Yin/yang: YOLO vs …YOLO

Back I am again! And this time… with a clear pearl of wisdom, as I’m back to my favourite theme of helping people out (not telling people what to do… of course not!). Continue reading “Yin/yang: YOLO vs …YOLO”

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Love thy self as thyself

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted. I know, I know – how many intermittent bloggers have started a post with that opener?!

Thing is, following that last post, my life has turned upside down in the very best way. New job, new partner, new outlook, new attitude – I’ve been so busy with life I’ve hardly had any time to tell people what to do!

What’s brought me back to Proverbial Pearls is something I didn’t expect i’d ever write about: body positivity. This will be a long one, so take a deep breath and make yourself comfortable as you embark on this essay. Continue reading “Love thy self as thyself”

Bravely baking biscotti

I am the queen of procrastination. When I have something important to do, you will never see my house cleaner, my laundry basket emptier, or my nails (fingers and toes) more beautifully painted.

I’ve got something I need to do this evening, and naturally, am putting it off. My house is tidy, my laundry is sorted, and both sets of nails are suitably taken care of. What can I do to put off this job? …Update my long-neglected blog!

I’ve got a backlog of ideas to write about, but a nice one to start us all off is a recommendation to combine a few of my favourite things: Christmas (let’s reflect and look back here!), baking, and Desert Island Discs.

For Christmas I made everyone little Italian-inspired festive goodie bags, which included chocolate salami (in all honesty, not a raging success: it was OK. But just OK – not sure I’d repeat it), Florentine-inspired chocolate bark, and Christmassy biscotti, for which I used a recipe from GBBO winner Nadiya Hussain. These biscotti were, I think, my favourite of the three: I must have eaten about half of the yield along the baking process and whilst putting the bags together! The recipe is really straightforward, and really adaptable: not only was it a piece of cake (….pun intended) to double the quantities below for the majority of people I was baking for, but miraculously it was easily adaptable for my gluten-free friends. Gluten-free baking can be notoriously tricky, particularly when it comes to biscuits, but all I did was swap plain flour gram for gram for Doves GF flour, and it worked marvellously. A little crumbly around the edges, admittedly, but on the whole, it held together. Hurrah!

On the back of the success of that recipe, I bought Nadiya’s cookery book. I used to laugh at my mother for reading cooking books in bed, but now, naturally, I do this myself – and Nadiya’s book makes for particularly lovely bedtime reading. She is a hugely warm, enthusiastic person, and you can feel her sunniness, zest for life and love for her family just burst through the pages.

Also, I have mentioned here before how much I love Desert Island Discs. I’m trying to steadily work my way through the back catalogue whilst keeping up with recent episodes, and one of my all-time modern favourites is Nadiya. Her interview with Kirsty Young – the mistress of the gently probing questions – gives you a moving insight into her life, and makes you want to be her friend. (Of course, it also makes you rage about the prejudice she has endured and continues to endure; I hope she can continue to inspire little sparks of indignation up and down the country which will collectively work to help eradicate racial discrimination.)

Proverbial pearl: I heartily recommend listening to her interview whilst baking her biscotti (GF or non-GF), and then reading her book whilst eating your creation.

Christmassy biscotti

  • 350g/12oz plain flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp mixed spice
  • 250g/9oz golden caster sugar
  • 1 orange, zest only
  • 85g/3oz currants
  • 85g/3oz  dried cranberries
  • 50g/1¾oz macadamias, roughly chopped
  • 50g/1¾oz pistachios, roughly chopped
  • 3 large free-range eggs, beaten
  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C Fan/Gas 4. Line 2 baking trays with greaseproof paper or silicone mats.

  2. Put the flour, baking powder, mixed spice and sugar in a bowl and mix. Now add the orange zest, currants, cranberries, macadamias and pistachios and give it a quick mix. Add the beaten egg and bring the dough together by hand.

  3. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and divide into 4 pieces. Roll out to about 30cm/12in long and place 2 on each tray (make sure they are spaced apart).

  4. Bake for 25-30 minutes until the dough has risen and is firm, but it should still look very pale.

  5. Remove from the oven and leave it on the tray. Reduce the oven temperature to 140C/120C Fan/Gas 1.

  6. Using a bread knife cut 1cm/½in-wide slices diagonally into the dough. Put the slices on a large baking tray and bake for a further 15 minutes until dry and golden-brown. Leave to cool on a wire rack.

Thank you to BBC Good Food for the recipe.

My gnarly old trees

Exactly a month ago tonight, I, my sister and our parents celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary with 80 of their friends. Many of those friends they hadn’t seen for over 20 years: it was a wonderful opportunity for them to gather these people together and celebrate, and a chance for my mum and dad to just be ‘them’ after an intense period as carers for my grandparents.

I organised this party for them: as the 30th anniversary is marked by pearls, I decided to go for a Great Gatsby theme. We had a swing band (Sauce City Jazz, you are INCREDIBLE), art deco lettering, cut outs of New York skyscrapers and plenty of fizz! I named the tables after houses my parents have lived in since they were married (luckily there were the same number of tables as houses!) and made place labels, as well as pulling together decorations, balloons, caterers and photographers (Dearest Love Photography – I couldn’t have asked for better. You guys are legends!). We also made a slideshow of over 300 photos which rolled through continuously on a giant TV screen over the course of the night: quite a few pictures featured people in attendance which was a super ice-breaker!

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It was just one of the loveliest evenings: guests came from as far away as Berlin, New Zealand, and as close as Worcester, and it was spine-tinglingly touching to see the expressions on the faces of both hosts and guests as they met again after ??? years!

Rather rashly, I said that I’d give a speech on the night. I don’t generally mind public speaking and this seemed like an excellent idea right up until about 10 minutes before, when all of a sudden I felt sicker than my mother on the Belfast-Stranragh ferry crossing (she feels seasick on a puddle so just imagine a full-on ferry experience). Of course, once you actually start speaking, it’s not quite that bad and I ended up quite enjoying myself!

I hemmed and hawed about what to say; you want to be funny and moving in equal measure, as well as giving people a few laughs and an insight into your family. In the end, as well as a few anecdotes, my best attempts at jokes, and making sure that I thanked everyone for coming, I focused my speech around an extract from a book which has gained fame as a popular wedding reading. I’ve heard it at a few weddings, and it’s been one of my favourite passages from one of my favourite books since I first studied it as a set A Level text. However, I would like to make the case that this extract is far more appropriate as an anniversary reading.

See what you think… This is it:

Love is a temporary madness, it erupts like volcanoes and then subsides. And when it subsides you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your root was so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion. that is just being in love, which any fool can do. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident. Those that truly love have roots that grow towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossoms have fallen from their branches, they find that they are one tree and not two.

(Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Louis de Berniere)

I raise my glass, again, to my parents: a pair of gnarly old trees who have become one, and are still covered in blossom.

Proverbial pearl: Be grateful for your family.

Winter is coming… And so is change

For quite a lot of my life, I have likened myself to a seaside donkey being forcefully nudged into a trot. 

By and large, I’m very comfortable at my own familiar pace, thank you very much. It takes a lot of energy to get me going: the effort of gearing myself into action is tremendous. However, once I’m going, I find that I quite enjoy the trotting, the new direction and the change of pace, and actually, could I do a little more frollicking by the sea please?

Although it’s a necessary evil, and many people thrive on it, I don’t always like change.  It’s so (too?) easy to stay with the familiar, the routine and the comfortable. It’s like sitting in a well-worn chair: you’ve moulded it to your posterior, and it’s cosy. However, sooner or later, that comfortable, well-moulded chair gets too worn, and threadbare. As a result, you need to shift yourself out of your chair-shaped comfort zone because life is just too ruddy short to sit in that same chair forever. (Rather too many analogies going on here, but you get my drift.) 

Recently, I have been a combination of the seaside donkey and the old bag sitting comfortably in her chair. I’ve known I need to make a significant change in my life for a while, but I’ve been both too comfortable and too nervous to do anything about it. Change is even scarier when you have to implement it yourself. Ultimate ostrich!

I met someone today who has inadvertently given me a piece of advice which has, astonishingly, galvanised me into change-inducing action of my own accord – no nudging needed! – and forms this post’s proverbial pearl of wisdom. It takes the form of a joke:

How many psychiatrists does it take to change a lightbulb?

Answer – one. But the lightbulb has to want to change.

New Year’s September resolutions – One

As detailed previously, I am converted to the idea of making new year’s resolutions in September. This was partly inspired by stumbling across a blog called Project 333 over Twitter: the principle being that you pare down your wardrobe and wear 33 items for 3 months, and then tweak for the next season. In other words, it’s a very neat little capsule wardrobe.

These 33 items are supposed to include shoes, jewellery, hats, scarves and gloves – although thankfully excludes underwear, sportswear and leisurewear (I must say that despite having thrown myself into this wholeheartedly, I do disagree with jewellery and scarves counting in your 33 items, so I have adapted the principle ever so slightly).

Everyone I’ve spoken to thinks I’m absolutely stark staring mad – I have thrown out/recycled/given to charity/car booted around 75% of my wardrobe – and wonders how I’m going to cope with such a limited choice. ‘Aren’t you going to get bored?’ I’m asked. ‘Won’t you miss shopping?’ ‘Won’t you be doing laundry all the time?’ Nope, not really, and I don’t think so.

I am enjoying myself hugely. I can’t tell you how liberating it is to open your wardrobe and see only 10 items hanging there, and to open your chest of drawers to be greeted by 10 jumpers. I’m going to do a proper blog post on this in a month’s time, with pictures of the first month’s clothes combination and comments and reflections on my first month, but in the meantime, I wanted to extol the virtues of the coat I invested in which works for smart and casual as well as being light yet warm.

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Horrid styling but it is very nice

Ignore the rather hideous styling on the website – it is honestly wonderful, and I heartily recommend it!

The other pearl of wisdom to arise from this point is me urging you to go the Project 333 website, and read through the blog archive! Posts I particularly enjoyed which convinced me to go for the mass clear out are here, here and here.

 

The joy of autumn (and of bucking the trend)

I have felt surprisingly springy this year as we move into autumn. I’m not wholly sure why: the work side of life has been monstrously busy over the past month (I feel totally steamrollered most of the time, and I seem to have permanently lost the ability to shape words and deliver them in the order in which they need to appear in order to make sense), and the home side of things hasn’t exactly been as calm as a millpond.

2016 has been one of the busiest and most intense years of my life, and I’ve spent a great deal of it close to and in tears. It sounds so dramatic, but it’s true. I’m proud of what I’ve achieved, but I’m pleased to be reaching the end of it, with just one more big hurdle left to overcome. That said, I approach the last quarter of 2016 with a spring in my step and feeling rather liberated. Having thought hard about it, I can attribute this to two things:

Firstly, cutting my hair short. One sentence; four words; five syllables. Transformational.

I regularly get bored with hairstyles, and over the past ten years, my hair has lengthened and shortened more times than a slinky going down an escalator. I’ve had everything from very short hair (at the time, this was a mistake. It was in my third year of university; I wasn’t feeling happy in myself and was stressing over finals/dissertation/life post-graduation. My ill-considered cotton-bud-esque haircut, intended to act as balm, instead made me feel incredibly vulnerable and made me feel like I possessed a pumpkin for a body and a pea for a head) and I’ve had mermaid hair (giving Zooey Deschanel a run for her money). However, having reached total body confidence in my mid (….late-mid) twenties, I felt it was time to try the short crop again. So I did it! And I love it! Aside from loving the cut, and feeling liberated from the maintenance of long locks, it feels GLORIOUS to be set apart from the hordes of young women who sport identical, waist-length, uncombed rats-nest tresses. Woo-hoo! My lighter head has made me feel altogether lighter and more free. There must be a scientific link connected to this, I’m sure.

I think the other reason I’m feeling springy is directly related to the decision to make new academic year’s resolutions rather than resolutions in January.

This is hardly an original initiative (I was talking to one of my best friends about this only on Sunday; her mother has been making new year’s resolutions in September for years. Another friend wrote an excellent blog post on this which you can read here), but it doesn’t seem to be widely adopted. Beats me why not – why do we put ourselves through the misery of making resolutions at a time when you’re feeling fat and grotty after the festive indulgence period, when it’s cold and dark outside, and when the new year is stretching ahead blankly of you in frankly what can only be described as an alarming manner…? You’re tired, unenthusiastic, still recovering from the family politics which inevitably arise over Christmas and you’re hungover. Not to mention probably still feeling a bit sick and full to the brim of a cocktail of Celebrations/Roses/Quality Street… You try to plan to better yourself over the coming months. And you fail. And you feel rubbish. And then top up that Celebrations/Roses/Quality Street cocktail. And you feel more rubbish still.

In light of this, and combined with the fact I missed making them in January, I have made a list of new academic year’s resolutions. Having plans, and having the energy to carry them out, has given me a boost to get to the end of the year and the momentum to carry through into 2017. I am excited!

Instead of feeling grotty when you try to implement change, instead revel in and take succour from the pure delight of the changing seasons. Celebrate the arrival of crackling fires; the promise of polo necks (mustard and plum are my preferred colours); thick, rich stews waiting to be mopped up with fresh crusty bread; the smell of bonfires and mulching leaves on the cold crisp air; glossy conkers studding muddy paths; the sheer joy of going blackberry picking and subsequently undertaking kitchen alchemy as you convert those dark, glistening berries into jams, crumbles, compotes and pies; the clouds of steam you create as you breathe out in the icy early morning; the technicolour foliage, and the bliss of fluffy socks and hot chocolate. Not to mention, of course, the fact that you are aiming for Christmas, rather than mourning its passing. What’s not to love?

Proverbial pearl: go and make your own list of 10 New Academic Year Resolutions, and prepare to spring into autumn.