Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Quitting Dairy and Sugar: 3/4 months on

I just realised it has been almost 3 months since I stopped eating dairy products of any form. Or at least attempting to. Apart from some minimal dairy consumption at Christmas (I couldn't pass up some clotted cream with my pudding, or some of the fabulous Cheddar we'd been saving all year, which by god was the most delicious cheese I think I've ever eaten...), and some minor incidences with products that contain milk in small quantities, I've been pretty faithful to the mission.

Since coming back to work though, I've made a specific effort to be stricter with myself, and check labels obsessively. A vegan friend came over to dinner and she gave me some pointers for vegan treats, which was really really helpful (who knew that Manner Schnitten were vegan?) and recommended some vegan cheese, which is delicious and tastes just like the real thing. She also made me feel a little less like the odd one out at a party for not eating dairy; even though I am not vegan, chatting about food options with someone who is was quite grounding and reassuring.

It is also 4 months since I cut out sugar, and although I haven't stuck to a no sugar diet, I do try and keep my consumption to a minimum. Unfortunately I did discover that I can't eat large quantities of glucose or other high GI sweeteners, because of the fast acting insulin response. A little is ok, but actually regular sugar which is 50% fructose is better for me. I just try not to eat it too often.

How do I feel? I feel great. One of the best things to happen this year is that since quitting dairy, I haven't been ill. I had a mild sniffle over Christmas and it did threaten to become something major, but it didn't, and I could enjoy the festive period. Before Quitting Dairy (BQD), that cold would have gone straight into my sinuses and laid me low for a few days. This time it didn't even touch them.

I also just feel cleaner. Like my system isn't clogged up with gunk. I don't ever want to become a preachy ex dairy consumer, and obviously if you have no issues with dairy consumption then go ahead, at least someone should enjoy the delicious cheese, but for me, no dairy equates to no spots, and a feeling of inner peace. All very zen and hippy like!

As I mentioned, I did have a bit of dairy over Christmas. While I didn't see any immediate reactions, I did notice a gradual deterioation in the state of my skin (which I put down to too much alcohol and not enough water at the time), then I reacted badly to the Clarins oil. It was only this week when I've been eating really good food, that I could truly appreciate the impact dairy and sugar has on my skin in a longer term sense.

A week of really watching my gluten intake, moderating my carbs, eating lots of vegetables, drinking loads of water and pretty much having nothing with sugar in have made such a difference to my skin. I also found I could really push myself more in the gym this week, so maybe there is something in this.

Substituting things with dairy in isn't always straightforward and sometimes requires some creative thinking, especially if you also want to avoid soy like I do. I'll do a separate post on my favourite substitutes at some point - it is possible to subsitute most things in some way. 

Monday, 27 January 2014

Since when has there been a wrong side of 25?

When I was growing up, 30 seemed to be the age when you became maybe a little bit old. Maybe. More like grown up. 30 seemed the magical number that would bestow you with some wisdom. On the eve of my 31st birthday I can confirm that that isn't true. I do feel a little older and wiser, but then I've done a lot of wisening over the last 2 years since I hit the final year of my 20s.

I'm not sure whether it is the blogger revolution that has started this, or whether they have just magnified something that already existed, but I see an awful lot of bloggers (and now seemingly friends) writing about being on the wrong side of 25.

Come on people!!

Maybe it's because my 25th birthday coincided with filing divorce papers and ramping up for an election year. Maybe it's because my 25th birthday was accompanied by the first flushes of new love, by my new beau meeting my parents for the first time, or the awesome dinner we had (I think we went to Michael Caines Brasserie). Whatever it was, turning 25 didn't seem like that big of a deal. I didn't suddenly feel an overwhelming pull to use anti ageing products, I certainly didn't think that I was on the wrong side of anything (well, except the long, pathetic email I received from the ex the morning of my birthday).

So what gives bloggers? When did 25 start being this big milestone age?
Image from www.bigstockphoto.com

Quite frankly, I feel quite affronted when I read something in a blog post saying something about approaching 25, or being the wrong side of 25. Does that make me over the hill then? Shall I just resign myself to a downward spiral of, well, everything?

(I also realise that the very fact that this makes me grumpy is a sign of my age.)

And what is a quarter life crisis? Surely at 25 we are supposed to be at our prime! I asked my older cousins once whether they had a favourite age, and I remember the eldest telling me that 25 was her favourite age - she was old enough to do what she wanted and be in charge of her destiny, but young enough not to have to care too much. I think I kept that in mind as I celebrated and partied through my mid-twenties. I think I also experienced something of a rebirth as I turned 25, shedding a life that had grown to make me miserable, and starting a new one with people who made me happy.

Having said all that, I am rather enjoying being 30ish. It isn't just about the number, but the my current situation, which makes me rather happy. I'm not sure how it would have worked out if I was 25 right now. Although when I was 25 I became the Deputy Leader of Exeter City Council and had a lot of responsibility! My colleagues last year described me as Benjamin Button, doing everything backwards, and I guess that is somewhat true. I took on all the big stuff when I was younger and now I'm relaxing into what I think is going to be my best decade yet.

Monday, 13 January 2014

A little bit of Cornwall in Vienna

This post is going to be long and there are lots of pictures, including some of raw meat. Just to warn you! 

I grew up in Cornwall, UK. I grew up with the smell of the sea in the air (my home is about 10 miles from the nearest coastline) and some of the tastiest food known to man. All of which I really really miss.

Some of the food I can't really replicate in Vienna: Austria being an utterly landlocked country means that fresh fish are pretty much a dream for me (smoked mackerel sort of does an ok job as a stand in). But I can make a pasty.

For those of you who don't know what a pasty is, it is a circle of pastry, filled with meat and vegetables, folded, crimped and then cooked in an oven for just under an hour. The pastry should be robust enough that the filling doesn't leak out, and it should be slightly flaky. They should be crimped on the side, and they should look a little bit like this:

Tasty! (image from Wikipedia)

Pasties were awarded European Protected Status a few years back, which means that if you want to call a pasty Cornish, then it has to be made to a specific recipe, and be actually made within the boundaries of Cornwall. So although I follow the recipe for this tastiest of foodstuffs, I could never call it Cornish, because I make it them in my flat in Vienna.

One of the key ingredients of a pasty is swede (rutabaga). These are generally called neeps in Celtic nations, Cornwall being no exception. Unfortunately rutabagas are not generally considered worthy of eating in central Europe (not sure why not, damn tasty beggars) and are therefore hard to come by out here. Along with teabags, these are one thing that I ask people to bring me when they visit from the UK (you can also get them in Sweden; the name swede comes from their origin as a Swedish Turnip). Fortunately they store well in a cool dark place, as they are very woody vegetable, so I can store a bunch in my cellar.

All the other ingredients are easily obtainable in Vienna - beef (the correct cut is either chuck steak or beef skirt - in Austria skirt is called kochfleisch, but I normally buy gulaschfleisch which is from the rump as it is easy to get), potatoes and onions.

Making the pastry is actually easier in Austria, because there is a particular type of flour that is designed to release the gluten fast, for making strudel pastry. It is superb for pasties.

I did a little research into alternative pasty fillings the other day, as I want some variety, and if I can't get swede, what else could I use (believe me, a steak pasty doesn't taste right without a bit of swede). Despite the protected status of a specific recipe now, a pasty back in the day would have been made with whatever was to hand. Its origins are a more upper class dish, but eventually it became the food of the working class miner, and that meant that not every family would have been able to afford certain ingredients. Swede, onions and potatoes were probably fairly staple as they grow and store easily, but the meat would have varied. Pork and apple was apparently a popular filling, and I have read before about fish pastys being made in fishing communities (I had a fish pasty once, it was delicious).

So in the spirit of using whatever was to hand, when I made the pastry batch today I used up a load of flour that was hanging around my cupboard.

The great thing about pastys is that you can make them and freeze them without cooking, then you just take them out the freezer, pop them into a hot oven and bake for about 15-20 minutes longer than normal. They are the ultimate lazy lunch/dinner, perfect for the busy person. I won't pretend that they are particularly healthy, but you can make them healthier if you wish, in the spirit of using whatever is to hand.

For my pasty pastry I used:

500g flour - a mixture of wholemeal, wholegrain and white flour, roughly 50/50 wholemeal/grain to white. In the UK you need to use bread flour for the gluten content.
150g pork lard - the recipe calls for shortening, so if you want to make healthier pasties or veggie ones, you can use a plant based shortening.
10g salt
175ml water
1 egg - this is my addition, I find it makes for a better flake

The process is easy: rub the fat into the flour and salt (I find it easiest to do this bit in the food processor), then crack mix the egg into the water and use a knife to mix it into the flour/fat mix. Once you have it worked in as much as possible with a knife, get in with your hands and finish the job off. Give it a bit of a knead until you feel it become elastic (but seriously don't overwork the pastry, it isn't good), then wrap in clingfilm and stick it in the fridge for at least 4 hours to rest.

Ready to go in the fridge
After the pastry has rested for a while, it is time to assemble the pastys.

First prepare your filling. For the amount of pastry made above, you need about 450g beef, 450g potatoes, 250g swede and 200g onion. I don't get too precise, just roughly around those quantities.

Swede, potatoes and onion

Lovely bit of beef
 Cut the veg into small pieces. The potato and swede are best cut into thinnish slices. Mix the veg together, and add salt and pepper. Chop the meat into smallish chunks. They don't have to be as small as your veg, but make sure that they aren't too big, or the pasty will be impossible to eat!

Here comes the fun part. Roll out your pastry. Decide how big you want your pasty, and cut out a circle of pastry that will be about the right size. A dinner plate is a good template for a large pasty, the sort that you will eat for dinner. You want the pastry to be about 5mm thick.

Place your veg on the pastry, slightly to one side. Remember you're going to fold it in half. Then add a layer of beef on top.

Fold the pastry over the top of the meat and veg. Some places suggest using a rolling pin to support the free side, with practise you can do without. Squish the edges together, then you need to crimp the edges together to create a tight seal. Leaks are not desirable! This is an acquired skill, one that I am still practising - check here for some tips on how to crimp a pasty!

Fold the pastry and squish the edges together.

Being careful not to stretch the edge, crimp the pasty.

A pretty good crimp methinks!

Knot at the beginning.
Poke a steam hole in it, and brush a little milk or egg over the top to give it a golden crust. If you are freezing the pastys, leave out the milk or egg wash - you can do this when they are frozen just before they go in the oven.

Different people have different ways of cooking, but the way I do it is to cook in a 180 degree fan oven for about 40 minutes.

And there you have it. Beautiful golden pasties. Not necessarily the most EU friendly recipe, but a tasty little number all the same. In fact, was the best pasty I've ever made!

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Clarins Blue Orchid oil: sensitive skin fail

This facial oil comes highly recommended by many many bloggers. I love facial oils, and my skin can be dehydrated (which is the target skin type), so I thought I'd give it a go. I have been using balanceMe's Radiance Facial Oil to great effect, but I thought it would be good to mix it up a little.

Oh boy how wrong was I.

Sadly, this oil does not work for me. I'm sure on non sensitive skins this oil is lovely, because in between the negatives, my skin did feel softer and has been less dehydrated. However, it contains rosewood, and it appears that I am sensitive to rosewood. I had used it before in my own oil blend, but hadn't worked out quite which oil I was sensitive to, but suspected it was the rosewood (based on having used all the other oils before).

The long and the short of it is that I have started getting more spots, on my cheeks and chin. They aren't deep cysts like the ones I had for so long, which means they are definitely caused by something I'm putting on my skin. I checked the ingredients of my new KIKO foundation and they don't differ greatly from the MAC Studio Fix Fluid I had been using, so the only other thing I have changed in my routine is the Clarins Oil.
My make up free mug: see those big red splodges under my eye and on my cheeks? They weren't there until I started using the oil.

Ipso facto, the oil must go. Which is a shame, because it is really nice.

If you don't have sensitive skin, I recommend you try this oil. But if you do, I would give it a miss.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Half a decade seems a long time

March 11 2014 marks the 5th anniversary of this blog. I can't believe how quickly time has flown, and how much I, and the blogging world, have changed in that time. When I started Modal Corpus, blogs were still a fledgling industry, still carrying that DIY field, no matter what the subject was. Now blogs are big, and they are a whole different beast.

I've long pondered whether or not to keep going with the blogging, I have a tiny amount of readers and I'm never quite sure whether it is really worth it. But something spurs me on to keep going and just keep writing. One of the reasons I have a tiny audience is because I'm not very good at getting myself out there. I don't self promote, I don't run giveaways, I don't really do anything that would ensure more people could find my blog.

And therein lies the problem. I don't want Instagram. I don't want Vine. I don't want to have to spend every waking moment updating my social networks just to generate readers.

This blog isn't quite what I set out for it to be, but it is a place for me to ramble, and unleash my thoughts on the world. If people read them, then that is great, and I thank you. If you like what you read please share, I'd love it if you did. But if not, well, I'm ok with that too.

I'm going to try harder to work on the blog more this year. There were big gaps last year as I face brain fatigue after finishing my Masters, and life was a little stressy. Hopefully this year will be calmer, and I am working to self promote a little more. I am hoping that my new DSLR will bring a new lease of life to the blog, by giving me more purpose. I also realised when I was writing about Russell Brand the other day that the thing I love writing about most is politics. Which lets face it, has always been my first love. So maybe there will be a bit more of that here too.

I make no promises to the regularity of my posts, and I make no promises to the content, except to say that I am not going to review products very much, or in any great detail. There are many many beauty bloggers out there who already do a grand job, no point in flogging a dead horse. Actually the entire blogosphere is pretty saturated, but if I can offer something then I will.

I leave you with a verse from one of my favourite poems, The Walrus and the Carpenter by Lewis Caroll (from Jabberwocky):

The time has come, the Walrus said, 
to talk of many things. 
Of shoes and ships and sealing wax, 
of cabbages and kings,
And why the sea is boiling hot, 
and whether pigs have wings.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Long layers make for a relaxed fluid look

Following on from my last post about style evolution, I thought I'd share with you my current style loves. Right now that is fluid, draped style.

I've been slow to come round to loose draped layers, long preferring a much more fitted silhouette. But something is turning, call it age or just evolution, and now I find myself seeking looser, longer styles.

There is just something I really like about an oversized long knitted jumper or long top paired with skin tight ponte trousers and chunky boots. I've been looking for a direction to move my home style in, and now I found it. Although it is so comfy and I love the look so much I might end up moving my work style into it as well....

This set below is pretty much what I'm wearing at the moment (the outfit on the left). The jumper is actually a knitted dress, but due to my above average height it hits at just the right spot on me to wear with trousers as a long jumper. I would not wear this with tights!

fluid lines

fluid lines by m4dswine featuring leather shoes

Jumpers from H&M, black treggings from Dorothy Perkins, camo jeans and leather jacket from Long Tall Sally, boots by New Rock (top) and Doc Martens (bottom). 

The key thing for me with this look is balance. Voluminous top paired with bodycon bottom and balanced out with chunky boots. Crucially for me, the bottoms need to have plenty of give (although the camo jeans aren't that stretchy, their construction makes them extremely comfortable). Perhaps I'm keeping in mind some kind of apocalypse where a large sweater that doubles as a tent/blanket paired with trousers that allow for quick escapes are the ideal outfit? Who knows. 

Monday, 6 January 2014

The evolution of personal style

Yesterday I cleared out my wardrobe of things that I don't wear any more, either because they don't fit that well, or I just simply don't really like them any more. Because some of the things I shed have been in my wardrobe for a number of years, it felt like the final part of a year long transformation of me.

It all started earlier in 2013 when I decided I was fed up with the hassle of dyeing my hair and went back to my natural hair colour. Since then my fast growing hair has steadily grown out the last remnants of colour treated hair, until they are only about half of my length. The sun has lightened my natural hair to make it all blend in, and I'm left with a subtle ombre effect, which I really quite like! I have surprised myself by actually really liking my natural hair colour. It is a dark mousey blonde, which is pretty cool in tone, and looks slightly grey in some lights. It really is the colour of mice!

This colour change prompted somewhat of a style revolution in me. It didn't happen straight away, but over time my uniform of black tshirts and short mini skirts with leggings began to feel a little dated. After all, I've been wearing those kind of things for nearly 10 years now, albeit in different forms. Time for a little bit of a change.

To me it feels like this is the last piece of the jigsaw in the last 6 years of transformation. Since I divorced my ex, I have struggled to really place myself in this world in some ways. The feeling got worse when I moved to Vienna, and struggled to find work, learn German etc. But now I have what I refer to as a 'proper job'. The job I went back to university to get. It isn't in quite the area I thought it would be, but then again, I didn't really have anything in particular in mind when I set out to move into the NGO field.

But here I am, working in an international NGO, in a good job, that feels very grown up. I am finally finding my feet, in my 30s, and that has meant my style has changed with that.

The black is still there - I can't see myself ever letting that go - but it is no longer the sole shade in my wardrobe. Interspersed with the blacks are whites, taupes and greys of various hues. My love of a neutral palette may never diminish, but it can evolve.

The shape of my clothes is changing too - paying a lot more lip service to flattering my silhouette with longer styles that draw the eye down my body more, rather than punctuating it at the wrong points.

It is all about becoming a full grown adult. I finally feel like I've arrived in this world, and I want my style to reflect that. 

A new make up love?

Sorry MAC, I've been unfaithful. I stumbled into the KIKO store in SCS last week, and I found a new make up mate. Really sorry, thanks for all the good times!

No seriously, I couldn't give up MAC altogether. There are too many products I love too much, especially their eyeshadows. But KIKO... wow....

I didn't think I'd ever get to try any stuff, it seemed mythical and magical and something that I wouldn't find in Austria. And then I discovered that there is a store, in the big shopping centre I rarely go to because I feel like all the life force is draining out of me when I am in there... but there is this loud, bright, overwhelming store of make up magic.

I'm not a beauty blogger by any stretch of the imagination. I've tried my hand at reviewing cosmetics, but do you know what? I just don't have it in me to do it anymore. I just don't have the desire to take the perfect photo of my face, or of swatches. Which is kind of the point with beauty reviews.

So you'll just have to take my word for it. KIKO is awesome.

I bought the Skin Evolution foundation, which I think is the best foundation I've used in years. It is totally perfect for my skin (disclaimer: all skins are different), colour and texture. Even the coverage is good. And all for a third of the price of the MAC foundation I use. Bonus. 

I also bought the full coverage concealer because it is kind of dry, but yellowy in tone, so good for disguising redness. To go some way to disguising my dark circles (which seem to have appeared over Christmas, definitely not drinking enough water) and just generally giving a little lift to my under eye area, I bought the Natural Concealer in the pale pinky shade. It is lovely and light, and blends well.

Best of all, it seems to last pretty well. The real test will come once I'm back at work (for some reason working in an office is a real test of how well my make up stands up to the test of time). 

Here is a bonus picture of me wearing the foundation and concealers.

Other products used: MAC e/s in Copperplate and Concrete, GOSH Black Pencil liner, MAC Opulash mascara, MAC Blush in Well Dressed and MAC Cremesheen Glass in Pagoda

My other two purchases were a sparkly grey/mink eyeliner pencil, which is a dream to apply, and a beautiful colour, and a matte base/top/hardening coat for nails. The pencil looks amazing with the MAC Magnetic Nude Extra Dimension eyeshadow in Silver Dawn (which I am so going to buy a back up of). The matte 3in1 nail coat does what it says on the tin, and I love it. It's also a fast drying one, so you don't have to wait ages after applying, something which I understand is fairly normal for matte manicures.

Loving my haul so far, all the products have been top notch. Best of all, the whole lot only set me back €36! I will definitely be checking out more of the products in the future!

KIKO do online ordering in many countries - go to www.kikocosmetics.com to see whether they do in yours!


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