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. 

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 Physical Realm

I have been looking at my plans for physical renewal by working through the physical checklist.  I have been working on certain areas for sometime, whilst other plans are still in my head.  I thought I would write this post just to give you a bit of a heads up as to where I  currently stand.

I try to stay as informed as I can on current health and fitness information.  I tend to find that I flit between trying different things.  For example, in the last year or so I have tried the Paleo diet, being vegetarian, being vegan, and nutribullet smoothies.  Out of all these things I found that being vegan (including nutribullet smoothies) made me feel the best and I really enjoyed it.  Unfortunately I was unable to sustain this one as the rest of my family did not want to do it and it became very expensive to be cooking different meals for different people.

My diet currently is not bad, I still eat very little meat but I’m more on the healthy fats and no sugar trend at the moment.  So, I’m all about The Body Coach and Lucy Bee right now (well at least food wise as The Body Coach exercises are a little too high impact for me.  Currently most problems in my life can be solved by using coconut oil!  dry ends?  Use coconut oil!  Whiter teeth?  Use coconut oil!  Stubborn eye make-up?  use coconut oil!  World peace?  use coconut oil!…

To be absolutely honest with you, I do not do any exercise.  Well, I do and I don’t!  I do not drive so I have to walk absolutely everywhere, so that’s my exercise.  So, obviously this is an area in need of improvement.  My goals here are to find a low-impact cardio activity I can do.  The other thing which I have always wanted to do is yoga so I will be looking for a good beginners book or dvd which I can use.

My sleep routine could do with an overhaul.  I have been sleeping on our (very comfy) sofa for just over a year now for various reasons including my partner’s (very loud) snoring and also my son developed a sleeping routine that involved bed-hopping in and out of different rooms during the night (it is very difficult to get him out of this due to his Autism).  I sleep well enough but I have become accustomed to sleeping on the sofa so much so that even when my partner is working away for a few days I still sleep there even though I could easily be in the bedroom.

Looking at rest and relaxation, one thing that I have always wanted to learn was meditation and mindfulness.  I have been reading various books and am currently using the Headspace app where I have just completed Day 17.  (I have a voucher code for a 1 month free trial if anyone is interested?)  I am finding this very useful in various areas of my life including dealing with the children’s misbehaviour and acting rather than reacting to difficult situations.  I just feel calmer overall.  I would really love to teach the children in the future.  We already do breathing exercises which really helps when tempers flare and is particular useful for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders.

On my list of goals so far I have the following items:

  1. Start eating healthier and choose one new recipe a week to try.  (Today I made Coconut Granola).
  2. Find a beginners Yoga book or dvd.
  3. Look into supplement information.  (current info about Vit D).
  4. Research low impact cardio activities.
  5. Take a look at sleep routine.
  6. Follow Headspace daily meditation (Day 17 yay!).
  7. Cut down junk food to once a week (1 breakfast, lunch, and dinner allowed).
  8. Have a clean and tidy home. (I started Flylady today!  My sink is shining!  I also declutter Marie Kondo style!)
  9. Have an area at home just for me (crochet blankets, fresh flowers, music, aromatherapy, plants).
  10. Spend less and live minimally.

So, that is a lot to be getting on with.  It’s only one of the four sections!

 

Beginnings

In 2010 I returned to work after maternity leave following my first born.  I could not have been more happy to be returning to work and felt like I could get my life back on track.  My pregnancy and maternity leave had been a very difficult period of time and I felt very disappointed and guilty that I had not enjoyed the experience as i should of done or was expected to.  I had been in a very difficult relationship with a man who was struggling with alcohol dependancy, we were in a lot of debt and the stress got to me.  I suffered with post natel depression which if I’m honest with myself lasted roughly three and a half years in total.  I also had my second child during this period.  I was under a lot of pressure and had no idea how to help myself.  My pride stopped me from asking for help from others and the thought of admitting i couldn’t cope was too much to bare.

So I returned to work and got stuck in to my responsibilities.  I performed very well and was placed on a programme for very talented employees who go above and beyond in their job.  On this programme I was introduced to the book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.   This book changed my world and started my journey of personal development.  

My life became much improved after I was able to deal with my own issues and let go of the things i couldn’t change in other people.  I got through my PND and I am now happy in my relationship and have been able to support my partner and we have come out the other side stronger than ever.  I’m not saying that everything is perfect, but we take things one day at a time.  There is always room for improvement in any relationship and as you can see I am not a quitter!

I have two wonderful children.  Daddy’s Little Princess (DLP) is 6 and Mummy’s Little Soldier (MLP) is 5.  MLP was diagnosed with Autism this earlier this year, so this is another adventure we are experiencing as a family.

I have found that I can keep my self flowing nicely along by making sure that four areas of my life are in balance.  These are my four motivations.

My Physical Self

My Spiritual Self

My Mental Self

My Social/Emotional Self 

On each of these pages you will find a checklist where you can assess how you are doing and see where you can make improvements.  It is very helpful when you’re not sure where to start.

Although I have been through some difficult times, this blog is not intended as a space to be negative and such stories will only be included briefly for context.  I want this blog to be positive and uplifting and proof that if we put in the effort we really can get through difficult times and there is always a light at the end of the tunnel.

This blog will be about my journey, my life and how I am attempting to become a better, stronger person, partner, and mother.  I have decided to record this journey to help me stay on track and to have some accountability.  

I would love to hear about other people’s journeys.  So please share your experiences with me or join me on mine.  I certainly could use all the help I can get.  I think we all can!