Do or DIY

A PUN! Hooray. And also, sorry.

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In my last post, I talked about a general restlessness that had descended on me, and how taking a break had been what I needed to refocus a bit. While away, I decided to have a bit of a life clear-out, so this week I’ve been cleaning out my outrageously messy room. I’m generally pretty houseproud, but a lack of storage space and abundance of freebies from my fashion/beauty editing work (I’m not complaining!) left me Confucius-like, yelling at a tide of clothes to stay back.

Clothes to the left of me, clothes to the right of me, and hours later I found myself standing shell-shocked with a variety of huge bags around me. Some were destined for the charity shop, others for the textiles bin, others were tucked away until next Winter, which is probably a good two weeks away, based on my reckoning. I was left with one pile. I called it the ‘adapt or die’ pile. So, look here. I’m bored of most of my clothes, but I’m also poor. The solution? To get sewing, painting, and gluing.

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I started with two small projects last weekend, just to ease myself back into it. There’s a danger with DIY that you’ll go too far, customise a bit too enthusiastically, and end up looking like you covered yourself in E6000 glue and rolled around in a habadashery, then Claire’s Accessories, THEN ransacked the wardrobe of that ghastly Kirstie Allsopp. Tread carefully, is what I’m trying to say.

My two projects, then. I picked up a lovely cornflower blue man’s shirt from a charity shop for £3.30, and some non-roll elastic (AMAZING STUFF), and was inspired by Geneva Vanderzeil’s book to create a mini skirt from it. Seriously easy stuff, and perfect for first time sewers. I don’t want to write up the full instructions here, as I don’t think it’s fair to Geneva and her hard work, but I’d encourage you to grab her gorgeous book..Initially I tried the shirt as a dress, as you can see below – something I might explore another time, but it was VERY short. Sorry about the rubbish quality of pics in the post, was without my usual camera.

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The second project I can tell you exactly how to do, and it’s the easiest update for jewellery ever. I dug deep into my jewellery box and found a pair of very boring rhinestone earrings. Beyond boring, they looked cheap. A clear crystal rhinestone tends to look dull at night and strange during the day, so here’s what I did: I grabbed some nail varnish. And I painted over the crystals. I used jade and lavender for a colour blocked effect. I did three coats to get a decent coverage, and left them to dry overnight. Easiest thing ever. Bonus tip: my favourite leather jacket had zips that were starting to discolour, so I painted them over with a metallic nail varnish, and it looked brand new. SIMPLE.

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Ski Monday

I’ve never been skiing. Ever. I successfully avoided years of ski trips at school because, while I quite liked the sound of the apres ski part, I was mildly terrified about the actual…well, skiing. It’s just not in my realm of experience. I love being active, but my experience has been in things like dance and running, where you’re completely in control of your own body and not strapped to two big planks of wood (although there was that one avant garde physical theatre piece….) Growing up, we always had beach holidays as my dad is a body boarder and surfer, so I’m far more at home in the sea than on snow.

There’s another aspect to it too – up until a few years ago, I hated going outside my comfort zone. It came of not being too confident in myself, which meant I only liked to do things I had control over, and putting myself in a situation where I’d probably fall over a lot and look an idiot didn’t come under that remit. A few years ago something clicked and now pretty much everything I do is outside my comfort zone in one way or another. I love pushing myself, I love trying new things, and I really don’t mind if I look an idiot while doing them.

When my friend Mikey told me that Bowles, the local outdoor activity centre, was looking for six completely inexperienced people to come in for a free skiing session, I knew I had to give it a go. Bowles is amazing; you can climb rocks, learn to canoe, and obviously ski or snowboard. The staff were extremely cheerful and welcoming, and I didn’t for one minute feel worried. Well, apart from having to write down the name of my next of kin…

We were there to form part of an interview for a potential new instructor, the lovely Jonathan, who was wonderful. We got used to our boots, then our skis, and eventually we got to go down a very teeny slope and practice running and stopping. It was all perfect for a total beginner like me, and it was just enough to give me the skiing bug. I’m so surprised at how much I enjoyed it! It’s such an alien activity for me but I wanted to keep going and going. Huge thanks to Bowles, and I’m DEFINITELY going back for more! If you’re around Sussex/Tunbridge Wells and keen to give it a try, I can’t recommend them enough.

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Exciting News!

So, I haven’t posted about my vegan challenge in a couple of days, have I?

Bet you thought I’d given up, right? Wrong! I’ve been having such a great time and enjoying myself so much that I decided to set up a new blog, publishing my vegan recipes. I’m enjoying cooking such an insane amount that I keep wanting to post loads on here, but I don’t want to annoy anyone following my blog as I feel it’d be too much of a change of direction. So I’ll be keeping up this blog for my usual ramblings and sillyness, and my new blog will specifically be for vegan stuff. So, it’s nouvellevegan.wordpress.com

I hope you feel inclined to go and check it out. Essentially, it’s for food lovers who just happen to be vegan. I’ve talked on here before about how many vegan recipes I’ve found tend to either be wildly unhealthy/calorific because they’re making up for the lack of certain ingredients, or be very healthy but not particularly yummy to eat. This site is where I’ll be posting my own recipes that fall somewhere between those two camps.

I’m not trying to convert anyone or preach at anyone. It’s a personal choice, and I’ve found that my body just seems to function better on a vegan, sugar free, gluten free diet. The changes I’ve seen have been amazing, and while I initially only wanted to do this challenge for two weeks, I can’t face the thought of letting go of how great I feel. Feel free to dip into my site – you don’t have to eat vegan at every meal and go crazy. Maybe you just want to cut down on some calories, or get a bit of energy back. Maybe you just feel like doing something different. However you use the site and the recipes is fine by me.

I’ll be back to posting about my normal rubbish on here very shortly, but in the meantime I’d love for you to go and check my site out. I also have a new Twitter account for it: @nouvelle_vegan, and a Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/NouvelleVegan

Thanks for reading chaps! Hope you’re all enjoying the sunshine 🙂

Vegan Challenge: Spaghetti and Ice Cream?

I’m in two minds about vegan ‘interpretations’ of what I could insultingly call ‘normal food’. Here are my two conflicting thoughts:

Love: t’s a very clever and fun thing to do to reimagine a dish within strict vegan limitations. If you’re an adventurous cook with a good palate, picking out flavours and textures that define a dish and applying them to something new can be fantastic. I truly believe that you don’t need to overload your cooking with oil, butter, cheese etc for it to taste good, although I do very much enjoy all those things. If you can come up with a version of something that stands alone as a delicious meal, then that’s fantastic.

Hate: But on the other hand…you set yourself up for disappointment. Veganism should be about enjoying and appreciating what good food is, as opposed to measuring it against what it’s not. Anyone who has ever tried to make a vegan macaroni cheese knows what I’m talking about. No combination of soy ‘dairy’, nutritional yeast and whole wheat pasta is EVER going to taste like proper mac and cheese, so what’s the point in imitating old recipes when you could focus on new, amazing recipes?

Anyway, I decided to set myself ANOTHER challenge and try to make a meal that borrowed some elements of my favourite foods, but wasn’t a pale, soggy imitation of them. I settled on courgette spaghetti with pesto, followed by banana and raspberry ice cream for my supper. Because I’m being extremely strict with myself, I’ve banned pasta from my diet for these two weeks. You have no idea what this is doing to me. I’m an absolute pasta fiend. It must be my Mediterranean heritage or something, but I’d happily eat it twice, three times a day. But eating that much pasta, plus a load of cheese and butter, is not doing me any favours, and is zapping away my energy. Courgette spaghetti seemed like a good way of creating the effect of pasta, along with a similar texture. By lightly pan-frying it in a little oil and garlic, then combining with pesto, I got a lot of my favourite bits of the pasta experience with none of the unhealthy downsides.

Courgette Spaghetti

2 medium sized courgettes
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped finely
2 tsp olive oil
Salt and pepper

I shaved the courgettes with a julienne grater, and set them aside on paper towels to absorb some of the water. I lightly salted them, because otherwise courgette can be a little flavourless. I then heated the garlic on a moderate heat with the oil – I used lots of garlic because I love it so much. I lightly pan fried them until they’d absorbed the flavours without going to soft. I seasoned to taste. If I’d been doing this dish without the pesto, I’d have used a little nutmeg, or some cayenne, or red chilli to add another flavour.

Lemon & Basil Pesto

1 cup fresh basil
1 big clove of garlic (more if you’re a garlic fiend like me)
3/4 tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 tbsp cashew nuts
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tbsp lemon zest
1/4 tsp sea salt

Quite frankly, you can do whatever you like with the pesto. I’ve used cashews because I had cashews, but pine nuts would be a more ‘traditional’ pesto taste. You can omit the lemon, use sage instead of basil, use almonds, use Parmesan…anything you like. I’d say just judge this one by eye/taste. If it’s dry, use more oil, if it’s dull, use more lemon. Essentially, just plonk all your ingredients in the food processor and whiz them up until you’re happy. I then tossed my courgette spaghetti in the pesto, and served it with a side of tomato salad.

Banana & Raspberry Ice Cream

2 frozen bananas
1 cup frozen raspberries

This is insultingly easy. I peeled some bananas, put them in a freezer bag, and froze them at lunch. At dinner time, I simply blended them in my food processor with a cup of frozen raspberries, and BINGO – a creamy, pretty looking, perfectly textured ‘ice cream’. You could also use a little vanilla if you like. I feel like I’m really late to this whole frozen banana party, but they are SO GOOD. I mean, this? This blew my mind. It tasted exactly like proper ice cream. And I’ve been known to make ice cream featuring clotted cream and white chocolate. I will seriously keep on eating this even if I stop being vegan. The last time I made one was when I got inspired because of Arrested Development…

So that was my supper!

Clear Out

Again, big apologies for not writing on here that much lately. I just haven’t really felt moved to write anything, and I didn’t want to post a load of filler that had no meaning. I’ve been feeling a little….adrift, and not sure of my path. Not in a hugely overdramatic way, but I’ve wound things down workwise, as I’m off on holiday this Friday and needed to clear stuff out of the way. I’m not very good at not being busy. When I don’t have a lot on, I suddenly become very bad at doing the few tasks I do have to perform. You know the thing – ‘Yeah…I could do this today, but…I could also do it tomorrow’. Mañana….

I tend to take on more and more work until I’m almost frantic, which I enjoy – and I’ll just keep going and going, then things will get a bit quieter and I’ll feel all weird, and faff about a lot. I’ll write the same things on my To Do list every day, with no real intention of actually doing them. What I’m trying these days is a different tactic. I’m trying just to set myself ONE goal at a time during the day, then work through it. Because of my self-employed status, I’m involved in a wide variety of different projects, which is lovely, but there are always wildly competing priorities. I’ll sit down to one task only to find my head flooding with a million other things I have to do that are equally as urgent.

So now, I’m trying to approach one thing at a time, work through it, feel happy that it’s completed, tick it off the To Do list (compulsory step, do not skip) and then move on to the next. Days like these, I feel like I did when I was studying for my GCSEs, and I spent hours making a beautifully colour-coded timetable, and a lot less time on actually working. I can be a huge procrastinator, but with so many projects on, this actually sometimes works to my advantage. Sure, I didn’t manage to set up my online Etsy shop today, but I did write three articles, clear out my shoe collection, get some photography done, and work on a music mix. The art is in making sure the tasks I do to procrastinate are actually of some worth.

But I’ve been stuck in a rut of late, and not getting nearly as much done as I’d like. It’s like my energy has diminished. I feel like a computer game character; I can practically hear that beeping as the life force drains down. What to do? How do I get myself out of it? It’s hard to explain what it even is. I wake up and approach the day with the best of intentions, sit down to do stuff, and I just…can’t do it. It’s not difficult, but I can’t seem to get on with it, no matter how many times I ‘have a word with myself’. It’s really very irritating.

There’s one fail-safe way that works to get me back into the right frame of mind. Maybe you do it to? Essentially, I need to have a huge clear out. Getting rid of stuff and tidying up my environment is the only way I’ve found that’s guaranteed to clear my head. Luckily, with a little more time on my hands for the week, I can get stuck in. So here are some photos of my room/shoe collection, during the clear out phase. Check back in the week for the finished result (hopefully!) My shoes were particularly shocking, because I only tend to wear about three or four pairs on rotation. I didn’t realise I had over 80. I know it could be worse, but for someone who claims that I’m not really interested in shoes…well, it was pretty appalling. The local charity shops will be more or less covered in my stuff. Let the clear out commence!

 

February 29th

I hadn’t given much thought to 29th February, I have to say. I’m certainly not going to be proposing to anyone, for one thing. Well…maybe to Cumberbatch, but very quietly, in my head. But that’s incidental. No – the 29th of February seems to be somewhat sidelined as a date in the calendar. Probably because, as a nation, we have a collectively short attention span, and celebrating something every four years doesn’t offer a great deal of income to card manufacturers, those arbiters of tradition.

I decided to consult the fount of all knowledge, Wikipedia. I wasn’t disappointed. After an awful lot of mathematical gymnastics used to explain how the day happened, I learnt that it was introduced as part of the Julian reform, that both Aileen Wuornos and Ja Rule were born on the day, and that it is also the feast day of ‘Oswald of Worcester’. Marv. From other websites which were not Wikipedia, I learnt that any ventures started on this day will apparently be successful, that – famously – women were allowed to propose on this day, and would get a free dress if they were turned down (win win!), and that Greek tradition dictates a couple will have bad luck if they marry in a Leap Year.

Phew. Well, that’s all marvellous, but what should it mean to me? I took enough of a beating over my love of Valentine’s Day – did I dare to speak up for a day that isn’t even remotely acknowledged as something special? Yeah, why not? As if I’ve ever needed any excuse for a party. So, what to do? How should I interpret the day? I heard an item on Radio Four about how people were planning on using the day to do completely different things to what they’d usually do. Apparently, the National Trust are also giving their staff the day off to volunteer for charities, which I think is extremely admirable.

I haven’t totally nailed down my plans yet, but I know I want to do something that’s different. So for a start, I am going to have an utterly technology free day. Nothing. I will be away from my laptop. No texts, no Facebooking, no Tweeting, no emails. This is a huge deal for me, and hopefully it might help me think about the obscene amount of time I spend looking at a screen. To go along with the National Trust idea, I’m going to sit down and start ploughing through some of the ideas I have for my charity work. I’m going to sketch. I’m going out for a walk.

Those are some loose plans at the moment, but I’d like to do something really different. If you have any ideas, or you’re planning on having an ‘opposite’ day to what you’d usually do, let me know!

Do Something That Scares You

I made every excuse in the book to get out of doing the thing that scared me. The Thing was scheduled for yesterday evening, and I’d known it was coming for about four or five months. That meant that I couldn’t even pull the ‘but I’m woefully under-prepared!!!!’ card. Thing was, I really, REALLY didn’t feel like it. I mean, really. The past couple of weeks have been utterly manic. While it may look like, as a freelancer/self-employed chappy, I just swan off to the cinema on a Wednesday afternoon, that isn’t my whole life.

Yes, I do take off on occasional mid-week jaunts, but to make up for it I work through the weekend. I stay up working til late. I wake up in the morning and hit my inbox. I think about work all the time. This last week it all got a little bit TOO much. When you’re a freelancer, you obviously have a variety of different people who give you work. You don’t leave your office at the weekend, or at 6pm, and leave your work behind. You need to be easily contactable at all hours, and when you need to take a day off to get some head space, it can get a bit sticky. I desperately needed that bit of room, but everywhere I turned there was a loose end. The emails, phonecalls, texts and tweets suddenly all started to build up and I started to drown a bit.

I’d manage to get a very sexy bit of flu at some point during the week, which meant that by Thursday morning, I felt like I’d been run over by a truck. In fact, navigating the tubes on Wednesday, I kept feeling like I was going to pass out. My voice had started to go. Then there was all the snowy weather and cancelled plans…all in all, I was getting a bit stressed out and a bit crap at dealing with stuff. I was trying to run away from my To Do list instead of calmly approaching it, and that was the worst thing I could have done.

Yesterday, I took action. I decided I wasn’t going to do The Scary Thing. Because of this decision, I then felt so guilty and awful that I channelled my energies into everything else on my list and actually manage to clear a lot of my work load. I was due to leave for The Scary Thing at 6pm. Around 5.30, I decided to do it. The Scary Thing was singing and playing my ukulele in front of an audience at a burlesque night at the Forum, in Tunbridge Wells. I’d never even been to the Forum, and it had been ages since I’d performed in front of people. I’ve sung in front of crowds before, but never sung AND played my uke. I was losing my voice, I was dizzy, I was exhausted, frazzled, and had never done the song in front of anyone before. Oh, and I hadn’t washed my hair.

What changed my mind? The fact that, deep down, under the talk about flu and potential snowfall, I knew I was planning on cancelling because I was just plain scared. I wanted to let myself off the hook. Thing is, if it’s only fear that’s holding me back, then I will always do it. If I’m scared, I know I’ll go through with whatever it is I’ve said. Whether it’s singing in the middle of the RVP shopping centre in T Wells on a busy day, modelling in a catwalk show, or agreeing to pull together a magazine pitch in a week, I’ll always do it, to smash in the head of my Fear. Why? Because I never want to look back and know that I stood in my own way.

I thought about this blog, and how it’s based around positivity, ‘just doing it’, and encouraging people to go for their goals. How could I possibly keep writing like this and telling others not to be scared, if I knew I’d completely caved in myself? My whole philosophy in life is based on stepping outside of my comfort zone, because then and ONLY THEN will good things happen. You can’t sit around in your room or in your office, expecting your life to miraculously change and get exciting. You need to do it yourself.

I am generally great at not letting nerves interfere with anything. I decreed this year would be ‘my year’ (I hope you’ve done something similar yourself), and since the year started I’ve been taking chances, making connections, smiling at strangers, going to new things…And things have already changed hugely. This year has already been unbelievably brilliant. Good thing after good thing has been happening. But to return to last night…I stomped all over my nerves, quickly ironed my dress, grabbed my ukulele and a make up bag and headed off.

I wasn’t remotely nervous when I got there and met the rest of the girls who were performing. Everyone was so lovely and really kind. I got dressed, Victory rolled my hair, ran through my song and chilled out, trying to ignore the flu-induced dizziness and slightly croaky voice. I was still calm as the audience filtered in. The photographer at the event very kindly came up to tell me I looked good on camera in the photos he’d shot before we started, so that made me feel a lot better. And predictably, ten minutes before I went on, I completely freaked. My voice suddenly started to go, I felt a bit shaky, and I just really, really, REALLY didn’t want to do it.

I did though. I stepped out there, looked into the audience, had a little chat with them, and started to sing. I think it went well – I had a couple of strained moments due to the good ol’ sore throat, but ultimately, it went much better than I could have hoped. Because, like Cinderella, I had to get home before the Lemsip wore off, I exited through the audience. I was still slightly scared that I would get pelted with a spare bucket of tomatoes that someone had on hand, but ultimately I was relieved I’d done it, and completely buzzing. No tomatoes – I had some lovely, sweet people saying they’d really enjoyed it, one girl asked for my card because she was getting married and mentioned something about me singing at her wedding, and another lovely lady was very enthusiastic and asked about where she could buy my CD, and took my card to talk through potential future opportunities with her!

So, not bad for the first time I’d ever performed like that in public. If I hadn’t gone, I would have stayed at home, watching TV, eating spaghetti, and feeling very silly. I still truly believe that if it scares you, you should do it. Even if you do it for the huge burst of adrenaline that you’ll get afterwards, then make it happen. It worked to clear my head – I’m suddenly able to focus again, I’ve ticked things off the list and just generally dealt with everything that’s come my way today.

Still not convinced? There’s a line in a Chilli Peppers song that always sticks with me, and it’s this: “This life is more than just a read through”