24.10.14

Le Weekend


This weekend...

we're heading off for a three day break. We'll be in France for two nights visiting my father-in-law and then on our return we have one night booked into a UK hotel (with a cocktail lounge). A child free break, the longest break we've had together as a couple in the past nineteen years. Nineteen years. And we're leaving the country. 

Of course, I shall be travelling light. 

My mini-break wardrobe: favourite skinny jeans, checked shirt, vest, white/black striped three quarter length sleeved top, blue modal round neck t-shirt, black blazer, parka, flat boots and heeled boots. 

Travelling light is easy now I have a minimalist wardrobe. I shall be wearing half my clothes and carrying the rest. Clothing dilemmas are easily sorted these days. 

I'm looking forward to three days of new experiences, having time to talk and just be. Enjoy your weekend xo

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22.10.14

Stoptober Spicy Aubergine and Butterbean Soup

In the spirit of Stoptober I'm endeavouring to keep my food waste to a minimum and use up items that have lain dormant in the cupboard for months. Soup cravings have started to stir of late and have and spurred me back into the kitchen at lunchtimes. It took one leftover aubergine, one neglected tin of butterbeans and exactly 35 minutes to spare, for this new soup to be added to my repertoire. You don't have to add mushrooms (I only had 1 aubergine) but they do work well together. Both aubergines and butterbeans are low in calories for their size, so this chunky soup offers maximum comfort for minimum calories. I really enjoyed its flavour and bite.

You will need (serves 4 large portions)

1 medium onion, chopped.
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1-2 tablespoons of harissa paste according to taste (it's hot)
1 large aubergine, diced
250g mushrooms, halved
400g can chopped tomatoes
500ml of vegetable stock (not exact depends how thick/thin you like your soup)
400g can butterbeans, drained
natural yoghurt and/or grated cheese to serve

Method

Heat the oil in a saucepan and fry the onions until soft and golden. Stir in the harissa and cook for a minute or two. Add the aubergines and mushrooms and stir to coat them loosely with the harissa. Next add the tomatoes, butterbeans and the stock. Bring to the boil and simmer for up to 30 minutes. Serve with a swirl of natural yoghurt and/or a scattering of grated cheese for extra decadence. 

We enjoyed this for a weekend lunch and there was enough leftover for 2 more generous bowlfuls on Monday. Low carb comfort.



19.10.14

Meeting The Minimalists

So on Friday evening I caught up with The Minimalists.  

City 87 out of their 100 city worldwide tour and Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus have arrived but not to a minimal audience. I'm not the lonesome mimimalist in the Midlands then... thank goodness for that. The long narrow bookshop in Birmingham quickly fills up. Quiet anticipation captivates the room as we browse the bookshelves but not for long. “You're all here for the same reason aren't you? Then talk to each other!”, we're instructed by the effervescent host representing Oxfam's bijou bookshop in King's Heath, Birmingham. In true Brit fashion we do as we're told, drop our guard and suddenly the atmosphere becomes snug as conversations circulate candidly. 

Ryan Nicodemus opened The Minimalists talk inviting us to imagine a more meaningful life in the future. He spoke of his discontent as a twenty something corporate professional trapped by apparent success and how he and his friend Joshua unwittingly discovered minimalism. Joshua Fields Millburn then took to the floor, reading an extract from their book Everything That Remains. Intimate details of personal narrative followed describing the mindless shopping spree of a new homeowner in the world's largest furniture store. Something many of us can identify with. 

The best part of their presentation was, for me, the question and answer session. With wisdom, humour and without judgement they answered a range of questions from, “How many bicycles should a minimalist own?” to, “How do I get rid of things I might regret giving up?” There were too many questions and not enough time; the interest and consciousness of minimalism was tangible. 

The evening ended with warm hugs from Joshua and Ryan, books were bought and signed and the crowd waited happily for their turn. 

I had a wonderful evening. Seeing and hearing The Minimalists in person, meeting like minded people and chatting to a few Just a little less readers left me feeling very inspired. Thank you to anyone I spoke to or who emailed me about the event. The buzz from the bookshop was palpable and as we wandered back down the street to our car we were asked by a passer by, “So, what was going on in the bookshop?” “Oh, two American guys called The Minimalists giving a talk” we answered and he nodded disappointingly.  


15.10.14

Weekend Walking

Last weekend we took part in a charity walk organised by friends who are raising money for their son-in-law who has motor neurone disease. We did a similar walk last year for the same cause. The walk started and ended, conveniently, at The Moat House a large pub/hotel in Acton Trussell, a village just outside Stafford. We joined the walk at lunchtime for the last 6.7 miles. After a misty morning the sun came out and we started our walk at a pub at Milford Common. When the walking resumed highlights included seeing deer roaming freely in Cannock Chase, the last of the flowering purple heather, peaceful countryside and rural views. The joy of a soft sofa and warming coffee at the pub afterwards was pretty memorable too. As usual there was plenty of chat along the way but I did manage to get a few photos to remember a beautiful autumn afternoon well spent. 


13.10.14

The Minimalists on Tour

Look who's in town. The UK leg of The Minimalists Tour opened on Friday 8th October in London and finishes on October 31st in Dublin. 

This Friday evening I shall be hotfooting it over to Birmingham to see Ryan and Joshua from The Minimalists, give a talk about their minimalist journey and read excerpts from their new book, Everything That Remains

What I love about these two is their capacity to demonstrate how minimalism can impact positively on any aspect of your life whether it's decluttering your home, streamlining your schedule or cutting junk out of your diet. Discovering minimalism as a philosophy has been life changing for me and little by little it's beginning to change different areas of my life. Quite simply, life has been more meaningful for me since my first encounter with minimalism four years ago. This month, thanks to Ryan and Joshua, minimalism is about to get momentous in the UK and I think it's going to be exciting.

If anyone has already seen The Minimalists on tour, or has plans to, I'd love to hear from you.



12.10.14

Spiced Roasted Cauliflower with Toasted Almonds

This is a great autumnal comfort dish (turmeric is a proven mood enhancer if eaten once a week). It will also help to balance your budget as cauli is currently one of Aldi's Super 6, at 59p each, until October 22nd. Grab yourself the largest one you can find as it will have more flavour. And don't forget you can use the discarded outer leaves along with other leftover veg to make excellent homemade veg stock. Frozen cauliflower works just as well if you already have some stashed away. This dish can be eaten as a side or main and could easily be bulked out by adding potatoes to the roasting tray. 

You will need (serves 4 as a main meal or 6 as a side dish)

1 head of a large cauliflower broken into florets  
Juice and zest of one large lemon 
1 teaspoon of ground turmeric
1 teaspoon of ground coriander
1 teaspoon of chopped fresh ginger or Very Lazy Ginger
2 teaspoons of chilli flakes
½ teaspoon of cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons of fresh coriander leaves
3 tablespoons of olive oil
2 teaspoons of cumin seeds
1 handful of blanched almonds (25g or less)
Lemon wedges to garnish (optional)
Coriander leaves for garnish (optional)

Method

First put the cauliflower florets into a large bowl. Mix together the lemon juice, zest and all of the spices including the coriander leaves but not the cumin seeds. Pour this mixture over the cauliflower and stir well until the florets are evenly coated. Leave the cauliflower to absorb the spices for about 2 hours turning occasionally. After 2 hours preheat the oven to 200C/Gas 6. When the oven is ready, heat the oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. Add the cumin seeds and allow to sizzle until they become aromatic. At this point pour the cumin mixture over the cauliflower. Spoon the cauliflower and spice mixture into a large baking tray. Place in the preheated oven for about 30 minutes until the florets are crisp and browned. Halfway through the 30 minutes turn the cauliflower. Finally, place the almonds in a frying pan and toast for a few seconds until golden. Scatter the toasted almonds over the roasted cauliflower and serve with fresh coriander leaves and lemon wedges (if using). Colourful, crisp and spicy.

We enjoyed this as a side with aubergine daal, basmati rice, chapatis, raita and chutney. A feast. Having a growing repertoire of easy vegetarian curry dishes means we can enjoy our favourite Indian food whenever we fancy, without getting bored, and at little cost.



6.10.14

What I Wear: The Checked Shirt


Yes it's those jeans again, this time tucked into my brown Chelsea boots (Next). Both the jeans (M&S) and boots are really hard wearing and long serving items in my wardrobe that suit both my budget and lifestyle. They can take a knock or two. My jeans are developing signs of age where the denim is beginning to thin. I like this character. I remember throwing out some beautifully fitting jeans once that ripped - I think it was a mistake. As for this checked shirt (F&F) it's loose fitting, check lined and has optional roll-up sleeves. It's a new purchase to replace my old one that was feeling tight around the arms. This new one is a size bigger and perfect for swinging my arms on a sunny autumn stroll. It might be supermarket fashion but I feel confident it's a keeper. I hope you enjoyed this second peek into my 40 piece minimalist wardrobe.



30.9.14

Two Years On...


It's two years since I tentatively wrote my first blog post. I clearly remember the excitement (and the nerves) of those early blogging days. We'd just moved to our small end terraced house and I was eager to write about the benefits of downsizing. I was keen to share advice on decluterring, write about the philosophy of minimalism and record the simple pleasures of my life. Two years on and I'm still just as keen to share these things with you. The practicalities of writing a blog have got easier. My confidence in technology and photography have improved greatly through writing this blog. However, it's not always easy to juggle trying to live a simple life with writing a blog about it. That's why I'm saying thank you tonight, for reading, commenting, sharing and keeping me going. It's lovely to have this space to share with you and there's plenty more simplifying to come xoxo



26.9.14

Not Using Shampoo: Part 1

It's 4 weeks since I last used shampoo and I can truly say I feel happy with the look and feel of my hair. I will probably wash my hair tomorrow but it won't be with shampoo. You might find the idea of not using shampoo repulsive or radical but it can be very liberating. Interested? Please read on. 

In recent weeks I've washed my hair with bicarbonate of soda, beaten egg, chamomile tea rinses and have had plenty of no wash just brush days. I've used cornflour as a dry shampoo and have even tried rinsing my hair in beer (not very successfully). I haven't used a commercial shampoo on my hair for 4 weeks now. Is a no-poo regime achievable? I think it might just be. 

So, I' m beginning an experiment in not using commercial shampoo and conditioner for as long as I can hold out. My aims are to wash my hair less often and to use only natural products for washing, conditioning and dry shampoo alternatives. 

Over recent months I have been contemplating a more natural approach to haircare and reading vast amounts about switching to a no shampoo regime. At the end of August I finally decided to ditch shampoo.

I have been washing and conditioning my hair almost daily since I was a teenager. Whilst my hair used to look and feel great after a daily shampoo and condition on the rare days that I didn't use shampoo it looked very greasy and out of shape. According to no-poo experts overuse of commercial shampoo strips our hair of its natural oils and encourages unnatural greasiness. If we stop using regular shampoo our hair will initially react by producing excess oil but will in time readjust to producing just enough oil. Eventually the theory is that hair will revert to its natural state of being self cleaning and can be kept clean by just thorough washing with water. This is the final stage that may take years not months to reach. Wouldn't that be wonderful!

It's only taken me 30 plus years to question how relentless, time consuming and possibly damaging daily use of shampoo is. How can regular shampoo be any good for my hair if it looks so greasy the next day? What exactly is in my regular shampoo and conditioner? Is my hair really that naturally greasy? Why some days even after washing and conditioning does my hair feel so lank and heavy?

I recently bought Happy Hair a new book written by Lucy AitkenRead who blogs over at Lulastic and the hippyshake. It's a comprehensive yet fun read that tackles the background science, necessary resources, methods and common problems associated with relinquishing shampoo. It has helped steer me through the process of beginning a no-poo regime but as no one head of hair is the same it can only be a guide. 

My first 4 weeks of not using shampoo have been very interesting. What I missed most in the first few days were the bubbles and lather of a regular shampoo but I didn't miss the daily washing and drying routine. My hair definitely produced more oil in between washes over the first 4 weeks of this venture. Some days were grim and all reflective surfaces were avoided. Patience is the key. 

As I end week 4 my hair's oil production is beginning to calm down, My hair is softer than before, stays in shape better and has a shine that look different to the glossy coating normal shampoo gives.

So what works for me as alternative to shampoo and conditioner? I initially tried the classic no-poo regime of bicarbonate of soda mixed with water followed by apple cider vinegar rinse. And yes it restored my greasy hair to clean and shiny in the same way as regular shampoo once did. However, I don't really like the gritty texture, saltiness or vinegar smell of this combo. 

To my amazement what my hair seems to really appreciate is one beaten egg, a good scrub and a rinse. Nature's very own fabulous 2 in 1 shampoo and conditioner! It really, really does make my locks clean, odourless and shiny. I put it into a plastic bottle and squirt a small amount at a time onto my hand (it's so slippy it can easily fall off your hand) and massage and scrub my head before rinsing with warm, not hot (obvs) water. It feels  more like shampoo than bicarb which is a bit  like a loo cleaner, to be honest. Alternatively I just use warm water and give my hair a thorough scrub with my fingertips. Do not underestimate the cleansing powers of pure water! Three chamomile tea bags steeped in boiling water left to cool also makes for a successful and pleasant wash. Regular brushing with my new natural bristle brush also helps (so I read) with the process of encouraging self-cleaning hair. 

I'm not sure exactly where this experiment is taking me. A good result would be that I can go longer between washes and be happy with the appearance and feel of my hair (washed or unwashed ) most days. I am prepared to give this experiment 4 months (until Christmas). If my hair still looks greasy in between washes or if I find this project too much of a burden then I will revert to shampoo. However, I do not intend to use regular haircare products again and would instead choose to use an organic products occasionally on my hair. I may have to find an alternative to my regular hair salon and stop colouring my hair. Radical action. Ideally it would be great to ditch shampoo completely and use just water or natural ingredients. 

Only my husband (and you) are in on this secret. My hair has its bad days but still passes his sniff test. He's being converted gradually and is now washing his hair less often too. Also, as I've started a new job my work colleagues are non the wiser.

Here' s my no-poo diary days 1-33.

Day 1: Clarifying shampoo and clarifying conditioner (to cut through product build up) Saturday August 23rd
Day 2: No wash
Day 3: Egg wash
Day 4: Cornflour dry shampoo
Day 5: Water wash
Day 6: Egg wash 
Day 7: No wash
Day 8: Bicarb and cider vinegar
Day 9: No wash just brush (with new bristle brush)
Day 10: Egg wash
Day 11: Water wash
Day 12: Bicarbonate of soda wash and cider vinegar rinse
Day 13: No wash just brush
Day 14: Cornflour as dry shampoo and a good brush
Day 15: Egg wash
Day 16: Water wash and chamomile tea rinse
Day 17: Water wash and chamomile tea rinse
Day 18: Egg wash
Day 19: Water wash
Day 20: Water wash and chamomile tea rinse
Day 21: Bicarbonate of soda wash and cider vinegar rinse 
Day 22: No wash just brush
Day 23: Egg wash 
Day 24: Water wash
Day 25: Egg wash
Day 26: Water wash and chamomile tea rinse
Day 27: Water wash and lemon juice rinse
Day 29: Egg wash
Day 30: Water wash and chamomile tea rinse
Day 31: No wash just brush
Day 32: Egg wash
Day 33: Bicarbonate of soda wash and apple cider vinegar rinse

I hope you found part one of my no-poo experiment useful and interesting. I'm happy to try to answer any questions you may have in the comments section below. Feel free. 

As I reach the end of week 4 I feel I've turned a corner and my hair is beginning to reduce its grease production. I'm hoping part 2 will bring good news.



22.9.14

What I Wear: My Minimalist Wardrobe

So what does a minimalist wardrobe look like on a real person? I thought I'd share some of the outfits I put together from my 40 piece wardrobe here on my Minimalist Monday slot. It will give an idea of how many different looks I can achieve and also show how accessories can breathe variety into a limited stock of clothes.

Let's begin with my favourite jeans and Boden grey v-neck t-shirt, both of which you may have seen before. I have this t shirt in grey, white and black and they are all useful but I definitely wear this grey one the most. It's somehow more versatile. So far these Boden t-shirts (bought in January) have washed well and there's no sign of any bagginess or tiny holes appearing. Hopefully money well spent. 

These jeans (Indigo M&S) are almost two years old and will be sorely missed when they wear out. They are probably the most worn item of clothing that I own. 

The black blazer (F&F) is lightweight and I like its drapey feel. It's a recent summer buy and a bit of an experiment. I wear it when I need something a little more dressy than a cardi. It adds structure but feels loose which is perfect for a non power dresser.

My outfit is completed with a practical roomy bag (M&S), ballet flats (Debenhams) and a swingy old Accessorize necklace that goes with everything. 

I may return with another outfit from my minimalist wardrobe if you are interested. It was fun.

Have a good week xo