Sunday, 15 January 2017

Jamie's Italian - The Best Superfood Salad?

If you know anything about me, it's that I like to eat out. A lot. It's not unusual for me to eat out twice, sometimes three times a week - I absolutely love it.

I love the atmosphere, catching up with family & friends over gorgeous food that someone else has cooked for you, the choices... if I was going to define 'hygge' for me it would definitely include eating out!

On my 'about' page, I used to talk about the phrase 'buon cibo, buon vino, buoni amici' which is Italian for good food, good wine, good people (in fact, this was on my Instagram bio for a long while ~thinks back to a hundred other screen names I've had in the past... oh if only I could tell my 13 year old self that MSN names don't need to include Ashanti lyrics...~), but this phrase is genuinely something I really believe in - it encapsulates everything about a great evening for me.

As well as loving the indulgence of eating out, this month I've also been trying to keep it healthy.

I've been booked in to review Jamie's Italian restaurant in Manchester since December, but I was too ill to go, so was really looking forward to last week, when James & I were re-booked.

I'm surprised at myself for not having been into this restaurant in years. I think it's because I thought it was 'just another chain' and there are so many restaurants around King Street. However, the building is absolutely beautiful (a grade II listed former bank - with lots of original features and a gorgeous split mezzanine floor), so even if you're not out for dinner, the bar area is perfect for a unique place for a drink.

How beautiful is the ceiling?

As I'm doing dry jan, I opted for their 'refresher' mocktail which was lush, fruity but not sickeningly sweet like some cocktails can be.

James opted for a pint.

We started with some gorgeous olives, served on ice (which I've never seen before, and they were gorgeous - buttery and really juicy), and their bread selection with balsamic and olive oil (because James and I live for that combination). I was being mindful not to go 'HAM' on the bread as we'd also ordered the 'classic meat plank'.

I love the way it's served, on top of 4 tins of chopped tomatoes and a wooden board. The waiter built our construction in front of us and we dived in.

Usually, with sharing platters I'll pick and eat straight from the board, but I wanted to be a little more mindful about not overeating on the starter. I found putting my selection on a small plate encouraged me to eat less as I knew exactly how much cheese and meat I'd chosen. Firm faves included the mozzarella, pecorino cheese (it had a blob of chilli jam on top of each slice - such a nice combinatioin), and the proscuitto.

For my main, I went for the superfood salad with chicken. In all honesty, I really wasn't expecting great things as I've been disappointed with 'superfood' salads from restaurants before, however, I'd say without thinking twice that this is hands down up there in the top 3 salads I've had at a restaurant.

Seriously, they know exactly how to cater for someone who wants a healthy main here. No limp lettuce, soggy Cesar-dressing coated peppers or crutons here. Oh no.

The salad consists of a bed of mixed pulses and grains (think quinoa, lentils, wild rice), half an avocado, roasted beetroot, sprouting broccoli, pomegranate, light harissa dressing, cottage cheese and crunchy seeds. I was intrigued by the addition of the cottage cheese as I wouldn't ever add this to salads but it worked really well - there was only around a tablespoon in the whole dish but added a welcome 'creamy' touch.

I added free-range chicken to up my protein content.

I was soo full, and couldn't finish the whole thing (which is unusual for me when ordering a salad...).

James's dish looked insane, too. Despite not having the superfood label, it wasn't too unhealthy either.

Lamb cutlets with a selection of toppings.

We loved the unique way in which it was served, again on the chopped tomato tin base, with lots of little dishes so you could pick and choose the flavour for each mouthful. The little dished included a chilli and yoghurt dip, crushed nuts, mint leaves, pickled shallots and slaw. A hearty portion of Parmesan coated polenta chips finished this one off nicely (they were delicious, too).

We really shouldn't have, but we shared dessert. We opted for the 'epic chocolate brownie' with chocolate sauce, salted caramel icecream and caramelised popcorn.

Not so healthy, but fricking delicious (#balance). I'm glad we shared though, it was really rich!

If you haven't been, I'd definitely recommend it - not just for the gorgeous food but the building itself; it's stunning!

Jamie's Italian kindly contributed to some of the bill however all thoughts and opinions are my own

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Reflecting on 'Dry November'

It's been an insanely busy, crazy six weeks - hence the lack of blog posts here. I'm sure as I slip back into routine and the festivities feel like a long lost memory, I'll be back blogging regularly, but the last few weeks were mad with work, social & family life, and splitting my time between Manchester, Bristol & Sheffield!

Anyway. I wanted to publish this particular post during the first week of December, but never got round to doing it. If you know me, then you'll know that I did 'Dry November', and wouldn't shut up about it! I shouted about it loud and clear.

I learnt a lot during those four weeks.

Don't worry, this isn't a lecture on drinking. I still love red wine, gin & prosecco (in that order, please) but I saw a number of benefits of not drinking and it highlighted a lot about our culture so I wanted to share with a like minded audience.

If you're doing Dry January or are a little bit curious about how I was for four weeks without alcohol, keep on reading.

In summary:
- I looked (and felt) a lot leaner.
- I drank a LOT of fizzy drinks
- I slept SO much better
- Energy & motivation levels soared: no groggy feeling from Monday through to Wednesday
- My skin looked the clearest it has done in months
- Nights out are still fun
- People will laugh at you
- But equally, people really don't give a sh*t if you're drinking or you're not.

The main reaction from people when I said I was doing Dry November was hesitation followed by " that a thing?". The very fact I had to justify my abstinence from alcohol as a 'thing' showed to me just how ingrained alcohol is in our lives.

So, in a bit more detail, here's what I found:

What I found...

I didn't change my diet at all, and ate out at least once or twice a week (sometimes more), and yet still managed to look a hell of a lot leaner (especially compared to my current post-Christmas gAiNz). The thought of posting transformation pictures literally still fills me with a cold wash of fear but maybe one day I'll feel comfortable doing so, as I really did notice a difference in my abs and lower tummy particularly!

Sleep & energy
My sleeping improved dramatically. On the weekend, I can't tell you how nice it was to wake up feeling fresh and deeply rested (and the levels of smugness on not being hungover are incomparable). Even if on a Friday night I only had half a bottle of red and didn't think it had affected my sleep or how I felt the next day, in comparison to a month's sleep without it, I realise how wrong I was!

Possibly the best affect with sleep though was how I felt during the week - that horrible hazy, groggy feeling that hung around me on Monday's and Tuesday's was no more. Giving up alcohol isn't going to completely stop you feeling tired, but it really, really helped me.

I'm thinking about doing a separate post on skin as over the past 12 months I've really struggled with my skin, suffering with the worst red blemishes, random lumps and painful spots I've ever experienced. However during Dry November my skin notably improved. It was clearer; less red and 'angry' looking, less grey and hallow. I would definitely say alcohol has a negative effect on my skin.

Why I think our culture falls down in regards to alcohol:

- A lot of what we do revolves around alcohol: celebrating anything, meeting friends for a drink, drinking with food, birthdays, commiserating something (a hard day at work, bad news...), the list goes on. This gets ingrained in our lives as something we 'do' subconsciously, and adds to our intrinsic sense of belonging in our friendship and peer groups.

-  Weather. I know we can't control this, but if you look at places like Australia, South of France, Germany etc which are renowned for their 'outdoorsy' lifestyles, alcohol just doesn't really feature in the same way. Sure, you can find alcohol in these cultures (blush rose at sundown is religion in Europe I swear), but there's so much more to physically do, explore and see. We are very lucky in the UK to live where we do but we coop up in pubs when it rains and go HAM in a beer garden when the sun rears its head. I wish there were more activities for young people that weren't centered purely on drinking.

What I didn't find...

I didn't find that I saved too much money as like I said, I was out a lot with friends in both Manchester and London, and split the bill most times I ate out with those that were drinking. I also didn't save too much as it was the month before Christmas so had to stock up for that...

Fizzy drinks
I struggled to find a good selection alcohol free 'grown up' drinks that weren't full of sugar or loaded with artificial sweeteners (lime & soda water gets a bit boring after a while), so I was conscious that I was still racking up 'empty' calories from the soft drinks (I don't drink them normally, other than very occasionally). I'd really appreciate any genuinely nice soft drinks that aren't ginger beer or elderflower!

People don't give a sh*t! (thank god)
I think I also worried too much about people's opinions of me not drinking. At the end of the day, if someone can't support what you're doing, or consistently takes the piss or makes you feel uncomfortable about it - they aren't worthy of your time, and need to get a grip and reassess their purported ignorance. I found that 99.9% people didn't care either way, which was really refreshing.

Nights out are fine
Since doing a month off booze, it's also encouraged me to have more alcohol free or limited alcoholic drink nights out too. I know that I can have an amazing night without being pissed. When I was on nights out, people didn't even know I wasn't drinking ~I'm just so fun~ but seriously, every one is just out to have a good time - who has the time or energy to give a shit whether you're drinking lemonade or rum & coke?

I want to stress that this doesn't mean I want to be that person raising their eyebrows to people at the bar doing shots, or being pushy with my views on a night out. My point is that no one should judge anyone's reasoning for drinking or not drinking. That person downing their drink 'too quickly' might have had the worst time at home over the past two weeks, and feels like they need it - it's not your place to tell them otherwise, especially right there and then.

November fun ;)
November weekends

Have you done Dry January? Maybe the thought of not drinking on a weekend is something that you just can't see yourself doing, or, maybe you're t-total?! I'm genuinely interested to hear your thoughts!

So as you might have guessed, I'm trying to replicate November and stick to doing Dry January, and thought writing all my thoughts down would help motivate me throughout the month!

Friday, 25 November 2016

Tuesday @ Y Fabrica

When I first moved to Didsbury, Mudcrab was one of my favourite restaurants. I especially loved their signature burger and fries (perfect hangover cure with friends), but was also a place I brought my parents, and I thought they'd got that balance as an all-rounder down to a T. They've recently re-branded to Y Fabrica: still under the Mudcrab umbrella, but branching out to offer chilled, Cali-Mexican food. Think tacos, stuffed jalapenos, margaritas; sharing plates and cocktails - oh yess.

I got invited to come down and sample their tacos & margaritas and so last week, we made our way over for what I hoped would be a spicy, flavoursome affair to warm me up on a cold November evening.

I've got to say the furnishings give the place a lovely vibe - big wicker chairs (a bit like the furniture at the old Grand Pacific?) dominate the front area, and I imagine in the day light it would look beautiful. We were sat a bit further back so excuse the photos as some of them are a little dark (sorry).

The team at Y Fabrica were so lovely, our waiter Orion (I think that was his name!) was chatty (but not 'fake' chatty), made us laugh and feel at home. He recommended a load of dishes and asked us our favourite flavour combinations and how hungry we were... which resulted in this for starters:

Chicken Tinga Taco - pulled chicken soft flour tacos, with crumbled feta, pomegranate slaw and pico de gallo (Mexican chopped salsa, I learnt..)

Pork belly soft flour tacos with apple slaw and pico de pina (fruity salsa!)

Breadcrumbed and fried jalapeno poppers with a salsa verde

I'm known for being over dramatic but these were hands down the best pulled chicken tacos I've ever had. You'd think that the tacos themselves would be nothing to write home about, you know, the meat and filling should be the main affair? But take it from me, I've never tasted such fresh, "homemade" tasting soft flour wraps. You could just tell they'd been made moments before. Their plumpness worked well to scoop up all the pulled chicken (delicious), pomegranate and feta. I was gutted as James and I had agreed to go halves on each others starters, and so reluctantly handed over my plate.

The pork belly was gorgeous too, so swapping really wasn't so bad!

The jalapeno poppers were right up my street too. Whole jalapenos, injected with creamy, warm cheese. SO NAUGHTY but so good. A gorgeous salsa verde accompanied it. I'd highly recommend getting these to share.

When it came to the mains, Orion was really good at advising on portion sizes, and recommended that we get the nachos to share with our mains, as James's dish wasn't huge, he said.

I went for the slow cooked lamb tagine (obviously), with pomegranate couscous (pomegranate's really having a moment isn't it?) and yoghurt. It was delicious; full of flavour - rich and tomatoey, and very generous with the lamb. The size was perfect too, although I couldn't eat all the couscous.

James was content with his fruity choice too; fried chicken on a bed of chunky chilli watermelon - it sounds odd but in all honesty, it really worked! The watermelon was fresh and a perfectly unassuming partner for a plate of crispy fried chicken. It's definitely a good wild card option.

We also got the pulled chicken nachos to share (the pulled chicken was so good in the tacos I was so excited to know we were having more..), and oh my word, they were massive. Our waiter brought out a huge tray of nachos smothered in pulled chicken, avocado mash, jalapenos, salsa and cheese.

We could've just eaten these and been full! They were devilishly moreish and we had a pretty good go at eating them all ("just one more..").

I didn't have a margarita due to 'dry November' reasons, but James got the 'Smokey and the Bandit' - a spicy, oaky margarita with a Maldon salt rim. He said it tasted delicious, so I'll have to take his word, and try them for myself in December.

We really didn't need it, but we got dessert. I saw something with Snickers in and couldn't get it out of my head! Icecream, Snickers, chocolate sauce and torched meringue - it was LUSH.

You can check out the full menu here. I remember seeing a sign outside offering 2-4-1 cocktails during the week before a certain time, so it would be a perfect place for mid-week drinks and dinner.

They invited me down to try just their tacos and margaritas but when we went to pay the bill, our waiter told us that it was all on the house - which sweetened our evening even more. Such a lovely touch, they really didn't need to do that! We were expecting to, and would have gladly, paid for the rest of our meal, but it was a lovely gesture.

I'll definitely be back - I want at least two pulled chicken tacos next time around!

Sunday, 20 November 2016

How I stay motivated to train throughout Winter - Movember 10k

Last Sunday's gym... loveee running when it's crisp outside
I've been reading a lot lately on how to stay motivated throughout the winter months, as it's something I can really struggle with. My newsfeeds have moved away from beach photos, people getting stronger and more confident for their summer holidays, and instead has been replaced with cosy fire scenes, mulled wine and hearty, warming food photos. It's the most cliched thing, but the dark and rainy mornings, cold (and even darker) early evenings, and a hectic social life can really play havoc with my desire to get out and train.

I was really struggling for motivation mid-October, just before the clocks went back and when the mornings were exceptionally black. I wasn't training half as much and when I was, it was half-arsed. I could see my progress slowing and became agitated with my attitude.

credit: Pinterest
Over the past month, I've really made a conscious effort to up my training game and get back on it in the run up to Christmas.

I've not been perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I have made a conscious effort to maintain a regular exercise routine, and am actually happy with how I've managed to keep at it.

So if you're looking for that little bit of extra help with some motivation before Christmas, here's what I've been doing to stay on track...

1) Giving up alcohol

Yep, I've been 'that' person this month, giving up alcohol throughout November to do 'Dry-November' ("is that a 'thing'?" people ask. No, and I am well aware of that, and it's been hard!) I promised myself I'd be kinder to my body before the madness of Christmas kicks in and I'm 20 days in so far! I'm going to do a separate blog post dedicated to this, so keep your eye out for it but as I'm sure you've guessed, a lack of hangover has meant it's been far easier to train.

2) Indulging in 'the best' 

So I might have given up alcohol but believe you me the treats have been non stop this month. Knowing my social life was going to pick up means I've eaten out loads, which has also kept me motivated to keep on training.

Whilst I usually make a balanced choice eating out, for me, it's also important to treat yourself. Hannah from Wedges and Weights passed off some great advice at her festive supper club last year, and one of the key pieces of advice was about indulging - indulge in the best treat that you want every now and then, so that you don't constantly feel like you want more.

3) Preparation 

I've mentioned this in a previous post about fitness motivation (FYI this has a list of morning gym motivation tips if you're struggling here...), and I still stand by this one. It's so important!

If I'm going to the gym in the morning, I pack allllll my gym kit, work bag, work clothes, spare clothes (if I'm out after work) the night before, and make my lunch and breakfast for the day ahead the previous evening too.

Choosing my outfit for the next day is such a time saver as I faff about what to wear all.the.time. I also like to have everything packed up and ready to go as usually, I'm the only one awake and don't want to wake anyone up! Packing ahead also (perhaps more crucially) means that I can spend more time in bed asleep so is always a winner for me.

4) Pre-book

In a similar vein to preparation, booking on to various classes, races, events (whatever floats your boat!) is a great way to keep you in check.

At the Men's Health 10k Survival of the Fittest
In the past month, I've done the Men's Health Survival of the Fittest 10k and today, the Mo Running Movember 10k, which has 100% absolutely played a part in motivating me to train!

My motivation for training for this was definitely increased as the Movember PR team asked me if I'd like to take part in the run to raise awareness for the charity (I still bought my t-shirt to donate to the charity, it's a great cause!).

The run was at Heaton Park but the Mo Running team have organised 17 runs up and down the country throughout November to support, raise awareness and money for the Movember Foundation, which aims to 'stop men dying too young'. It's an amazing umbrella charity that wants to take on key global health issues that are affecting men worldwide - prostate cancer, testicular cancer, mental health and suicide prevention. It's not just about trying to grow a mustache!

We did really well in the race (which was muddy, slippy, narrow and hilly! ~getting those excuses in now~), coming in 62nd and 63rd out of over 400 runners, at 50mins 31secs - a time I'm happy with! I'd love to get this down to sub 50 though, 45 minutes would be insane.

Booking onto an event and committing to it gives me a set goal to work towards, which helps me focus and gives me a kick to keep it up at the gym. Crucially, it also gives me purpose which in turn makes training feel worth something. This definitely works for me.

Like I said I'm not perfect and there have definitely been a days over the past few weeks where the morning gym alarm has been snoozed (or called off altogether), so if you have any other winter workout motivation advice, pleeease share them with me!

Franks x

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