Simple Miso Soup

This was easily one of my favourite soups whenever I was out in a restaurant.  I highly recommend making your own which I do now on a regular basis.  A lot of people are put off as they may not have heard of some of the ingredients and it seems a lot of hassle.  I have found that large supermarkets tend to stock these kinds of ingredients now and anything I haven’t been able to find can be easily found on Amazon.  This homemade soup tastes amazing and far better than anything ready-made in the shop.  It is well worth the little extra effort to make your own dashi stock too.

In Japan people love miso soup so much that they even eat it for breakfast.  You can buy ready mixed sachets of Miso paste – just add hot water and tofu for a very quick version of this soup.  Instant dashi (just add boiling water) is also available in neat little sachets, so it’s easy to keep some in the cupboard. 

Serves 4 as a small bowl

800ml instant dashi, homemade dashi stock (recipe below) or water

3 tbsp white miso paste (miso is a paste made from fermented soya beans, and is rich in probiotic bacteria, which means it’s good for intestinal health.

100g firm tofu, cut into cubes

Large pinch of dried wakame, soaked in cold water for 5 minutes, then drained

2 spring onions, sliced

  1. Bring the stock to a simmer.  Put the miso in a cup or small bowl and mix in a tablespoon of the hot stock to soften it slightly and make a smooth liquid paste.  Stir the paste into the stock until dissolved.
  2. Put the tofu and wakame in the bottom of 4 serving bowls and pour over the hot soup.  Sprinkle with the spring onions to serve.

Homemade dashi stock 

Dashi, a simple stock, is a very important ingredient in Japanese cooking because it forms the flavour base for most soups.  Unlike French stocks, which take hours to make, dashi is quick and easy to put together because you need only two ingredients plus water.  Kombu and bonito flakes are readily available from japanese suppliers, some large supermarkets or Amazon.  Stored in an airtight container, the dashi will keep for up to three days in the fridge, or it can be frozen.

Serves 2 (Makes about 800ml)

2 large pieces of kombu

1 litre water

30g bonito flakes

  1. Wipe the kombu with a damp cloth, then place in a pan with the water and leave to soften for about 30 minutes.
  2. When the kombu is soft, place the pan over the heat and bring almost to the boil.  Take off the heat and discard the kombu. 
  3. Add the bonito flakes to the hot water and leave to steep (off the heat) for 10 minutes.
  4. Strain the liquid into a clean container, discarding the bonito flakes.
  5. Use the stock immediately, or store as recommended above until needed.

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A Good All-rounder 

One of the most important aspects of my self-renewal journey is learning to meditate and be more mindful.  This encompasses all four motivations that I am working on – Physical, Spiritual, Mental and Social/Emotional (through self-care).  This is the area that I have been working on the longest and I have currently been meditating for 36 days.

I felt quite strongly that this was the place I needed to start and that it would be the one activity which would help me in all other endeavours.  I have tried and failed many times previously to learn to meditate and be more mindful.  I would always do quite well to start but would then become increasingly frustrated with some of the initial issues such as not being able to focus, the mind keeping on wandering, not being comfortable or finding it a bit of a chore or a little boring.  I realise now that at those times I had not realised the importance of it.  It was only when I started writing down my lists that I realised this one thing could be the key to changing everything for me.

In my post today I want to write a little about how I started meditating and the initial struggles I faced and how I found ways to overcome them.  Hopefully by the end of the post anyone who has been thinking about giving it a go will have a few steps to work with.  I also recommend an app called Headspace which I have been using to help me.  I find it really helps motivate you and keeps you on track.

The first thing to do is to get comfortable.  You can sit in a chair or on the floor.  It is not necessary to sit in any particular position such as the lotus although your spine should be erect.  For some, sitting with your spine straight can be uncomfortable to start with but you will get used to it quickly.  Initially you can use the feeling to help you stay present.  I don’t recommend sitting on the sofa as if you are too comfortable you may fall asleep and it is harder to sit with your spine straight!  Okay, Are you comfortable?

You can start with your eyes open.  Don’t stare at anything particular, just keep a soft gaze and be aware of the space around you.  Now you can start to take a few deep breaths.  Breathe in through the nose.  Your focus should be on your chest expanding and your lungs filling with air.  You should breathe out through your mouth where your focus should be on your body softening and relaxing.  Initially breathe loud enough that if there was someone sitting next to you they could hear you inhale and exhale.  Do this for as long as you need to feel relaxed. When you feel relaxed, close your eyes gently on an exhale.

Firstly focus on the physical sensations.  Feel your body pressing down against the chair or floor.  Feel the soles of your feet pressing on the ground.  Feel your arms and hands resting on your legs or lap.  It can be quite difficult at first to tune into the body but it will get easier the more aware you become.  I found focusing on the feet helpful as you often get a tingling sensation here which is quite obvious.  Focus on the body sensations for a couple of minutes.

When you feel ready start to notice the sounds around you… a ticking clock, the hum of electricity, cars passing outside and the wind blowing.  It is important that you don’t search for sounds, just notice what comes to you.  As soon as it comes to your awareness, let it pass again.  It’s amazing what you notice when you think you’re in silence!  When you feel comfortable with this bring the attention back into the body.

Notice how your body is feeling.  Scan down your body from the top of your head to the tips of your toes.  Don’t allow yourself to get stuck on any one area, just keep moving steadily down.  Are there any areas of tightness, tension?  Are there areas which feel relaxed.  Don’t think about it, just notice and move on.  Build a picture of how your body feels.  Initially I found scanning the body difficult as I could not feel every part of my body.  When this happens you just need to notice you don’t feel anything and move on.  It can help to say the body parts in your head to keep you focused and moving on.  Head, ears, eyes, nose, mouth, neck…etc.  You will become more aware as you practise.

Next, when you feel ready start to focus on your breathing.  Notice the rise and fall in your body.  Where do you notice it?  In the stomach?  Diaphragm? Chest? Shoulders?  Notice the rhythm of the breath.  Are they long? Short? Shallow? Deep?  Don’t think about it, just notice.  After a short while you can count the breaths, I found this really helped me to focus.   Count one on the inhale and 2 on the exhale etc right up to ten.  When you reach ten, start back at one and continue in this way.  Allow thoughts to come and go.  If you get distracted, come back to the breath and pick up on the number you left off on.

Next, completely let go off any focus.  If your mind wants to think, let it think.  If your mind wants to be busy, let it be busy.  Don’t try to control anything.  After a few moments bring the attention back to the body.  

Notice the physical sensations, the contact your body has with the chair or floor.  The soles of your feet on the floor.  Your arms and hands resting on your legs or lap.  Notice the sounds.  Bring yourself back into your immediate environment. Gently open your eyes, have a stretch and relax.  Take a minute to appreciate how good it feels.

Remember at this stage it is still very common for you to be having a lot of thoughts.  This is normal, just remember the moment you realise that you are distracted, just to bring your awareness back to the body or breath.  It gets easier with practise. 

Honey and Coconut Oil Cleanser

As part of my social/emotional renewal I learnt that before I could start improving my relationships with other people, I first had to improve my relationship with myself.  So today’s post is about how I have been improving my ability to give myself a little self care.

This is something I have found really difficult in the past.  Once you have children your own needs often are put on the back burner for a while.  I remember when my daughter was born, there were days when I barely slept the night before and times when I could go an entire day without eating or even peeing!  Once my post natel depression set in things got really bad.  Now, when it comes to self-care, I often feel quite guilty or selfish for taking time out for myself.

I’ve tried to tie in the self care I’m doing with things that interest me.  For example, I’m really into natural eating and using coconut oil at the moment so I thought I could extend this to my beauty products.  I already use mostly vegan, chemical free products but I thought it would be fun to start making my own – which is also much cheaper!

It turns out that coconut oil is fantastic for beauty products and can be used for so many different things.  Coconut oil is made up of 48% lauric acid (and one of the only other places you can find it is in breast-milk).  Lauric acid is fantastically healthy for you and it has antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties.  It is also very high in vitamin E.

The first product I decided to make was a Honey and Coconut Oil Cleanser. Here is the recipe.

(Makes 1 x 80ml or 3 fl. oz. jar)

The beauty of this Cleanser is that it’s gentle but still packs a punch by only containing three of the best antibacterial ingredients from the natural world:  coconut oil, honey, and lavender.

  • 50g (2oz / 5tbsp) coconut oil, melted
  • 2 tbsp raw honey
  • 5 drops lavender essential oil

Pour the coconut oil into a small mixing bowl.

Stir in the honey and lavender oil and combine thoroughly.

Leave to cool before using or transferring to a jar.

Use a dollop on dry skin morning and night.

Tip

Apply one layer of neat coconut oil (pea-size amount) to remove your make-up (really good for stubborn mascaras).  After wiping it away with a damp cotton pad, apply this cleanser in circular motions all over your face and neck, giving yourself a gentle massage as you go.  Use a warm, wet flannel to lift away the residue.

I have been using this Cleanser for about 3 weeks now and I have noticed a real difference in my skin.  It’s much smoother, softer and plumper.  I was initially worried about using oil on my skin as I already have oily skin but it has not been a problem as the product is so well absorbed.  It also smells good enough to eat!

Journal prompt #1

As part of my mental renewal I made the decision to start a regular writing process.  This blog is the start of that process.

I have wanted to keep a journal for a very long time and I have attempted to do so on numerous occasions in written form.  I always start off with much enthusiasm but I find that after a while when I feel comfortable enough to be writing down very personal things I then begin to worry.  What if someone finds my journal?  What if they read something about themselves?  What would people think if they knew my real thoughts?  In the end, panic consumes me, I start having irrational thoughts like “What if I die before I have the chance to dispose of this?”  I then dispose of said journal, feeling like a failure again.  A few months later I start looking around shops and seeing all the pretty note books and the process starts again!  (I have a vast collection of gorgeous notebooks with pages torn out.)

In the end, I think this is what led me to blogging.  I feel more confident with the total anonymity.  Yes, it’s possible for someone who knew me really well to perhaps recognise my stories in these pages but the odds make it unlikely and I feel happier with that.  At least with this blog.  In a previous blog I have written deeply personal stories and laid my soul bare, even that became unbearable for me so was deleted.  This blog is different because it’s about strength and positivity and working on ourselves.  It can only be a good thing.

In any case, I still love a good journal.  There are so many brilliant ones on the market these days.  I found this brilliant list on Buzz feed with some great ones to try out.

Awesome journals to try

I thought I would choose one of these journals, pick one of the journal prompts and transfer it to here.  Today’s journal prompt is:

List five things that always, and immediately, bring a smile to your face.

  1. Daddy’s Little Princess (my daughter) because she is so creative and already hugely humanitarian, kind and empathic. 
  2. Mummy’s Little Soldier (my son) because he gives the best smiles and hugs and has a lovely gentle nature.
  3. My partner when he is completely present and involved in family life.
  4. Friends who I just ‘click’ with and feel comfortable with immediately.  You can spend time apart but when you see each other again, it’s like you’ve never been away.
  5. Having a job where I make a huge difference to people’s lives every single day.

    What makes you smile?

    Living By My Values

    As part of my Spiritual renewal I made the decision that I needed to sit down and think about what values are most important to me and whether I am actually living by them.  A value to me is defined as something which is important to me in the way that I live and work.  It is something which is a priority to me and let’s me measure whether or not my life is turning out in the way that I want it to.  In general when we live according to our values we feel happy and content.  When we do not live by our values this is where something in your life can seem not quite right and is generally accompanied by a sense of unhappiness.  This is why sitting down to identify your values is very important.

    Knowing our values can help us identify the right path to choose in life and help us to make difficult decisions.  Knowing your values is almost like having an internal compass pointing us in the right direction.  When you don’t live by your values you can get that ‘lost’ feeling or the sense of never knowing where to start or how to solve our issues.  We are out there in the mountains without knowing which direction we should go.  It can feel pretty scary.  

    It’s important to always be aware of what your values are because as time goes by they can often change.  Many people’s values change yet they carry on living their life the same way they always did and come across problems.  My own example of this is when I was in my twenties I was a people pleaser, I had become the person that I thought other people wanted me to be.  As time went on I had no sense of identity and knew nothing about how to be independent or have my own thoughts.  This ended up with me being in a difficult relationship with a baby on the way.  When baby came along I was all of a sudden responsible for this little life with little help from my partner and there was so little left of my identity that I ended up with post natel depression.  As awful as this was it actually helped me pull myself out of a rut (eventually) and I learnt to be strong  and find my identity again, even outside of being a mother.  I’m a firm believer that life will throw at you the experiences and situations you need in order to evolve as a person.

    So, how do we begin to identify our values.  I found this easiest by looking at each of the roles in my life.  You can also get ideas from thinking about a time in your life when you felt really happy – What we’re you doing?  Were you with other people?  If so, who?  What other factors contributed to your happiness?  

    You can identify a time when you felt really proud.  Why were you proud?  Did other people share your pride?  Who?  What other factors contributed to your feeling of pride?  

    You can identify a time when you were the most fulfilled or satisfied.  What need or desire was fulfilled?  How and why did the experience give your life meaning?  What other factors contributed to your feeling of fulfillment. 

    The first area I looked at was being a parent.  In this area values which are important to me are family orientedness, calmness, compassion, altruism, empathy, enjoyment, love and openness. 

    In the area of relationships (with my partner) the values which are important to me are accountability, fidelity, freedom, honesty, love and openness.

    in my work the values which are important to me are creativity, effectiveness, hard work, making a difference and service.

    As an individual my values include altruism, balance, compassion, continuous improvement, creativity, effectiveness, family orientedness, freedom, making a difference, service, thankfulness and vision.

    Looking at my list it seems like quite a lot of values to keep up with.  Some can be perhaps bundled into one category.  So I decided to prioritise my top five to concentrate on (subject to change!)

    1. Family orientedness
    2. Altruism (this also encompasses compassion, empathy, love and service)
    3. Honesty (also encompassing fidelity, freedom and openness)
    4. Creativity 
    5. Continuous improvement (also encompassing effectiveness, vision, accountability and balance)

    Am I living my life according to these values?  I try as hard as I can but I know there is room for improvement in every area.  At least now I have my starting place to set myself some goals and to keep me pointed in the right direction.


    Coconut Granola

    One of my goals for physical renewal was to start eating more healthily.  In particular to add one new recipe to my repertoire each week.  This new recipe was intended to replace something unhealthier which I had been eating.  The first area I decided to focus on was breakfast.  I’m not too unhealthy at breakfast – when I am working I always have Shredded Wheat with milk as it is easy, quick and portable to take to work.  On my days off I tend to have crumpets with lots of butter and jam! (Not so great, but fine as a treat.)  I have a traditional English fry up about once a fortnight on my weekend off.

    I’m really into using coconut oil at the moment so this recipe was perfect.  I think most people are getting used to the new information that good fats are fine for you and that it is sugar which is the real issue.  This recipe sorts out both!  The majority of shop bought granola is full of sugar so this is a great way to enjoy a healthier granola and it tastes great.  It will really boost your energy levels and keep you fuller longer.

    You can also use this granola as a crumble topping, and on top of yogurts or pancakes.

    Serves 4

    Ingredients:

    60g coconut oil, melted

    100g gluten free oats

    50g chia seeds

    1tsp ground ginger

    1tsp ground cinnamon

    50g pecan nuts

    30g dessicated coconut

    50g sultanas

    50g big juicy raisins

    40g hazelnuts 

    30g pumpkin seeds

    Preheat the oven to 140°c/275°f/gas mark 1.  Line a baking tray with baking parchment.

    Place all the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl, add the melted coconut oil and stir well using a wooden spoon, until coated in the oil.  Tip onto the prepared tray, ensuring that the mixture is spread out evenly.

    Bake in the oven for 50 minutes, stirring a couple of times to make sure it doesn’t stick and burn.  Remove from the oven and leave to cool for 10 minutes.

    Variation:

    For extra sweetness, add 1tsp lucuma powder to the granola mixture.  For a chocolate fix, add 30g cacao nibs.

    You can serve this with almond milk.

    I still allow myself a treat breakfast once a week.  So crumpets with butter and jam still remain and the fry up!

    My Social/ Emotional Realm

    I have been looking at my plans for social/emotional renewal by looking at the social/emotional checklist.  This is the area I struggle with the most and the one which I will find most difficult to implement.  I am a very introverted, private person and have a certain amount of social anxiety unless I know people very well.  I haven’t been on a night out in around two years!

    The first item on the checklist is about being reliable and dependable.  This is something I’m good at particularly at work.  I am very well thought of and I’m seen as ‘second in command’ next to my manager even though I do not have that official position.  I hate being late to anything whether it’s for my shift at work or for a appointment of some kind.  In fact I’m normally early!  I’m also reliable and dependable at home, I’m the person my children will go to if they need something.

    The next item is having a hopeful outlook on life.  I’m getting much better at this and I’m learning to stop worrying about things which are out of my control and I’m getting better at living in the present moment.  Since starting this personal development journey I am much more positive about things in general.

    The next item is being trusting and supportive of people in my circle of influence.  I think I’m pretty good at this.  My Social circle is quite small and contains people I’m very close to so it’s not so difficult.  I need to be more trusting and supportive of my partner.  We have been through some difficult times together which has caused some resentment and tension to build up.  We are in a better place than we have been for a long while though, so things are improving.

    I’m more of a listener than a talker so my listening skills are pretty good.  Like most people I’m guilty of trying to think of what I’m going to say next rather than actually listening.  Still lots of room for improvement though as a lot of the time I listen well because I don’t know what to say and am just trying to keep quiet rather than putting my opinion across.

    I find I can be very empathic when children and animals are concerned.  I also work with adults with profound, multiple, learning disabilities so no problems here either.  I am very humanitarian so spend a great deal of time worrying about many vulnerable people for many different reasons.  My empathy goes to those who are really in need who I see overcome obstacles every day without complaint, and I don’t seem to have the same empathy for people with day to day issues.  As a consequence of this I can often come across as quite cold (not helped by the fact of my introverted quietness!).  So, room for improvement here and I would do well to remember that some people are fighting battles that you can’t see – hence why they get so upset about their washing machine breaking down etc.

    As for maintaining my most important relationships I am closest to my children in particular my son.  I had terrible postnatal depression after having my daughter and I feel that it has effected our relationship somewhat.  We missed out on some of those early attachment stages so I need to revisit these with her.  My son in a way helped pull me out of PND so we have a very close relationship and also with him having Autism and me having a lot of experience and understanding of it (through my work) this has helped a lot.  As previously mentioned there is lots of improvements to be made with the other half, but things are looking up.

    I am very bad at apologising.  I have a lot of pride and hate to admit that I’m wrong and believe that I am right most of the time (I am!) 😂

    I can most definitely persevere through the hard times and have done so and I’m still not giving up. (I would have to admit I was wrong, wouldn’t I?😂)

    Self-care is something I was pretty bad at.  I remember when the kids were born I could go a whole day without washing, eating or even peeing when things were really bad.  Thankfully I got better at it!  I’m even making my own beauty products with coconut oil for mini pampering sessions!  Get me!  It’s taken a lot of time for me to get used go spending time on myself.  I still feel a bit guilty but I’m getting there.  I try to remember that you can’t take care of others until you can take care of yourself properly.

    I have been working on acting rather than reacting to situations too.  The meditation is really helping here and staying mindful as much as I can. 

    So, here is my list of goals for social/ emotional renewal:

    1. Plan and live my life according to my values.
    2. Have a positive attitude.
    3. Practise listening skills.
    4. Working on important relationships.
    5. Practise good self-care.  Coconut oil products, eating healthily, exercising, meditation, date night for me.
    6. Practise acting rather than reacting to people and situations.

      Some of these are very big goals which I will need to break down into smaller chunks.