Mindfulness and me: Cycling in the Yorkshire Dales

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Over the last few months, I’ve been on an unexpected journey into the world of mindfulness. I say unexpected because initially, I didn’t think mindfulness was for me. It sounded too worthy, like kale smoothies and cauliflower pizza bases. But mindfulness followed me like a puppy, wagging its credentials under my nose whenever I squandered my time on Twitter and Instagram. I ignored it at first, but when I began to notice people I respected extolling its virtues, like the brilliant Elizabeth behind Margot and Barbara, I gave in. I started reading those articles I’d been ignoring and after unpicking what mindfulness actually meant and how I could apply it to my life, I realised I’d judged it unfairly. Because in theory, mindfulness sounded pretty simple – and pretty beneficial. Notice what’s around you. Live in the moment. Enjoy life more. What’s so worthy about that?

But as simple as its sounds, mindfulness is easier said than done. The idea of focusing your awareness on the present moment is a lovely idea, but when your head’s pulsing with the deadlines you haven’t met, the washing you haven’t done, and the heartbreaking atrocities that dominate news headlines, there’s not always room left to remember to stop and notice the veins of a leaf on your walk to work.

Still, it was worth a try, right? So since February, I’ve been trying to ‘live more mindfully’. I’m not going to pretend that my life has been transformed, that I’ve swapped playing on my phone for meditation, or that I no longer wake in the middle of the night panicking about that email I forgot to send. But the very act of trying to pay attention to what’s around me has led to moments where the din is temporarily silenced. Moments where I do stop to watch the sun set on my walk home from work, eyes glued to the horizon as it sinks like lava behind a hill. Moments where I smile as I watch daffodils swaying in the wind like a troupe of cheerleaders. Moments where I look up and freeze, even if just for five seconds, mesmerised by pastel pink blossoms against a cyan sky. Yep, I’ve become that person – and I’m loving it.

mindful living

mindfulness

Living mindfully

Do more of what makes you happy
Inspired by these fleeting moments of serenity, I started thinking about the bigger moments in my life: how I spend my free time. Too often, I get in from work and slump on the sofa, defeated by another day in wonderland. I tell myself I’m chilling; that I need to give my brain a rest, but it’s counter-productive. The act of doing nothing actually makes me feel more stressed, guilty that I’m frittering away my precious free time. So I’ve been asking myself ‘what really makes me happy?’, and trying to do more of that. So far, so good. I’ve started sewing again and nearly finished that dress I started making two years ago. I’ve been plotting the ending of the novel I started writing during my MA in Creative Writing. I’m returning to the dozens of half-written blog posts about my 2015 travels and attempting to finish at least one of them. And I’ve started cycling again.

Cycling makes me very happy. I‘ve talked in the past about my love of cycling, which was inspired by the Tour de France fever that gripped Yorkshire in 2014. Two years later, that love has endured. Lazy Sundays have been rebranded Cycling Sundays in the Farrell-Watson household, when we pack our bikes into the car and head to the Yorkshire Dales. The moment I start pedaling on those country lanes I can feel my head empty, the week’s stresses scattering behind me as those fleeting moments of calm become hours.

Cycling in the Dales

Pootler, and proud
When I first wrote about my foray into cycling, I said I wasn’t a proper cyclist, and to some extent, that’s still true. To me, ‘proper cyclists’ are the lycra-clad, Strava-mad speedsters that race past me as I’m struggling up hills in my lowest gear. I don’t have a fancy pants bike, I still don’t know what a derailleur is, and upon recently discovering that my brakes were disconnected, it took me several YouTube videos and about ten exasperated phone calls with Rob (who is a lycra-clad, Strava-mad, ‘proper cyclist’) before I could figure out how the hell to connect them again.

But who cares? I may not be a ‘proper cyclist’, but I’m proud to be a pootler which, in my opinion, is the best kind of cyclist. Yep, I’m that one that takes an hour to cover the distance a proper cyclist could cover in fifteen minutes, stopping about five times on the way to take pictures of newborn lambs and daffodils.

And actually, I’d argue that us pootlers have the advantage, especially when the Dales are our backdrop. With my head up and pace steady, my focus is not on the speed of my journey, but the journey itself. On a recent cycle from Kettlewell to Halton Gill, 20 miles were completed slowly over three hours. The Strava elite would provably have seen this as a failure, but I felt like a champion. Because those ‘slow’ 20 miles gave me the chance to absorb the wonderful details that make cycling in the Dales so utterly perfect.

Details like snow-speckled slopes, reminiscent of icing sugar dusted on a freshly baked cake.

Yorkshire Dales cycling - Kettlewell to Halton Gill

Sheep donning their rainbow Spring coats.

Cycling in the Yorkshire Dales

The wobbly footsteps of a newborn lamb.

Yorkshire Dales cycling

The scribble of dry-stone walls on windswept fields.

Drystone walls, Yorkshire Dales

Some of the best moments were when we stopped cycling, like enjoying lunch under the beams of a 17th century pub in Litton with this happy face.

Cycle pub lunch - Queen's arms, Litton

Discovering an Honesty Box Tearoom. Yep, that’s a thing in Halton Gill.

Katie's Cuppas, Halton Gill

Katie's cuppas - honesty box tearoom

Sitting on the banks of the River Wharfe and listening to the classic Dales’ soundtrack – rushing water, singing birds, ruffling grass.

Hawkswick, Yorkshire Dales

Swooning at this beauty of a house nestled in the foothills of Littondale.

Dream house, Yorkshire Dales

When we got back on our bikes for the last few miles, the sun was beginning to set. As we cycled, the clouds parted to let through the last of the sun’s rays, transforming the fields into a canvas splattered with a spectrum of golden greens. Those last few miles were my favourite,

Yorkshire Dales sunset

Yorkshire Dales cycling

Live your life with eyes wide open
The best articulation I’ve read about living mindfully was written by the wonderful folk behind Flow Magazine.

“It’s about living your life with eyes wide open. Looking at what’s happening right now. Enjoying ordinary things, small pleasures and less worry.”

When you work out what those small pleasures are to you, living mindfully becomes a doddle. Because when I’m cycling in the Dales, watching the fields rolling past me and feeling the breeze against my skin, nothing else matters.

Yorkshire Dales Cycling

What does mindfulness mean to you? What are your small pleasures? And what do you do to worry less and enjoy more?

The Best of 2015 – The Black Swan at Oldstead

Fine Dining Review

This Summer, I got engaged. I’ll spare you the details, but it was perfect. There was a picnic, a beautiful view of Ilkley Moor, the traditional ‘down on one knee’ – the boy did good.

Ilkley Moor

A proposal with a view

After I stopped screaming and eventually remembered to say yes, Rob handed me a piece of paper. Titled ‘The Lisa Farrell Engagement menu’, it mapped out Rob’s ‘thank God you said yes, let’s celebrate!’ plans. Hands still trembling, I skimmed the menu to find seven very exciting words:

Trip to The Black Swan at Oldstead

I confess, I didn’t know much about The Black Swan at Oldstead. I knew it existed. I knew it was one of Yorkshire’s six Michelin Star restaurants. And to be honest, that was enough. But I continued reading, eyes widening at words like ‘canapés’, ‘tasting menu’ and ‘lots of wine’. Yep, Rob knows me well. It sounded like the perfect way to celebrate our engagement, but what I didn’t realise was that The Black Swan at Oldstead was not only about to become my best meal of 2015, but of my entire life.

Letting the last five minutes sink in, I sipped prosecco as Rob explained why he’d chosen The Black Swan. He had me at vegetables. Because somehow, he’d managed to find that rare Michelin Star restaurant that puts vegetables on a pedestal. Where a tomato is as prized as a fillet steak. Where vegetables aren’t an accompaniment to a dish; they’re the main event. I downed my prosecco and we packed away our picnic, Rob’s words fluttering in my stomach like confetti. Too good to be true? Let’s see, shall we?

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The best of 2015: the Scottish Highlands and Hebrides

Destination: Scotland

“It’s the most… wonderful time… of the year”. Andy Williams is warbling as I consume my third consecutive Baileys, observing the sea of badly wrapped presents and unwritten Christmas cards that surrounds me. The lights on the tree are flickering (the batteries are dying) and I’m frantically working my way through piles of washing in preparation for a week of festive travels.

But Andy’s right. It is the most wonderful time of the year. I bloody love Christmas and its endless stream of fizz-fuelled catch-ups with my nearest and dearest. I love tacky Christmas jumpers, which seem to get uglier and itchier every year. I love that it’s acceptable to eat chocolate for breakfast and cheese by the kilo. And I love that moment on the journey home, our present-crammed car at a standstill on the M62, when Chris Rea bursts through the car speakers. Top to toe in tailbacks suddenly aren’t so bad…

I love pretty much everything about Christmas, but one of my favourite things is the opportunity it gives me to reminisce. As the curtains close on another year, I retreat into nostalgia; assigning every memory a superlative, ranking every achievement against the others. And while every year has its ups and downs, 2015 was definitely a good year. I bought a house, got engaged, had my writing featured in an actual published book, and graduated with distinction from an MA in Creative Writing. 2015? Nailed it.

Major life achievements side, 2015 has also been an amazing year for travel. In between completing my MA and endless DIY-ing, we’ve managed to squeeze in some pretty spectacular holidays and mini breaks. I’ve already written about our three-week Western Australia adventure, but one of my favourite travel experiences of the year was a lot closer to home. Continue reading

Where’s Lisa?

Writing

Oh, the irony. Where is Lisa? Has it really been five months since I last wrote?

The tumbleweed has been rolling on this dusty corner of t’interweb, but behind-the-scenes, life has been a little busier. I’ve bought a house and decorated half of it (with as much paint on the carpets as on the walls – oops). I’ve completed my MA in Creative Writing, earning myself a nice little Distinction for my efforts. And I’ve started planning a wedding – my wedding – after Rob got down on one knee at a picnic on Ilkley Moor over the summer.

Ilkley Moor proposal

Just engaged – can you tell I’m a *bit* excited?

All in all, it’s been a rather exciting five months.

The MA in Creative Writing and me
Major life events aside, my proudest achievement this year has definitely been the completion of my MA. It’s been nearly two months since I handed in my dissertation, calling time on two of the most challenging, but enjoyable years of my life.

Now, I know what you may be thinking. An MA in Creative Writing? Writing’s not really something you can learn, is it? You can either write, or you can’t – right?

That may be true, but I have learned so much about writing over the past two years. So much. My friend and coursemate, Lynn, wrote a beautiful blog post this week describing what she’d learnt throughout the MA, and I found myself nodding like the Churchill dog, agreeing with every single sentence.

To cut a very long story short, the MA has been life-changing. It’s reignited my love for writing, equipping me with the tools and techniques to take me in a direction I’d never even dreamed of. I’ve always loved writing, but never quite known where to take it. But now, despite not having written fiction since I was a daydreaming eight-year-old, I’ve now written half a novel, which has so far received surprisingly good feedback from my talented coursemates and respected lecturers – many of whom are published authors. Say WHAT?

What now?
There’s still half a novel to be finished, but as I let that simmer, I’m returning my thoughts to writing this blog. Where’s Lisa? Well, where am I?

I’ve been trying to answer this for a while, even before I took a hiatus to knuckle down and finish my MA. Why am I writing this blog? Who for? And what’s next?

The internet is awash with ideas of what a blog should be; of how I should be monetising my words and how much ‘content’ I should be farming out each week. And there are so many food and travel blogs, so where do I fit in? What do I want to add the noise?

The answer was in my MA. The MA at Leeds Trinity puts the emphasis on the ‘creative’, tasking us with creating over 20,000 words of creative writing for assessment in addition to essays, projects and reflective commentaries. It was recommended that we focus on a continuous creative writing project, which was when I made the rather bold decision (well, bold for me) to write a novel.

‘Writing a novel’ is one of those worthy items that shoehorns itself into any discerning bucket list, and I, like many, have long harboured half-baked aspirations of writing my own. But to write a novel, you need more than good words. You need an idea. And until the MA, I’d been distinctly idea-less.

Then I had my first meeting with my tutor (and award-winning writer, no less) Martyn Bedford. He asked me a simple question: what will you be working on during the MA? He wanted a project, or at least some reassurance that I’d given the question some thought. And I had, but rather inconclusively. At the time, the embers of my round-the-world trip were still sizzling, half-formed ideas and sentences just waiting to be turned into something. What, though? Another book about a mid-20s girl gallivanting across the world? Who’d want to read that?

But Martyn had an idea, and it was so simple. He suggested fictionalising my experiences by looking at them in a different way, through someone else’s eyes.

So I did.

I rummaged through the raw material; experiences lodged in blog posts, diary entries and memories. I plucked myself out, replacing the void with the silhouette of a character I’d began to sketch. And as I ploughed through the Ws – what would she notice? Where would she go? Why was she there? – I was forced to focus on details I’d previously disregarded. Sounds. Smells. Tastes. Appearances. Feelings.

Word by word, I was transported. I was typing away in my spare room to the soundtrack of a pneumatic drill gouging a hole in our garden, but all I could hear was the growl of tuk tuks. The beeps of motorbikes. The bellows of traders. I could smell chilli and garlic, sizzling on an outdoor skillet. I could feel Bangkok’s signature smog; a clammy, charcoal blanket coating my skin.

I was back.

Reflect. Relive. Reveal.
Writing is deeply personal, motivating everyone in different ways. And for me, it’s simple. I want to reflect on my experiences. Relive them. And in doing so, reveal new ways of looking at them  – to myself, and to my readers (if there’s any of you left).

That’s why I write.

So what does this mean for Where’s Lisa?

It means less reviews and more experiences. Sounds like a really naff strapline, doesn’t it? But basically, it means what’s the rush? There are plenty of bloggers that do a brilliant job of publishing well-written reviews of the latest restaurants, cafés and bars on a regular basis. And I don’t want to compete with them. There’s slow food. Slow travel. Why not slow blogging? I want to write when I feel moved to write, producing more reflective pieces about the experiences that mean the most to me, even if months have passed since they happened.

If you’re wanting hot-off-the-press reviews of the latest restaurants or hour-by-hour travel guides, you’re best looking elsewhere. But if you want sensory reflections on special food and travel experiences, then you might want to stick around.

Coming up
One thing that the MA failed to teach me was focus; that is, focusing on one piece of writing at a time. Old dog, new tricks and all that. There are several half-written posts waiting to be finished, which I hope to bring you in the coming months. Seville surprises. An ode to Fremantle. Falling in love with the Outer Hebrides. A summer of Dales adventures. A very special trip to The Black Swan at Oldstead; the scene of our engagement celebrations and the most amazing meal of my life.

Seville

Moorish magic in Seville.

Fremantle

I ♥ Freo.

Luskentyre

Luskentyre – best beach in the world?

Malham Cove

Malham Cove. LOOK at that view ♥

The Black Swan at Oldstead

Just one of ten very special courses at The Black Swan at Oldstead. Best. Meal. Ever.

I promise no timescales; posts will happen when they happen. And when they do, I hope they’ll be worth the wait.

On the off-chance that I’m not talking into a vacuum and there are still some of you left, thanks for sticking with me. I hope you enjoy this new direction for Where’s Lisa?

Lisa x

Roadtrippin’ in Western Australia

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Hello, dear readers. Remember me? That curly-haired girl that used to post excitable rambles about food and travel?

Ahem.

I’ve been rather quiet over here lately, because life got loud. Really loud. Day job madness, MA assignment-mania and the small matter of my first house purchase – the lot. An exciting but intense start to 2015, my capacity to think of anything but my MA, mortgages and strangling my solicitor was compromised, leaving any smidgen of free time reserved for sporadic bursts of sleep – where I dreamed about all of the above, natch.

But there was a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel that kept me going: a three-week, solicitor-free, Western Australia-shaped light. And mid-March, one week after moving into my new house and three days after handing in the penultimate assignment of my MA in Creative Writing, I pressed pause on the craziness for a three-week escape from reality.

Reunited at last
Now, any three-week holiday Down Under is obviously pretty damn fantastic, but this wasn’t just any holiday. This was WA. Four years have passed since I fell in love with WA’s South-West during a six-month trip around the world, and two since I spent a crazy two weeks as a finalist in a competition to become WA’s Taste Master (one of Tourism Australia’s Best Jobs in the World). Although I didn’t win, the competition majorly reignited my WA wanderlust, and I knew I’d find a way to return. I had to. Luckily, our lovely friend and WA resident, Rachel, found a way for us – she got engaged. An April wedding in Fremantle? Rude not to, right?

Roadtrippin’
Our first visit to WA had centred on eating and drinking our way through Margaret River and Fremantle. Repeat visits were a must, especially with a Freo wedding to attend, but this time, I wanted to explore. Read anything about WA, and you’ll quickly notice a theme in the language. Remote. Enormous. Wilderness. Isolation. Three weeks probably wasn’t quite long enough to get lost in WA’s expansive outback, but it was long enough to leave the city behind and follow the coastline North, getting a glimpse of Australia’s so-called ‘final frontier’ for myself.

So, in between catching up with friends and the wedding, we planned a ten-day road trip up Australia’s West coast. We didn’t want the pressure of a tight schedule, so we kept our plans simple: drive from Fremantle to Exmouth and back, via Pinnacles Desert, Shark Bay and Ningaloo Marine Park. No detail, no reservations – just a car, a tent and a pair of open minds. On paper, it sounded like the perfect antidote to a stressful few months; a chance to relax and enjoy whatever unfolded.

But in reality, there was a tiny little flaw that threatened our chances of a completely stress-free road trip. Distance. Because WA is massive. Seriously massive. Australia’s biggest state, it’s about the size of Western Europe, or the equivalent of over ten UKs. Yeah. I *thought* I knew this, but I don’t think I’d actually computed what that kind of distance would mean until we got in our little Micra and started driving. Because our little itinerary? That simple five-point plan? That equated to about 4000km. In ten days. That’s like driving from London to Turkey – and back again. 

Cue a lot of driving time. We did at least five 500km journeys, spending up to six hours in the car to get from one destination to the next. And where that kind of distance in the UK would guarantee you some scenic variety, in WA it does not. Five hours generally got you a straight road, fringed with red dirt and low green shrub-land. There were daredevil antics from emus to keep us awake, and the occasional roadtrain or kangaroo bar-clad 4×4 to reassure us that we weren’t the only people in WA, but that was it. You can forget your games of I-Spy or count-the-caravans: they’re of little use here. It’s just you, your travelling partner and a straight road – for many, many hours. Choose your partner wisely…

Kalbarri National Park

Roadtrippin’, WA-style

Emu, Western Australia

Watch out for the pedestrians.

But it was so worth it.

We snorkelled with parrotfish and snappers in Ningaloo Reef, stood at the edge of a lake the colour of watermelon punch, watched loggerhead turtles swim in fifty shades of blue, and experienced sunsets on secluded beaches so magical that my usual superlatives were rendered futile.

And even those long car journeys were worth it, as we drove down straight stretches of road that seemed to unfurl infinitely. Because how often can you stand in the middle of a ‘motorway’, surrounded by nothing but hundreds of square miles of unspoiled national park?

Kalbarri National Park

The road to Kalbarri

In between decorating my new home and writing my dissertation (yikes), I hope to be back with more posts about my beloved WA. But in the meantime, here’s just some of the many, MANY highlights of our road trip. Until next time, WA….

Pinnacles Desert, Western Australia

Standing among the thousands of weathered obelisks rising from the Pinnacles Desert.

Kangaroo Point, Western Australia

Hanging out with these guys at the aptly named Kangaroo Point

Hutt Lagoon, Western Australia

Slamming the brakes to get a closer look at the surreal Hutt Lagoon.

Kalbarri Beach, Western Australia

Never tiring of WA’s ability to end each day in such spectacular style.

Geraldton, Western Australia

Feeling inspired by the artistic streets of Geraldton.

Kalbarri, Western Australia

Enjoying the crashing waves of Kalbarri.

Monkey Mia, Western Australia

Melting at THAT FACE in Monkey Mia.

Monkey Mia, Western Australia

Shedding all the tears after this magical moment with Puck, one of Monkey Mia’s wild dolphins.

Turquoise Bay, Western Australia

Walking barefoot along countless secluded beaches.

Turquoise Bay, Western Australia

Experiencing the very best kind of Monday blues at Turquoise Bay.

Monkey Mia, Western Australia

Monkey Mia sunsets. Enough said.

Ningaloo Marine Park

Feeling like the only two people on Earth in Cape Range National Park.

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Enjoying rooms (ok, tents) with a view in Shark Bay.

Turtles in Monkey Mia

Being endlessly mesmerised by this guy in Monkey Mia.

Road Trip Western Australia

Appreciating the simple majesty of the sky. Those clouds.

Monkey Mia, Western Australia

And, of course, choosing the best travel partner to experience WA with ♥♥♥.

Have you been to Western Australia? What did I miss? Let me know in the comments☟☟☟

Vote for my Spanakopita Cupcakes in the #destinologyreimagine competition

Dearest readers, I need YOUR help! If you read my last post, you’ll know that I entered my Spanakopita Cupcakes recipe into Destinology’s ‘Reimagine a Classic’ competition. I found out yesterday that my recipe made the final shortlist of five, putting me in the running to win a luxury mini break to Europe! The person with the most votes wins, so I would LOVE it if you you could spare one minute to vote for me! Need a bribe? There’s a Spanakopita Cupcake or three with your name on it if I win.

You can cast your vote at the link below – just scroll to the bottom and choose ‘Where’s Lisa? Spanakopita cupcakes’. The deadline is 13 February. Big thanks in advance🙂 x

http://www.destinology.co.uk/promotions/reimagine-a-classic-competition-2930/ 

 

Destinology reimagine competition entry

Recipe: Spanakopita cupcakes

Why do you travel? To experience different cultures? Watch beautiful landscapes ripple in waves towards the horizon? Flex your adventure muscles by climbing crazy-high mountains? Or maybe, even, to get a tan? (Although if that’s really the case, a bottle of holiday skin would be much cheaper. Just saying.)

You can probably see where this is going. Wanderlust grips me for many reasons, but there’s always one dominant factor steering me towards a destination. Food. For me, the adventure of travel is in scouring a destination for that dish that reduces the English language to a pile of rubble, as I struggle to find a suitable word that adequately describes the joy of each mouthful. Add my pesky vegetarianism into the mix, and seeking out meals can become a full-on Indiana Jones-esque expedition, as I wade through countless looks of confusion, bursts of laughter and plenty of utterances of “But, Señorita, it’s chicken. This ok, no?” to find my veggie prize.

I always leave each destination inspired, vowing to recreate dishes back home in old Blighty. But while I give it a damn good try, I never quite manage it. Why? Because there’s always a vital ingredient missing, an ingredient that even the most thorough raid of Millies or the Spice Corner in Leeds Market can’t unearth. It’s the twinkle of the lanterns on Hoi An’s waterfront. The shape of Sugarloaf Mountain towering above Ipanema Beach. The moonlit silhouette of the Acropolis. These are the backdrops to dishes that can’t be captured on film, the ingredients that can’t be replicated.

Reimagining a classic
Enter, Destinology’s ‘Reimagine a Classic’ competition. Aside from my exploits as a top 25 finalist for ‘Best Jobs in the World’s’ Taste Master, I’m not really one to enter competitions, but this one caught my eye. (And not just because of the prize, before you ask, although hello, luxury mini break.) It was the idea of reimagining a classic dish, rather than recreating it. When you take the pressure away of trying to recreate an exact version of a dish, everything changes. No longer resigning yourself to failure by replicating a much-loved classic, you’re giving it a new meaning. A new context. A new memory.

Deciding on a dish to reimagine was easy. It had to be Spanakopita, a classic Greek filo pie filled with spinach and feta. One of my all-time holiday favourites, me and this dish go way back to the 90s, when I was rocking the velvet chokers and plastic backpacks currently draped on mannequins in vintage shops for real. 

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Recipe: Warm sprout and halloumi salad

Where do you stand on sprouts? Are you in the ‘no way’ camp, scarred by too many traumatic encounters with the pallid, mushy horror that is the over-boiled sprout? Or are you in the ‘hell yes’ camp, loving sprouts so much that you’ll risk annoying your colleagues by re-heating your sprout concoctions in the work microwave, perfuming the office with the sprout’s unmistakable aroma. (And no, not that aroma before you ask. Naughty.)

Me? I’m a ‘hell yes’ girl. Sorry, lovely colleagues, but I bloody love sprouts. I love the way they look, like cute miniature cabbages huddling together for warmth. I love the way they add the pizzazz (that’s right, PIZZAZZ) to a roast dinner, soaking up gravy as if that’s what they were born to do. But most of all, I love their versatility. Because sprouts aren’t just for Christmas. Oh no. Sprouts are for life. Or, at least, for the period between October and March when they’re in season.

Now, I’m all for tarting up sprouts in posh risottos and fancy stir fries à la Ottolenghi, but today I want to share something simple. It came into my life unexpectedly, one of those ‘I’ve-only-got-a-few-things-in-the-fridge-so-let’s-chuck-them-together-and-see-what-happens’ recipes. But as humble as its origins may be, don’t be fooled by its simplicity. Because this is an absolute corker of a sprout recipe; a recipe with the potential to turn even the most devout of sprout haters.

Warm sprout and halloumi salad.

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Recipe: Vietnamese Tofu and Tomato Sauce

Christmas is over. O.V.E.R. Sleeping in until 10am? Bucks Fizz for breakfast? Party food buffets? Not cool anymore. January, you’re a cruel mistress.

But, dare I say it, I’m ready for a change. As much as I adore the excesses of the festive season, I do reach the point when I crave food that isn’t 90% fat and smothered in breadcrumbs. But – and here’s where most January ‘detoxes’ are doomed – this food still needs to taste good. It also needs to fill me up, warm me up, and, most importantly, cheer me up, as I plunge back into reality.

And I’ve got just the thing. Vietnamese Tofu and Tomato Sauce. You know that kind of meal that makes your mouth water just thinking about it? Yeah, that. Think crispy tofu, coated in a sauce of velvety fresh tomatoes flecked with garlic and spring onion, and finished with a spicy burst of white pepper. Simple, cheap and oh so tasty, it has the added bonus of transporting me to the other side of the planet, far away from the cold, dark nights of England and into the hot, golden days of Vietnam.

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Hello 2015

New Year's Eve in Shropshire

So, this was my view this morning as I woke up for the first time in 2015 in beautiful Shropshire. Not bad, hey? Rather than celebrating New Year’s Eve in a crowded bar with a croaky throat from shouting to get heard (I know, I’m old…), I spent it with some of my nearest and dearest in a cottage in Plaish: watching the sun sink behind the snow-mottled Shropshire Hills, gorging on creamed leeks and Shropshire Blue cheese tarts, feasting on a homemade Prashad curry, dancing barefoot to Auld Lang Syne in the pitch black midnight of Plaish, and trying (and failing) to keep up with Queen Bey in a Run The World dance-off with one of my best friends in the world. Too cool, I know.

Sunset on New Year's Eve, Shropshire

The last sunset of 2014

As the inevitable New Year’s Day hangover subsides, I’m taking a little moment to reflect on the year ahead. Before you give up, this isn’t going to be one of those New Year’s posts where I promise to change everything about myself and live a life of virtue and abstinence for a month. Not my style. I’m going to keep this short and sweet, and just say thank you to everyone for reading over the last year. I’m halfway through an MA in Creative Writing which has meant my posts have been a bit sporadic of late, and it’s likely to continue that way as I plough through my final year, but I appreciate each and every one of you who take the time to read my rambles about food and travel. You’re a lovely lot.

2015 is going to be a year of amazing travel for me, starting with a 3-week trip to Western Australia in March for a very special wedding, along with a few other trips planned throughout the year. So while I probably won’t be writing very often, I look forward to sharing snippets from my trips with you, along with more foodie discoveries throughout the year.

Here’s to an amazing 2015 filled with great tastes and adventures!

Lisa x