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Supermarket shopping, take more or use less… We have a choice

With supermarket shelves still struggling to keep up with the Covid-19 pandemic demand, and the long term prospect of limited supplies a distinct possibility, we perhaps share a unique opportunity to learn a few new skills. In times of shortage the options before us are simple:

We can take more

OR

We can use less

Using less is not a skill at which most of us are well-practised. Over the last few decades, learning how to create food from basic ingredients has fallen in and out of favour in our homes, in our shopping habits and on our National Curriculum. The recent rush to buy flour and pasta, and the realisation that we don’t need 60 different types of sausage might be an encouraging sign. Perhaps we do all know how to ‘manage’ after all.

In recent months my family have been experimenting at home with a more sustainable approach to eating. My husband kicked us off with his sourdough micro bakery and I have been trying to adjust my thinking. We have learned to ask a few key questions before making our cooking choices. Questions that could perhaps be very usefully applied to our current Covid-19 situation. Hopefully they might prove useful to you too.

Question 1: Can I use this for something?

Without realising it we all throw away a whole lot of useful foodstuffs each day but many of them can actually be really useful. By thinking about alternative uses, we can cut down on food waste, get the most out of every item we buy and experience some delicious experimental cooking. Here are my latest favourite examples:

  • Chopped up cauliflower leaves and stalks frozen for soup
  • Empty egg shells for compost or slug distraction (not so successful)
  • Chick pea brine (tinned or home cooked) to add to home made hummus
  • Chicken carcasses frozen to make into chicken stock later
  • Pickled gherkin liquid saved to make salad dressing
  • Olive brine saved to add to bread dough (Mr D.)
  • Celery leaves chopped to make soup or pesto
  • Beetroot leaves and stalks kept for stir fries

Question 2: Is there a substitute for this?

There are a few store cupboard ingredients that are tricky to replace but, when we can’t get hold of all our usual favourites, there is a lot of fun to be had thinking about substitutes. It’s all a case of being flexible, experimenting and learning from our mistakes. If your supermarket doesn’t have your usual products how about replacing:

  • Rice with couscous
  • Couscous with pearl barley
  • Pate with homemade pate (liver, onions and bread crumbs)
  • Pasta with gnocchi (potatoes and flour)
  • Tea bags with mint from the garden (just emerging now)
  • Peanut butter with mock dripping (mashed potato, butter and bovril)
  • Minced beef with lentils or beans (cannellini beans are a favourite)
  • Roast chicken with roast cauliflower (surprisingly delicious)

Question 3: Can I put this into a soup?

Soups have to be the most versatile of foods. From the basic ‘all-in’ home cooking to sophisticated restaurant dishes, soups warm and nourish us and can be made with almost anything. What a homemade soup probably won’t do is taste exactly the same as your favourite tinned Heinz one. It might however taste even better. Soups were originally created to fill us up with available ingredients. Here are a few of my favourite home made soup tips:

  • Make a tasty stock by boiling chicken bones, water, an onion and herbs
  • If you don’t have onions, use garlic, wild garlic or garlic powder
  • Chop all root vegetables to approximately the same size
  • Save vegetable greens (carrot tops etc) to add vitamins and flavour
  • Add lentils for additional protein (dried red lentils don’t need soaking)
  • Include pearl barley (or even oats) for a luxurious gloopy texture
  • Build up a collection of spices for experimental soup-making
  • Add coconut, peanut butter and lime for a more oriental flavour
  • Add salt at the end of cooking not the beginning

Hopefully by now your mouth is watering and your mind is racing with ideas. Changing the way we think about cooking isn’t necessarily easy but it can be great fun and, as many of us are now working from home, this could be a perfect time to try it. If you want a bit more inspiration you might be interested in these wartime recipes.

 

Coronaviruses and Braveheart… a short glossary of repetitive terms

With Boris Johnson invoking the battle cries of wartime and the epidemiologists eager to flatten as many curves as possible, our language appears to have changed almost over night. I am sure I’m not the only person to have certain words marching repeatedly around my head. In an attempt to quieten these down I have  put together my rather befuddled thoughts on my most persistent coronavirus head-worms.

Coronaviruses don’t wear crowns like the Queen (who is hopefully enjoying a few weeks off) but they do have a rather fetching coronet of spikes when you look at them under the microscope or, as most of us do, on the BBC News website.

If social distancing means keeping away from other people then I am already quite good at it. I work alone, exercise alone and often talk to my plants. In fact, with the prospect of the rest of the family joining me to work from home, it won’t be long before I have far more company than I am used to.

COVID-19 is a much friendlier sounding name for a disease than ‘severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2’, which is not only downright scary but also really difficult to remember.

The etymology of pandemic is rather disconcerting. It comes from the Greek pan meaning ‘all’ and demos meaning ‘people’. All is a big number, which makes it easier to see why WHO’s words on the topic were so sobering, and why we should all be doing our best to follow health guidelines.

We haven’t got herd immunity yet but when we do have it, I am hoping we will be a crowd standing, arm in arm on the hillside, shouting down at our defeated enemies (now sing the Braveheart theme tune… Bet you can’t!)

‘Sing the film theme tune’ by the way is a popular game in our family when we feel the need to entertain ourselves. You can play it together or virtually and, if you want to win, I can recommend suggesting Star Wars, Superman (almost the same as Star Wars) or Last of the Mohicans (which is easy but so catchy it throws out all subsequent singing). Don’t even try Braveheart… Nobody can do that one! Stay safe!

 

You know you’re an outdoor swimmer when…

Outdoor writing and outdoor swimming

One of the ways in which my hobbies and my freelance outdoor writing merge is through outdoor swimming. In the depths of the winter however, outdoor swimming can seem like a strange habit. Grey waters replace blue ones, grey clouds smother blue skies and blue beach legs replace tanned limbs. That said, there is plenty of anecdotal, and some research based evidence to suggest that cold water immersion is good for both my mental health and my physical health, so I won’t be stopping any time soon.

Continue reading “You know you’re an outdoor swimmer when…”

How to plan a walking route… For someone else

Planning a successful walking route requires a combination of research and knowledge. You need to know what the terrain and conditions are going to offer, and you need to understand your own ability, and any safety implications. This is far easier to get right when you are planning for yourself than if you are writing a walking route for someone else. My role as a freelance outdoor writer requires me to do a fair amount of walking route writing, for both country walks and urban walks. Today I share my top tips on how to plan a walking route, for someone else.

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What on earth is a Dryrobe? Different types of winter outdoor swimmers

What is a Dryrobe and do I need one?

When it comes down to hobbies, swimming outdoors during the winter is not the most comfortable of options, which is probably why I am sitting in bed typing instead of heading for a grey, drizzly beach (don’t worry, I will be venturing out soon). Getting cold is good for me and easy enough, I just get into the water, swear a bit and start swimming. But what about getting warm again? Well, I have discovered that we swimmers fall into a few interesting categories, which is one of the many things that makes us such fun to be around. Read on to find out which type of winter swimmer you are and whether or not you need to rush out immediately and buy a Dryrobe.

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Ultra-processed food… How pure is my fridge?

Being a copywriter I have a tendency to look at words in a slightly mechanical way and have come to the conclusion that ‘ultra’ is a prefix that, like its more quantifiable cousin ‘mega’, is perhaps suffering from overuse. Usually associated with things that are good for you, e.g. ultra-marathons and ultra-endurance, I am surprised that ‘ultra’ isn’t up in arms about being included in ultra-processed food, which apparently isn’t good for you.

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Collect or explore? Is it time for a rethink about how we share our outdoor spaces?

Could you geotag that photo please?

Get outside! It’s a great message and one that I have been proud to share across various roles and careers. However, as an outdoor writer and online influencer, I am becoming more and more aware of the negative impact that some styles of sharing, in particular geotagging, is having on some of our outdoor spaces.

Continue reading “Collect or explore? Is it time for a rethink about how we share our outdoor spaces?”

Influencer marketing and advertising standards: Whom exactly can you trust?

When influencer marketing goes wrong

Hands up if you know what an influencer is. Most of us have heard of the term and understand that online influencers are people who have developed an online following and use that influence to have an impact on the purchase decisions of those who follow them. Trustworthy influencer marketing can bring about a win-win result for all three parties involved; the business, the influencer and the purchaser but there have been infamous cases of influencer marketing going wrong. For example, the now notorious Fyre Festival, which made the double mistake of failing to acknowledge its relationship with influencers and failing to deliver on the festival as promised.

How do I recognise a social media influencer?

We all have different reasons for following people online. Most of us are interested in hearing from people who share our hobbies, work interests or values, and this is what is behind the power of influencer marketing; we are already the interested audience advertisers work so hard to find. In general, this isn’t a negative thing, if you enjoy what someone has to say on a topic, it stands to reason that you might also be interested in the products they recommend. If you notice some of your favourite followers suggesting brands for you to try, you might well be reading the work of an influencer.

Honest influencers will always make their relationship with a brand clear in their comments. The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority states that both the brand and the advertiser to ensure that their followers know when someone is being rewarded, through perks, money or goods for an online recommendation.

‘Consumers must always be aware when they are being advertised to. ‘

They also offer guidelines on how this should be achieved in their comprehensive ‘Influencers’ Guide‘. This gives useful advice on what exactly constitutes advertorial content and how influencers should make it clear when this content exists.

Can I trust social media influencers?

Not all brands and social media influencers follow these guidelines to the letter. The ASA recommends words including words such as, ‘Advert’ or ‘Ad’ in prominent places but some prefer the less obvious, ‘Sponsored’, ‘In association with’ or ‘Thanks to’. If you are a blog reader, any article that contains advertorial content should state the relationship in a clear explanatory paragraph.

By choosing to follow someone on social media you will already have made a decision about whether or not you trust them. The quality of their information and recommendations will probably help you decide whether or not to continue this trust into an influencer relationship. It is perhaps worth remembering that adverts in their various forms have been with us for a long time. Influencer marketing, as long as you can recognise and understand it, is merely a more sophisticated form of what we see on our TV screens and in our newspapers every day.

Is your computer after your writing job? Artificial intelligence and copywriting

Freelance or free stress? Stress awareness for the freelance workforce.

 

 

Is the menopause the reverse of teenagehood? Just call me Jemima Button…

Bodily weirdness and mental peculiarity

I am a big fan of the short story (and not-so-short film), ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button‘. The idea of a life in reverse is an intriguing one but, now in my fifties, I am beginning to wonder whether the menopause is an example of exactly that. Here’s my hypothesis: The menopause is teenagehood in reverse (imagine the outcry though, if the NHS published an article entitled, ‘Coping with your menopausal woman’!) It makes a kind of random, non-scientific sense. During the puberty-led teenage years we experience bodily weirdness and mental peculiarity as our adult hormones establish themselves, during the menopause we experience corresponding bodily weirdness and mental peculiarity as our adult hormones diminish. We also make random decisions to do rather odd things. Can the situation really be that simple, and is it possible that I am turning into Jemima Button, and now working my way backwards? I did a bit of research to find out.

Mamma Mia, here my hormones go again…

Oestrogen imbalances play a major part in both the puberty and menopause dramas (as well as the months in between) with progesterone having a strong voice in the possibly Greek chorus. During both life phases it is the fluctuations of these (and other) hormones that cause unpleasant symptoms (including tiredness and difficulties with concentration).

That’s 9% of my life!

It would appear that we women don’t get much time off from the mystical hormone dance. Puberty in girls can begin as early as eight years old and go on for around four years, which balances nicely (or not so nicely) with the four years it usually takes to get through the menopause. By my reckoning (and forgetting all the hormonal moments in between) that’s eight years in total of significant hormonal changes. With a life expectancy of 89 years, that’s a significant 9% of my life.

Hormones can change the world!

What do you imagine when you hear the word teenager? Unexpected stropping, general confusion, resistance to authority and a tendency towards depression? Well, to my mind, that sounds a bit like my current description of my 52 year-old self. I have however worked with lots of teenagers and am a big fan. Teenagers say what they want to say, are creative and exciting in their thoughts and don’t stand any nonsense. As the world is currently discovering, teenagers can be a great force for change. Wouldn’t it be great if we started saying the same thing about menopausal women!

https://www.mountainsforthemind.co.uk/stories/2020/1/10/fi-darby-outdoor-writer

 

Freelancer life… Why having a routine is good for you

Freelance writing in Devon

When you work for yourself, your routine doesn’t have to look anything like anybody else’s.

I had an interesting conversation the other morning, over coffee with a freelancer friend. We were discussing our daily and weekly routines and how establishing these had been so important to both of us when starting out in freelance life. The irony of this conversation and its location has since struck me because one of the biggest advantages of being a freelance writer is that you can (and sometimes should) break out of the daily routine to find time for morning coffee with friends.

Down the right road

Routine is an interesting concept. Sometimes used as an adjective to denote the dull or humdrum but actually a comfort to many of us, routines can seem unattractive but often form the basis of a fun and productive life. It might help routine’s PR to look at its etymology. As you might expect, it comes from the French word ‘route’ meaning ‘road’, suggesting that a routine is something that will help you get to the places you want to be. Surely a good thing for any freelancer. Throughout my working life, the places I have generally wanted to be were ‘in work’ and ‘with money’. However the picture is more complicated now that I am a freelance writer. Having been in a high-pressured career and being the grand old age of 52, I now understand that the other important place I want to be is ‘with time’.

Achieving your freelance goals

So how do you achieve that elusive trinity of goals? The numbers of happy freelancers across the UK clearly demonstrates that having an acceptable combination of work, money and time is possible but I would suggest that this triumvirate doesn’t come without some element of organisation. That, of course, is where our old friend routine comes into play. Within established routines you can allocate time to each goal, ensure your work life balance and, maybe most importantly, avoid that, ‘I wish someone would tell me what to do next’ feeling.

It’s your routine after all!

When the work pile looks insurmountable a routine can help you make your way through it. When your inbox is empty, a routine can help you take alternative positives steps towards freelance success. With a solid freelance routine you can make informed decisions about when to break free and when to stick to your guns. Without a freelance routine you risk feeling as though you are underachieving. If this all sounds a bit… well… routine, the great news is that when you work for yourself, your routine doesn’t have to look anything like anybody else’s.