)

Place all pieces on baking trays, and cut a 8cm x 8cm window from the lid

Cook for 8-10 minutes, until golden on the edges.

Whilst cooking, place the boiled sweets in a pestle and mortar or into a food processor and crush until a rough sand texture

With about 3- 4 minutes left on the timer, sprinkle the crushed sweets into the hole in the lid to make a stained glass effect

Cool on a rack before decorating.

Royal Icing

1 egg white

225g Icing Sugar

1 tsp Lemon Juice

For the icing, whisk the egg whites in a large bowl until frothy.

Using a wooden spoon or a hand-held electric mixer on slow speed, add the icing sugar a tablespoonful at a time.

Stir in the lemon juice and beat the icing until it is very stiff and white and stands up in peaks.

Cover the surface with a damp cloth if not using immediately.

Using a piping bag or palette knife, pipe or spread icing over each part of the box and decorate as desired (I used freeze dried raspberries and the extra heart biscuits!)

Pipe a line of icing onto the display board and stick the first biscuit wall to the board (I struggled to get the biscuit to stay upright so used mini cocktail sticks to secure it while the icing set)

Repeat this for the other sides of the box, piping icing along the wall edge in order to join the sides together

Place the lid on the top and ice any plain areas to give the box a neat effect

Leave to set for at least 4 hours

Tip: Leftover royal icing can be kept in the fridge for up to a week in a glass/stainless steel bowl and cling fling placed directly on top of the icing

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Raspberry & White Chocolate Biscuits

250g Gluten-free Plain Flour
200g Butter, cut into small cubes

100g Icing Sugar
Pinch of Salt
2 Egg Yolks

60g White Chocolate

Raspberry Jam (Shop bought or home-made)

Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/Gas 3.
Place the flour, butter, icing sugar and salt into a bowl. Using your fingertips, rub the ingredients together until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.

Add the egg yolks and mix until a dough forms. Turn out onto a lightly floured work surface and roll out to a thickness of about 0.5cm/¼in. Cut out shapes using a 4cm/1½in cutter.

Place on a lined baking tray and bake for 10-12 minutes, or until light golden-brown and crisp. Remove and transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Whilst the biscuits cool, melt the white chocolate in a heatproof bowl over boiling water

When the biscuits and the chocolate have cooled, spread a layer of white chocolate and a layer of jam onto half of the biscuits. Top with the other half of the biscuits and allow the filling to set (you can place them in the fridge to speed this up if you wish)

Decorate as desired

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If you can resist eating it all, place your jammy-choccy biscuits into your box and let people marvel at your creation! ENJOY 🙂

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Best Ever Brownies

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This is honestly my ‘go to’ brownie recipe, it always go down a treat. I first made them when I was stuck what to make for my sister-in-law’s birthday- we were holiday on her birthday and needed something that we could stash in the suitcase without being destroyed during flight. You’ll be pleased to know they survived and were DELICIOUS. They are everything you want in a brownie- rich, moist and chocolatey. Since then, I’ve had not so subtle hints to keep making them- it’s safe to say a lot of brownies have been consumed by my family and friends this summer. They love them though. In fact, I went round a friend’s house recently and took a tray of them with me. Next thing I knew, her mum had tracked me down and asked me what my secret was! Gotta say, I was pretty chuffed with that 🙂 The recipe is from BBC Good Food, and is definitely worth the effort!

185g unsalted butter
185g best dark chocolate
85g plain flour
40g cocoa powder
50g white chocolate
50g milk chocolate
3 large eggs
275g golden caster sugar

Cut 185g unsalted butter into smallish cubes and tip into a medium bowl. Break 185g best dark chocolate into small pieces and drop into the bowl. Fill a small saucepan about a quarter full with hot water, then sit the bowl on top so it rests on the rim of the pan, not touching the water. Put over a low heat until the butter and chocolate have melted, stirring occasionally to mix them. Now remove the bowl from the pan. Alternatively, cover the bowl loosely with cling film and put in the microwave for 2 minutes on High. Leave the melted mixture to cool to room temperature.
While you wait for the chocolate to cool, position a shelf in the middle of your oven and turn the oven on to fan 160C/conventional 180C/gas 4 (most ovens take 10-15 minutes to heat up). Using a shallow 20cm square tin, cut out a square of non-stick baking parchment to line the base.

Now tip 85g plain flour and 40g cocoa powder into a sieve held over a medium bowl, and tap and shake the sieve so they run through together and you get rid of any lumps.
With a large sharp knife, chop 50g white chocolate and 50g milk chocolate into chunks on a board. The slabs of chocolate will be quite hard, so the safest way to do this is to hold the knife over the chocolate and press the tip down on the board, then bring the rest of the blade down across the chocolate. Keep on doing this, moving the knife across the chocolate to chop it into pieces, then turn the board round 90 degrees and again work across the chocolate so you end up with rough squares.
Break 3 large eggs into a large bowl and tip in 275g golden caster sugar. With an electric mixer on maximum speed, whisk the eggs and sugar until they look thick and creamy, like a milk shake. This can take 3-8 minutes, depending on how powerful your mixer is, so don’t lose heart. You’ll know it’s ready when the mixture becomes really pale and about double its original volume. Another check is to turn off the mixer, lift out the beaters and wiggle them from side to side. If the mixture that runs off the beaters leaves a trail on the surface of the mixture in the bowl for a second or two, you’re there.
Pour the cooled chocolate mixture over the eggy mousse, then gently fold together with a rubber spatula. Plunge the spatula in at one side, take it underneath and bring it up the opposite side and in again at the middle. Continue going under and over in a figure of eight, moving the bowl round after each folding so you can get at it from all sides, until the two mixtures are one and the colour is a mottled dark brown. The idea is to marry them without knocking out the air, so be as gentle and slow as you like – you don’t want to undo all the work you did in step 4.
Hold the sieve over the bowl of eggy chocolate mixture and resift the cocoa and flour mixture, shaking the sieve from side to side, to cover the top evenly. Gently fold in this powder using the same figure of eight action as before. The mixture will look dry and dusty at first, and a bit unpromising, but if you keep going very gently and patiently, it will end up looking gungy and fudgy. Stop just before you feel you should, as you don’t want to overdo this mixing. Finally, stir in the white and milk chocolate chunks until they’re dotted throughout. Now your mixing is done and the oven can take over.
Pour the mixture into the prepared tin, scraping every bit out of the bowl with the spatula. Gently ease the mixture into the corners of the tin and paddle the spatula from side to side across the top to level it. Put in the oven and set your timer for 25 minutes. When the buzzer goes, open the oven, pull the shelf out a bit and gently shake the tin. If the brownie wobbles in the middle, it’s not quite done, so slide it back in and bake for another 5 minutes until the top has a shiny, papery crust and the sides are just beginning to come away from the tin. Take out of the oven.
Leave the whole thing in the tin until completely cold, then, if you’re using the brownie tin, lift up the protruding rim slightly and slide the uncut brownie out on its base. If you’re using a normal tin, lift out the brownie with the foil. Cut into quarters, then cut each quarter into four squares and finally into triangles. These brownies are so addictive you’ll want to make a second batch before the first is finished, but if you want to make some to hide away for a special occasion, it’s useful to know that they’ll keep in an airtight container for a good two weeks and in the freezer for up to a month.

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