If like me you’ve not got the time to make the full blown Christmas cake or perhaps more importantly you really don’t need the extra calories the Christmas season brings, these are an easily digestible, gluten free, fat free, low sugar… yumscious alternative.
Here’s my recipe!
100g sugar (any kind, & you can get away with a bit less in my opinion)
160g Rice flour
140g ground almonds
140g grated carrot (or whizz in food processor if feeling lazy)
140g Sultanas (feel free to add additional fruit)
Zest & juice of 2 oranges
2 tsp mixed spice
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
The first step is to whisk together the eggs & sugar at high speed for a good few minutes until it’s a thick foamy consistency. Once that’s done, the rest of the ingredients need to be folded in with as little faffing as possible so it’s a good idea to weigh out the ingredients beforehand, grate the carrot, zest the oranges etc
The sultanas could be soaked with the orange juice, zest, spice & perhaps a glug of brandy if you wish.
Once all the ingredients are combined, spoon into cake/muffin cases & bake for approx 25mins at 180º. This recipe is enough for 12 medium-sized muffins or 10 heftier ones. Leave to cool then drizzle some simple icing over the top (2 tbsp water with as much icing sugar as it will take was enough to do 12 muffins). Finish with a bit of edible glitter perhaps?
So here we are, it’s that time of year when we’re encouraged to abstain and ‘detox’ from the xmas excesses.
I’m old enough to have seen this trend of conflicting health advice from ‘experts based on latest research’. Not so long ago, people were encourage to have a small glass of red wine which had been shown to help heart health. Whilst there may be some truth in this, it’s human nature to cherry pick our health advice. More becomes better and somehow drinking a few large slugs of red wine each evening is a medicinal practice. Chocolate’s good too isn’t it?
I do some work at a support centre for people with issues with alcohol. Alcoholism is the extreme end of the spectrum. In my experience, people usually know deep down when they have an alcohol problem. It constitutes an abnormal relationship with alcohol. A bit like the difference between ‘having a bit of a sweet tooth’ compared to compulsively hiding chocolate bars in your sock drawer.
So how much is too much? I’m surprised at how many people I meet who drink every day. Not huge amounts and not that they’d be noticeably drunk but it’s common for couples to share a bottle of wine most evenings. Of course that can creep up and become an extra G&T to wind down from work maybe and perhaps a bit extra at the w/e or whilst having a dinner party? A standard bottle of wine is 10 units *gasp*
Our nations drinking habits are in many ways driven by the media and marketing companies who in order to sell their product, have to make it cool. A bit of ‘health benefits’ from the experts all the better. Remember the old style ads with that handsome chap (probably in a smart woolly) chuffing on a marlboro and sipping a large scotch from a opulent crystal tumbler. These images stick with us.
My personal viewpoint regardless of what the experts say one way or the other is that alcohol should be enjoyed occasionally. It’s essentially a toxic substance. A hangover means you’ve poisoned yourself! Daily alcohol consumption will probably damage your brain, your liver, pancreas, give you oral cancer, stomach ulcers and probably lower your immunity making your more prone to colds, viruses and impeeding healing. It can also disturb your sleep patterns either by waking you up in the night for a wee or developing a dependance to get you to sleep.
Habits are hard to break though. The advice I give to people is to firstly go for quality not quantity. Try not to keep too much alcohol in the house. Switch to a wine spritzer (with spring water?), if you prefer spirits, get a measurer so you know how much you’re having or buy the smaller bottles of lower alcohol lager. Ultimately though, if you use alcohol to relax in the evening, why not experiment with herbal teas as an alternative? Camomile, limeflower, lavender and many more can produce a delightful relaxation without the toxic effects you get from alcohol. Buy a nice teapot & create your own blend of fresh herbal tea or try from the huge range on offer from companys like Pukka for example.
The bottom line is “all things in moderation”. Unfortunately that statement doesn’t make for a sensational headline, nor does it make companys rich.
It’s Sunday afternoon in the middle of February. It’s raining. You’re lying on your sofa in front of the fire eating a bag of crisps. You come across “the ultra-challenge for charity” and it seems like a great idea. You’ve still got a bit of ‘xmas belly’ so it will be good to get fit. Talking to other participants along the way that’s how many of them ended up signing up to the challenge.
In the beginning, I’d planned to raise money for a small local charity who were keen at first. I paid my registration fee and started thinking of strategies to raise the money. However, the local charity, realising this was “a corporate style” charity event pulled out and I felt completely dejected. When I gave it more thought, I wondered if actually it was for the best. 100k is a long way!
When the earthquakes struck in Nepal, I took a different view. It was heartwrenching to imagine the devastation. So, decision made. I’d do the walk for Nepal. I figured if I couldn’t raise the money (you have to promise to raise a minimum amount) then I’d just bloody donate it from the business…tax deductable right? (actually I have no idea).
My first training walk was a ‘quick 10 miler’. Wivenhoe and back. I didn’t eat breakfast and I wore my trainers without socks…er yeah? I started using the Ordanance survey map subscription thingy to plot some routes. Off I trotted to North station to get the 7.30am train to Manningtree. I felt like a right numpty dressed up in my walking boots and rucksack. Most of the people on the station were coming home from a night out. I remember my first ‘big walk’ along the Stour valley. It was boiling hot, I ran out of water, got lost, got sunburnt. Totally hacked off!
So I did it again the following week. My navigation skills were a bit better this time and as the weeks went on I got into a good routine of getting up, making sandwiches and assorted snacks and getting the miles in. There were often moments of doubt. It can be difficult to keep your motivation going, especially when doing it alone. My lowest point was squatting in a hedge for an ’emergency poo’. Dicky tummy. In the rain. Grown Women.
I was so nervous in the couple of weeks running up to the event. My final training walk, 30 miles through Rendlesham forest and a bit along the Suffolk coastal path went well and I felt good. My fear was making a plonker of myself on the day. I’m a plump, perimenopausal Woman, not really your ‘Ultra-challenge’ kinda type.
I went to London the day before the event to register early and stayed at a right dodgy hotel in Hackney. I ate a can of cold beans & a banana for breakfast. People kept telling me “eat protein”. They gather you up before the start and we had to do a bit of a zumba warm up… all a bit surreal to be honest.
The first 25k was along the Lea valley canal. Beautiful. A lot hotter than any of us expected. I enjoyed my time talking to a lovely guy who was no stranger to extreme events. He was doing it with his son who had to be at a wedding the next day. (not his own I might add). Later as the stream of people started to thin out, I suddenly felt quite alone as I realised most people were walking in small teams. I felt a bit emotional. What really got me though was when a young guy with real purpose walked past me. On the back of his rucksack he had a picture of his Dad. I don’t remember the charity, but it got me.
I’ve never sufferred with injuries before. The last training walk I’d done however, I’d had a bit of a twinge in my knee just in the last few miles as I power walked back to the car because the sun was setting. At about 20k, I really started to feel the same sensation on the outside of my knee. It worried me a bit, so at the 25k rest stop, I applied a Zhui Feng Gao herbal plaster and took 200mg of ibuprofen. I can’t remember the last time I took painkillers and I couldn’t think how much you’re supposed to take. It may have been placebo or simply having a bit of a sit down at the rest stop but I felt better.
Over the next 25k however, my knee was getting worse. I texted my partner to ask him if he’d drop off some walking poles at the 50k rest stop. I knew it was about an hours drive away from our house. My knight in shining armour did exactly that, even stopping at Go Outdoors to buy a couple of poles for me. It was good to see him. I troughed down some minging pasta stuff and potatoes, chucked an apple and a flapjack in my rucksack, popped another few ibruprofen, assured by my partner I could safely take 6 in 24hrs!
It was starting to rain now and getting dark. We were given glosticks to attach to our rucksacks and instructed to put on our headtorches and departed in groups across the fields. The route was a lot more remote now. The next rest stop was only 6k away in a local primary school. Quick cuppa and more flapjack and fruit. I was noticing now that many were beginning to struggle. There were some nasty looking feet being strapped up with compeed and bandages. Many had pained expressions. Knees, hips, feet…ouch.
The next section of the walk was pretty bad. It was raining yet really humid. We walked across muddy fields, glosticks marking our way. Despite it being a full moon, the cloud was heavy so it was dark. The line of walkers was thinning out now and there were times when I was completely alone. 15k seemed to take forever. It was now around 2-3am. I was practically halucinating. Everyone was struggling. At one point there was a group of us just sat in the middle of a field complaining about how shit we felt. I was in agony now by this point. More bloody flapjack.
A group of us got a bit of rhythm going. I was apologising to everyone for my loud satisfying farts. Bloody pasta. Apparently it was affecting us all the same.
Around 4am we got to the rest stop. The girl in front of me let out huge sobs which started a few more off. I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. The scene in the tent was pure carnage. There were piles of people in survival blankets. Some just fast asleep, some shivering and wide eyed. Others just wandering about aimlessly. I knew I had to eat. We were offerred bacon or sausage rolls. I could have hurled. Despite being in quite a lot of pain I had a really good laugh here with some now familiar faces. It was a ridiculous scenario.
The next section was now on country lanes and I snuck off on my own not wanting to wait for a group. I’d been looking forward to seeing the sun come up and had intended to get a photo but honestly…I really couldn’t be arsed. You couldn’t see the sun anyway as it was still so overcast. I had to keep taking little rest stops as my knee pain was intense. A log, a bus shelter, a bench, just for a few minutes to rest my knee.
A small hill got the better of me. By this point I was struggling to put much weight on my knee. To get up the hill, I had to use both poles to support me and I put all my effort into it and promptly felt really faint. I lay on a bench by the side of the road having just passed the 80k point and having one of those cold sweats. I confess I’d taken 8 painkillers by this point which was stupid. As I lay there, mud up my trousers, I realised how awful I smelt. Sweat and possibly a bit of pee? A girl appeared and started chatting to me. Her mate was walking, duck footed wearing bright socks and flip-flops, her walking boots in her hands. “They’re too hard” she said. I think I mumbled a reply and attempted a smile. I’d text my partner to say I was quitting but he’d been instructed beforehand to talk me out of it.
That final 20k was crazy. By the end, just stepping down a curb was beyond words. There was applause and cheering as I reached the finish and I felt really emotional and welled up. Ungraciously I looked away from the crowd to prevent myself crying. I was given a t-shirt and a medal and offerred a glass of champayne which I declined. Thank god there was a lift to get you to the first floor where the physios were. I think a flight of stairs would have been the final straw.
4 days on and my knee is still painful. It’s getting better though and it’s a good experience for me as a practitioner to investigate the best treatment options. ‘Runners knee’ they call it. Bugger, I’m off on a walking holiday in 10 days time.
So was it worth it? Yes! It looks like I will have raised around £700 for the Disasters Emergency Committee and I’m so proud. I’ve been following the work that’s being done in Nepal. Sometimes it’s just simple things like setting up space for the elderly in the community to meet or childrens groups as well as medical aid, building work, helping people get information on family, the list is endless.
I can’t thank people enough for the donations. I’m aware there are many of these type of events. It’s an unfortunate circumstance that the most vulnerable, not only in our own society but worldwide are relient on the generosity and compassion of us all. Governments take note.
This is part of my training for a charity walk in August. It’s a beautiful walk, perhaps not for the fainthearted but doable with plenty of snack breaks, especially on a long summer’s day. There are waymarks as it’s part of a national trail but you definitely need a proper map as it’s easy to take the wrong path (as I found out the first time I did it oops!). GPS is always helpful if you need to confirm your location but phone reception is intermittent.
In dry weather, trainers might be ok but comfortable walking boots probably best. There are a few pubs along the way where you can get food & drink if needed but some of the walk is actually quite remote. There are areas where the path is a bit overgrown, so expect a few brambles & nettles! Some areas could get very muddy if there’s been lots of rain.
Manningtree to Stratford St Mary
When you come out of Manningtree station, veer to the right & you’ll see a signpost taking you on to the start of the walk. Technically you’re on St Edmund’s way here for the first mile, the two paths merge for most of the walk.
Turn right onto the tarmac track which follows the railway track until & go under the lovely bridge as the track starts to head towards the river.
Once on a dirt path, there’s a point where you meet a ‘T-junction’ & there’s no waymark. Go left here & the path will take you alongside one of the branches of the river.
The path was a bit overgrown here for a stretch but once you get to the weir, it’s easy walking now onto Flatford mill. You stay on the left side of the river & head through the little gate towards Dedham. About half a mile along the river, you need to cross over the bridge so the river is now on your left. The path takes you to Dedham bridge.
When you reach the bridge, go left (over the bridge) & the path continues alongside the river towards Stratford St Mary.
You can hear the faint sound of the A12. The path isn’t particularly well-defined but follow the river, you’re aiming for Stratford bridge, & there’s a tunnel to the right of it which takes you under the A12 & on towards Stratford St Mary.
After the bridge you turn right along the road & walk past the ‘The Black horse pub’. Shortly after this, you’ll see a red life bouy on your left. The path takes you over a beautiful little bridge & back out into fields where the river is to your right.
Stratford St Mary to Nayland
It’s a good idea to keep a close eye on the map during this stretch of the walk. It’s easy to take a wrong path here if you’re not paying attention as you’re not following the river now. (Hehe)
You follow the path with the river to your right for about a mile until you reach a small road which takes you down to the right & over a bridge. It’s here where you start to move away from the river. Keep to your left however for about 1/3 of a mile where you’ll turn left (the waymark is hidden in the hedge) up a track which takes you to the B1068.
Cross over the road & walk to your left & there’s a well defined grassy track on the right which takes you gently upwards into the fields. If you look to your left, you can just about see Stoke by Nayland church on the horizon. Ultimately this is where you’re headed.
There’s a nice peaceful ‘snack stop’ when you get to top of Braddick’s hill!
It’s just over a mile from the B1068 to Hudsons lane which is a single track road. The path carrys straight over but the waymark points right along Hudsons lane, which is correct but it’s only a few paces & you need to find the path again on your left, which is on the right side of the hedge!!!
A short distance to the end of the field, you cross over another track (Londis lane) & on through trees past a farm. Just outside Stoke by Nayland, St Edmunds way & the Stour valley path diverge.
Follow the Stour valley path to the left through the field. There are two options here, either go up the field to eventually meet the B1068 or there’s a gate at the bottom of the field which takes you on to Scotland st where you turn left & it takes you to the crossroads & The Angel Inn. (I would say that although I popped in here & bought a bottle of appletiser which was such a treat on a very hot day, The Angel Inn is more of a fine dining establishment than a walkers pub!)
The path continues on the left side of the Angel Inn around the bend to Stoke by Nayland church. It takes you through the churchyard & on to a small road where you turn right. A very short distance & you’ll see a waymark to your left which takes you back into the fields.
You wind through beautiful wooded areas eventually onto a single track road. As the road starts to turn to the left look out for the path on your right. (Again, it’s easy to miss!)
1/4 of a mile on, look out for some sweet little steps in the hedge leading to a stile which takes you into a field. Here you need to go diagonally up across the field which will take you to another gate into the next field. Straight across again to the hedge which you follow down through another wooden gate to the bottom of the valley.
There’s an iron gate at the bottom which looks like the most obvious path but you’ll find the waymark is to the right of this, hidden in the hedge! Once you get on to this, the route down into Nayland is easy.
There’s another nice pub here which has picnic tables by the river.
As you come out of Nayland, you cross over a largish bridge. On your right are some steep steps down to the river edge. It’s lovely now to be back beside the river. As you head up river you pass a spectacular weir. There are swans on the river & sheep ion the field. Sheer bliss!
All too soon however you find yourself colliding with the A134. You have to cross the road & head towards Naggs corner. If you turn left here, you’ll see the waymarks taking you to the final stretch of the walk.
Nayland to Bures
The last stretch of the walk is more remote & peaceful. It undulates through farmland & wooded areas. The first mile or so after the A134 is easy to navigate. Once you reach a small road, look out for the track through Malting farm.
As you reach the bottom of the valley, there’s a stile (sigh…from here on there’s lots of stiles & your legs start to feel a little tired). You turn to the right. When you see a large pond, head towards it but the path is actually on the left hand side of the hedge. There are waymarks there but they’re tucked away. Continue on & you’ll hit the tarmac track, (Garnons chase) turn left which takes you into Wormingford.
Once in Wormingford, the path actually continues through the church (it’s not obvious) but you’ll see the waymark quite quickly which takes you through the trees. It’s now only a couple of miles to Bures.
The river is on your right now until you reach the most beautiful bridge. There’s some picturesque cottages with a sign on the wall saying: “footpath to Bures”!
At the beginning of the year, I came across this charity walk and thought it would be a ‘nice thing to do’ and raise some money for a charity here in Colchester. Things didn’t go to plan and I was in two minds about going ahead with it.
Watching the events in Nepal gave me the motivation I needed to dust off my walking boots and get motivated to walk 100k from London to Cambridge on August 29th as part of the London2Cambridge Ultra Challenge. I’m raising money for the Disasters Emergency Committee an umbrella organisation for 13 humanitarian aid agencies who unite their efforts in times of disaster.
I went out yesterday for a quick 10 miler before breakfast (haha) just to see how my legs felt. It’s going to be a toughy there’s no denying it but I’m determined. I’ll be out every Sunday doing a training walk (so if you see me walking funny on a Monday, you know why). Next week will be about 15miles I think but after that I’m going to tackle 20-30 miles each week.
Loosing everything including your home, loved ones and witnessing your country and it’s heritage destroyed is incomprehensible. Each human being on this planet deserves clean water, food, a roof over their head and the right to medical assistance.
Any donation, however big or small is so gratefully received.
We will always encounter stressful events in our lives, its unavoidable. Our response is, I suppose, an evolutionary thing, e.g when our ancestors were faced with a woolly mammoth, it was an advantage to have the body flooded with adrenaline, the heart & respiration rate increase to aid a quick getaway and ensure survival. In our modern lives too, a little bit of stress can drive us forward.
What we see all too often in our busy lives, are people who live constantly in this heightened stressful state. Stress has a way of taking root and it becomes the norm. In time unpleasant symptoms begin to manefest.
What I observe, is that most people have ‘their thing’, like a weak spot in their constitution that stress is able to get the better of. For some it’s IBS type symptoms, or skin rashes like excema or psoriasis. It could be muscle tension and pain or increased/reduced appetite, headaches, cystitis…and so on.
Stress often affects sleep. It may be that people experience vivid dreams, they’re tossing and turning all night, can’t get to sleep or find themselves wide awake at 3am. And so a downhill spiral begins. Feeling exhausted in the morning, we start turning to bad habits. An energy drink, a pack of cigarettes, sugary foods, lots of coffee to keep us going.
The mind isn’t so clear and we make poor decisions or struggle to make decisions at all. We make mistakes because our minds are foggy. People can also begin to experience an odd paranoia. We can become sensitive to others comments, then ruminate for days over it, further exhausting ourselves. Many people experience uncontrolled outbursts of emotion, often anger…and disproportionately so. And so, stress has us by the throat, stifling any joy or sense of fulfillment in our lives. We feel stuck, with no way out and its a miserable place to be.
There’s no single magic acupuncture point for stress. A traditional acupuncture practitioner will question, observe the patient and formulate an appropriate point prescription based on the patient’s diagnosis. The goal being to bring the body back to balance or “to restore de facto standards” as a colleague of mine puts it.
Patients feel very different after that first treatment and often it brings home just how much their ongoing stress is affecting them. Whilst we as practitioners offer practical suggestions to manage stress better, patients will often start to make little changes themselves. It’s surprising just how much difference a calmer frame of mind and a simple good nights sleep can make.
It’s a good idea for people to recognise the signs of stress early on and do something to tackle it. Prolonged stress will have detrimental effects on our health, sometimes irreversible ones. Acupuncture is an effective, non pharmalogical treatment option.
Life is for living, it is all too short to be stuck in the living hell which is extreme stress. Acupuncture can enable you to find your ‘flow’ and cope with life’s irritations with ease and grace.
I was chatting to a patient this morning about yoga retreats and it led me to reflect back on the ones I’ve been on.
The first one was way back when I first started studying Chinese medicine. It was a fantastically fun bachorlorette phase of my life. I was keen to make big changes in myself and the direction of my life. I booked a yoga holiday in Thailand. I think I was hoping for an amazing life changing spiritual experience. I expected to return home in a zen state, tanned and toned, looking and feeling fabulous.
The reality was a bit different. The venue was changed at the last minute. There ended up being only 4 of us which made the group dynamics a bit odd. One of the girls had a bit of an emotional break down midway through the week and the journey home was a nightmare. I was jetlagged, covered in bites and caught a really bad cold, probably from the plane. Not quite what I planned.
The second one was local to me. I remember there being a few issues with the booking and there were some very strong characters in the group which led me to withdraw a bit as I was desperate for some quiet time. The yoga classes however were amazing. Truly. I remember driving home and realising how incredibly different I felt. I made a note to myself at the time to remember that feeling. I think that experience led me to make some subtle changes in myself and my life.
The last one I went on just before Christmas, was an amazing location. There were some odd things however and the actual yoga itself didn’t really live up to expectation. But…. I met the most amazing group of people. We’ve stayed in touch, chat regularly and have some get togethers planned.
My reflection is to not make too many judgements on these experiences based on my expectations and perhaps thats how we should treat life. I learnt a lot from these retreats. In some ways they were life changing but perhaps not in the way I’d anticipated. I’d definately do it again and recomend to anyone to try it.