Food Challenge Recipe 12: Butterbean, Chickpea & Butternut Squash Stew

Despite the weather becoming more spring-like, it’s still chilly, so for this week’s recipe I chose something that encompassed fresh produce and flavours but was still hearty and warming.

Enter the butterbean, chickpea and butternut squash stew! The actual title of this recipe was SPICY butterbean, chickpea and butternut squash stew, but for reasons you’ll understand shortly I was forced to adapt.

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You start with three humble ingredients, a small butternut squash, two red onions and a leek. The onions are wedged, leek sliced on a slant and the squash chopped into 2cm cubes.

This recipe is for 4 people so you need a bigger pot than I have, but alas I only learned this later on….

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The chopped veg goes into your pot with some warmed olive oil (1 tbsp) and 2 tsp of smoked paprika. These cooked down for about 10 minutes.

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I then added 1 tin of chopped tomatoes in tomato juice – this was meant to be chopped tomatoes with chilli but I couldn’t find it ANYWHERE – and 450ml of vegetable stock. This simmered for 15-20 mins. During this period, I tasted, seasoned and added 1 tsp of sugar (which wasn’t in the recipe) to offset the acidity from the tomatoes. I also added 1/2 tsp of mild chilli powder, but I think I could have added more. Next time!

I drained and rinsed 1 400g can of chickpeas and 1 of butterbeans.

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These were stirred into the pot along with what was meant to be 200g of fresh spinach, but this was when I realised my pot wasn’t big enough. So I added the leaves in stages until they wilted down, and managed to put most of it in before giving up!

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This simmered for about 10 minutes before serving!

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Despite needing a little more heat from the chilli, I really enjoyed this. The flavours from all the veg were present and fresh and the beans made for a comforting stew. I don’t think it needed the amount of spinach the recipe asked for, so it was probably a good thing that I didn’t add it all! And next time, I’ll use a bigger pot!!

Because this makes enough for 4, we have it again later this week, and I’m looking forward to it!

I give this recipe 7.5/10!

This Week I Have Been Mostly….

this week i have been mostly

I’ve had a lovely and relaxed time, this past week. On Monday evening I went for dinner with 3 of the Book Club 6. We talked house moving, work, life and the upcoming wedding of one of the bunch. Sarah’s hen was the reason we went to Ibiza last year. We hadn’t seen each other since before Christmas. Life keeps on getting in the way!

My down time has been mostly spent watching Pretty Little Liars, and I have no shame in admitting I’ve managed to watch 5 and a half seasons in just one month. Granted I got a lot seen during my week off when I caught the plague and spent most of it in bed.

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So I’m all caught up but that means I have to wait until Wednesdays to see the next episodes like the rest of the poor population. I’m loving what they’ve done with the story, and can’t wait to see what’s next!

I’ve been playing around with some of those beauty bits I picked up last weekend, and I’ll do a proper review at some point, but so far I’m loving the mini ‘It’s Potent’ from Benefit. It’s only been a week, and I might be totally wrong, but I’m sure the dark circles under my eyes have reduced. Could this be a miracle cream? I’ve also played around a bit with the colour corrector palette I picked up from Collection at Boots, and so far I’m impressed. The formulas aren’t amazing, but for a £5.99 palette what can you expect? The concept behind them, and how they work on my skin are a big thumbs up so far.

I posted up a review midweek of It Follows, which is a current favourite movie of mine. If you missed the post, check it out. I’d love to hear what you thought of the film if you’ve seen it.

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We started watching the new Judd Apatow min-series Love, which one episode in, is very intriquing. If you love watching Girls I think you’ll love this, since Judd Apatow is involved with both, they have a similar feel to them. I love his movies so I guessed I’d probably like this too. So far so good!

Gary and I, in our aim to eat healthily, took a visit to Five Guys for dinner on Friday…. We love the burgers there, but came away stinking of grease from sitting in the restaurant. We’d never noticed this problem before, but two days later we’ve noticed the smell is still lingering on our coats when we’ve been bundling up to leave the house. Really nasty – it might help to prevent us going back any time soon, which can only be a help towards our healthy eating plan. Tonight I’m trying out Nigella’s Mexican lasagne, and can’t wait to have it in my belly!

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Yesterday morning I had the pleasure of a Skype chat with my friend Tash who has been in Vietnam and Thailand since mid September last year. I really miss her so it’s been great to catch up with her, and see her face! She’s hoping to be back in about 3 months, so she can join us as bridesmaid for Sarah’s wedding. In the meantime I’m thankful for Whatsapp and Skype so I can chat with her at the click of a button.

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We’ve had a couple of snow flurries this week, and a hail storm this afternoon. The weather is so turbulent at the moment, but towards the end of next week we’re hoping to get back to double figures. I’m longing for light jackets and pretty clothes again!

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Today we saw some half marathon runners, running for the MK Festival of Running. I haven’t run properly since my injury last year, and have been happy to take some time off. I usually gauge how much my subconscious wants to run by how I react when I see other people running. Seeing these guys plodding along completing a half marathon race today made me wish I was there with them. So I’m hoping this is a sign for things to come. When the mornings and evenings are lighter I’d like to begin with short runs around the block again. I hate it when I’m doing it, but love the feeling afterwards. And I need to work off these visits to Five Guys somehow!

2 Years In – My Running Tips

I will shortly be celebrating my 2 years runniversary! Amazing that I’ve stuck at it this long, and it wasn’t a fad. Who knew?

When I started out running I really wanted to get advice from people like me – not just running magazines and sports therapists. I did get some great tips from bloggers and friends which really helped. So I thought I might do the same, and share some of the do’s and dont’s I’ve learned along the way, in the hope that it might help some of you. Since the weather is improving and spring is here, running season is kicking off – so here goes!

  • Running is free – this is true, but you really must invest in good shoes if you’re serious about running regularly. My first pair of shoes, Nike Pegasus, were wonderful for a while, but too wide for my feet it turns out. Get a gait analysis and go to a shop that has more than one brand, so you don’t just get lumbered with the best shoe that ONE brand can offer. You need the best shoe for you!

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  • Everyone learns at different speeds. Everyone starts from a different fitness level. Everyone is different. Some people will run a mile on their first outing, and others will take a month before they can manage a mile. The important thing is you laced up and went out.
  • If you run, you’re a runner. (p.s You’ll hate it if anyone calls you a jogger!)
  • Speed isn’t everything. When I started running I was impressed with the speed I could run a mile. But I was shattered after it and wanted to throw up. I soon realised speed isn’t the be all end all – it’s finishing that matters.
  • Leading on from this, don’t compare yourself with others. This is much harder than it sounds. Two years in I still berate myself for not running as fast, as far or as often as another person. But they might be lighter than me, or younger than me, or just simply more athletic. They also might be pushing too hard and end up with injury.
  • Listen to your body. I’ve had two bouts of injury, ITB and runner’s knee. I ran too far too quickly and didn’t listen to the niggles when they happened. At the time I was working in a two storey shop on my feet all day, and would spent days between runs in pain, taking painkillers to make it through the day. It’s not worth it. But if you train smart you can avoid it.
  • Running is bad for your joints – When I started telling people I was taking up running, I heard it all. Mostly that running wrecks your joints. It’s true to an extent, but it’s also true for all high impact sports if you don’t take care of your form and your body between run days…..
  • …which leads to…. Complement your running with core work and weight training. You’re putting your body under lots of stress every time you pound the street. I do a yoga session which is designed to help strengthen and stretch my body twice a week. I do arm and leg weight sessions once a week, focussing on my weaker areas when I need to (leg press to strengthen quads and glutes really help prevent further ITB injury). I work on arms, because when you get near to the end of a long run that can be all you have to help propel you on!) and core work which really helps with my form (especially posture).
  • You’ll have really good runs, and you’ll also have crap ones. Lots of crap ones. But at least you’re running!
  • Run with friends. It’s amazing how much more enjoyable running alongside someone else is. You don’t need to chat, just run!

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  • Enter races! If you don’t decide to join a club or have a running buddy then you might not know the joys of running in a group. And if you are familiar with how fun that is, then you must experience the anticipation and camaraderie of running an organised race. Plus goodie bags and medals…. it’s a win win!

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  • You will become obsessed. I know I told you running is free, which is technically true, but you’ll want ALL the clothes and ALL the accessories and to enter ALL the races. You have been warned. You will also, all of a sudden, be absolutely fine wearing garish neon colours and loud prints you would never have dreamed of wearing before!

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  • Never use nutrition on race day that you haven’t trained with. You don’t want to be caught short in the middle of a race because you’ve tried a new gel that day and it’s given you the two bob bits.
  • Hydrate in the days leading up to a race. If you’re chugging on water the morning of your event all you’ll do is need to pee every ten minutes. Portaloos are not your friend.
  • One of the best bits of advice I read when I started out: “Never trust a fart after a mile” Crude but true.
  • You will all of a sudden be fine with discussing your bowel movements (and girls, your monthlies) with other runners, and you know, everyone else.
  • Don’t put too much pressure on yourself – I’ve been there. I still go there. If I have a race coming up, I want to be the best I can be. But because of this I put so much pressure on myself that it stops being fun to train. Don’t fall into that trap.
  • Just because you ran for ten minutes doesn’t mean you can go and eat a McDonalds. But I actually found that I went right off most fast food and fatty snacks when I started running and I really just wanted a banana….. I still do get the occasional burger though…. beef’s good protein, right?
  • Most of all enjoy it! You’ve chosen a great, social sport, that will get you healthy and outside into the fresh air…. and lots and lots of shiny medals!

When Did it Become February?

And all of a sudden it’s mid February. I’m not sure when that happened but for sure it crept right up on me. And the cheeky thing about February is that it’s a short month. I’ve spent a lot of my spare work time getting things prepped for when I’m away on holiday, to make things easier when I get back, and most of my home time training. And before we know it, it’ll be March!

I’m on a 9 month training plan (of my own making) to gain a bikini confident body by September when I go to Ibiza on my first girly holiday, and hen party. I have some kind of training planned for every day of the week apart from one which is a rest day, but I’m out on that evening anyway. I’ve maintained the same weight for the last 4 weeks and it’s 2lb under my topper most happy weight. So it’s all going well and I feel more toned and less wobbly. I’ve been taking progress photos and not seeing a huge amount of difference so far, but I’m only a month and a half in.

Eating has been the hardest thing at the moment, since discovering I’m lactose intolerant, all I want is cheese and clotted cream, but I’m experimenting with foods at the moment and seeing how they affect me. A lot of the stuff I normally eat is dairy free anyway, and I’m not having a hard time substituting ingredients in other recipes to create a dairy free version.

Since the weather has been so so cold of late, I’ve been really fancying soup for lunch, which is odd because I’m usually against soup. I feel like I need to digest something for my lunch and soup, to my brain, is just a hot drink. But I found a recipe for a lentil soup a while back, which I think I’ve mentioned before, and it’s so easy and filling (and healthy!) that I have been making a batch on a Sunday morning and dividing it between 5 tubs for lunches throughout the following week. I’m able to buy the ingredients and use any left over for other meals in the week, and also get a wholesome and filling meal in the middle of my way, all week! Win win. My affair with soup won’t last long, and as soon as the weather picks up a little I will be back onto salads, but it’s great for now.

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And speaking of the weather picking up, which it seems it might start to do from next week, it’s been lovely seeing all the Valentine’s flowers about and a recent visit to my Mum’s saw a lovely bouquet of tulips in her living room. Spring touches are out and about and it’s wonderful.

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G Man and I don’t really do much, or anything, for Valentine’s Day. I’m not about to go on about commercialisation and a fake holiday, but you get the drift. It doesn’t have any impact on us. And that’s not because we’re not romantic or we don’t love each other, but because we love each other just the same all 364 other days of the year and don’t need a card or stuffed animal to show each other that. But on that cynical note I hope you all had a lovely day. Our day was made more Valentine-sy but being invited over to our friend’s house for Valentine’s lunch and cuddles with their new baby.

Lunch was amazing – a huge spread of salads followed by afternoon tea cakes and scones.

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And of course the company was great and we got plenty of cuddles with little Leo. It made for a much more festive Valentine’s and we were able to spend it with friends we love!

So it’s all go here in the Mason house, with preparations for all kinds of trips and lots of eating, with some running and training thrown in to boot. Not at all bad!

Red Lentil Soup
This recipe serves 4, but I tend to add a little more boiled water once the stock has gone in, just so I can stretch it comfortably to 5 lunch sized portions. This doesn’t affect the thickness of the final soup.
1 tbsp olive oil
1 lrg carrot, diced
1 sml onion, diced
2 lrg ribs celery, diced
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup red lentils
4 cups water or low salt broth
1 whole bay leaf
2 tbsp lemon juice
In a large non stick pan (with a lid), heat oil over medium heat. Add celery, carrot, onion and 1/4 tsp salt. Stir to combine and then cover. Let vegetables sweat until onions are soft and translucent (about 5 mins). Add the lentils, water/broth and bay leaf. Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and let simmer, covered, until lentils are soft and starting to fall apart (about 20 mins).
Turn off the heat, and add 1 tbsp of lemon juice. Stir and taste. Add the other tbsp of lemon juice, if you’re happy to. (You do need both as the acidity cuts through the creaminess of the lentils, but please don’t ruin your soup!) Add salt to taste (this also reduced the lemony-ness of the juice and it all blends really well).
Don’t forget to remove the bay leaf! This will keep refrigerated for up to 5 days.

Everything But The Cow

During my recent, and wonderful, encounter at the Lexie pop up shop at BoxPark, I was lucky enough to be given a free sample of a soy milk protein drink by a brand called Everything But The Cow. Their drinks boast all natural ingredients with no dairy and only sweetened with a little honey.

I was given the Strawberry and Raspberry flavour to try and after tasting it I knew I wanted to try the rest of the range. After having a lovely chat with one of their reps on twitter they agreed to send me a sample of each of their flavours.

Their drinks are made from a unique mix of over 20% real fruit and 7g of plant protein. This provides a perfect balance of carbohydrates and protein which is especially good for pre and post workout recovery, but it’s also great as a super-healthy anytime protein boost!

What’s more is their shakes are both made and packaged in Somerset, so the whole kit and caboodle is home-grown!

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I’ve been trying to move away from milk for a while now, replacing it with coconut milk, which I’m loving, but I hadn’t tried soy milk until I tried these shakes. I was excited to try the Banana and Kiwi one especially, since I love kiwi flavour anything, but was unsure about the banana part. I really liked this flavour and told them as much on twitter (they’re a lovely lot, go and say hi!) I really don’t like banana flavoured things (I struggle with bananas in general) but the guys at EBTC pointed out they use real bananas instead of flavouring and that’s why people respond to the flavour favourably. They also commented that people make smoothies with real fruit in their kitchens so why would EBTC use anything less in their product? Well said!

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The kiwi flavour really came through and the banana was smooth and subtle in the background. The strawberry and raspberry flavour was similar to a strawberry smoothie with a raspberry edge. I think I tasted the soy a bit more in this flavour, which isn’t a bad thing, but was unusual since I’m not used to the taste.

So two down, and one to go….. Bring on the spring heat wave and the EBTC twitter account came up trumps again by mentioning they’d been experimenting with a carton of shake by sticking it in the freezer and making a protein slushie! An inspired idea, I spoke to them and they said to shake the drink to mix it and then pop it in the fridge. Once frozen all you do is cut it open and squeeze it out!

I had intended on letting it part freeze and then mushing it up inside the packaging, squeezing it into the glass and sucking it up with a straw. But I’m easily distracted and by the time I got around to removing it from the freezer it was solid. But hey, I rolled with it. Cutting it open and giving it a little encouragement, it plopped out into my cup and I was able to easily shave it down with a spoon creating a granita type desert. I’m not a massive fan of orange flavoured anything so this was a perfect way to try the Orange and Mango shake.

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I loved it. It was almost too much for one dessert and would have easily split between two people. I can see this being perfect to take on a picnic – kids wouldn’t realise it was healthy! With none of the nasties in it I felt very saintly digging in. Healthy doesn’t mean tasteless or boring!

As an added bonus, Everything But The Cow are supplying post race drinks at the Women’s Running 10k Series this year – I’m running Milton Keynes’ race so more yummy shakes for me!

You can buy Everything But The Cow from:

Holland & Barrett
Ocado
​Harrods
Whole Foods Market
As Nature Intended

Partridges
The Natural Kitchen

Incidentally Holland & Barrett were offering buy one get a second for a penny until a few days ago, so keep an eye out for more promotions like that in the future!

These drinks are super yummy, very healthy and perfectly transportable. They’re best drunk cold from the fridge, but I would say popping one in your gym back as you leave the house couldn’t hurt. You’ll get that much-needed recovery protein and carbs you need after you’ve been working out.

Everything But The Cow provided me with a sample of each of their flavours free of charge. This review is my own opinion of their products – I’d love to hear yours!

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Great Yoghurt, No Bull!

My regular readers will know that I’m a big yoghurt fan. I’m a huge fan of a particular brand called The Collective Dairy. Their flavours are amazing and though their large pots are designed for a couple of sittings I have to work hard to not eat a pot in one go. Their Russian Fudge flavour is my favourite and I would sit and eat it all day if I could.

They recently brought out a range of yoghurt called Suckies. Served in a pouch with a twisty cap, they’re ideal for kid’s lunch boxes or picnics. But they’re also great for grown ups too. They boast

NO colours
NO artificial flavourings
NO artificial preservatives
NO GM ingredients
Only contains sugars from fruit
Made with whole milk goodness
Gluten free, Vegetarian
NO pips or bits allowed!

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Coming in 4 fruity flavours I was eager to try them, and I was delighted when they said they were sending me some samples out. These resealable pouches are made of toothpaste tube type metal-like plastic and this keeps them really cool – so much so that they suggest you pop them in the freezer and then into your kid’s lunch box, so that by the time they eat them they’re the perfect chilled temperature.

I didn’t try any of mine from the freezer, but I gave some to my Niece to try and she said they were yummy like that!

The pouches were great to take for my lunch at work and really filled a hole when I started to get peckish again at mid one afternoon!

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No spoons, no lids, no mess! Just yummy goodness. The flavours are all great, but my favourite was the Tropical. My niece favoured the peach and apricot since peach is her new favourite flavour. She loved them and got really excited to try them since she’d seen other kids at school with them too. She’s ordered my sister to buy more of them!

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I think these would be really good to take in a race pack, to eat post run – they’d stay cold until you wanted them and then would give you a little shot of carbs, protein and flavour that you’d be craving by that point. I wanted to take them to the Electric Run when I went but my samples hadn’t arrived by then. Thinking ahead to summer I can see these being perfect for picnics and beach trips!

Suckies can be bought from Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Tesco among other places and retail for under £1 each. I can’t wait to see what other flavours they come up with in time to come, but in the mean time they’ll be appearing in my basket for a while I should think!

I was provided with samples of Suckies by the wonderful people at The Collective Dairy, free of charge. My opinions are my own (and my niece’s!) but the yummy Suckies are theirs. Go and try them!

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You Are What You Eat

Since joining the gym I’ve been very conscious about what I eat. I’m really lucky that I work in an environment where people eat for health and are often on diets based on their chosen sport. I work with a weight trainer, a cross lifter, a footballer and a cyclist – we all have our chosen training and eating plans. It’s really helped me to train my mind and the way I think about food.

I’m often told by my friend Jen that abs are made in the kitchen. And she’s right. We will often have discussions about food and what it does for you. I have found in the last few months, since signing up for the half marathon, that I’m really thinking about what I put into my body – no that’s kind of a lie – I’ve not being thinking about it so much as it’s a natural thought process whenever I choose a meal. I think about how food will fuel my body for the activity I’ll be undertaking that day. I’ll eat a protein packed lunch if I’ll be weight training that evening, or I’ll plan dinner to be carb heavy if I will be running after. And it’s not a chore. I like to eat a lot of these things anyway, but now if I’m going out to eat I will naturally choose something that will complement my activity rather than going for a big pile of greasy food that will make me feel like rubbish.

I’ve been noticing which foods alter my mood, give me belly ache or bloat me too. Normally I’d just ride it out but because I have been eating right for a longer time now I am less tolerant of this and choose not to feel that way. I watched a BBC Horizon documentary last week called Sugar V Fat. Two British doctors, who were identical twins, did an experiment where one of them ate a sugar only based diet and the other ate a fat only based diet. They wanted to see what would happen as the UK and US are always harping on about sugar being bad or fat being bad – they wanted to see which was right. They basically both got very unhealthy but not to a point where they should cut one or the other food out. They found that what makes people fat is the foods that contain a half sugar half fat content – things like cheesecake and ice cream. They pointed out that there is no food in nature which contains this kind of balance – our bodies aren’t built to cope with it but it tastes amazing, and as we can eat so much of it we just convert it into fat. It’s really effected what I choose to eat and made me think before I eat an ice cream or doughnut.

I like to think I ate healthily before but wouldn’t think twice about getting a pizza delivered and eating the whole thing. I know it’s all about moderation and balance, but I’m enjoying the way I’m thinking about food and eating. And it also means that if I have a ‘cheat’ meal as a treat it really IS a treat.

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Let’s Get It Started

Can you believe it’s the 4th of January already? But at the same time it seems like Christmas was a really long time ago. Our decorations came down on New Year’s day, and it always seems like things are a bit too plain when that happens. We decided to keep some of the white fairy lights up because they look so pretty. They’ll be adorable in the summer – I might even get some outdoor ones for the garden!

I managed to get a girly fix from a meet up with the Book Club on New Year’s Eve Eve. A few drinks at the pub and some giggles. We shared goals for the following year. Most of them included fitness and diet, same as the rest of the world’s, but with these girls I know they’ll work hard to keep them. No three week gym memberships for us! I also had a go with my friend Amy’s Nikon. She’s got a lovely flash on it and I was so impressed with the light it gave to the photos. It’s inspired me to get one, when I can, and it also inspired me to take my Canon away with me for New Year.

New Year’s Eve was spent with family in Norfolk. We travelled up once G Man had finished work and checked into a hotel then travelled the 20 mins to my Grandma’s house where my Mum and Dad, Sister and family already were. We had chinese takeaway and then my Aunt and Uncle came over. We had some presents, some boogies to Chic and some yummy macaron made by a local chef.

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Our family new years traditions usually involve board games, and this year did not disappoint. A round of the Logo Game and we found it was a few minutes to midnight! We rushed into the living room to watch the fireworks and count New Year in.

The next morning we headed to Gary’s parent’s house where his Mum had cooked up a mountain of their family favourite, called Nanny’s Stew. It’s an amazing Irish stew with so much veg and meat in it. It’s delicious. I think I had three helpings! It was great to spend time with both our family’s within a 24 hour period.

It being New Year I was able to start making use of a Christmas present from my Sister. I’d seen this diary a while back somewhere and added it to my wishlist. I was so pleased that someone bought it for me. I shared a photo on instagram of it and as a result so far about 6 people I know have also bought it. I bet amazon are wondering where the rush on these diaries has come from!

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So this diary is not like a normal diary. It’s a 5 year journal with a page for each day and at the top it has a question. You answer the question and on the same day for the next 5 years you answer that same question. It’s going to be really fun to see how my answers change over the next 5 years, and re read what I’ve written. I just have to make sure I remember to write in it every day!

My year has started well as far as healthy food is concerned too. I found a really nice smoothie at Tesco that has pumpkin in it, and I even forewent a full english breakfast on New Year’s Day and had porridge instead. I want to retry quinoa, after my disaster last year when I got the conversions wrong and it ended up über stodgy. I want to try Chia seeds in something just to see what they’re like, too. Saying all this though, my healthy eating hasn’t prevented me from catching Gary’s cold and so I’m spending my first weekend of the year inside trying to fend off whatever is making my throat feel like razors. My running training plan needs to start this weekend but I’m pushing it to Monday – let’s hoping all the gym newbies have given up by then so I have a treadmill to run on! The place that we usually take our outside runs is flooded at the moment due to these massive rain storms so we couldn’t have done that anyway. Maybe that’s a good thing – rest up and then hit the road. I can’t wait to get started!

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