I am sorry, but I’ve done the unthinkable.

I am sorry, but I’ve done the unthinkable.

It’s been two weeks since my last #121toFitMum blog post. I am sorry. It’s been a couple of weeks of tight work deadlines, nights out for friends’ birthdays and what seems like a zillion Ks1 SATs practice papers to help my eldest daughter with.

I say sorry. And I am. Because I think it’s not the done thing to not post your blog regularly, and on the same day and at the same time each week?  I’m not entirely certain of the rules, though. Perhaps it doesn’t matter? Last year I’m sure I read a piece by a fabulous mummy blogger (perhaps it was Hurrah for Gin or Selfish Mother?) who said she’d managed to build a lovely blog community despite not following blogging etiquette. I wish I could remember who it was because then I could read the post again right now and instantly feel better about my tardiness.

Writing this, it’s struck me how – without realising it – I’ve embarked on two, not one, journeys in taking on this GPFIT London fitness challenge.  Fitness is of course a totally new beast for me. But so is this blogging lark. I mean, I’ve blog reviewed products and events for Mumsnet Barnet and Mumsnet Enfield on and off for a year or so. But this #121toFitMum series is my first attempt at writing a themed series of blogs.

My PT, George, tells me I shouldn’t be too hard on myself if I eat something a little unhealthy, or miss a home workout. So perhaps I should apply the same logic to my blogging journey? So what, then, if a blog post is delayed? As long as I keep going and keep learning – and continue to receive lovely feedback both on- and offline – then I guess that’s progress, right?

So here I am. And I have three things to say:

1.I’VE BEEN OVERWHELMED BY THE SUPPORT

I didn’t think anyone other than me would ‘get’ how big a deal it was taking on the fitness challenge. But they did, and they do. I’ve had so many wonderfully supportive comments; but also, numerous friends have got in touch to say they’ve been inspired to get fit themselves after reading my posts.  One friend has already hired her own personal trainer and has a 6am session booked for Friday (good luck Susanne!)

user persona snip
We Digital Mum graduates LOVE creating user personas for our social media clients!

What’s more, I’m now considered to be a bit knowledgeable on all things fitness! Social media manager peers are keen to pick my brains on developing user personas (or customer pen portraits) for their health and wellness clients. So in addition to achieving fitness I am potentially opening up another work avenue as well.

2. I LOVE BOXING

Yep, you read right! I’m love boxing. With proper boxing gloves. And little, Michael Jackson-style white glove inserts underneath, and everything! It’s been a bit of a revelation, I can tell you.

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When George first suggested boxing I was surprised and, if I’m honest, a bit scared. My younger sister always teased me about my weak arms and tiny fists – I was worried I’d look like a fool. And yet as a pre-teen I always loved watching the boxing with my granny (as you do) and so part of me was rather excited, too.

So these last two weeks I’ve had two boxing sessions. (There should have been a non-boxing workout in-between but we had to cancel that session due to poorly children on both sides) and I can honestly say I can’t wait until the next one!

Granted, my footwork needs a bit of work. As does my jab. Plus I bruised my knuckle when I went for a un-gloved cross at George at the same time as he! (I was meant to be watching him, not joining in yet.)

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My poorly knuckle – proper sports injury!

But compared to the lunges, squats and press ups, this boxing business doesn’t really feel like doing exercise. I’m so busy concentrating on the sequences, on where my feet need to be and also enjoying getting out all my frustration, that the hour session is up before I know it.

Although I ache a little later that day, it’s a great ache. And when I’m washing in the shower that evening I’m sure my arms feel just that little bit more toned. And my abs – well, I can feel some muscle developing on the flanks! People say you really start to notice positive changes in your body after about four weeks’ of exercise, and this has certainly proved to be right in my case. I’ve had to throw away a pair of size 16 jeans that fell down as I ran for the bus (the shame!) and already my new size 16 running leggings are a bit baggy on the waist, hips and upper thigh (shame, I really like them!) I’ve also heard it said that it’s after eight weeks that other people start to notice your increased fitness and weight loss – we soon shall see.

3. I CAN PLANK!

Oh yes I can! Despite assuming my core muscles were shot to pieces I actually planked – twice! George is my witness! And during the second boxing workout I actually managed to hold it for a whopping 45 seconds. Not bad for a fat girl!

I googled planking (as you do) and John Sifferman’s Totally Unofficial Plank Time Standards’ have given me something to aim for. Though I don’t think I’ll ever get beyond Advanced:

  • Newbie: 30+ seconds
  • Beginner: 1+ minute
  • Intermediate: 3+ minutes
  • Advanced: 5+ minutes
  • Expert: 10+ minutes
  • Master: 20+ minutes
  • Wicked Sick: 30+ minutes
  • Superhuman: 40+ minutes
  • Olympian: 50+ minutes
  • Plank Immortal: 1 hour or longer.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m on GPFIT London‘s Platinum customised training plan, which works out at only £40 per session and includes an free fitness consultation, Bodymetrix analysis, nutrition advice and 20 hour-long workouts. My personal trainer has incorporated the Hatton Academy Boxing into this plan. But you can opt for the Hatton 10 or Hatton 5 plan, comprising either ten or five Hatton Boxing fitness sessions each lasting 45 minutes, plus warm up and down time. This works out at only £30-35 per session and, if you mention Mumsnet Barnet or Mumsnet Enfield then you get a 10% discount, too. gpfit mpu final version

If you decide to give Boxing or any other fitness programme a try, keep me posted and I’d love to follow your progress just as you’re following mine.

And thank you for bearing with me and my tardy blogging. I do appreciate it.

Until next week.

Jenny & George

PPS. To read the previous #121toFitMum blog post click here.

 

 

 

 

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I hate spotty dogs.

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I really, really do detest them.

But calm down, everyone, calm down. I’m not a dog-hater! It’s the Spotty Dog exercise that I can’t stand.

Oh. My. God.

Not sure if it’s a result of the dodgy right knee but I struggle doing this exercise BIG TIME! My legs just seem to go all weak and wobbly and then I can’t co-ordinate them with my arms. Argh!

Here’s a 20-second video of the offending move courtesy of Kiss Fitness. I won’t embarrass myself by sharing a clip of me doing it, but I’ll Snapchat George when I next see him! (By the way, if you want to follow me on Snapchat, my username is jennyhallsocial, surprise surprise! In addition to snapping about my kids I also post the occasional healthy eating snap. In time, I hope to be brave enough to post video snaps of me working out!)

Anyway, back to Spotty Dogs. George took pity on me and said I could swap the Spotty Dog for Jumping Jacks (what I used to call Star Jumps). Sorted.

Or so I thought.

Can you imagine my horror when I realised that, while Jumping Jacks were kinder to the muscles and joints, my pelvic floor did not respond well?!  After just one round, embarrassingly I had to ‘fess up to George that ‘a bit of wee’ might pop out, so could I pretty please revert to the dreaded Spotty Dog? Desperate times.

incontincence

Thank goodness George is in his forties, has a partner and two sisters. He got it. Took it in his stride. Told me that stress incontinence is normal after a baby – even a nearly five year old one – when you’ve not kept up with your Kegals! He told me to do what felt most comfortable. Key thing was to keep moving in-between the other exercises to keep my heart rate up. So, embarrassing as that was, at least it was out in the open and I could now focus on the job in hand. Phew.

So week two comprised two sessions – on Tuesday and again on the Thursday. Each time we began with a five-minute warm up on the aerobic step. This sounds easy but actually I found it rather hard work!  Guess that’s the idea though.

GPFIT London uses this multi-position bench by Reebok because you can use it in 16 different ways. But even at a discounted price of £142.99 from Powerhouse Fitness UK it’s still too expensive for me, especially since it’s early days. Not that I’m planning on quitting!

But a bit of Googling came up with this piece of kit by celebrity trainer Matt Roberts. Available from Argos and currently half price at £49.99 it’s cheaper than the Reebok step and has some incline functionality. Or there’s an even cheaper aerobic exercise step by Mirafit.Mirafit aerobic step

It doesn’t convert into a bench but at only £17.95 it’s pretty good value. To increase the maximum height from 20cm to 26cm you’ll need to pay extra for the Mirafit Extra Raiser Blocks (£9.95), but a total price of under £30 isn’t bad. If you’ve bought an aerobic step recently feel free to share brand and price details, plus feedback.

Following the warm up, George put me through my paces with a range of other exercises to build on what we started last week. I was rather impressed with myself because already I noticed an improvement on the week before:

  • Squats – both with and without using the TRX suspension trainer. I managed to squat lower than last week, and hold for longer. Hooray!
  • Upper body stretches – using a resistance band like these by Wolverson.
  • Static lunges & twists.
  • Press ups- I do these with my knees on the floor, feet together because I don’t yet have the strength to do them the standard way.
  • Lunges.
  • 4-point Superman (as demonstrated here by Functional 360 NZ – next time I’ll take a video of George doing it!)

This week with my agreement George also introduced some very gentle abdominal exercises. Just a few stomach vacuums and pelvic tilts. It actually felt very good – it’s been too long since I used these muscles! I was also reminded to keep going with the pelvic floor exercises, ideally 15-20 squeezes, four-five times each day.

I don’t do my pelvic floor exercises during the workout (would feel a bit weird with George watching!) but it’s something I can easily do while going about my daily business: eating breakfast; scheduling some tweets for my client; folding the laundry. You get the drift! Your pelvic floor muscles (together with your abdominals) are your body’s natural corset. The more you work them, the more taut your lower stomach will become.

Here’s a pelvic floor exercise overview by NHS Choices. If you scroll down a bit, it tells you how to squeeze properly! I’m sure other sites give you more complicated routines. However, as my Spotty Dog attempts testify, my pelvic floor is a novice so for now I’m following GPFIT London‘s recommendation!

I never thought I’d say this but I’m really looking forward to next week’s workouts! I think it’s because, after only three sessions with George I can already feel something resembling a waist. And my size 16 running leggings are already looking a bit less stretched across the thighs. I don’t think I’m imagining it and a quick jump on the scales or a session with the tape measure would tell me for sure.

weighing scales

But I resist. I don’t want to know quite yet because it is really early days and George will conduct another Bodymetrix assessment when the time is right. But for now, a positive mental attitude can only be a good thing, right?

Last week I promised you a downloadable resource to help you pack more protein into your diet and here it is – 15 protein-rich foods that pack a punch! Since I’m a vegetarian I’ve included lots of lovely plant-based protein ideas in there for you. I hope you find it helpful.

I’ve leave you with my Top Five Feel Good Tips, which I think I’ll make a regular blog feature. Here goes for this week’s:

  1. On waking each morning, drink a glass of water with a slice of lemon each morning to get things moving! And each day aim for 2 litres. Sounds alot but it’s important to keep hydrated – your body will thank you for it! If you find drinking water boring, check out the fabulous Instagram feed by Detoxwater. Water can be sexy – and so can you!
  2. Prepare a weekly menu plan for you (and, if relevant, the family). Make sure this includes ideas for protein-rich meals ands snacks so you don’t nibble on rubbish post-workout. Use my 15 ways protein-rich foods to pack a punch! guide for some tips.
  3. Don’t go overboard on the fruit and nut consumption otherwise you’ll end up eating too much sugar and fat. A decent portion of nuts is about 25-30g and only have about one-two pieces of fruit a day (you really don’t need five pieces in every smoothie you make!)
  4. Don’t forget to do those daily pelvic exercises, ladies! Set an alarm on your phone to help you remember!
  5. If you know that, like me, you need someone to spur you on each week, give GPFIT London a call today on 07514 326729 or email enquiry@gpfit.london. Don’t forget to mention Mumsnet Barnet or Mumsnet Enfield to get 10% off your first block blocking.

    Until next week!

    Jenny

    PS. To read the previous #121toFitMum blog post click here.

 

gpfit mpu final version

I am 40% fat

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Yep, you read right. A whopping 39.5% of my body is fat (I rounded up the percentage for a more succinct headline).

How the **** did a previously petite, size 8 woman end up in this state? Seriously, before writing this I had to have a strong word with myself!

My 10-week personal training journey to fitness began when GPFIT London’s personal trainer, George, came to my house to talk and listen about my health and fitness goals. He also took some measurements.

You’ll know from reading my previous posts how nervous I was about this initial consultation. Nervous about how I’d look in my ‘gym’ gear; whether I’d be asked to do any exercise straight away, blah blah blah. So nervous that I didn’t think too much about what my fitness level and body measurements would be, or for that matter about their impact on my health.

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On arrival George listened to me waffle on about this and that (I always talk too much when I’m nervous) and then told me not to be nervous. Ha, rumbled! He then put me at my ease and asked how I felt about myself, my fitness, about everything anything I wanted to share. I confided in him the same way I did with you in previous posts. I explained how I felt I’d gone ‘off track’ after having children. And how I was worried I’d never feel or look good in the future because I was ‘too far gone’!

Then with George’s help I made a list of my fitness goals. In the future, if ever I had a wobble and felt like giving up, I could refer to these to re-motivate. My personal goals are to:

  • Spend more time being active with my children.
  • Improve my fitness levels I’m less out of breath.
  • Build my self-esteem so I feel better about myself and my appearance. (Yep, I may be fat but I am still interested in how I look. I think most of us are, if we’re honest!)

Then it was measurement time. If you feel uncomfortable, George gives you the option to opt out of this phase in the program. However, I’m a marketer by trade and I know the value of baseline data to help you evaluate success (or not) further down the line. Therefore, despite feeling mildly embarrassed about George knowing my vitals, I gave him the go-ahead. I needn’t have worried. There was no removing of clothes; no grabbing of fatty rolls. That shocking percentage body fat statistic was obtained using a piece of snazzy equipment called BodyMetrix, which felt similar to when you have a pregnancy scan, except it only touches a very small area of your skin at a time.The latest studies now show that it’s percentage body fat that has the closest correlation to predicting health. I should fall into the 13-24% range. At 39.5% obviously I was well outside of this (and to my horror therefore considered obese)!

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My other vital statistics are:

  1. Blood pressure: Normal (at least I got something right, though I’m so surprised this is the case!)
  2. Weight: 75.8kg = overweight
  3. BMI: 28.9 = overweight
  4. BMR: 1631.1 kcal/day

Body Mass Index (BMI) is a common , mathematical formula in which a person’s body weight is divided by the square of his or her height. Individuals with a BMI of 25 to 29.9 are considered overweight, while individuals with a BMI of 30 or more are considered obese. However, like weight, BMI may not be the best measure of someone’s health because it measures you against standard norms that don’t take into consideration actual body composition. George is more interested in reducing my percentage body fat.

Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is the minimal caloric requirement, or the amount of energy your body would burn, if you remained lying down for 24 hours. Based on all my measurements it was concluded I should lose approx. 15.5 kg of body fat. Since a healthy rate of fat loss is generally considered to be no more than 0.9 kg per week, George calculated it’d take me 121 days to reach my target.

And so the #121toFitMum hashtag was born!

To achieve my ideal body weight and lose the fat I would need to decrease my daily caloric intake while maintaining my current activity level. If I increased my activity level I could consume more calories and still work towards my goal. Better still, if I exercised consistently, then my BMR and daily energy expenditure would improve and increase my body’s efficiency in burning calories. So, while it’s not all about losing weight (and at GPFIT London they don’t talk about you losing anything – it’s all about what you’re gaining!) it is important to eat, as well as train, well in order to keep an eye of levels of sugar, salt, sodium and cholesterol, as well as to torch that fat!

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Check out myfitnesspal!

George recommended I download mobile app myfitnesspal to help me track my food intake as well as my weekly workouts.  I have to say I’m already a bit addicted! It seems you can scan food items as well as manually inputting them, and I can see that it’s going to make my life so much easier!

myfitnesspal

Whether I’m obese or overweight, the long and the short of it is that I’ve seen in black and white that I’m badly out of shape.

And it’s not just about how I look. My high percentage of body fat significantly increases my risk of developing heart disease, stroke, diabetes, certain types of cancer and other chronic illnesses. And a lower life expectancy. Of course I also knew this; I used to work for both Macmillan Cancer Support and the Stroke Association. Seeing the graph of relative disease risks below really hit home how important it is for me to see this fitness programme through to the end and beyond:

Relative disease risks blog 3 GPFIT London

As the 1.5hr consultation came to a close I couldn’t help but glance repeatedly at the disease risks section – and the word OBESE – on the laptop screen. But George kept me focused. He reiterated what my fitness goals were and, just a couple of hours after leaving, followed up with a supportive email:

“We spoke at length about a lot of important aspects of your life. Thank you for sharing these very personal things, I know it’s not always easy to talk to a complete stranger but I hope that you found it useful”.

George continued:

“All your goals are achievable with proper focus and dedication. Whilst there will be blips, dips and small ‘flames’ as I called them this morning, if you stay mindful of the reasons you’re making the changes to your life you are far more likely to stay on track. Especially with my guidance and motivation until you are ready to go it alone. Just remember that by making small but significant modification to your life over time you will see big results long term. Ultimately a much happier you!”

Personal trainer George Pelekanos
GPFIT London’s George Pelekanos – helping me on my #121toFitMum journey

I now feel determined to make a change for life. I really don’t think I would have started out on this journey without a nudge from GPFIT London. Previously I was all talk and no action because I didn’t know where to begin. GPFIT London has shown me I need to start at the beginning – acknowledge where I am currently, and visualise where I want to be in 10 weeks’ time.

And I need to put in some hard work. That starts Thursday – my first GPFIT London workout.

Follow my #121toFitMum blog to receive new post alerts. And , if you want to join me, visit GPFIT London’s website for more information on their customised fitness programmes.

Until next week!

Jenny x

gpfit mumsnet enfield drop in ad
Exclusive 10% discount on your first GPFIT London block booking

PS. Don’t forget to quote me, Mumsnet Barnet or Mumsnet Enfield for 10% off your first block booking!

PPS. To read the previous #121toFitMum blog post click here.

The night before the morning after [or, how one mum nearly backed out of a fitness programme before it even started]

hand help gpfit london blog 2Oh my god, what have I done? Why on earth did I sign up to GPFIT London‘s personal fitness programme?

My consultation with George is tomorrow and I’ve been so busy working I’ve not completed the set of forms he emailed over. I haven’t got anything sporty to wear. Oh no, have I even got a pair of running shoes that fit? (The trainers I bought 10 years ago fit my pre-pregnancy feet but post-birth my foot size increased by one size). And what if it’s not just a consultation tomorrow, and I have to, you know, actually do exercise?

Why, why, why did I eat curry and drink beer this evening? I can’t exercise at the best of times and now I’ll look and feel even more bloated than usual. (The curry was delicious, though. My favourite. Paneer and spinach).

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And I really am fat.  So fat. And so embarrassed that George will see me like this. Maybe I’ll postpone our first meeting until after I’ve lost a few pounds and my skin isn’t looking so rubbish and spotty.  (Actually, why do I have spotty teenage skin at the age of 43?) I really should postpone. Or should I cancel altogether? But what do I tell George? Will he be cross?  Will he think I’m rubbish? *Wails*

[Text received later that evening]: Hi Jenny, it’s George. Looking forward to meeting you tomorrow and discussing your fitness goals. Is 10am still a good time?

Oh, he knows. He read my mind. He guessed I was going to bottle it. I can’t back out now, can I?

Actually, it’s because I’ve always backed out – from joining friends and neighbours on evening power walks; Zumba classes; everything – that I’m in this mess. Maybe I will have a chat with George tomorrow, see how I feel after that? There’s no obligation to see it through, is there?

Right. I’m texting back. ‘Yes 10am still good. Can’t wait. (Lie). See you tomorrow!’.

And there it is. One of the benefits of a personal trainer rather than going it alone. When you feel like giving up, including before you’ve even started, a personal trainer like George can motivate you to keep going!

So, tomorrow I start my journey to fitness. I’m ready (I think) to cross the bridge to the other side to join the fitness queens! Will you join me?

cross that bridge

PS. This blog is meant to be weekly – every Monday at 9am like this one – but I’m going to publish my next blog tonight at 8pm to let you know how I got on today. I’ll cover what the consultation involves, my results – weight; body fat %; everything; including some lovely pictures of how I look now, in all my flabby glory! Eek, I’m really nervous about sharing those pics but I think it’s important to be very honest!

PPS. If you’re eager to make a booking right now, visit George’s GPFIT London website and don’t forget to quote jennyhallsocial, Mumsnet Enfield or Mumsnet Barnet to receive your 10% discount on a first block booking. Best of luck!

PPSS. You’ll remember I mentioned Rectus Abdominus Diastasis (RAD) in my first #121toFitnessMum blog post? The condition can occur during and post-pregnancy. It’s sometimes called abdominal separation and I think I have it. I went to see my GP this week and was given rather short shrift before being told, ‘I don’t think that’s what you’ve got, so what do you want me to do?’. Um, I said, I was rather hoping you’d tell me. ‘Well I’ve never really heard of it; what is it exactly and how do you spell it’? It was at this point I Googled the term for her and politely recommended she refer me to a physiotherapist. I’ve since read this 2011 leaflet by the St George’s Healthcare NHS Trust and am reassured I gave the GP the correct next steps advice! I await an NHS appointment but in the meantime will seek additional information from trusted sources and share anything helpful with you. I’d also be interested to hear from anyone out there who’s been diagnosed with RAD and are willing to share their experience and knowledge because it seems that advice and support isn’t that forthcoming from the professionals (at least, not the one I’ve had contact with)!

Until tonight

Jenny & George

Go to the intro blog in this #121toFitMum series

Go to the first blog in the #121toFitMum series

Make it Gluten Free Ltd v. The Fussiest Eater in the World!

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A rather peculiar title for my latest blog post, I know.

Since The London Wellness Centre hired me as their freelance social media manager (a job I adore, thanks Digital Mums for recommending me!) I’ve become even more interested than before in the issue of health and wellbeing. So when Make it Gluten Free Ltd asked me to try out their range of gluten free baking mixes I thought, great timing!

I was given the following products to test:

  • Simple Mills pancake and waffle mix
  • Simple Mills pizza dough
  • 1.2.3.gluten free divinely decadent brownies baking mix

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1.2.3 Gluten Free products are made from a traditional gluten free flour mix, and are also dairy free, egg free, nut free, soy free and sesame free.

Simple Mills products are made from almond flour, use coconut sugar as a natural sweetener and are low carb, soy free, dairy free, grain free and Paleo-friendly.

Since my two young daughters love all of the above, albeit the traditional versions using refined wheat flour and sugar, I thought I’d see if I could get away with serving them these healthier options instead. I say ‘get away with’ because my eldest is the fussiest eater in the world! She will only eat three or four meals, has never eaten vegetables or fruit (unless the fruit is in the form of an Innocent smoothie) and won’t eat anything sauce-like (so no using the Nutribullet to hide anything!).

The girls wanted to get involved in the baking process, which was great. I had to be careful not to let the eldest see the packet because she would read that the main ingredient in the 1.2.3. Gluten Free mixes was almond. I’m delighted about this because we three are vegetarians and nuts are a fantastic source of protein.

First we tried the pizza. Well, my 4 year old demolished it and said it was delicious, hurrah! The eldest ate half – yes, she did! Even though while mixing the dough she noticed that ‘it’s a bit of a different colour, isn’t it?’.  2016-01-21 17.25.57.jpgSo, she ate half and then said, mm, I’m not sure about it now because the dough is a bit doughy!  We decided that next time we’d try and make the bases a bit thinner and she agreed she’d give them another whirl. This is a major result for this child!

Our after school treat that day was the pancakes.  Really quick and easy for the girls to whisk up and they really enjoyed these. I think the addition of Nutella enhanced their experience but, hey, my fussy eater tried yet another food that ‘doesn’t look quite the same as the pancakes we usually eat, mum’, so I’m one happy bunny!

We saved the best for last – the brownies. I was a bit worried I’d bigged these up and the girls would be a bit disappointed but … they were delicious! The back of packet reassures you not to worry that the mix produces so many (approx 24) brownies because you can wrap them individually and freeze. I’m rather embarrassed to say that my hungry family of four demolished them in three days flat!

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The verdict:

All three mixes tested were quick and easy to prepare, produce larger quantities than rival brands’ mixes and are healthier versions of foods that families with children traditionally enjoy. Moreover, it’s not a bad idea to reduce the gluten in your diet. But most important, everything we tried was tasty!  So, much as my eldest in particular hates to lose anything, on this occasion the winner is: Make it Gluten Free Ltd. Congratulations to you!

PS. An update on the fussiest eater in the world: last night she tried one slice (circle) of cooked carrot and one 1cm-sized piece of broccoli. To be fair, I did say TV would be banned for a week if she didn’t try.  Which may seem harsh but remember, I have been going through this food nightmare for almost seven years! So, just to give parents of fussy eaters some hope: your child may surprise you. They might take years and years to surprise you, but it could happen and you just need to hold on to that hope. Good luck and, in the meantime, why not try out these mixes just to change their diet up a bit and make your life just that little bit more interesting!

Our colleagues at Mumsnet Havering are currently running a competition to win some Make It Gluten Free Ltd goodies – the comp ends at midnight Monday 8 February 2016). Good luck!

Good to know:

Make It Gluten Free Ltd mixes are produced in a dedicated gluten free facility (important to know for coeliacs), are certified gluten free, are non-gmo and free from artificial colours, flavours and preservatives.

make it gluten free logo

 

 

Silver Bell made me gourmet chef for the night!

famous chefs food made easy

This blog is all about the things that I love and, as anyone who knows me well knows, I absolutely adore food!  I love watching Jamie, Nigella, Nigel and the rest!  I love watching Masterchef.  I love planning my menus, shopping for food, preparing it, cooking and of course eating it!

One problem. Well, three actually. Child one, child two and my freelance work as a social media & communications manager!  I seem to be so busy juggling parenthood and freelancing these days that I just don’t have the time to devote to my food passion. It’s just a quick soup here and an omelette there. And nowadays it’s not as easy as it used to be to make a spur of the moment dash to Muswell Hill Broadway for a spot of supper.

But Silver Bell has come to my rescue! Working with chef, Chris Honor (of ChrisKitch fame), Silver Bell has devised a whole new way to cook at home.

How it works

  1. YOU PLAN YOUR MENU
    You choose from a selection of dishes and menus created and pre-prepared by top chefs. There are starters, mains, side dishes and desserts to choose from.
  2. SILVER BELL SOURCES, PREPARES & DELIVERS
    Silver Bell’s chefs use top-quality ingredients, and get the dishes 80% prepared. Silver Bell then delivers dishes to your home.
  3. YOU COOK WITHOUT THE HASSLE
    You then cook gourmet dishes in 20 minutes or less and enjoy an exceptional meal.

Sounds brilliant, doesn’t it?  But is it really that easy? Silver Bell gave me the opportunity to test them out!

I started by planning my menu.  There were three of us – me, my husband and my mum who was visiting from the West Country. My husband loves meat, my mum fish and I’ve been a vegetarian for nearly 30 years.  But no problem – Silver Bell offers a range of dishes to suit all preferences and I was impressed with the range of vegetarian dishes offered (and not only goat’s cheese, which you’ll see I went for. Vegetarians reading this will know what I’m talking about!)

silverbell salmon

For starters we chose the cured salmon with dill, red onion and mustard cress.  jenny cooks butternut squash winter salad silver bellI’m told it was deliciously fresh. I selected the roasted butternut squash, quinoa, rocket, goat’s cheese and onion. The goat’s cheese was soft, creamy and flavoursome and the butternut squash was cooked to perfection. For his main my husband went for the beef fillet Rossini a la Silver Bell, with square of duck pate, garlic confit, wilted spinach, pomme fondant and a sweet beetroot jam. He wasn’t disappointed!

jenny cooks beef fillet silver bell(My husband and I did however have a heated exchange when said husband added a tap-full of water to the beetroot jam – explaining the pool of liquid you can see on the plate below. He still maintains it was just a splash of water. Grrr. I have got my own back by presenting only a very small picture here!). This is what the beef fillet should look like:

beef a la silver bell

My mum went with the fennel sea bass and said it was the best fish dish she’d ever tasted. And, dare I blow my own trumpet? I think I did quite a good job on the presentation here! jenny cooks sea bass silver bell

I couldn’t decide  which vegetarian main to go for so opted for a starter-sized portion each of the garden pea and brussels sprout risotto with parmesan, and then the red pepper, aubergine and cream cheese roulade.

Risotto is my favourite dish ever but I never order it in restaurants because I’m usually disappointed (it’s usually under- or over-cooked). But the Silver Bell offering was perfect in terms of flavour, texture and I even managed to present the dish well. It was also extremely quick to cook because the rice had been pre-cooked.

jenny cooks red pepper roulade silver bellThe red pepper dish was even easier – arrange the green beans, place the roulade (which were huge – I could only eat one) on the plate and drizzle over the sauce. The rind of lemon added colour and complemented the dish beautifully. I was pleased I’d ordered two dishes to try; however, Silver Bell‘s instructions were to cook each as a starter (because that’s what they were) and so it took me a little while to work out how to rearrange the cooking sequence. Perhaps there could be a box to tick on the website if you would like it as a main, and then the instructions could be amended accordingly?

Another note on the instructions: it was a nice touch to suggest wines that would complement the dishes, but by the time we read them it was too late to get to the shops. Perhaps Silver Bell could include this information in the order confirmation email?

We ended our veritable feast with the cinnamon poached pear, salted caramel, pralines and vanilla Chantilly. So easy to assemble – you spoon some Chantilly into the base of the pear (which has a pre-cut cavity), place it on a sea of salted caramel sauce, pop on the biscuit ‘hat’, pretend you’re on Masterchef and make some quenelles, and use the cute icing sugar shaker for the finishing touch!

We were all so eager to dive into dessert that we ate it all up before taking a photograph, so here is a picture from the Silver Bell website!

silver bell pear

Our verdict?

We all agreed that if we were to eat food of this quality in a restaurant we’d have to take a rather hefty wallet. As it was we were able to eat amazing gourmet food at home at a very reasonable price (check Silver Bell’s website for prices), didn’t have the hassle of organising babysitters and had the satisfaction of being able to say ‘we did that’ – because we did (for the most part)!

If you’d like to experience Silver Bell‘s dishes for yourself I’m offering an exclusive 20% discount offer on my Mumsnet Barnet and Mumsnet Enfield websites right now. Offer is valid until 31 January 2016 – but I bet you won’t be able to wait to order!

 

 

Captivated by Hetty Feather at the artsdepot

hetty featherWhat a treat the girls and I had last night!

We were invited by the artsdepot to watch what turned out to be the most enthralling children’s theatre we’ve seen in a while – an Olivier award nominated adaptation of Jacqueline Wilson’s bestselling novel, Hetty Feather.

My children are yet to read any of Wilson’s novels – Flo is only four, although Amelie who is now seven has talked about starting – so we didn’t go with any pre-conceptions or expectations. We only knew the bare bones of the story, namely that Hetty (not her real name) lives in Victorian England and starts life as a baby abandoned by her desperate mother at the grim Foundling Hospital and spends her early years on a quest to find her birth mother.

We were captivated from the beginning! Protagonist Hetty Feather, with her amazing long red hair, bursts onto the set and energetically flips on to a hoop hanging from the top of the wooden set.  Actually, I was pleasantly surprised at just how interested Amelie and Flo were in the set, which comprised ladders, wooden benches and ropes which were, of course, were trees, house stairs, tables, beds …

We are quickly introduced to the really mean Matron Stinking Bottomly and given a taste of life at the Foundling.  Children have everything taken away, even their hair (‘they’ve not cut her hair for real, have they mummy?!’)

Hetty is both stubborn and imaginative (thank goodness – it means she can escape from her grim life and pretend she’s a bird, flying away ….) and with other babies in baskets is bundled on a train and taken far away to a loving foster mother, Peg.  The slightly weak but loveable Gideon is to be her new foster brother, together with the lovely Jem and rather spiteful Saul, who are already with Peg. Life is good.hetty feather arts depot.jpg

But the play is full of twists and turns and once they are about to turn six, Hetty and Gideon’s lives are turned upside down when they are returned to the Foundling to start work. (‘But they’re only six, mummy!)

Halfway through the play Hetty runs away to Hampstead Health to find the  Tanglefields Travelling Circus, desperate to find her birth mother. We’re treated to some magnificent, comedic acting as the actors become Madame Adeline’s horses! The cast comprises only eight actors, but they each play a multitude of characters and it’s a testament to their talent that the children don’t notice.

As the play continues, we watch Hetty as she walks alone on the dangerous and dark streets of London; spends the night locked up in a dark attic; and once again Hetty is saved by her fantastic imagination.

Amelie and I welled up on more than one occasion, but the balance between the tragic and the lighter moments felt just right to me (I’m not sure if that’s the case for the novel?)  As Amelie says, ‘once I cried because I was sad; but the other time it was because I was really happy. And the tears didn’t go down my cheeks anyway – they just sort of stayed in my eyelids’.

Does Hetty ever find out her real name? Does she ever find her birth mother? I won’t say too much more so I don’t spoil it for people who, like us, are yet to read Wilson’s novel. But I must add that children will love the play’s aerial acrobatics, which are always breath-taking, sometimes moving and really help tell the story. As does the live, folksy music accompaniment and special sound effects.

OUR VERDICT? Hetty Feather is a captivating production for all the family (including the boys!) and one we’d all gladly watch again. It’s a ‘ten out of ten, thumbs up, five stars’.

PS. The play’s run at the artsdepot ends this Sunday, 6 December so do book soon!

Helpful note for parents:

The age recommendation is 7 years plus, possibly because of the length of the show (2h 15 mins) as well as the content. However, if you have a child who, like Flo, is more than happy to sit still then I would go for it!

Watch the trailer here: http://ow.ly/VtD3C