30 October 2014

Here's to a clean slate


It was sixteen months ago when my world turned inside out and I was hospitalized for the first time in my life with what I now know was bipolar.


I only got that diagnosis during that particular hospital stay, for the previous ten years I had been treated for just depression (not ‘just’ depression…but you know what I mean). It was a pretty big deal finding out this new diagnosis for me for many reasons. One was it meant my doctor had to withdraw me off my current medication and put me on new ones. Now I’ve never had to withdraw from nicotine or hard drugs before, but withdrawing from Effexor (antidepressant) was revolting. I couldn’t feel my skin and I kept getting dizzy spills every few minutes along with this feeling of doom constantly hovering over me.

It was at this time my husband decided it was best to leave me. Now before you start hating him – and don’t worry I’ve been pretty mad at the situation for a while now – we had our problems. Problems that were not discussed by either of us and I feel sad that they weren’t. I feel sad that only 20 months before the end was when the two of us committed to each other till death do us part and sealed with an ‘unbreakable’ kiss. I think there are even celebrities who’ve had a longer marriage than what I’ve had. 


The resulting separation meant I lost my house and one of my beautiful dogs, all while in hospital. And to put the cherry on the top my beloved workplace – a place where I had the most understanding, supportive boss EVER – had to shut down due to funding issues.

Was this the universe cleaning the slate for new beginnings, I wonder?

After the last 26 months of turmoil, hurt, anger and sadness I like to think I’ve now been cleansed and can look at the world with new, empathic eyes. I don’t believe anyone can go through a two year depressed state, where much of it was in a suicidal state, and not come out the other side very much changed.

I’m still pretty fragile, but underneath that I can feel a strength growing that I never knew I had. I just need to remember to nurture that strength and I’m sure it will bloom.

This coming Monday I will start a 12-month contract for a two-day a week research job at a university. I’m stoked. Stoked because this means I’m coming back into this world to live, not just to exist.

But I must remember to take baby steps. I must also remember that those negative thoughts that are never too far away are okay, because I just need to keep moving forward and prove them wrong.

So here’s to a clean slate. May you be a lesson to me in how to live a more authentic life.

11 August 2014

Getting my chop on and Paella

Slicing, dicing, chopping, the rhythm of the repetitive movement so relaxing and the cheapest kind of therapy I can get.

I do it slowly and calmly, winning no races, just chop chop chopping.

I love getting everything prepared so I can just put it all in the pot when it’s needed.

Cooking is such a methodical, organised part of my life when life can be anything but organised and methodical.

This chicken and chorizo paella recipe was perfect for me to get my knife skills in action chopping onions, garlic, capsicum and chorizo. It was also the first time for me to cook paella and I will certainly be making this one again.

Chicken and chorizo paella


Chicken and chorizo paella
Adapted from Jamie Oliver does…

Serves 6-8

Ingredients
Olive oil
2 raw chorizo sausages, thickly sliced
300g cooked chicken, roughly chopped
1 green pepper, deseeded and roughly chopped
1 red pepper, deseeded and roughly chopped
5 cloves of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
a small bunch of fresh parsley, leaves picked and roughly chopped, stalks finely chopped
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
a good pinch of saffron
300g Arborio rice
200g jarred red peppers in oil, drained and roughly chopped
400g can of diced tomatoes
1 litre of chicken or vegetable stock
150g snow peas, sliced thinly at an angle
1 lemon

Method

Heat a large wide-based pan over a medium heat and add a glug of olive oil and the sliced chorizo (if you use uncooked chicken add it to the chorizo). Fry for around 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. As soon as the chorizo starts taking on colour and the fat is beginning to cook out of it, add the chopped peppers, garlic, onion and parsley stalks along with a good pinch of salt and pepper and the saffron. Fry gently for another 10 minutes, or until the vegetables have begun to soften.

Add the rice and jarred peppers and keep stirring for a few minutes until the rice is coated in all the lovely flavours, then pour in the tinned tomatoes and 800ml of stock, seasoning again with salt and pepper. Bring everything to the boil, then turn down to a medium to low heat and stir constantly for about 15 minutes. Make sure the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan as it absorbs the liquid, so keep stirring.

After 15 minutes the rice should be cooked, but still have a bit of a bite. Add the cooked chicken at this point. You may want to add an extra splash of stock here if the rice looks a bit dry. Keep stirring and cook for another 5 minutes or until chicken heats through. Add your green beans and cook for a further 5 minutes while stirring. Stir in the chopped parsley and the juice from half your lemon. Cut the other half of the lemon into wedges for serving. Enjoy!

24 July 2014

Doing the blog hop

It’s time for some blog hopping. GALUMPH!


What’s a blog hop? Well I only found out myself three days ago thanks to my wonderful friend Sarah from Pearls of Willsdom (this is your cue to follow her as she’s down right hilarious, but at other times she’ll move you to tears. She’s also on Facebook here). A blog hop is similar to the good ol’ chain letter, but lucky for me, there’s no horrible impending disaster threatened to occur if I don’t do this one. Bonus!

This blog hop is about my writing, something that’s caused me great anxiety for years. Even though I was in communications/PR for 15 years. AND even though I write a blog. Go figure.

So here it goes:

How does my writing differ from others in its genre?

I must admit it’s pretty hard to stand out in the food blogging arena simply because there are SO many of us. I think mine has been better received ever since I started being honest about my own struggle with mental health. Suddenly I feel the blog is a wonderful outlet for me to share my daily struggles while adding in a good dose of therapy through my cooking.

Why do I write what I do?

It’s very simple - to build awareness about mental illness.

For quite sometime I’ve wanted to give my experience with poor mental health a purpose. That purpose is to break down stigma surrounding mental illness and maybe help some other people along the way realise they’re not alone.

How does my writing process work?

Depends on the post. Some are harder to write then others. Like the one on binge eating. That one was written, rewritten, rewritten again, and then left to sit for over a week. After that I did some more rewriting and realised I was so nervous about telling that story. Finally I hit publish and it’s been the most viewed post on my blog.

When it comes to writing the recipes they’ve all been tested by me. I try to make them as simple as possible, hence why a lot of them are modified from other recipes just so I can give it my own unique touch.

Why do I write?

Because I have to. It’s as simple as that. I have too many thoughts that go on in my head and by writing them down I can give them some sort of order and understanding.

What am I working on?

I’m currently working on a post, which will be a compassionate letter to myself. I’m also working on getting back into a working life and not letting my anxieties get the better of me. I’m not sure who’s winning that battle, yet.

Now I get to choose three blogs that I follow that get to do the blog hop next. But as I don’t follow many blogs, and one is the one I already mentioned, Pearls of Willsdom, I’m just choosing two blogs for you to enjoy.

Me and my 2 guys
Bree is a hooker, stitcher, cooker and an all round bonza chick. I love the amazing things she creates from quilts to shawls, beanies to bunting, all while bringing up two children. You can follow her on Facebook here.

Bizzy Lizzy’s good things
Now this woman can cook and write. I love Liz’s zest for the cooking life and the importance of cooking with local, seasonal produce. She has a long history of working in the food industry so she knows what she’s talking about. You can read more about her here.  

13 July 2014

#3 Vlog - Keep Going

In video #3, about being kinder to myself, I talk about how my 30 minutes a day of walking challenge went and the importance of keeping going when things don't go to plan.


08 July 2014

A serve of stubbornness with a side of veggies

I have a stubborn streak. A real stubborn streak. In fact my stubborn streak can get so bad I can refuse to do the simple things, like brush my teeth everyday or brush my hair, just because I’ve been told self-grooming (which goes out the window during a depressive stage) is important for my recovery. Phffft to self-grooming. Phffft to recovery. 

I know, childish, right?

My stubborn streak’s always been around, it’s just I didn’t realise how bad it was until I was chatting with my psychologist a few weeks ago. For example, I’ve never been one to go for anything mainstream: popular fiction, phffft; popular band, absolutely no way; popular television show, get real. In fact, if I do find myself loving something popular, like Game of Thrones, I’m shocked when I can understand all the references made about it. I’m so used to being one of those people that says, ‘what’s that?’, ‘who’s that?’, ‘never heard of them’. Stubborn? Slightly.

Then there’s the stubbornness I have when I’m given advice on getting ‘over’ my depression. I simply try to shut people down or tell them I’m already aware of whatever it is they’re telling me. Totally stubborn.

Or when a conversation turns to health and I take everything as a personal affront and so, first, get mad, and then ignore the conversation that’s taking place around me. Ignorance is, after all, bliss, right?

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not that much of a stubborn git to not abide by the law. Good girl, Fiona. I also follow the social conventions of friendship (I’ve watched too much Big Bang Theory with that statement. HA, which is popular…but had become too popular so I stopped watching it. Damn it!), which is partly why I have such wonderful friends around me (the other part is because I’m secretly slipping them illicit drugs to keep them thinking I’m a joy to be around).

However, finding more and more examples of being stubborn doesn’t shed any light on WHY I’m stubborn. So this week my psychologist and I did a little more digging into the life and times of Fiona Tristram. We spoke a bit more about stubbornness itself, and then touched on being compassionate to oneself, the feeling of empowerment and what happens when you lack control over your own life. She then steered me to two TED talks by Brené Brown, one on vulnerability the other on shame. (Btw both are fabulous talks.)

Mixing what I’ve learnt all together this is what I’ve come away with: Stubbornness can come from fear, which is simply a cover for shame – shame of failure, shame of rejection, shame of vulnerability. What I really need is to accept my vulnerabilities because it’s in these vulnerabilities that I’ll find honesty within and about myself.

Simply put, it’s about being kinder to myself and accepting who I am, imperfections and all.

Of course we’ve all heard this before. I need to love me for me…blah blah blah. But who really LISTENS to it? Who really BELIEVES they are okay EXACTLY AS THEY ARE? Not bigger, smaller, smarter, funnier, wiser, faster, prettier, more masculine, stronger, fitter, BETTER. Who?

Ladies and Gentlemen, we ALL have vulnerabilities. One of mine is my weight, but every time someone talks about their health around me doesn’t mean they’re trying to send me a coded message to lose weight. It’s not all about me, after all.

Maybe to release me of my stubbornness, which only holds me back, I need to understand my vulnerabilities more. I need to understand what scares the bejesus out of me and then, compassionately, I need to accept that fear. I have a feeling that by accepting it, it will no longer have such a strong hold on me.

In order to start being compassionate to my body I’ve made this easy vegetable soup recipe. It’s good for my health, good for my taste buds and good for my soul. I hope you enjoy it.

Are you stubborn? Do you think you know why? 

Vegetable soup with crumbled feta

Vegetable soup with crumbled feta
By The Self-Raising Kitchen

Serves 6

Ingredients
50g butter
2 leeks, finely sliced
1 carrot, diced
300g cauliflower, roughly chopped
600g sweet potato, roughly chopped
2 celery sticks, diced
6 sprigs of thyme
1 bay leaf
750ml chicken or vegetable stock
Salt and pepper

Method
In a saucepan melt the butter on a medium heat. Then add leeks, carrot, celery, thyme and bay leaf. Cook for 5 minutes or until the leeks turn translucent.

Add cauliflower, sweet potato and stock. Bring to the boil and then simmer until vegetables are really soft. Take saucepan off the stove. With a stick blender puree the soup until a smooth consistency. Season to taste.

Serve in bowls topped with some crumbled feta and a small dash of extra virgin olive oil.

06 July 2014

30 June 2014

A kinder life

Feal the fear and do it anyway!


This is exactly what I experienced while filming my FIRST video log or vlog.

This is the first in a series that I'm going to do about learning to be kinder to myself since suffering from bipolar and binge eating disorders.

Have a watch and let me know what you think.



26 June 2014

Crispy soy-roasted pork belly

Hands up who loves pork crackling? I mean, unless you’re vegetarian, what’s not to like about this salty, crispy, flavoursome piece of scrumminess?


I’ve been hanging out with my brother and his family on Boyne Island, just near Gladstone, Queensland, for the week. As a wee thank you for them having me I decided to treat us all to a meal of pork belly with steamed greens. 


I found this recipe by one of my favourite Australian chefs, Kylie Kwong. I’ve cooked a number of her recipes and have always been happy with the results.

However, the method used in this recipe guaranteed crispy crackling. It did not happen. Not happy, Jan! So I had to resort to my foolproof method for crackling, which is putting it under the grill at the end of cooking the meat. Always keep an eye on it so it doesn’t burn, but if the skin is going to crackle at all, it will do it via this method.

The taste of the meat was sensational, though. Because it’s marinated overnight the flavour of the five spice went through the meat beautifully. And the slow cooking process leaves the meat succulent.

What’s your foolproof way of making crackling?

My other pork belly recipe is Chinese red roast pork belly.


Crispy soy-roasted pork belly

Crispy soy-roasted pork belly
from Simple Chinese Cooking Class by Kylie Kwong


Ingredients
1 × 800g piece of free-range boneless pork belly, skin on and scored (ask your butcher to do this)
500ml boiling water
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp salt flakes
For the marinade
2 tbsp brown rice miso paste
1 tbsp five-spice powder
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp light soy sauce

Method
Place pork belly, skin-side up, on a wire rack over the sink. Pour over boiling water to scald the pork skin – this will help the skin crisp up into crunchy crackling.

Pat rind thoroughly dry with kitchen paper and place pork, uncovered, in refrigerator for two hours.

Remove pork from fridge and place, skin-side up, on a chopping board. Using the tip of a sharp knife, stab the pork skin repeatedly until the surface is covered with holes, being careful not to go all the way through. Turn the pork belly over and make cuts about 2cm apart and 1cm deep.

Combine marinade ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Rub marinade evenly over the flesh side of the pork (not the skin) and massage well into the cuts.

Place pork, skin-side up, on a wire rack (this same rack will be used for roasting the pork, so make sure it is ovenproof and fits inside a roasting tin) and place over a tray or large plate to catch any drips. Place in refrigerator and leave pork uncovered overnight, during which time the skin will dry out. The drier the skin, the better the crackling when roasted.

The next day, bring pork to room temperature and preheat oven to 150°C (300F).

Transfer pork and wire rack to a roasting tin. Rub skin well with the sesame oil, then scatter salt all over. Roast for 1½–2 hours or until tender (to test, pierce the meat with a skewer – you should meet no resistance). Increase the oven temperature to 220°C (430F) and continue roasting for 15 minutes. This final blast of heat will crisp up the skin, turning it into crackling.

Remove pork from oven and allow to rest, uncovered, in a warm place for 15 minutes. To serve, cut into 1cm slices. Serve as part of a banquet for four people.

23 June 2014

Fighting the binge

We hear it on the television, we hear it on the radio, we read it on the internet, in the newspaper, and in magazines. We see it on billboards, on the back of buses, on taxis. We hear if from friends, we hear it from family, we hear it from doctors, we hear it from ourselves. We’ve all heard it too many times. I must lose weight!


We’re a generation obsessed with size, looks and image. We’re so obsessed that we even have a show dedicated to fat shaming – The Biggest Loser – because it’s okay (apparently) to yell at large people and make them wear skimpy clothes in order to ‘help’ them.

We’re so obsessed that the diet industry has become one of the most lucrative industries to be in. We’ve become so obsessed and yet we’ve become the most obese generation to grace this planet.

As a person who’s never been a petite size (except those high school years when I never ate…but that’s a whole other story) I’ve always been sympathetic when I saw obese people walking slowly and uncomfortably in our Brisbane heat or sitting on a bus, trying to make themselves as small as possible so another can share their seat.

And then, as quick as a click, I’ve turned into one of those obese persons. I’ve become a person who struggles to put my socks on because my stomach is so large it won’t let me past my shins. I’ve become a person who has to shop in the ‘big is beautiful’ section where nothing is beautiful. I’ve become a person who hides what she eats because I’m so worried about being judged by others, and worse, I’m so worried about the judgement I put on myself when I look in a mirror, so I don’t.

You see over the last two years I’ve put on 40 kilograms, officially putting me into the obese category. This is hard to admit to you, mostly, because I’m so ashamed of it.

Over the years I’ve always had many well meaning, but let’s be honest, irritating people tell me what ‘diet’ I should be on and what I should or should not be eating. Depending on how irritable I was that day depended on exactly how irritated I was at receiving this unsolicited advice.

Over the years I’ve been on a raft of diets, often under the supervision of experts such as a nutritionist, a naturopath, a personal trainer via a 12-week challenge and a dietician. Yes, I got results, great results in some instances, but they never lasted. I got frustrated with what was happening with my eating - the hiding of food, the secret consuming of chips and chocolate, the feeling of constant hunger and never knowing where full is - so I did my own research. What did I discover? I had a binge eating disorder.

I remember the day I figured it out. I was in my office after my colleagues had gone home and I had bought myself nine Krispy Kreme donuts and ate them all within a few minutes. The following day extreme guilt kicked in because I was on a really strict supplement diet with my naturopath and had finally lost 10 kilograms. Krispy Kreme donuts were not on the menu, let alone nine of them.

It was at that point that I got on Google (yes, I went to Dr Google) and started looking for overeating information. I came across Eating Disorders Victoria, which had a great fact sheet on binge eating. It was like the angels started singing in chorus to me…I found my problem.

I know, it’s not glamorous and in fact many of you may think it’s down right disgusting. I guess in many ways that’s exactly what I think of me, disgusting.

For me, eating is my way of coping with things. I think eating is the way many of us cope with things. And for the last two years, while I have been struggling to cope with the many problems in my life, one way I’ve dealt with it is through food like it’s a life raft keeping me afloat.

My binges are played out to military precision so no one will know about them and so I have 10 minutes of blissful calm in my head. That’s right, you read correct, calm. For a brief moment during that binge there’s no self-talk, no thinking, no worrying, there’s nothing, there’s silence. In fact I’m almost in a trance state that by the time I finish I can wonder what the hell happened to all the empty packets in front of me.

It’s those minutes of binging that stop the incessant shouting of thoughts in my head, the self-loathing and the indescribable internal pain. So you see, it’s not really about the food. The food is simply a medium to calm the never-ending chatter in my head. The never-ending judgement.

Binge eating has been something I’ve had since a teenager. It’s not going to be cured because I see an advertisement about eating better or because I see Michelle Bridges telling me to join her 12-week challenge; the only person winning from that arrangement will be Michelle Bridges.

I’m working with a psychologist and a metabolic clinic to, very slowly, improve my relationship with food and replacing the act of binging with other activities that I like; like blogging, playing with my dog, walking, and crocheting (I’m such a nana).

I know I need to work on my diet. I know I need to work on my fitness. But I also need to keep working on what’s going on in my head. I don’t need to be a slimmer, trimmer more beautiful me. I just need to be a happier, healthier and kinder me. Isn’t that a better aspiration to have?



Due to the overwhelming response to this article I've decided to log my journey of being kinder to myself via YouTube. I hope my journey helps you lead a kinder life for yourself as well.

20 June 2014

Smoked salmon chowder and no-knead bread

Do you fancy yourself as a baker or a cook?


I am certainly the latter. The problem with me and baking is the precision needed. Precision is not my forte. I’m more of a feel-as-I-go, lots-of-tasting kind of girl.

That’s why bread making is not really my thing. HOWEVER, this no-knead bread recipe that I found in my sister’s latest edition of Donna Hay is a WINNER, people. It involved a bit of stirring to bind everything, a little patience and then some quick cutting and manoeuvring of some very sticky, wet dough. Whack it in the oven and Bob’s your Uncle, so to speak.

The bread goes incredibly well with this divine and ridiculously simple salmon chowder. We had plenty for leftovers and it was delicious warmed up, again, two days later. 


Campbell’s liquid stock now does a fish stock so that should be easy to find in your local supermarket. The smoked salmon fillet can be found where the sliced smoked salmon is in the cold section. Supermarkets provide a packet with off cuts of fillets, which are cheaper and work perfectly fine in this recipe. 

Other than that, tuck into these two delightful recipes and enjoy. 

Smoked Salmon chowder with corn and dill.


Smoked salmon chowder with corn and dill

Adapted from Donna Hay magazine Issue 75

Serves 6 

Ingredients 
50g unsalted butter
2 leeks, trimmed and thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
600g potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 litre fish stock
100g crème fraîche
370g smoked salmon fillet, skin removed and flaked
2 corn cobs, kernals removed
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon rind
juice of one lemon
¼ cup dill sprigs
salt and pepper

Method
Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the leek and cook for 4 minutes or until soft. Add in the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the potato, stock, salt and pepper and cook, covered, for 10 minutes or until the potato is soft.

Remove from the heat and, using a hand-held stick blender, blend to a thick soup. Return the soup to a medium heat, add the crème fraîche, salmon, corn and dill and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Check seasoning and add salt or pepper if required.

Add the lemon rind and half of the juice, stir to combine. Taste and ensure the lemon is to your liking. Add more if needed. Serve with no-knead bread rolls.

No-knead bread


No-knead bread rolls
From Donna Hay magazine Issue 75


Ingredients
4½ cups (675g) ‘00’ flour
1¼ teaspoon active dry yeast
3 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1½ teaspoons table salt
2⅓ cups (580ml) water

Method
Place all the ingredients in a large bowl and mix to form a wet sticky dough. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow to stand for 4 hours or until dough has tripled in size and has large bubbles.

Turn out onto a well-floured surface, divide into 7 pieces and shape into rounds. Oil the base of a 30cm-round heavy-based ovenproof saucepan with flour and place the rounds inside. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and allow to stand for a further 30 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size.


Preheat oven to 220°C. Remove the plastic, cover the saucepan with a tight-fitting lid and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the lid and cook for a further 20 minutes, or until the bread is golden and sounds hollow when tapped lightly. Turn out and allow to cool completely on a wire rack. Makes 7 rolls.


No-knead bread

15 June 2014

Simplicity and Rick Stein's beef in white wine

Simplicity in life and simplicity in cooking is always the best in my books

With a world moving faster and faster, information just one click away, food already picked or slaughtered for us, billboards of wants flashing up everywhere our eyes will and can travel to…it’s no wonder stress is such a prominent condition amongst us.

For this reason I like to STOP and revel in the sound of rain pattering on the roof, take delight in the almost uncontainable squeals of my nieces laughing and snuggle in close to my dear little dachshund, Pipsqueak. These are the things that make me happy. So simple.

Today I want to share with you a wonderfully simple and incredibly flavoursome dish from one of my favourite celebrity chefs, Rick Stein. I cooked this a few days ago for my parents and we were amazed be the depth of flavour. I think the trick with this recipe is to make sure you very gently cook those onions for the 30 minutes Rick suggests. It makes them incredibly sweet and helps make this stew rich and comforting, perfect for these winter months. Impatience will not do this recipe justice, so please find your Zen self prior to the commencement of chopping.

Enjoy! 


Rick Stein's beef in white wine Oviedo style


Beef in white wine Oviedo style (Spanish)

from Spain by Rick Stein


Serves 6

Ingredients
1.5kg chuck or blade steak (I used chuck)
7 tbsp olive oil (who measures oil?)
600g onions, chopped into 1 cm pieces
10 garlic cloves, crushed
6 fresh bay leaves (I couldn’t find fresh so just used dried instead)
300ml dry white wine
300g small carrots cut into 5cm lengths
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Method
Trim the meat of any fat and gristle and cut it into 3cm chunks. Season well with salt and pepper.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large flameproof casserole and fry the beef in batches until nicely browned. Set aside on a plate.

Add the remaining olive oil and the onions, garlic, bay leaves and ½ teaspoon of salt to the pan and cook very gently over a low heat for 30 minutes until the onions are soft and sweet and golden.

Return the beef to the pan, add the wine, bring to the boil and season with another ½ teaspoon of salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Cover and leave to simmer gently for 2 hours, stirring now and then.

Uncover, add the carrots, re-cover and cook for a further 30 minutes until the wine and meat juices have combined with the onions to make a thick sauce and the meat is meltingly tender. Adjust the seasoning to taste.

I served this with mash potato because I was in a real comfort mood. Rick suggests serving it with fried potatoes or patatas fritas.

12 June 2014

For the hate and love of it

Image by pincel3d


Have you ever had to stand up to someone you loved or respected about a subject you know neither of you are going to happily agree upon? Did you manage to get your point across without having your heart bounce out of your mouth? Did you manage to do it while standing firm on your point? 
It’s horrible, isn’t it? Made only worse because the person you’re trying to get on board with what you believe is someone special in your life. It would be a whole lot easier saying your peace to a complete stranger who you didn’t care about what they thought of you.

I’ve had to have this sort of discussion twice this week, once with my father and once with my psychiatrist.

I’m exhausted!

As I discussed here my doctor wants me to start looking for work. What I didn’t like was how this subject was broached. For that reason I had to suck up my fear of confrontation and tell my dear doctor that I was not happy. I got butterflies in my tummy, my breathing was laboured and my palms were all sweaty. You see I always feel like a 12 year old when I have to confront an adult. Why? No idea. I’ll leave that for the psychological experts to work out. But I did it. YAY me! One confrontation down.

The next little issue I have is I don’t want to work in an office job, which I’ve been doing for the last 17 years; 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, 48 weeks a year. Of course, it’s secure (well, as secure as any job is now days), it pays superannuation, it pays your tax, basically all you have to do is show up to work, do what you’re told, show a little initiative every now and then, and you’re set. And I HATE it.

I HATE being on show to supervisors eight hours a day. I HATE having to write crap about things I don’t believe in (I’m in communications), I HATE high heels, I HATE business suits, I HATE peak hour, I HATE wanky words like improved productivity, quick wins, doing more with less, regroup, strategic fit, push the envelope, elevator pitch, the front line, knowledge transfer, robust, fast track…BULLSHIT BINGO.

Yes, to me it is total bullshit and I hate it.

And the worst one of all, and one I’ve never managed to escape, I HATE office politics. It exists everywhere and infests everyone feeding off small mindedness, egos, low self-esteem and extreme ambition.

The hard part about all of this hatred was telling my dad I just wanted to work from home, for the time being, proofreading student assignments. I almost felt the house rumble beneath my feet from his concern for my well-being and exacerbation over my stubbornness to no longer want to conform to the safe and secure working culture.

But I DON’T want to CONFORM!

I know it was fear he felt, too, for me not getting a stable job therefore the possibility I could become stressed due to no money, which unfortunately can trigger my bipolar into action (the stress, not the money).

The thing is I’m a very emotional, deep thinking, creative soul and for the first time I want to set my wings free.

I LOVE this blog, I LOVE writing, I LOVE the freedom it offers, I LOVE not feeling stressed, I LOVE being inspired by new ideas, I LOVE caring about other people, I LOVE seeing new places, I LOVE watching the stars in the sky, I LOVE cooking for my loved ones, I LOVE food, I LOVE learning new things, I LOVE spending time with my nieces, I LOVE having cuddles with my puppy.

Is it wrong to dream, to hope, to believe, to LOVE? What can I do with these loves that will lead me to a content life?

So I’m two confrontations down and I’m still standing. Yes, they were hard and in both cases I could have been more articulate…but I did it. And I’m proud of me for that. The thing I need to remember is they don’t have to agree with what I’m saying or doing, but that we respect each other enough to have our own opinions voiced. And I feel we did this.

My journey back into workhood will continue. I pray, however, that these wings on my back get to have a fly in them soon.

Have you ever been faced with difficult work choices between what’s safe and what’s for the love of it?
How do you deal with confrontation?

04 June 2014

Jamie Oliver's Lamb Fricassee

I love this dish AND I even stick to the recipe when making it. Shock!


To begin, lots of chopping is needed, but what a perfect way to practice your mindfulness skills while making something delicious for dinner. Once everything’s chopped it’s pretty straightforward cooking for such fabulous rewards.

The fabulous Jamie Oliver does…Spain, Italy,
Morocco, Sweden, Greece and France


  Jamie Oliver writes (or his copy editor does) a lovely introduction to this recipe leaving your mouth watering:

“Many people will find the idea of cooking lettuce in a stew weird, but to be honest, lettuce used to be really commonplace in soups and stews in Britain as well as in Greece. One thing’s for sure, you won’t regret trying this. Halfway through the cooking, the lettuce and dill won’t look their best, but this stage is all about developing bold flavours, richness and making sure the meat melts in your mouth. At the next stage you’ll be doing something to pimp it up so it looks beautiful and slaps you around the face with its flavours: by enriching this fricassee with avgolemono (mixed egg yolks and lemon), and just a touch of Greek yoghurt, you get a thickness and a shine that really bring the flavours together to perfection. Don’t miss giving this one a go.”

I hope you enjoy this dish as much as I do.

Jamie Oliver’s Lamb Fricassee
From his Jamie Does… cook book

Serves 6 

My own delicious lamb fricassee


Ingredients
olive oil
1.2kb boned leg of lamb, trimmed and cut into 4cm pieces
1 medium onion, peeled and finely sliced
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2 bunches of spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced
2 heads of cos or romaine lettuce, washed and finely shredded (I’ve also used iceberg before with good results)
a bunch of fresh dill, finely chopped (stalks and all)
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
200ml Greek yoghurt

For the avgolemono sauce
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
juice of 1.5 lemons

Method
Heat a few lugs of olive oil over a medium heat in a large saucepan and add the pieces of lamb. Stir and cook for and 5 to 7 minutes, until the lamb is brown all over – you will need to do this in batches. Once done, that the meat out of the pan and add the onion, garlic and spring onions. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions begin to soften, but not colour, then put the meat back into the pan.

Stir in the shredded lettuce and most of the dill and cook for a few more minutes, stirring constantly, until the lettuce has wilted. Add a few good pinches of salt and pepper and just enough water to cover the stew. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down to a really low simmer, cover with a lid, and let it tick away for 1.5 to 2 hours. After this time remove the lid and cook for a further 30 minutes, or until the lamb is beautifully cooked and pulls apart easily (nine times out of ten the lamb will be perfect after this time, but it does depend on your size of pot and the age of your lamb). Keep an eye on it as it cooks and add a splash of water if it looks like it’s drying out.

When you’re happy with the consistency, make the avgolemono sauce by whisking together the eggs and lemon juice until combined, then stir in a dessertspoon of Greek yoghurt and a splash of water if need be. The yoghurt isn’t traditional, but it adds a nice creaminess Jamie Oliver loves. Your stew should be happily simmering away, so take it off the heat and very gently stir the avgolemono through it. You don’t want to over-stir or the eggs will begin to set. Pop the lid on and leave for a few minutes.

Have a taste and add another pinch of salt and pepper or a squeeze of lemon juice if it needs it. Sprinkle over your reserved dill, then take the pan straight to the table so that everyone can help themselves. Serve with a tomato salad, the rest of the Greek yoghurt for dolloping over, and crusty bread or mash to mop up that delicious meaty sauce.

31 May 2014

Facing a lion and Blueberry upside down cake

Have you ever feared something so great that all the blood rushed from your head and the breath left your lungs? 


I don't mean fear like if you're caught in an armed hold up or running from a hungry lion. I mean what others could judge as being unfathomable fear: the fear of public speaking, the fear of driving a car, the fear of great heights or the fear of tiny spiders. 

Do you think our brain knows the difference between the fear of running for your life from a lion or running from a spider? Ask a person paralysed by spiders, who is unable to utter a single word or move a muscle while that spider is 'hunting' them down. Do they think their fear is any less than the person paralysed by a would be lion attack? Fear is fear after all, is it not?

This week I have been going through my own unfathomable fear, and it's caused me to lash out at those very people trying to help me. It's also left me in a dark pit of despair and shaken me to my very core.

What could this great fear be?

My doctor says I need to go back to work.

Doesn't sound like much, does it? But to me, hearing those words sent me into fight or flight. First, I fought those attacking words with my own attacking words on why I'm not ready to go into a workplace after an almost 12 month hiatus. Then I went into flight response and simply became mute while my doctor talked to me about the importance of this next step in my recovery process. I responded with no eye contact and no words. What could I say, after all?

For all my brain knew someone could have been threatening my life. Our brains are smart, but they aren't that smart to work out the variances in fear. My brain was telling me this woman was threatening my life. How was I to work when my concentration can't even get through a page in a book? How was I to fit into a workplace for a whole day when spending a few hours with dear loved ones exhausts me? What work am I going to do? I can't do what I've been doing for the last 16 years because it's too stressful. Where do I go? What do I do? How do I do it? How will I cope? The lion had caught me and I was awaiting the final death blow.

It's been a few days now since this experience. Slowly I'm coming back out of my darkness. Slowly the fear is ebbing away. Slowly.

You see very little rational thinking can be done when you're in a state of fear. Does this excuse my behaviour? No, I don't think it does. What it does mean is I have to learn more tools to control that fear. I have to work with my support team by admitting I'm scared and that we need to work on some coping strategies. Most of all I need to not let this lion beat me, but to learn to run with it instead.

Today I'm dusting myself off and getting my apron back on. It's my dear old uni friend's birthday and she deserves the very biggest of smiles from me PLUS a birthday cake. A blueberry upside down cake should do the trick for a very upside down kind of week.

Blueberry upside down cake
Adapted from Thibeault's Table


Blueberry upside down cake


Ingredients
60g melted butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 cups blueberries (fresh or Frozen)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
125g butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla or vanilla bean paste
1 1/3 cups plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
3/4 cup milk

Method
In a 20cm diameter round cake tin, combine melted butter and brown sugar. Spread evenly on bottom of tin. Spread blueberries evenly over top. Sprinkle with lemon juice.

Cream butter and sugar, beating until light. Beat in egg and vanilla. Mix together flour, baking powder, and cinnamon if using. Add dry ingredients alternately with milk to creamed mixture. Spread batter evenly over blueberry layer.

Bake in 180°C oven for 45 to 50 minutes or until toothpick inserted in centre comes out clean. Let cool 10 minutes in pan, then turn out onto large flat plate.

21 May 2014

Babysitting and a hearty chicken & quinoa stew

Brisbane is slowly heading into winter. Slowly. I love winter and the reason is twofold. One, I don't have to wade my way through the humidity with clothes sticking to areas of my body that they were never meant to meet. And two, I get to enjoy making - and eating - delicious slow cooked stews and other warm, comforting, not necessarily meant for everyday consumption, food. How can you not like winter in Brisbane?

This change in temperature has prompted me to make my sister's family a hearty chicken and quinoa stew. Simple, healthy and comforting.

So why does my adorable sister and her family get this? For the last few days I've had to move in with them due to my parents having a mini break up at Noosa. So why does this 36 year old need to be babysat by her sister? Basically we all decided, my psychiatrist included, that I tend to go to very dark places when on my own. So, here enters wonderful family and friends who agree to take me in while I find my feet again, and while my poor parents have a break.

The one thing I can do as a thank you is cook a meal. My sister and brother-in-law are flat out with work and looking after their three wonderful daughters, who are 8, 5 and 2. A meal cooked for them all is one less job they need to complete, right? Also, those girls mean everything to me so I'm extremely happy to be with them and helping out (although only in a small way). And the excitement in those girls eyes when I came with my suitcase was quite simply priceless.

This dish is for all you busy people out there. It's so simple and super tasty. Even if you aren't a cook this one is worth a try.

Hearty chicken and quinoa stew

Hearty chicken and quinoa stew
Adapted from Cookin' Canuck
Serves 8

Ingredients
1kg chicken breast
1 onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, diced
4 cups (500ml) chicken stock
400g can diced tomato
700g butternut pumpkin, cubed
1 cup uncooked quinoa, washed
1 tbsp dried mixed herbs
1/2 cup firmly packed, roughly chopped olives
400g can cannellini beans
400g can butter beans
salt and pepper
1/4 cup chopped parsley, leave some for garnish
lemon wedges to serve

Method
Gently fry the onions and garlic together until translucent. Add in the chicken, stock, tomatoes, pumpkin, quinoa and mixed herbs. Bring to the boil and simmer until chicken is cooked through.

Remove chicken and shred. Add back into the stew. Add olives and beans, cook for a further 10 minutes. Turn heat off, add chopped parsley.

Serve with a wedge of lemon and parsley on top.

You don't get much easier than that.

15 May 2014

A mindful life with a zucchini, seeds and lemon salad


Since falling ill I've been learning – at times very slowly – how to be mindful. 



Have you heard of mindfulness?

Basically it’s about being in the present moment. You're not thinking about the future, you're not thinking about the past, you're purely focusing on the here and now.

Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it?

But in today’s madhouse of a society I’m sure you will agree, it’s pretty darn hard to be in the present when you're constantly worrying about work, paying bills, exercising, running after kids, keeping up with social engagements, having meaningful relationships, paying off the mortgage, attending events and keeping up the appearance you have all the aforementioned goals ticked off.

Do you do any of this? I’m somewhat of a genius at keeping up appearances (maybe that’s why I find the British TV show so hilarious…although my keeping up appearances is a wee bit different). If you don’t find yourself doing these things you can stop reading now. You are perfect. For the rest of us less than perfect individuals it can be hard. And you don’t need to be classified with a mental illness to find life challenging to keep up with. But if you let this fast-paced crazy world get on top of you, mental health issues may be yours, they may be mild, but they may be yours to confront none-the-less.

For this reason I implore you to start a little mindfulness of your own. Start with five minutes a day. All you need to do is sit in your favourite chair (or any chair) with your favourite beverage in hand. First, think about how the chair feels. Is it hard or soft? Warm or cold? Can you rest back in the chair or do you need to remain firmly upright? Now bring your beverage to your nose, slowly smell, and tell yourself what it smells like. Be descriptive. If it’s coffee does it smell strong? Does it have nutty aromas? Does it make your taste buds dance? Take a sip of your beverage. Feel the liquid in your mouth, maybe even swish it around and be aware of the sensation it's making in your mouth. When you swallow feel it travel down your throat and into your stomach. Take note on if it’s a warm feeling or a cool feeling that's flowing through you.

Such a simple activity and yet did you find this one simple mouthful more enjoyable and pleasurable having taken the time to notice it?

Why don't we slow down and smell those roses we always mention as a cliche? It’s such a simple and free way to get so much more enjoyment out of life. Let me be a lesson to you if you think you're ‘too busy’. The Universe may just come and bite you on the backside as it did me.

So please STOP and take some time out for YOU because YOU’RE worth it (isn’t that an ad?).

Following is a great simple salad recipe to get you working on your mindfulness. Cooking for me is a great way to live in the moment.

My family and I enjoyed this salad with chicken on mother's day, but I think it would also go brilliant with a lovely piece of fish, don't you?

Zucchini salad with seeds and a mint and lemon dressing
(photo SRKitchen)

Zucchini salad with seeds and a mint and lemon dressing

Adapted from Gourmet Traveller, February 2014 Edition

Serves 4

Ingredients

5 small green zucchini
2 tbsp mixed toasted sunflower, pine nuts and pepitas (pumpkin seeds)

Dressing

1 cup firmly packed mint leaves
125 ml (1/2 cup) extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove
juice of 1 lemon and finely grated lemon

Method

Slice zucchini into a bowl using a mandolin or a vegetable peeler, season with sea salt and stand until zucchini softens (about 2 mins). Drain well and pat dry with absorbent paper, then return to a dry bowl

For mint and lemon dressing, finely chop the garlic and mint. add to olive oil, lemon juice and lemon rind. Mix until combined. Season to taste. (Remember you had salt on the zucchini so watch how much salt you use. You can always add more to the combined salad). Pour over the zucchini and toss to coat.

Transfer zucchini to a platter, scatter with seeds and serve.

09 May 2014

My world as I know it


It’s been a long time since writing and a long time since cooking. You know how it is, the longer you don’t do something the easier it is to just…well…not do it. 


You see my wee world kind of imploded. Nothing went untouched. The husband, the dogs, the house, the job and the health all went KABOOM.

This is where I’ll give myself credit, when I do something I really do it properly. It’s the perfectionist in me. Or maybe it was the Universe telling me I was supposed to be on a different path.

Either way today I’m living back with my parents – at the age of 36 this seems sad – I have only my one dog with me, which breaks my heart, I have to tick that dreaded ‘separated’ box on forms, and to add insult to injury, I have to deal with Centrelink (welfare).

In regards to Centrelink I feel lucky to live in a country that provides people like me a bit of a leg up when times are tough. But do they have to make you feel like all you are out to do is rort their system? A system I’ve never been on before and I’m on now for the simple fact that I’m unwell.

The upside to this sewer of an experience is the people that rally around you. At times I’ve been left breathless with the love my friends and family have shown me. Even though some people don’t understand my illness, they are still ‘there’ for me in whatever capacity they know how. And for that I feel like the stars shine brightly upon me.

I’ve spoken before about my illness here, but in July last year I was finally hospitalised. During this two-month stay my doctor did some further testing on me and found I have bipolar II. What does this mean? It means I get the polar opposite of emotions between severe depression and hypomania. My hypomanic state comes across as being really enthusiastic, happy, productive, I take more risks than normal and try to do too many things. “But this sounds like most people”, I hear you say. It does need to be coupled with depression. Basically I can’t have a ‘high’ period without it being followed by a ‘low’ period.

Another recent stint in hospital, some more medication changes and an impressive medical team supporting me, the fog is starting to lift. I’m now working on reconnecting with my old loves, such as cooking, reading, crocheting and living. Have you ever not wanted to live? It is a very dark and lonely place misunderstood by many as being a selfish means to an end. I assure you the thought is not selfish. The thought comes from suffering so much internal pain that your very being is aching. This for me at least, has gone on for years. Years of unseeable, untouchable, unprovable pain.

Today there’s a sliver of hope in the world for me. Hope that maybe life doesn’t need to be all or nothing. Hope that I don’t have to wake up and fear the day before me. Hope because this dreaded illness has not killed me, but made me just a little bit stronger. And hope that this bipolar II will become more friend than foe.



If you or someone you know needs mental health help in Australia, please contact Lifeline 13 11 14, Beyond Blue 1300 22 46 36, or Salvo Care Line 1300 36 36 22.