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Travels: The Peak District, Cake, Walk, Cake repeat

When my delightful friend Emma B proudly told me she had won a spa break to the Peak District in a charity raffle, and asked would I like to be her plus one for a weekend comprising mainly of cakes and facials, how could I refuse?

We didn’t really have an itinerary, but there were a couple of places we both wanted to visit and a couple of places we unexpectedly stumbled upon. Here are my highlights and recommendations, but ultimately I would suggest, if you have the means, take a trip to this wonderful part of the UK.

It did make me wonder why I go abroad…

Chatsworth House

If, like us, you hold a deep affection for Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, then a trip to Chatsworth House is a must. Not the birthplace of Jane Austen or historically relevant in anyway to the novel, but the location that was used to bring Pemberley, the residence of the brooding Mr Darcy, to life in the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice starring Colin Firth. When Firth’s Darcy stripped off and dived into the lake in the grounds of Chatsworth, only to reappear a few moments later, sopping wet, his white shirt flowing freely from his breeches –  *blush* – his portrayal of the infamous anti-hero set many a modern day, corseted heart a flutter and, realistically or unrealistically, set the bar for many of us as to what makes the perfect man.

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Chatsworth lived up to all expectations. It is not just a romantic hunting ground, a place to run around the manicured lawns in imaginary billowing skirts whilst handsome bachelor’s admire you from afar, it is beautifully preserved both inside and out and has a great history. We didn’t find our Darcy but we did have an amazing cream tea.

Monday’s

The Peak District is closed on a Monday. I think it is closed for cleaning. It is so beautiful and well kept, I can only assume that there is a silent code that you clean your area on a Monday. Sadly, this did affect our plans to visit Eyam, the plague village. I was keen to visit the museum having read the wonderful book A Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks but sadly it and all the tea shops were shut. It looked very beautiful, it didn’t need cleaning and unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to make a return visit.

Instead we headed to what was surprisingly a very interesting discovery, the David Mellor design Museum in Hathersage.  I had never heard of David Mellor the designer –  only David Mellor, ex tory MP and now DJ on Classic FM –  but it turns out that in the 60’s, David Mellor the Designer designed the traffic lights that we stop at everyday, bollards, bus shelters, pedestrian crossings, benches and cutlery, what a guy?! It really made me think of the everyday things in the street that are taken for granted, somebody somewhere put a huge amount of thought into their design and functionality and that person was David Mellor. Never will I take a traffic light or a bollard for granted again.

Bakewell is too big to shut for cleaning on a Monday.  It is however full of tea shops selling cake and the ubiquitous Bakewell Tart and its friendly rival the Bakewell Pudding. We saw it as our duty to sample both the tart and the pudding and I have to say that the Bakewell Pudding from Bloomers of Bakewell topped our personal league table of Bakewell baked goods.

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Walking & Wildlife

One of the main activities in the Peak District is walking but, as we are soft Southerners, we were quite unprepared and arrived without walking boots or wellies, so were restricted to a not too muddy walk that we could do in our trainers.

The gods, it would appear, were on our side and there was a wonderful walk from the little paradise of Hope Valley to the beautiful village of Castleton which was pretty much 90mins in a straight line, through perfect fields of lambs, dry stone walls and streams filled with ducklings.

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It was thirsty work simultaneously walking and cooing at all the baby animals, so when we arrived in Castleton we welcomed the restorative properties of a cold pint of shandy, before we went foraging for cake for the return journey. The Ramblers Rest cafe provided us with a suitable selection from which we picked a slab of coffee and walnut and a slab of lemon Victoria sponge. They were both equally delicious and provided the essential nutrients that we required for the walk home.

Where to stay?

If you want a small, independent spa hotel in a beautiful location, with friendly staff and a super chef in the kitchen, then I can highly recommend Losehill House.  The website looked fabulous, but it didn’t prepare us for the beauty and tranquility of its location within Hope Valley.

Losehill was an old Ramblers Rest and had been closed down when the first foot and mouth epidemic hit the UK in 2001. Thankfully it has been revamped and reopened, the stunning view that the hotel allows, made available to be enjoyed once again.

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We started each day with a sauna and a swim in the indoor pool followed by a most luxurious hot tub experience. Sitting outside on the deck in a large wooden bowl of bubbling hot water watching the sun slowly climb over the surrounding hills, listening to the birds and the lambs, was almost ethereal.

We pampered ourselves with facials and massages, and we ate the most incredible dinners. A highlight for me was turbot with a cauliflower ‘risotto.’ I’m not a fan of menus that use inverted commas to describe an item on the menu, but I was sufficiently impressed with my ‘risotto’ to overlook the inverted commas.

And so it was we said goodbye to Hope Valley, the lambs and the hot tub. We left a few pounds heavier and coffered a few local delicacies – namely Bakewell Puddings – for the journey home. We were chilled, relaxed and, like always, invigorated by our little trip away. We didn’t find our Darcy but we did find a little piece of paradise tucked away near Sheffield. #Searchingfordarcy… the story continues ….

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This article appeared in The Huffington Post

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Life: Choices, Values & Finding Your Tribe

Enough was enough, the Christmas half a stone had to go. It wasn’t so much a weight around my neck, it was a marshmallow like protrusion around my middle.

After a decadent Easter the tip of the “expanding waist iceberg” had been reached, I was full to the brim and so embarked on a 7-day juice cleanse.  By day 6 which happened to be a Sunday, I hid away and tried to banish all ideas of roast chicken and cauliflower cheese. I turned to a pile of ironing and Strictly Ballroom. There are worse ways to spend a Sunday afternoon, hunger and ironing blues eradicated by a camp, Aussie rom-com.

Whist mincing away at the ironing board, I had a moment of clarity,  I was choosing not to eat. If I wanted to go and meet my friends in the pub for a roast, I could do, but I was choosing not to. Life is all about the choices we make.

It was a conversation that I had last week with my client The Film Maker.  Her dream, like mine, is to be able to work from anywhere in the world from her laptop. She appreciates the many benefits that come from being self-employed, not necessarily the financial ones, but those that come when you start to live from your values and not the values of other people.

She, like me, gave up a corporate life. She was based in NYC and she didn’t like the teams she was forced to work with, their values didn’t match her own. It was at times bitchy and aggressive and, although she loved the work, the environment of the industry wasn’t making her happy. So she jacked it in, moved to the UK and started her own business. She put her happiness over money. She made a brave move on the basis of her values. She made a choice and it paid off.

If I had stayed in the Corporate world, and not jumped shipped in my 30’s to train to be a hairdresser, I would probably be earning 3 times what I earn now. BUT, I’d quite probably be commuting, stressed, and coping within a team of personalities, some of those I’m sure would be testing. But thankfully money isn’t my driver. I just need enough.

The payback for that is freedom and flexibility, a job I love and a job that allows me the time to pursue other interests and meet incredible people on a daily basis. I may not have a big house, a big car and a wardrobe full of designer clothes, but I do have a mortgage on a home I love, pay my taxes and have quality free time every day. I have very little stress and spend my day in the company of fantastic women helping them to feel good about themselves.

The Film Maker and I gave ourselves a pat on the back, we are living the dream and we had both lost sight of that. Sometimes you just need to meet other members of your “tribe” to wake you up and make you realise that you are doing OK, and when you find yourself with the people that share your values you get it!

The only stress I have in my life currently is that I didn’t lose the expected 3kgs on my week of self-enforced starvation. I’m 46 in a few weeks time and I have a choice, accept that I’m a fabulous 46 year old and stop comparing myself to the picture of Elle McPherson in a bikini that I have on my fridge. It was meant to be a motivator, it is actually not motivating me at all. So I choose to remove her from my fridge and replace her with a smiley photo of myself in a bikini, eating a massive gelato and thoroughly enjoying every lick.

This article was published by The Huffington Post

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Life: Hormones, Hastings and a Mythical Duck

Food is a glorious thing, and not only to Dickensian orphans.  After a mini break to warmer climes last week, with permanent access to a lavish buffet 3 times a day for 5 days, the one thing I don’t want to focus on, in the run up to an indulgent Easter weekend at my sister’s, is food.

I’ve still not shifted the half a stone I put on over Christmas and we are now in March. Hormones or mince pies, one of them is to blame for the subtle snugness I’m starting to feel when I put on my comfy knickers. I feel virtuous writing this whilst sitting on the train sipping a black coffee with added coconut oil, but I do have a suitcase full of fizz, chocolates and hot cross buns at my feet, and it won’t take long for them to relocate to my belly.

One of my clients this week is a proper foodie, a pioneer of vegetarian food in the UK and the most incredible chef.  It doesn’t take us long to get past the pleasantries and straight onto food. The main topic of discussion, the curry supper menu I’d devised to cook for Big Sis and my brother-in-law on Saturday night. Easter being what it is, mainly lamb, cake and chocolate, I wanted to make something cleansing and light, see above reference to elusive weight loss.

Proper Foodie loves a curry and put the seal of approval on my cauliflower pakoras and coconut dal combo and suggested I throw in a few Ajwain seeds. New to me and deliciously aniseedy, they also had a familiarity about them, I couldn’t put my finger on it until the Proper Foodie said Bombay Duck! OMG! Yes! Bombay Duck!

I was swept back to Hastings and the mid-1970’s to a curry lunch. Every year Doreen and Ivor Jacobs opened up their home to the expat friends they had shared many years within the desert of Aden – now known as Yemen – and my parents were two of those friends. I remember a huge long table weighed down with silver tureens of curry and big glass bowls of rice. Trays of pickles and chutneys lined up alongside the pile of mismatched cutlery and paper serviettes, and at the end of the line a plate of Bombay Duck.

As well as being overwhelmed by the smells and the quantity of food on offer, I was never quite able to get my head round the fact that Bombay Duck was a fish, not a bird. Were they just trying to mess with my mind?? The taste was not unpleasant, salty and slightly pork like, with the texture of a soft twig. After a long day of eating and listening to adult conversation, mainly about who hadn’t turned up that year because they had died, there was the car journey home and the payback for inhaling the curry buffet, throwing up into a Sainsbury’s carrier bag in the back of my dad’s Toyota.

The mythical ingredient that is Bombay Duck was, for many years, a banned substance under EU Law. Not because it got you high, but because it stunk, and the traditional method of preparation, drying it in the sun on the beaches of Mumbai was deemed unsanitary. But one man, David Delaney from Hereford, took on the EU commission single handed and got the ban lifted.

Once again curry lovers in the UK are permitted to crumble this pungent delicacy all over the curry of their choice. No longer classed as contraband, there is no need to smuggle it into the country after a trip to the sub-continent and thanks to David Delaney, one less reason to #Brexit?

This article appeared in The Huffington Post

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Reading Life: Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

I’ve realised, quite recently that I really enjoy a historical novel. History was my favourite subject at school and I still have that desire to keep on learning about how people used to live. Social History fascinates me and when I look back at the books I have read over the past few years, the ones that I have really relished, are those that have brought back to life the lives of everyday folk from days of old.

Year of Wonders does just that and it is about the Plague. Not the cheeriest of subjects I know, however, Geraldine Brooks brings alive this grim period of English history, and she doesn’t jazz it up, she tells it like it was. It’s a time where people lived in squalor – if they were lucky – and society was trapped by the hype of superstitious tales of ghosts and witches and their evil curses. People living in fear of their landlords, their neighbours and any single women who happened to grow herbs – My fate would have been sealed.

Geraldine Brooks, I was surprised to discover is American. So well has she written this account of pustules, boils and fevers in the voice of young Anna a native of Derbyshire, I would have put money on the fact she was a local?

It is the year 1666 and when a handsome tailor arrives in the village of Eyam, he sets hearts a fluttering not only with his fancy fabrics and fancy looks, he is also a master of dressmaking, a seventeenth century Dior. But something is festering in his box of delights – that is not a euphemism – and it is the downfall of the community.

It’s not a cheery subject, the plague, but it is a fascinating subject, as is the ignorance of the time. A time where people needed to appoint blame to justify the horror of what was going in their everyday lives. A lot of the behaviour is appalling and violent, but we get a rare insight into what was behind the horror of these actions, what led people to behave as they did and buy into rumours and superstitions.  Just like us modern folk, back then, hideous childhood experiences spilt over into adult life and those unlucky enough to be living with the horrors of their past aimed to drown out their memories with alcohol and violence.

It’s a grim time and a grim subject, but it’s a fascinating story and beautifully written, and what makes it even more readable, is that is based on the true story of The Plague Village of Eyam in Derbyshire.

I’m off to the Peak District in a couple of weeks for a spa break and to eat my body weight in Bakewell tart, but I will hopefully have the time to visit Eyam. I shall think of Anna and her family and count my blessings that I was born in Brighton in 1970 and not Derbyshire in 1660. Post-visit I will check myself for mysterious swellings and not freak out if I get a white head on my chin…. it’ll be due to an overindulgence of cake, not the plague.

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Life: Coffee highs without the coffee lows

I love a coffee, I have one double shot, black Americano/Long Black a day at around 11 am and I really look forward to it. I love the buzz, the kick start it gives my creative juices and it makes me happy. But, like with any substance that picks you up and lifts your mood, you have to come down off it. I was starting to become aware that by mid-afternoon, as my body came down off the caffeine high, my blood sugar levels started to drop. My energy levels were slumping, my mood was dwindling and I was craving sugar.

Spiking your blood sugar levels is a really unhealthy way to treat your body. There are many benefits to caffeine in moderation, but when it’s combined with cravings for more caffeine and more sugar, all the health benefits are eradicated.

I was finding it really hard to ignore my insatiable desire for cake and biscuits, and it was becoming that I needed the sugar or another shot of caffeine, in the form of a cup of tea, to lift me back up again.

One day, as an experiment, I didn’t have a coffee – *gasp.* I missed the mid-morning opportunity and by lunchtime, it was too late – personal rule, no coffee after 1200 – and so I went a day without caffeine, and I was surprised at how much energy I still had by 1600. Was I willing to give up my beloved morning coffee in order to feel so much better in the afternoon?

It was a dilemma, a big dilemma, and then I happened upon an article about  Bulletproof coffee, phenomena in the States. Developed by Dave Asprey and inspired by the restorative yak butter tea  – I kid you not – that he drank in Tibet.  By adding fat to your coffee, he reckons you suppress hunger cravings, improve mental clarity and promote weight loss.

His Bulletproof coffee is a 450 plus calorie laden breakfast substitute, consisting of  two tablespoons of unsalted grass-fed butter AND two tablespoons of MCT oil – coconut oil to you and I.  The fats are whizzed up in a blender with coffee made from low mould coffee beans – yes, there is such a thing – to create an almost latte effect end result. So popular is this calorie-laden fatty coffee, that Mr Asprey has opened a Bulletproof coffee shop in LA and there are plans for more.

I really couldn’t stomach that amount of fat in my beloved coffee, you would surely lose the coffee taste?? And so I decided to have another experimental day, and I popped a teaspoon of organic, virgin coconut oil into my Americano. I could barely taste it and my lips were beautifully moisturised – dry coffee lips a thing of the past. The buzz wasn’t as instant as it usually is, but instead, it was a gentle slow release and by 1600 I wasn’t totally knackered, desperate for sugar or a little bit grumpy.

It’s a revelation! It’s healthy, it’s very doable – I  carry a teaspoon of coconut oil in a little plastic pot in my bag – and it works! No spikes, no cravings and loads more energy. Weight loss yet to be proved, but if I’m not reaching for a hobnob every afternoon, it’s a given.

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