Tuesday, 30 December 2014

2014: A year to be proud of

Is it just me, or has this year just raced by? 

It doesn't quite seem possible it's been whole year since I welcomed in 2014, stood under a canopy of umbrellas straining to see the London fireworks as they reflected brightly off the buildings surrounding Trafalgar Square. 
And yet, here we are. It's December 30th and I've spent the best part of my day littering my bedroom floor with discarded dresses in a decidedly futile attempt to decide on an outfit for tomorrow night. Do I want to be comfortable or glamorous? Comfortably glamorous? I get back on you on that one.

Naturally, as the year draws to it's close, we cant help but look back. We ask ourselves not only where did those months go? But also how did they go? For me, it was pretty up and down. A roller-coaster of a year. But that's life with ME. There's been bad times, terribly bad times, but as I look back I can see there's been so so many good times. In fact, for the first time in a number of years, I can confidently say this year's been better than the rest. 

While my year may be ending with ME once again in tow, it doesn't feel quite so bleak. I'm still unwell, and there's a chance I may still be unwell when I wave goodbye to 2015, but things are certainly on the up. My health may not have improved as much as I may have hoped, but I've got a better outlook now, I've got better coping mechanisms and I've got better control. 

In the spirit of positivity I've taken a look back on some of my greatest achievements this year, some of which I'd have never thought possible. Seeing them written down, I couldn't be more proud of myself for how far I've come this year, how much progress I've made and how much stronger I am. Even if 2014 hasn't been your year, tucked away somewhere, maybe on a rainy afternoon in April or a warm summers evening in July, there will be something, however small, that you've achieved. You don't have to shout it from the rooftops with glee, you needn't even note it down, but think about it, just for a second; what have you done this year to make you feel proud?

1. Graduated. Graduating is a fantastic achievement at the best of times. But to do it all with an incredibly poorly body and still get a 2:1 is something I'm pretty damn proud of. I'm not going to bang on about this too much as I've already done that here.

2. Travelled to America for 3 weeks. Though nothing, not even a particularly bad relapse, would have kept me from heading to America to be reunited with my boyfriend after three months, I'm incredibly grateful my body behaved itself when the time came. Though it was tough and I needed a lot of down time when I returned. I managed it. Three weeks of back-to-back sight seeing and a trip to NYC. If that doesn't show progress, I don't know what does! You can read all about it here.

3. On the road again. Though I passed my test over 2 years ago, I've had neither a car nor insurance in that time, so I've driven very little. I'm finally insured now on mama's car and though it's been stressful at times, I'm so glad I've got the freedom of driving now. I'm even getting a little better at parking.

4. I worked. Ok, it was an internship, but it was in a proper office doing proper things.  A year ago I'd have never thought this possible, or at least it was simply a dream. Though only two days a week, the internship was tough and showed me I'm not ready for work just yet. But I made it to the end. I had a wonderful experience,meet some great people and even got a certificate.

5. I got me a blog. I'd thought about blogging for a long while but never had the guts to just go for it. In June this year I took the plunge and decided to give it a go. I'm not the best at blogging. I always forget to post, but next year I'm going to try to be better *news years resolution*. Anyways, it's still only a  baby, but I'm proud of it.  

Wishing you all the happiest new year!


Thursday, 11 December 2014

The Christmas Tag

Christmas is without a doubt my number one time of year. When I told you back in October that I love Halloween, I wasn't lying. But if I love Halloween, then I super ultra a hundred times over love Christmas. A bit excessive for a 22 year old? Maybe. But hey, what is life if you can't don your cheesiest Christmas jumper and behave like a six year old for a whole month of the year.

I've wanted to do a Christmassy post since it became socially acceptable (aka, December 1st). However my child-like levels of excitement just led to jumbled notes and nonsensical plans scribbled in the pages of my diary. Two weeks down the line and I've just come across the perfect solution to all my Christmas blog post related problems. The Christmas Tag. So here it is. Take a read and if you fancy it, give it a go. 'Tis the season after all!

1. What is your favourite Christmas film?
Elf. How can you argue with such profound logic as The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear?
The story of everyones favourite cotton-headed ninnymuggins has become something of a Christmas tradition in our household and never fails to get us all in the Christmas spirit.
2. Have you ever had a White Christmas?
I think so. From what I can remember it actually snowed a few years ago. Although perhaps it had all melted by Christmas day.
3. Where do you usually spend your holiday?
At home. Every year. And I imagine I'll still come back when I've moved out.
4. What is your favourite Christmas song?
To be totally honest I love them all. But  Merry Christmas Everybody by Slade holds a special place in my heart.

5. Do you open any presents on Christmas Eve?
Normally, no. We do cards because they always get forgotten about once the wrapping paper starts flying. This year however we're having  family-Christmas- jumper-to-church night on Christmas Eve- so we'll be opening those a day early. I take full credit for this awesomely lame idea.
6. Can you name all of Santa’s reindeer?
Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen. Oh and Rudolph.
7. What holiday traditions are you looking forward to most this year?
My boyfriend and I go to Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park every year. It's busy, cold, overpriced and there's way too many children but in my opinion, you can't beat it. 
8. Is your Christmas tree real or fake?
We're all pretty big into Christmas in my house. We actually have three trees downstairs and one in each of our rooms. As I said, we like Christmas. The main one in our front room is always real and it has the most wonderful smell.
9. What is your all-time favourite holiday food/sweet treat?
 Anything sweet. All the cake, the gingerbread, the boxes of chocolate, the chocolates on the tree, the mini pancakes from the Christmas market, the desserts on Christmas day... we could be here a while...
10. Be honest: do you like giving gifts or receiving gifts better?
I'm genuinely not all that fussed about receiving presents and when I do, I'm always grateful. However I'm also terrible at choosing presents, even for family members I've known my whole life and my boyfriend of four years.So I'm gonna say both and neither.
11. What is the best Christmas gift you’ve ever received?
My mum paid for my tickets to the S Club 7 reunion tour next year as part of this years present. That's gonna be pretty special.
12. What would be your dream place to visit for the holiday season?
I don't really have one. I'm a home bird so I'd always rather be here, at my home in Essex. I'd quite like to see New York at Christmas time though.
13. Are you a pro-present wrapper, or do you fail miserably?
I'm not bad. But then I'm not much of a perfectionist, so others may disagree.
14. Most memorable Holiday moment?
My 78 year old grandmother does something wacky but hilarious every year. Whether it be breaking out her best moves or screeching along to some classic rock (back when guitar hero was the present of the year) or insulting the food- she never fails to amuse.
15. What made you realise the truth about Santa?
 To be honest, I don't know.Although to this day I have a rather vivid 'memory' of seeing Santa in my living room when I was younger and hearing his reindeer on the roof...
16. Do you make New Years resolutions? Do you stick to them?
Generally no. I just hope that every year will be better than the last, health wise. This year will be no different.
17. What makes the holidays special for you?
Spending time with my family and friends, playing games and eating so much food we could burst. It's corny, but it's true.
Wishing you all a Merry Christmas!

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Baking Sundays: Triple Chocolate Brownie Cookies

The nights are getting colder, the clothes are getting cosier and there's Christmas music playing on the radio. There's no denying that Winter's arrived, and I for one am ready to embrace it in all its frosty glory. Is there anything better than cosying up by the fire, big jumper and fluffy socks on, watching your favourite Christmas movie with a hot chocolate and delicious freshly baked cookie? Well I can't provide you with a fire and you'll have to bring your own socks, but I can promise you that if you keep reading you'll discover an utterly delectable triple chocolate cookie recipe.
 I was going to call these my 'Better than Millie makes' cookies, because well, they are. However when my sister told me they were like brownies in cookie form, I though that described them perfectly. Cooked for just the right amount of time, these cookies are crunchy on the outside and gooey and chewy on the inside- just like any great cookie should be.

This recipe is a variation on a go-to milk chocolate cookie recipe I found a while back. I've playing around with it, trying out different combinations and flavours and this is the one I feel really needs to be shared. You can thank me later. 

You simply cream together your butter and sugars, before adding the egg and vanilla and combining with the flour cocoa powder mix till you get a mould able dough. Though I've added milk and white chocolate chucks (hand cut for than more rustic feel), you can feel free to throw in whatever you like! Smarties, Rolos, toffee- add in a little bit of what you fancy. Cookie's are meant to be fun, so embrace your inner child.

The key to getting these cookies just right is all in the baking time. Too short a time and you'll end up with heated cookie dough on your hands (although lets be honest, that's delicious too), and too long in the oven and they'll be all crunch and no chew. I find 10 minutes to be just the right amount of time. They will continue to cook after you take them out- so don't be alarmed if they look a little soft. Follow my guidelines, but feel free to go out on a limb and take them out a bit earlier/latter- we've all got different tastes in cookies.

Oh, and one last thing, do have some cookie dough before you put them in the oven, but try not to eat it all before it's cooked!

Triple Chocolate Brownie Cookies
Makes 12

125g unsalted butter, softened
125g caster sugar
100g light brown sugar
175g self raising flour
50g cocoa powder
1 egg
1tsp vanilla extract
100g white chocolate chopped
100g milk chocolate chopped

Preheat your oven to 170°C/ 340°F/ Gas Mark 3 and grease and/or line a baking sheet.
In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until it takes on a light fluffy consistency. As you're using brown sugar, the mixture won't reach a pale colour.
Add the egg and vanilla and mix until fully combined.
In a separate bowl, combine the flour and cocoa powder.
Gradually add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients. Stirring until your mixture begins to stiffen and resemble a dough. Once the flour is fully combined add in your chocolate pieces and stir in until evenly distributed. 
Rolls your dough into walnut sized balls and place on your baking sheet. Ensure to leave space between them as they will 'grow' in the oven.
Place in the oven and bake for 10 minutes or for desired length of time.
Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool.

These cookies are delicious eaten cold or warmed up in the microwave for a few seconds to get that chocolate all nicely melted again.



Friday, 21 November 2014

The benefits of being a realist

Listen up my darlings, I'd like to tell you story. 
Do you watch Modern Family? If you're a regular reader of my blog, you'll know I'm a huge fan of the show. Recently, in true spoonie style, I've rewatched the whole show again. From the start of season 1 to the end of season 5, my bofriend and I have watched every episode in preparation for the new series. Through our manic and incessant watching we've come to a great, life changing realisation. We are Claire and Phil. I'm the naggy woman cringing at my partners jokes and he's the kinda guy who might bring an Alpaca home, just because.
Why am I telling you this adorable but seemingly irrelevant tale? Because just like Phil and Claire, Jamie's a dreamer and I'm a realist- or as he'd say, I'm a pessimist.
I'm not. A pessimist. But I will admit I am a realist. It's hard for me to look at things and see the positives if the negatives are so glaringly more likely. I'm not a risk taker and I'd be a terrible gambler. I'm just no good at betting on the little guy, the underdog, the slim chance. I'm not gonna tell you the glass is half empty, but I will be the one to point out that it's no more likely to be half full. And while I hope and pray that one day I will recover fully from this horrible illness, I can never lose sight of the fact that chances are getting slimmer with every passing year. 

I know this may sound depressing, and like I'm not giving myself enough of a chance, but honestly that's not the case. Infact, thinking realistly rather than positively has been my best coping mechanism as of late. Sound crazy and counter productive? I know. But let me explain.

When you suffer from an illness as widely misunderstood as ME, you begin to notice that while people aren't prepred to begin to understand your illness they are exceptionally willing to give advice. Advice on something they know literally nothing about. One of the more common pieces of advice is that if I thought more positively I'd get better. Would you tell an amputee that if they had more positive thoughts their leg would grow back? No. No you wouldn't. So shutup.
Anyway, while positive thinking will not cure ME in any shape or form it does help many suffers avoid depression and get by day-to-day. I am in many ways one of these people. I focus on the little things that make my life great, I surround myself with people I love and I'm forever grateful that I manage a (sober) night out every once in a while. But I believe thinking too positively is a hindrance rather than a force for good- especially for a chronic realist like me.

Last year I met with an ME specialist for the first time. In the letter he sent regarding our meeting he noted that my prognosis wasn't great. The only upside? I had no unrealistic expectations of my recovery. The main thing helping me get better was not an unwavering faith in the cause, but the understanding that I might not.

This goes against everything I'd previously been told. And to be honest I think it's helped more than everything in my recovery.

If I spend my days assuming that I will certainly one day fully recover, I'm constantly striving towards a potentially unachievable goal. Something both highly unsatisfying and demoralising. However if I accept I may never fully recover, the smaller milestones become unfathomable achievements. 
They say that when you lose something you have to go through a period of grieving for what you've lost before you can fully move on with your new life. By having a realist attitude towards my illness, that is what I believe I m doing. I have days where I grieve for the life I've lost. The career and Independence I'll probably never have. But in accepting I may never fully recover, I've also come to appreciate the future I would never otherwise have had. A future that may be slightly less conventional and societally acceptable-but an awesome one all the same.

I'm not saying you should follow my lead. If you've got the mental strength to fully believe you will recover then I envy you, I do, and I wish you the very best. But next time you're not feeling so positive- don't feel guilty. Embrace your inner realist and your new future- you may be surprised by the life you uncover.

I'm gonna leave you with my favourite Modern Family quote, just because it's beautiful.


*I'd like to note that I am not downplaying the importance and brilliance of positive thinking, or encouraging negative thinking, at all. I am simply sharing my own beliefs and experience of what works for me.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Baking Sundays: Chocolate Oreo Cupcakes

Chocolate Oreo Cupcakes

Oreos and chocolate cake. I challenge you to find a more perfect and utterly delicious pairing. 
When I first read about chocolate Oreo cupcakes, I knew I had to give them a go. With a crunchy Oreo biscuit base, moist chocolaty cake and a creamy Oreo frosting- they sounded delicious. When Jamie and I first tried them, some time back at the beginning of last year, I was on a super strict gluten-free diet. And while I could easily make the cake gluten-free, the same couldn't be said for the Oreos. So no cupcakes for me.
This time round however I'm definitely a lot more lax when it comes to avoiding gluten- I do it when I can, but sometimes (too often these days) I throw caution to the wind and tuck in to a lovely gluten- filled treat. Such is the crazy life I lead. Having said that, I did only manage to get hold of one cupcake before my family demolished them all. Probably for the best.

I've been feeling pretty downright poorly lately. I've had a lot of problems with nausea and I often don't feel like eating. This to me is a completely new, unknown sensation. Even at my sickest, I've normally got a strong appetite and nice bar of chocolate to keep me going. So on Sunday, when I was feeling marginally better, with something of an appetite in tow, I decided it was about time I got baking. And so this super easy chocolate Oreo cupcake recipe was born.

When I've made these cupcakes before, I've stuck to a recipe I found online. However this time, not feeling up to much complicated baking, I devised my own recipe- based on the simplest chocolate cake recipe I know. Unlike my Death by Chocolate cakes, these ones are on the classic 6:3 ratio, making them super easy to make, from start to finish. They use only cocoa powder to give them their chocolaty taste and they only require items you're likely to already have stashed away somewhere.

The Oreo-ness usually comes from both the hidden cookie at the bottom and the crushed up biscuits in the icing. This time however we also added some crushed Oreo's into the cake mixture itself. To be honest, I'm not entirely sure it added much and I'm not sure I'd do it again as it produced a cake slightly denser than I would've liked- but try it for yourselves! Perhaps do half with crushed Oreos and half without (you won't need to change anything else in the recipe) and see which you prefer.

Chocolate Oreo Cupcakes
Makes 12

85g Unsalted butter
85g Caster Sugar.
85g Self- raising flour
3 Medium Eggs
1 tsp Vanilla extract
3 tbsp Milk
16 Oreos (4 are to add directly to the cake mix)

100g Unsalted Butter
250g Icing sugar
30 ml Cream
Half a pack of crushed Oreos

Preheat your oven to 180°C/ 350°F/ Gas Mark 4 and line a cupcake tray with 12 cases.

Place one Oreo into each cupcake liner.
Chop your remaining Oreos into small pieces and set to one side.
In a large bowl cream together the butter and sugar until it reaches a light, fluffy consistency and a paler colour.
Begin to add your eggs and flour to your butter and sugar mix. Beat in the eggs one at a time, with each egg accompanied by a spoonful of your pre-measured flour- this will help prevent curdling. 
This is followed by adding all the remaining flour in one go, folding it into the mixture (in a figure of eight). If you beat it too hard, the mixture will not rise as well.
Once your mixture is fully combined, you can add in your liquid ingredients. Gently beat in the milk and vanilla until fully combined.
Finally gently stir in the Oreo pieces until fully combined.
Divide your mixture equally between the 12 cases, being careful not to over fill.
Bake your cakes in your preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, or until the tops bounce back and a skewer inserted comes out clean.
Remove from the oven and tray, and place on a wire rack to cool.

For the Icing:
Beat the butter in a large bowl until softened and smooth. Now add the icing sugar and continue to beat until light and creamy. From here you can add your cream, vanilla and crushed Oreos and continue beating until fully combined.
Feel free to add more icing sugar if the icing becomes too thin, or more cream if it is still to thick.
Ice your cooled cupcakes in whatever manner you so desire and feel free to decorate with whatever you have to hand!


Monday, 20 October 2014

Health and Halloween

October is always one of my favourite months of the year. The nights get longer, the weather gets cooler and mumma starts adding dumplings to our dinner to fatten us up for the winter. 
It's always a super busy month for me as its full of birthdays, oh so many many birthdays. Growing up, this meant sweets at school more or less everyday day; now it means lots of lovely meals out with friends and family, cocktails and wine. After a month full of baking cakes and writing cards for other people I get to celebrate my own birthday at the end of the month- I turn 22 on the 26th October, put it on your diaries folks. 
As well as all the autumn cuddles and birthday parties, October brings with it... Halloween. I freaking love Halloween. In less than 2 weeks, I will finally get the chance to wear the costume I've been planning for weeks, and I cannot wait. But before then, I'm gonna snuggle up with a nice hot chocolate and a toffee apple and force my boyfriend to watch Hocus Pocus. It's one of my favourite ever films, and as far as I'm concerned, it's just not Halloween without it. 

Saturday, 4 October 2014

If you're ever in Boston...

I've been back from America for no less than two weeks now and I haven't blogged once... I know, I'm a terrible blogger, but please do forgive me- I've been recovering. I was expecting three weeks of sight-seeing fun to wipe me out completely and have me wrapped up in my duvet catching-up on all my missed tv for the foreseeable future. However, (and I may be jumping the gun a little here), I'm not actually doing too badly. No, really. Yes I've had to take things slowly, and I have had the first inklings of a throat infection for the last week but I'm actually ok. 

So what have I been doing these last few weeks during my time across the pond? Well I've been exploring all that Boston has to offer, guided by my very own almost local, my boyfriend Jamie. 
Before my trip, I'd never been to America before. So naturally I spent the first few days in complete awe of their roadsigns, mailboxes and fire-hydrants, I was jumping with joy whenever I saw a 7eleven, a Wholefoods or a laudromat. 

Obviously I can't fill you in on  all I've been doing the last three weeks, I'd bore you to death and you'd probably never read my little blog again. And that's definitely not what I want. So I figured I give you something of a highlights reel, step-away from mentioning my chronic illness and just give you a little snapshot of my time in Boston. So, just in case you ever head over there, here's a little list of some of my must do things in Boston and the surrounding area.