Zenning Out

 

I am on a bit of a yoga and relaxation kick at the moment. I used to think that I was just too fidgety and impatient to get any of the benefits of those activities that are supposed to relax you; yoga classes, meditation, even soaking in a long, hot bath – I couldn’t switch my mind off for long enough to enjoy it. I always had a sneaking suspicion that I could be better using all that time doing something more useful and productive than ‘just’ relaxing.

Gradually, the lack of time for myself crept up on me. I was getting stressed out by things that I would usually take in my stride and at the end of one long, hard week when I was feeling particularly sorry for myself, I realised that I had been overloaded and exhausted for months. I was burning out, living for my days off (which I then spent pretty much comatose because I was too exhausted to do much else) and spending a lot of time fantasising about spa days and long, lazy holidays.

It was actually while I was taking a not-very-long-but-extremely-lazy holiday that I had time to think about this properly. In the run up to the holiday I was seized by fear of missing out and spent hours on Tripadvisor researching the best activities and must-see destinations, but after spending the first couple of days doing nothing more strenuous moving between my sun lounger by the pool to my sun lounger on the beach, I realised that my normal attitude to relaxation is extremely stupid. I don’t need to wait until I’m completely knackered to have a rest, or until I’m injured to enjoy a yoga class – time spent relaxing has an intrinsic value, it’s not all about putting up with a boring activity so I can do something more energetic in the near future and it is definitely not a waste of time.

I also realised that I don’t need to spend a lot of money on a spa break or expensive treatments to relax – it is surely be much more effective to build this time into my normal routine, making relaxation a simple and sustainable habit rather than a big production every few months. With this in mind, I am consciously building time for myself into my schedule every week. I have been attending restorative yoga classes twice a week and although the first class felt more like being guided through an hour long nap than any kind of exercise, I was feeling the positive effects for days afterwards. I’m also trying really hard not to follow my normal pattern of behaviour, which would be to rush headlong into a time specific challenge with a physical goal at the end (like 30 Days To Advanced Wheel Pose! or something similar) and start feeling stressed about achieving it. Of course there is nothing wrong with having a target in mind and following a structured plan in order to reach it, but I have so much of that in other areas of my life that I want to keep my yoga practice as free and easy as possible. I’m also looking for other smaller ways to bring the chilled out holiday vibe into my daily life, perhaps doing a DIY digital detox or at least unplugging for a couple of hours every day.

What part does rest play in your work/life balance? What do you do to relax and do you find it easy to switch off?

Cook With Neff and the Great Office Bake Office

Along with a few million other people in the UK, I am obsessed with the Great British Bake Off. I love nothing more than curling up on the sofa on Wednesday nights to watch the action and tuning in again on Friday nights for An Extra Slice. There is a small but hard core Bake Off fandom at work and we get together on Thursday mornings to discuss the latest dramas over a cup of tea. I have never made a genoise sponge in my life and I didn’t know that flaounes existed until a couple of weeks ago but that doesn’t stop me critiquing the bakes every week and wishing that I had a dedicated baking work station, fancy sliding door oven and proving drawer in which to construct my own masterpieces.

So of course I said YES! when I was offered the opportunity to visit the Neff showroom in Milton Keynes and try out those famous sliding door ovens for myself. I spent the week before the event in a state of near frenzied excitement, something that was lost on my colleague when I tried to explain why I was taking a day off work. “So it’s just … an oven showroom? Well, I’ll think of you opening and closing oven doors while I’m hard at work on Friday.” However, opening and closing the oven doors was only part of the attraction. I was also hoping to pick up some insider baking knowledge to put into practice at my Office Bake Off the following month. As far as I was concerned, there was a Star Baker wooden spoon with my name on it and Neff were going to help me win it.

#CookWithNeff

Bright and early on the morning of the trip, I headed over to the rendezvous point at Marble Arch to meet up with my fellow London-based bloggers and take the coach out to Milton Keynes. We were all bright eyed and bushy tailed (or, at least in my case, heavily caffeinated) and hugely excited about “having a go with the baking show ovens” and the journey flew by in a blur of blogger chat and Bake Off predictions (as it turns out my early favourite contestant, Tamal, didn’t win but he did get to the final, so I wasn’t too far off!).

We were greeted at the Neff showroom with coffee and freshly baked cookies (seriously, they were still warm from the oven!) and then settled down to hear about our itinerary for the day (cooking and eating) and to learn about Neff’s current social media campaign – the Cookaholics – six ordinary people who love to cook, and their online community Bake It Yourself which features recipes, how-to guides, tips and cooking inspiration across Youtube, Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook.

We were given a demonstration of the ovens in Neff’s current range and talked through all their technical features. I have to admit that I wasn’t paying quite as much attention as I should have been because my fingers were itching to have a go with the slide and hide oven doors, however, we were then handed over to Lyn – Neff’s Senior Home Economist – for a hands on cooking demonstration which showcased some of the cleverer points of the Neff range.

Under Lyn’s tuition, we split into several small groups and each prepared one dish for lunch: Wild Boar & Pork Patties; Flatbreads; Smoked Salmon & Asparagus Tartlets; Goats Cheese & Caramelised Onion Tartlets; Vegetarian Tart; Grilled Vegetables and Giant Cous Cous Salad; with Chocolate Dipped Strawberries & Marshmallows for dessert and as though that wasn’t enough – scones for our afternoon tea!

Wild Boar and Pork Patties

Flatbreads

Giant CousCous Salad

Griddled Vegetables

Salmon Tartlets and Veggie Tart

Chocolate Strawberries

 

As well as being delicious, mostly healthy and very easy to cook, these dishes had the added bonus of showcasing some of the cleverer technical points of the Neff range, and I think that getting stuck in and actually using the ovens while preparing a meal was probably the best way to learn about them. In my opinion, the best features of the ovens (obviously apart from the amazing doors) are :

1. Circotherm Technology (basically, the way the air circulates around the oven). Not only does this mean that the oven needs little pre-heating, which lets face it is a bonus for a bunch of bloggers because we were far too busy taking photos of everything to bother with fiddly little things like preheating the oven, but also that there is no transference of flavours so that you can cook a variety of dishes at the same time. This was put to the test as we cooked salmon and asparagus tartlets at the same time as scones and there was absolutely no cross over of fishy taste. Another great point about Circotherm is that you can grill without needing to use a grill setting – Helen and I were in charge of making Wild Boar & Pork Patties and we ‘grilled’ these with the oven door closed which was a lot tidier (no spitting meat to deal with) and also kept the smells contained.

2. VarioSteam – (think the water tank on your iron, but for an oven) this adds moisture to optimise the baking process. If you remember the Technical Challenge in Week 6 of the Bake Off, Paul told the bakers that this is essential for baking proper baguettes – how much easier is this drawer than faffing around with trays of water?

3. Induction Hobs – these use electromagnetism to create a magnetic field between the hob and the pan, only the bottom of the pan heats up so they are more energy efficient and also safer because they won’t heat unless they have a pan on them. The hob keeps the pan at a constant temperature and this was demonstrated by melting chocolate for dipping strawberries and marshmallows directly in the pan rather than using a bain marie (check out Sophie’s blog about the event – she was in charge of the delicious desserts). However, a drawback to induction hobs is that you do need special pans to work with them, so do take this into account if you are thinking of buying one.

4.Pyrolytic cleaning (self-cleaning system for ovens). I didn’t test this feature personally because the fantastic Neff team cleaned up after us, however, I am fully in support of appliances that clean themselves. I can imagine that my mum is reading this and shaking her head in disbelief, so in the interests of full disclosure, I better admit that I have never cleaned an oven in my life – I’m perfectly happy to sacrifice in other areas to save money so that I can pay someone to do it for me. Life is too short to be scrubbing ovens!

Our day finished up with a Tear & Share Bread baking demonstration from Lyn, followed by another round of munching – this time Afternoon Tea. I rolled myself back on to the coach and spent the journey back to London dreaming about the amazing things I was going to make for my Office Bake Off a few weeks later.

The Great Office Bake Off

My office has been planning a charity bake sale for months and it turned out to be very simple to organise. Three weeks ahead of time, we sent an email out asking for volunteers to bake and gathered a list of 10 people who were willing to all make different things. We publicised the event by email every week, to get people excited about it and also to jog their memories that they would need to bring in cash on Bake Off day (and perhaps not plan a big lunch).

We set up a table in our canteen with all the cakes from 11.30 – 3.30 and asked everyone who was tasting to make a cash donation, try the bakes and vote for their favourite. We didn’t set a minimum donation amount but most people gave around £5 (although I did notice a few £20s and even a £50 when we did the cashing up – someone really likes cake!) and we ended up raising just under £400.

Office Bake Off

As it turned out, I didn’t use one of the Neff recipes for my entry into The Great Office Bake Off because I didn’t plan very well and ended up not having enough time to practice ahead of time. Instead, I used a tried and tested favourite of mine – Ancho Chilli and Chocolate Brownies. Sadly, I didn’t win the much-coveted Star Baker Wooden Spoon but I had a great time baking and tasting and am already plotting my entry for the next event!

Ancho Chilli and Dark Chocolate Brownies

Did you go to the #CookWithNeff event? Add your blog post to the link up below!


Aspire Channel Swim 2015

I am taking part in the Aspire Channel Swim 2015 challenge.

Earlier this year I started swimming lessons at my local leisure centre and I even took part in Swimathon back in April (although I did the team challenge and I made my husband swim most of it). I returned to lessons this week after the summer break and while I was talking about what I’d like to achieve this term, I realised that I might need something to keep me motivated to go to the pool on those dark, cold winter nights when the idea of trekking home from the leisure centre with wet hair is distinctly unappealing.

Less salt water, more swimming pool

The Aspire Channel Swim is a 12 week challenge that involves swimming 22 miles (the length of the English Channel) and you can enter individually or as a team. I’ve chosen the team option because a ‘good’ swim session for me is about 20 lengths and I calculated that I’d have to do about 120 lengths every week in order to cover the distance by myself. My husband, my mum and my aunt will be joining me on Team Turtle Power and you can keep an eye on our fundraising efforts via our JustGiving page.

Team Turtle Power Logo

Team Turtle Power logo designed by Ravna-Resta for The Workout Life

 

Although I signed up to this challenge with the hope that I’ll improve my swimming technique from ‘flailing and frantically trying not to drown’ to ‘quite competent, all things considered’, I’m also doing it to raise money for Aspire. Every eight hours someone is paralysed by Spinal Cord Injury. It can happen to anyone at any time, and there is currently no cure. Every pound that Team Turtle Power raise means that Aspire can provide practical help to a spinal injured person, allowing them to live a more independent life, every single donation can help make a difference. You can find out more about Aspire from their website and if you fancy taking on the Channel Swim challenge you can read all the details here.

Becca FromSnickersToMarathon Steal Her Workout Style

Steal Her Workout Style is a brand new series of interviews with amazing women who have their own unique sense of fit-style and put their fashion choices through their paces by wearing them during real-life workouts (complete with real-life sweat!).

I get a lot of inspiration from my fellow bloggers. Whether I’m looking for a delicious brunch recipe, a new workout plan, help deciding which race I’d like to enter next and especially when it comes to purchasing a new pair of leggings, there is a small circle of great bloggers whose opinion I trust far more than any advert on the tube or magazine article. My first interviewee is Becca, who blogs at From Snickers To Marathon, and as well as having an awesome sense of fit-fashion (I think of her as the Queen of Cool Leggings) she is at the very top of my list of trusted bloggers.

Becca describes herself as a former couch potato turned marathon runner and general fitness enthusiast, she’s run two marathons, completed a Tough Mudder and most recently smashed her first weight lifting competition. I love From Snickers To Marathon because it is totally honest and genuinely inspirational, if you want to see what hard work and dedication can achieve then forget about Instagram and take a look at her blog – but first, keep reading to find out how to get her workout style.

Becca Fromsnickerstomarathon

 

Becca wears Sweaty Betty Mermaid Capris and Athlete Vest during the 2014 London Marathon

Describe your workout style in three words
All about leggings!

I love a pair of bright statement leggings and over the last couple of years have built up quite a collection. So much so that I have a little corner of my blog dedicated to sharing the legging love!

What is your favourite piece of fitness apparel and why?

I can’t choose between my many pairs of leggings so I’m going to say the piece that I most regularly wear with them – the Sweaty Betty Athlete Vest.

I love the fit, it’s cut long so it covers up my ‘problem area’ and I don’t have to worry about it riding up. It comes in a multitude of colours and patterns; I’ve got it in at least 10 different colours. It’s also great for layering, washes well and is durable- I’ve had some of mine for years!

What one item/accessory has made your workout life easier?

The ring cozy. I do a lot of lifting and this little piece of material slips over the top of my rings to protect them. I wouldn’t want to take my engagement and wedding rings off for fear of losing them and this keeps them safe from getting scratched or covered in chalk. Unfortunately it doesn’t stop the callouses but it does help the pinching you can sometimes get. Mine were from the US but definitely worth the shipping costs.

Ring Cozy

How does your training routine affect your fashion choices (if at all)?

Quite a lot. If I’m running my leggings need drawstrings and preferably a pocket. If I’m lifting then I’m more concerned about coverage and not showing off things I don’t want to. If I’m flipping tires or carrying things on my back then I don’t want to be wearing my most expensive leggings or a delicate top in case they get damaged. So I definitely make different kit choices to suit what training I’m doing.

Becca fromsnickerstomarathon Leggings with coverage for lifting

 

Leggings with extra coverage for lifting

If you could only wear one fitness brand for the rest of your life, which would it be and why?

This is a difficult choice as there are loads of great brands but it probably has to be Sweaty Betty because of the range of clothing and accessories they offer. I’d wait for the sales though, much better value that way.

Where is your favourite place to shop for fitness clothing and why?

Again there’s a few contenders here but overall I’d say the Active in Style website. They stock some of my favourite British brands such as Lexie but they’ve also introduced me to some new brands which are now favourites like Dharma Bums – an Australian brand that make amazing patterned leggings.

Function or fashion – what drives most of your fitness clothing purchases?

A combination. If clothes look great but are annoying to workout in then I won’t wear them and it’s a waste of money. Equally I can’t remember the last time I brought a black pair of leggings regardless of how functional they may have been!

Lastly, complete these sentences:

I splurge on … leggings and occasionally jackets/hoodies that I’ll get a lot of wear out of.

I save on socks. They’re just a layer of material to stop your feet from making your trainers smell disgusting. I see no reason to spend £15 on technical socks when a £2 pair will do the same job.

I always have lots of hair bands in my gym bag. I seem to misplace them really easily and there’s nothing more annoying than having one snap and not having a spare one handy!

You will never catch me wearing …  A runsie. They might look good on the tiny ultras but for size 12 me with my slightly wobbly belly? I don’t think I need to say any more!

Huge thanks to Becca for being the very first Steal Her Workout Style interviewee! You can catch up with Becca’s latest adventures at www.fromsnickerstomarathon.com or via FacebookTwitter and Instagram 

Monday Morning Motivation Playlist

I’m sure this revelation will come as an enormous surprise to those that know me well but I am not a morning person. If I could, I would bypass the whole Monday morning thing and start my week somewhere around Tuesday lunchtime. Sadly, my boss does not seem overly enamoured with the idea of giving me an 84 hour weekend and one of my most important weekly meetings takes place at 10am every Monday so I just have to find a way to deal, hence my Monday Morning Motivation playlist.

Monday Morning Motivation is full of the songs that prise me out of bed, pump me up for the day ahead and get me to work feeling ready to tackle anything. Sometimes its upbeat, sometimes its full of angry songs, sometimes its silly and reflects my guilty pleasures, but it always, always works. In fact, I find it so motivational that I usually listen to it in the gym too (and not just on Mondays).

I recently started a new Monday Morning Motivation playlist because my old one had been static for a while and I felt like I needed to inject some new life into my Mondays. Inspired by Pavement Runner’s Playlist Thursdays series, I’ve set myself the task of adding new music to it every week.

You can follow my playlist on Spotify … if you have any suggestions please let me know!

I created this entire blog as a way to document how I fit the workout into my work/life balance, so I decided that my first post should be a glimpse into a typical day in The Workout Life. As well as being a part time blogger, I have a full time job working in the in-house legal team of a multinational organization based in central London. My husband and I live in North West London in what you might generously call a pied-à-terre except we haven’t quite got round to buying the huge country pile normally implied by that phrase. I was born and bred in London, so even though I like to complain about property prices, I find it very hard to imagine living anywhere else.

The Workout Life Typical Working Day

My typical day is quite conventional for an office worker. I usually start work at 8.30 and finish around 6pm although occasionally I have to stay later – anything from an extra hour to working through the night and well into the following morning. I really don’t mind working late, its not a frequent occurrence (unlike my friends who work for large law firms where incredibly long hours are the norm) and I have usually been involved with the project from the very beginning so it’s incredibly satisfying to see it through to completion.

The content of my work is quite varied – anything from employment law and trademark protection to regulatory compliance and corporate finance transactions – but the structure of my day is always pretty similar. In general I spend the mornings working on research and drafting documents and the afternoons in meetings and conference calls.

I might have limited opportunities to be active while at work but I try my best not to stay fixed in one position for hours on end; I use a headset for conference calls so that I can walk around my office while I’m on the phone; I take the stairs rather than the lift (this is quite effective as my office is on the top floor of the building) and I do sneaky exercises (like glute activations!) while I’m at the photocopier. I get some issues with my shoulders and neck as a result of being at a desk for so long, so recently I’ve been trying to incorporate some desk yoga into my day.

 

The Workout Life How I Work Out

I take the attitude that I’ve got three chances to fit in my daily dose of exercise. I don’t do all of these every day (and some days I don’t do any) but I like to give myself as many opportunities as possible to work out because then it is harder to manufacture excuses!

Mornings: I’m not good in the mornings but on the very rare occasions that I do exercise before work, I will either go to the 24 hour gym underneath my flat for a quick cardio session or I’ll do a yoga video from my Movement For Modern Life subscription.

Lunchtime: I like to do something active during my lunch break to counteract the effects of being seated at a desk all day. My favourite lunchtime class is reformer Pilates at Ten and I go twice a week (Mondays to get me set for the week ahead and Thursdays to help correct what four days at a desk have done to me). The studio is very close to my office and its not the kind of workout that turns me into a big sweaty mess, so I don’t need to have a shower afterwards.

Alternatively, my gym has a selection of 30 minute lunchtime spin classes which are good on days that I want a cardio fix but these are extremely popular and book up days in advance which is not ideal for me as my schedule can be unpredictable.

Evening: If I’m going to exercise in the evening, I prefer to do it straight after work. My willpower decreases significantly if I have the opportunity to go home first! I go to a run club session every Wednesday and as I’ve just signed up to the Aspire Swim Challenge, I’ll also be adding a swim session twice a week. 

I love belly dance classes, it is a really amazing cardio workout which compliments a lot of the core work that I do in Pilates and above all its so much fun! 

Occasionally, I go to the Friday night Bliss yoga class at Good Vibes in Covent Garden. It’s a gorgeously gentle restorative yoga class that leaves me feeling totally relaxed.

Sometimes if I’m meeting up with friends after work I’ll suggest we do something active rather than just going for drinks – the cool indoor cycling classes at Boom are a favourite, and Barry’s Bootcamp is good for a serious sweat session.

The Workout Life Quick Change Artist 

On Sundays I try to plan my outfits for the week ahead so that I can just grab and go when I’m blurry eyed and have half my mind on work. Although I’m slightly restricted in my working wardrobe as my workplace is fairly conservative, I do take into account what kind of gym activity I’ve got planned for the day when deciding what to wear. I’ll choose a wrap dress or something with a side zip if I’m planning to go to the gym at lunchtime (I hate doing the “I can’t zip my dress up” wiggle dance in the changing room after a spin class); something lightweight and wrinkle resistant that will survive being shoved in my rucksack if I’m heading to run club after work ; and on Friday (which is dress down day at work) I might get incorporate a smart pair of leggings into my outfit which can then be worn to an after-work yoga class and after-yoga drinks.

If its a normal working day, I use my Deuter backpack as my main bag but if I’m going to meetings with clients or a conference, I take my GymTote which looks like a smart handbag but has all the functional compartments of a gym bag.

I take a small stash of gym clothes into work with me on Monday. I bulk buy plain black t-shirts from Primark for this purpose and take advantage of the sales to stock up on a few pairs of good quality capris and decent sports bras. Knowing that my kit is already at work is a good motivator and it saves a lot of hassle in the mornings to know that I have got everything I need for a lunchtime workout already in the office.

The Workout Life Food Diary

 

Breakfast is usually a home-made protein smoothie before I leave for work. We have a Duronic blender which blends in the bottle (similar concept to a Nutribullet but a fraction of the price). I was initially sceptical about this purchase because thinking it was just another gadget to gather dust in our kitchen but it is actually very useful – probably the most used appliance after the kettle! I even bought a second one for the office. I also make a travel mug coffee and drink it on my way to work. I started doing this about six weeks ago when I realised that I was spending a disgusting amount of money on mediocre take away coffee.

Lunch is either a salad or stew from Chop’d – they have a delicious range of healthy salads which are also a decent portion size and fill me up for the afternoon – or the poached salmon from Itsu. I want to get better at bringing packed lunches to work because I’m aware that buying lunch out every day is very expensive!

About once a month I have a working lunch with colleagues or clients. If I’m suggesting the venue, I will try to pick somewhere that has a few healthier options on the menu (mainly because having a heavy lunch makes me feel really sleepy in the afternoon and kicks off sugar cravings) one of my favourites is Sake No Hana – a Japanese restaurant near St James’ Park. If I don’t get to pick then I will check out the menu online first to see what’s available and try to plan what I’m going to order in advance. I also have a quick snack about an hour before lunch so that I don’t dive straight into the bread basked as soon as we sit down. I’m really privileged to be able to go to such nice places for work, so I don’t take it for granted!

My office is well set up with a daily supply of fresh fruit but we don’t have cakes or biscuits. I don’t really snack at work but I keep a stash of peanut butter in the cupboard so that if I do feel peckish in the afternoon I can have that with some apple slices. 

Dinner is all about ease and convenience and is normally a piece of meat and a big plate of vegetables. My parents gave me a Le Creuset griddle pan for my birthday a few weeks ago and I don’t think I’ve eaten a non-griddled dinner since then! I prepare salad fixings in advance and then pick and mix from the containers in my fridge which makes preparing dinner very quick and easy. I don’t always have dessert but if I do it is invariably Greek yoghurt and fruit (raspberries at this time of year.)

If I’m in the mood, I might also have a glass of wine. I have a stash of mini bottles of red wine and Prosecco in the kitchen so that I can have just one glass when I fancy it without worrying about wasting an entire bottle, however, I don’t really drink during the week because it makes me too tired.

The Workout Life Down Time

When I’m not working or working out, I enjoy sampling a bit of what London has to offer. I went to the Audrey Hepburn: Portraits of an Icon exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery yesterday and am seeing Hamlet at the Barbican (starring Benedict Cumberbatch – very excited!) next week. We have a membership to the Historic Royal Palaces which includes the Tower of London, Kensington Palace and Hampton Court and I love whiling away an afternoon in a museum.

I also love just chilling out at home and curling up with a new book on my Kindle (currently re-reading Robert Harris’ Cicero novels in anticipation of the final part of the trilogy being published in October) or sprawling in front of the TV and trying not to binge watch an entire new series on Netflix.

Bedtime is normally around 10pm, sometimes earlier depending on what I’ve been doing during the day and how tired I am!