20 May 2020

This too shall pass

It's mental health awareness week and I don't know about you, but since the rona I have been more aware of my own mental health than ever before. It's not an easy or fun thing to talk about but it is so important that we do. Sometimes it's good to deal with stuff on our own, and often we are able to, but when we can't, talking to someone just helps take the weight off your shoulders. For me, that is often the best way for me to heal and move forward.

Part of me absolutely hates this lockdown; I long to see my friends, family and just to do something that resembles normality, like going for a coffee or browse in the shops. The change of scenery and renewed perspective is often what helps me get through bad days. And, like a child, I crave structure. I want to be told what to do and when to do it, but right now it's one big waiting game and quite frankly, I'm getting sick of the sight of these same four walls. Although I never had any control over the future anyway, it feels more uncertain than ever. I feel helpless and stuck, and since I'm in between jobs right now, (careers, even), I just want it all to go away and shun any form of responsibility.

The other part of me is grateful to have this time. I have a roof over my head, food to eat and a loving family around me. It should be enough, but every day I am plagued by my thoughts. I can usually tell them to be quiet and get on with the day, but since there isn't much to do right now they seem to be louder than ever. But this might be the time I need to reflect and try and allow myself to find better ways of living and processing things. In the past, I have been so used to just shutting unhelpful thoughts down whenever they crop up, thinking it was unhealthy to dwell on them. But stewing in your thoughts is different from allowing yourself to experience a feeling and figure out better ways to cope.

So, how have I been coping? One foot in front of the other, it feels like, most days. Just get through it, is what the pragmatic part of my brain tells me. Also, talking to my family and being honest about how I feel, and a new thing I've been doing: forcing myself to get out of bed every morning regardless of how I feel.

Like so many others, mornings are the hardest time of day for me. When anxiety hits hard, I wake up with a racing heart, tense all over, and an overall feeling of dread. But – and I'll be forever grateful for this – my doctor gave me some valuable advice once. He said that instead of waiting for my feelings to tell me what to do, I should just do it anyway. In this case, getting out of bed even when I feel like I am completely paralysed. It is really flipping hard, but it's a bit like pressing snooze on your alarm. The sooner you press stop and just get up, the sooner you can move on. That part of the day is over and, sometimes, so is the feeling that comes with it.

I listen to a devotional (Lectio 365 has been amazing). I put some clothes on and go for a short walk. Right now I am more thankful than ever to live in such a beautiful, peaceful part of the world. There are trees and fields and mountains and I can hear the river and the birds singing. I ask God to help me get through the day, to help me to do my best and to serve him in whichever way I can. I speak scripture over myself, reminding myself of God's truth and promises. It amazes me how some time off from our busy world can cause us to be overwhelmed by thoughts and feelings that simply do not align with God's plan and design for us. I don't always feel better. I don't always hear God's voice or feel his presence, but I know he is there and that he will help me to persevere even when it is really, really hard.

And I know I am not alone in this. As isolating and terrifying anxiety and depression are, I know they do not just affect me. It says in 1 Peter 5:6-10:

"Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast."

I have to be totally honest and say that I often wonder if the scripture I read is really meant for me. Maybe I'm different? My anxiety is different, my circumstances don't fit into what the word is saying. Then I am reminded of the very first part of this passage: humble yourselves. Who am I to think I know better? Whether you believe in God or not, I think we can all do well to humble ourselves. We can't know it all; sometimes we don't know what's best for us – I find the mixed messages my poor mental health gives me utterly infuriating. But that's when I need to give it back to God and wait for him to show me the way. There is so much mystery in the world and while everyone's suffering is valid, it is important to remember there is a season for everything and this too shall pass.


7 May 2020

The Best Chocolate Cake for Grandpa's 90th

My most wonderful Grandpa turned 90 in March. If you are fortunate enough to have met him you will know just how special my Grandpa is. Despite nearing a century on this earth, he remains as sharp as ever, feeding his mind with endless puzzle books and episodes of Pointless. He never fails to make me laugh and keep my feet plantedfirmly on the ground. There's nothing like the perspective of a grandparent to shift your focus and make you realise just how good you've got it, especially from one who has endured many battles of his own. I was so glad we got to celebrate his birthday just before lockdown, and I had the privilege of making his cake! He had to have the very best, so I combined a couple of my favourite recipes and came up with the best chocolate cake for the best Grandpa.

Since I live in south Wales and Grandpa is in Glasgow, a fair amount of planning went into this cake to make sure it was fresh, delicious and still in one piece on the big day. I decided to bake the sponges a few days before traveling, freeze them and on the morning of our journey, I packed them securely into boxes with ice packs. When we arrived in Scotland the cakes had defrosted but were still cold, so I popped them in the fridge and, the next day, I assembled, iced and decorated it ready for the party 🥳

This cake is so delicious and I can't take much of the credit – Smitten Kitchen (one of my favourite food bloggers) shares her 'I want chocolate cake' cake here, which I simply quadrupled for this four-layered, 8-inch cake (with some to spare for a cake for me to snack on). The buttermilk and dark muscovado sugar are what make this cake SO yum – you'll never use another recipe again.

For the crumb coat, filling and neat coat I used the ultimate chocolate buttercream recipe from Love is in my Tummy, again multiplying the quantities by four (it's better to make too much). This buttercream is a total dupe of the infamous Magnolia Bakery's chocolate buttercream – so light, chocolatey, buttery and downright delicious, not to mention an absolute dream to work with. My drips were made with a simple cream and chocolate ganache and I finished it off with a touch of buttercream piping and loads of edible glitter and gold dust. I cannot live without my turntable, palette knife and side scraper and wouldn't dream of decorating a cake like this without those three tools, so if you're thinking having a go (and you totally should) get yourself some off Amazon (they're dead cheap) and see how you get on!

Safe to say we ate the lot and Grandpa had an epic 90th birthday. Since lockdown I have been phoning him a lot more, but I can't wait to be able to see him in person again, hopefully very soon.


11 April 2020

Açaí Bowls at Serenity Now

Millie moved to Glasgow last summer, and for YEARS I had been wishing for a pal to explore this city's foodie scene with – thank goodness friends find each other like we did. While visiting my Grandpa (who turned 90!!) a few weekends back, I spent some time meandering the west end with this little treasure. We share an affinity for oat flat whites specifically made with Oatly, porridge and now, (I'm extremely late to the party), açaí bowls. So we went to Serenity Now! 

Serenity Now is very Glasgow: turquoise and pink, plants everywhere, sriracha in place of ketchup... AND they serve chocolate and mint tea.

I love a good merch corner (although it's rare I ever find any merch I actually like).

We ordered two acai bowls topped with strawberries, chia seeds, rainbow coconut, peanut butter and granola. They were freezing cold and delicious, and I knew I could make one just as good (if not better, soz,) at home. 

As soon as I got back to Wales I bought some acai powder  (it's expensive but the supposed health benefits justify this) and made my own smoothie bowl. My recipe: 1/2 banana, 1 cup of frozen berries, 1/4 water and 1 tsp acai powder. I love excessive amounts of banana, peanut butter, cacao nibs and desiccated coconut on top. 

Completely plant-based, Serenity Now has a huuuuge offering, catering to all tastes and dietary types. Unfortunately, it is temporarily closed, as are most restaurants and cafes at the moment, but I'm keen to try the fried chicken and waffles (and basically everything else on the menu) when they're back up and running! 

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