Cumin

Isn’t it funny how certain tastes and smells we experience, stay with us throughout our lives?

Standing in the kitchen today, frying up a couple of eggs for lunch, I decided to sprinkle a little bit of cumin powder on top of them.

As I lifted the lid off the cumin powder, I was instantly transported back to Marrakech. Although I long to go again some day, I haven’t been back since my first visit in December 2015.

Moroccans seem to add cumin to everything, including their fried eggs.

The smell was such a powerful reminder of my trip. Other memories came flooding back. Not just the smells, but the taste of the food, and the sounds.

Whilst visiting Marrakech, I heard the Adhan (the call to prayer) for the first time. The first time I heard the call to prayer, I had no idea what it was, but it sent shivers down my spine. No matter how many times I search you tube, I just can’t find a video that does it justice. Maybe it’s just one of those sounds you have to hear for yourself rather than through a video. Hearing the Adhan was like being cast under a spell. I wanted to follow the sound to see where it led me.

Along with the sound of the Adhan, and the taste and smell of cumin, the other smell that will forever remain in my memory, is that of the petrol fumes. If you have ever been to Marrakech, you will know that the souks are a maze of narrow streets full of traders, locals and tourists alike, bartering over the many goods that are on offer. It’s incredible how anyone gets through those markets in one piece, on or off a mode of transport. The scooters and motorbikes somehow navigate their way through the markets, dodging people, animals and other modes of transport in order to reach their destination.

I quickly grew accustomed to the powerful effect Marrakech had on my senses in the short time I was there.

When I returned home a few days later, I opened my suitcase, ready to unpack, and was instantly hit by a wave of petrol fumes, spices and memories of the Adhan.

The tastes, smells and sounds of Marrakech can be overwhelming and powerful to the western tourist. I know people who have visited Marrakech and couldn’t wait to leave. But for me, Marrakech stole a piece of my heart. I will forever remember the excitement that comes with having your senses caught up in the spell that is Marrakech.

There are many other smells, tastes and sounds which remind me of the past and they almost always give me reason to smile.

What brings your senses alive?

Active Relaxation

After reading an article the other day on active relaxation, it got me thinking.

I’m not always very good at slowing down and relaxing, even at weekends. I tend to think that days sitting around not doing much are wasted days. In a world where there is so much to explore, why would I want to spend a day or two a week, not doing anything?

Although I have to admit, this afternoon has been one of those rare times I haven’t moved far from the sofa…and I haven’t felt guilty or frustrated by this in the slightest. It’s been another incredibly busy week. I crawled my way to the weekend. It’s as if my body and mind have turned and looked at each other and said, do you know what, this weekend she needs to re-charge and rest. It’s a rare thing, but for a change I’m not ignoring what my body and mind are telling me.

So despite not being very good at relaxing, I do seem to be pretty good at active relaxation. Sometimes we need to move around to feel better. Sometimes we need to get outside for a walk or some exercise to feel good, taking in some fresh air, taking in our surroundings, and watching the seasons change.

Other times, we may chose to cook to make ourselves feel better. Since I have been adjusting to living alone, I am throwing myself into cooking new and exciting dishes. Nothing overly complicated, especially during the week, as I simply don’t have the time or the energy. Even cooking simple, quick recipes for the first time helps the mind to switch off from the day to day and to concentrate on the task at hand. It’s why I love to bake too. I lose myself in the recipe (and have to admit, that whilst I like to cook new things, even the oldest dishes in my repertoire, I still need to follow a recipe to get it right 🙈), allowing me to free my mind.

Writing is also another great way to practice active relaxation. Transferring my thoughts from my mind into my blog for example, helps to clear my mind, and really helps me to process the information in a more constructive way. It makes me question my thoughts and helps me to process them, freeing up my mind, and making my mind a much more happier and relaxed place.

So, as much as I find it difficult to sit and do nothing, active relaxation appears to be something I practice a lot, without even realising it.

Are you good at relaxing? Have you tried active relaxation to help free your mind?

Homemade Harissa Paste
Harissa Chicken
Enjoying the great outdoors
Writing helps to clear my mind

New Year, New Goals

It’s that time of year again when we take time to look back at the last 12 months and to look forward to the next.

I reflected on much of the last 12 months in a blog I wrote earlier this month called Turning 35, so now it’s time to focus on the next 12 months.

I’m  not one for making new years resolutions. Resolutions always sound like they should involve giving things up. I don’t feel the need to give anything up, so instead, what you will find below, are the 5 things I would either like to achieve, take a break from, or improve on in 2019:

  1. I will be cutting down on my social media time in 2019. Facebook, Twitter, 2 x Instagram accounts, Snapchat, Whatsapp, Pinterest, LinkedIn. Why is it as human beings we have the inability to just click into one app and be done with it? Why does clicking into an app lead to us scrolling through the latest updates, and then moving onto the next app, and the next, and the next. Before we know it, at least an hour of our precious day is gone. Whilst there are some apps I couldn’t live without (Whatsapp for one, and my Mindful Gingernut Instagram profile which links in nicely with my blog), do I really need to use mindless apps such as Facebook? And I guess I question why I need 2 Instagram accounts? And Linkedin too. I struggle to ‘get’ Linkedin. Spending my limited free time browsing through posts from work colleagues old and new, is no longer appealing. I do know of people who have been headhunted through the app, but these are few and far between. This week alone, I have spent over 7 hrs on Facebook and Instagram, which is just ridiculous. I could’ve achieved so much more with those 7 wasted hours! So from the 1st January, I will be deactivating my Facebook account, taking a break from my personal instagram account for the first 6 months of the year, and will more than likely be taking a break from Linkedin. This should free up some time to focus on other things, such as reading more books, and joining some classes in order to meet new people and to make new friends. After 6 months, I will reflect back on whether I have missed either app, and if so, look at ways I can continue to use them but in a more mindful way.
  2.  In 2019 I want to find some more London friends. Ok, so I have been saying this for the last 3 years, but in 2019, I really need to get off my backside and do something about it. I love my friends dearly, but not many of them live close enough to pop in for a drink on a Friday night, or to grab dinner after work mid-week. I love spending time on my own, but likewise, I love to be sociable too. Just before Christmas this year, I went to a wreath making workshop. Whilst I didn’t exchange numbers with any of the ladies at the workshop, it did give me hope that I hadn’t lost the ability to talk to new people. So in 2019, I’m going to put myself out there. I’m going to enrol on some courses, learn some new skills, and hopefully, make some new friends.
  3. In 2019, I want to eat healthier and to exercise more. Whilst I wouldn’t say I have an awful diet, I have spent the last couple of years eating oily curries, bigger portions, and lots of naan bread. Now I will be cooking for one more often, I will have greater control over my diet. I want to eat a wider variety of foods, giving my plate more colour, trying out new dishes, and filling them with more vegetables. What i don’t plan to do is to give up my favourite foods however ‘bad’ they may be. What I am going to do though, is make sure I eat them in moderation. When it comes to exercise, I love walking, but struggle to fit this into the working week, especially during the dark evenings. I know once the nights get lighter I will get out and about more in the evenings, but I can’t put my fitness and health on hold until then. I live in between two of South West London’s biggest parks. There is absolutely no excuse for me not to take a run around either of the parks during my lunch break on the day I work from home and again at weekends. I do like to work out from home, and lift my weights and do some strength exercises at least 3 times a week, but I definitely need to do something that gets my heart racing. I would love to join the gym again, however, the nature of my day job stops me from doing anything on a regular basis at the moment, and for me, if I am going to join the gym, I need to be able to commit to a regular routine. So, for 2019, I aim to continue to work on my strength exercises from home, and to work up to jogging around one of the local parks 3 x per week. Although this will be one of the harder challenges I set myself, with a little bit of determination and motivation, with any luck, I will be jogging around those parks in no time.
  4. In 2019, I want to travel more. I have always longed to travel, but i’ve either never had the money or the courage to do it. Money is still tight especially as I face renting on my own for the first time. But what I do have is lot’s more courage. Ever since I took my first holiday alone in 2016, I have longed to take another trip. So yesterday, rather than wait for the new year to begin, I booked my first holiday of 2019, which will see me heading to the Algarve in February. Whilst it won’t be at it’s warmest in February, I’m looking forward to exploring somewhere new, taking my laptop and some books, and just spending a few days relaxing, reading, eating freshly caught fish, and writing more blogs. I hope this will be the first of a few breaks in 2019.
  5. Last but my no means least, I want to spend 2019 focusing on my wellbeing and self-care. It’s only in the last 6 months of 2018, that I have become more aware of the need to look after myself mentally as well as physically. There have been so many times over the last 3 years, where I have been so consumed by work, that I forgot to check in with myself to see how I am. Work has often left me with little free time to do the things I enjoy. It has left me exhausted and mentally drained. This has to change in 2019. In the last 6 months, I have learnt so much about myself as I begin to take greater control over my life and my mind. Yet there is still so much more to explore. I want to spend 2019 reading into and practicing different wellbeing, mindfulness and self-care techniques in order to find out what works best for me.

These goals shouldn’t be too difficult to achieve with a little bit of thought, motivation and determination, yet at the same time, if I get these right, they are things that could really change my life. So much of the last 3 years have been focused on work and other people. It’s time to shift the balance a little, so I can focus a little bit more on me and what I need in order to be a happier more balanced person.

What are your goals and aims for 2019?

The Lebanese Bakery

Earlier this week, I paid The Lebanese Bakery a visit for some pre-theatre food.

I love Lebanese food and had been keen to try out their menu for a while.

With a date booked to see Kit Harrington’s new play ‘True West’ at The Vaudeville theatre, it was the perfect opportunity to pop along to the Covent Garden bakery, the only one of its kind outside of Beirut, in order to explore their menu.

When we arrived, there were only two other people in the bakery. The bakery doesn’t have that many tables, so not somewhere I would probably suggest visiting if there is a large party of guests.

The staff were friendly, but made it clear as soon as we walked in that they don’t do table service. We were asked to make our food and drink choices and then go to the till to  place our order with the bill being paid upfront.

The drinks menu is quite limited, as no alcohol is served. The drinks arrived in either bottles or can’s and it was quite obvious to see that they were keen to avoid as much washing up as possible. In addition to no glassware, there were also pots of plastic cutlery on the tables.

Their speciality is a Manousheh which is effectively a Lebanese Pizza served on a flat bread. I ordered the Ras Asfour Manousheh which arrived topped with diced sirloin, pomegranate, rocket, and toasted pine nuts (see the photo’s below for a snap of the Manousheh). To accompany the dish, I also ordered a Kebbeh and a Sbenikh.

The food was simply delicious. The toppings on the Manousheh worked beautifully together and the Kibbeh and Sbenikh melted in the mouth.

One word of warning though. The portions are not huge. When ordering under the Mouajjanet & Kaak Bread section of the menu, it’s worth bearing in mind that the price on the menu is for 1 item only. The food is so cheap that this really doesn’t matter. The Mouajjanet are priced at only £1.50 each, but ordering just one or two things off this part of the menu may not quite hit the spot if you’re really hungry.

There were 4 of us in our party, 2 of which were vegetarians. Whilst they had plenty of options for vegetarians, there were little choices for anyone who is strictly vegan.

I’m pleased I have been, but would I go back? Yes, I would. However, it’s definitely not the kind of place I would go to  for a special occasion, and possibly more suited to a lunch as opposed to an evening meal. I honestly couldn’t fault the food, and the service we received was good.

Our bill came to around £29 for 2 people. That included 2 x Manousheh, 4 Mouajjanet, and 2 soft drinks.

If you’re looking for something cheap and cheerful its the perfect place to go. And being a stones throw from Covent Garden, it’s the perfect place to go for some lunch if you’re out and about shopping or enjoying everything else the West End has to offer.