Monday, May 26, 2008

little things...

How often do you stop to think about the little things that brighten your day?  Not necessarily the most important things in life like good health, great friends etc., but little things that give you joy when you stop to look at them, or to savour them.

Yes, today is another very wet and gloomy Bank Holiday Monday in the UK, so two of my little joys have been glancing over at my fresh white jug of  Sweet William flowers - every time I pass-by - as they sit on my little mosaic table, that was a great bargain find 10 years ago. And relishing my afternoon cup of hot green pomegranate tea in my favourite new mug...  

How about you?  What are yours and how often do you stop to enjoy them?

Friday, May 23, 2008

adopt a smoothie:-)

When the weather is fine, or at least clement, what better way to start the day than with a delicious - and easy - home-made smoothie! For a sunny, vitamin-infused, anti-oxidant-packed breakfast, there's little better.  The berry variety used to be my favourite until I experimented today and made a new discovery: mango spice! 

I set the scene, yesterday, when, for the first time, I bought a large pack of frozen mango cubes. This morning, all I needed to do was to throw a large handful into the blender, with half a large sliced banana; half-a-cup of apple-juice-sweetened, organic, soya milk and a (very) generous sprinkling of ground cinnamon.  Whizz-away, until smooth, and you're guaranteed to launch the day with a smile and a healthy burst of energy...yum!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

BoJo's progress report...

I confessed, previously, that I didn't vote for the blonde one but he made a good start with his acceptance speech and his actions have impressed me since. What I especially appreciate, is that - so far - he isn't just a man of words, he has started to make things happen.  His 'newty' predecessor could talk for England and was constantly telling us of his plans.  Much (most?) of it was just talk, whereas Boris, almost instantly, moved-on with the Oyster card.  Within a few days it was officially accepted on one train line (with more to come?); something that Ken had been 'promising' for a long time, with no concrete progress.

BJ appointed three(!) deputy majors, each with responsibility for a specific area.  I was impressed when I heard the Deputy Mayor for Policing, Kit Malthouse, talking on the radio with a practical, no-nonsense approach.  His stated priority is to improve safety for Londoners - making inroads and a positive impact on reducing the horrendous proliferation of knife crime on the capital's streets.

Surprisingly, Boris' mayoral fee is greater than that of his New York counterpart; indeed we have much to learn from their success in countering violence, street fear and intimidation.  The freshly re-instated 'stop and search' policy is seen as contentious by some but together with the implementation of 'knife-arches' and a mooted zero tolerance stance it might just put - at the very least - a slight halt on the deeply shocking levels of  preventable and tragic youth deaths.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

A tribute to Jimmy Mizen

It would be a seriously, cold-hearted, evil person who can fail to have been moved and saddened by the tragic, premature death, on 10th May, of 16 year-old Jimmy Mizen.  You just need to look at his face to see his inherent goodness. All the tributes to him, written and spoken, affirm what a truly fine person he was.  I feel goosebumps when I hear and read the homage paid by those who knew him.  I'm stunned and deeply moved by the strength, serenity and forgiveness of his amazing parents Margaret and Barry.  I hope that they continue to gain strength and joy from their remaining children.     

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

DON'T burn baby burn

Monday 5th May saw the start of Sun Awareness Week, here in the UK.  Timely 'planning', given the beautiful sunshine we've been treated to over the past few days.  Everywhere I've been, on my wanderings lately, I've noticed bright red individuals who haven't been able to resist exposing their unprotected flesh and soaking-up the sun.  I never cease to be amazed at this shortsightedness...

I know it isn't always easy to take a long-term view, especially when we're young, but skin cancer is on the rise and it's one cancer that is highly preventable.  What really infuriates me is when I see toddlers and young children who have been allowed to turn bright red from sun exposure.  Of course, I don't blame them but their parents should know better.  There are such good and easy-to-apply sun-care products available today - even coloured ones with a high Sun Protection Factor(SPF) - where an element of fun and play can be involved in their application.

I used to be a health and beauty editor, so yes, I do have an especially high awareness and I've heard many stories (true ones) from dermatologists who relate tragic cases of people in their 20s and 30s who have died, very sadly and prematurely, from malignant melanoma.  A dose of sunburn, as a young child, will literally programme your skin with sun damage, impacting most up to 20-30 years on, accounting for the shocking death rate in young people.  

Today, it's completely unnecessary to expose your skin to the sun in order to get an attractive golden tan.  Self-tan products are improving all the time, with a huge range and variety available.  When you choose - and use - one, you simply need to be aware that it won't offer protection against the rays, UNLESS the pack specifically states that it contains a good SPF.   So, if your product of choice doesn't state that, you'll need to apply an additional product with a good, full-spectrum (against UVA and UVB) SPF, often indicated with a star rating. Also, bear in mind that it's worth exfoliating your skin, prior to application, to ensure there's a smooth, hydrated surface for the 'tan' to take evenly and look optimally good.  Don't forget to wash your hands instantly afterwards to avoid any tell-tale signs with unsightly (and unrealistic!) brown palms.

One of the riskiest things you can do to your skin is to give it a 'short sharp shock' and expose it to an intense bout of  sunbathing - for instance on a two-week holiday in an 'idyllic' tropical, Mediterranean or exotic sun-baked setting.  Watch-out for water locations, either when swimming or on a boat, as this will only intensify the sun's damaging impact.  A deceptively refreshing breeze - on a hot sunny day - is another culprit with similar effects.

An additional (quirky-sounding) way you can improve your skin's natural protection is to include a decent portion of tomato purée in your diet, on a daily basis.  Recent research has shown that after a few months daily intake the skin's resistance to sun-damage is enhanced. It offers benefits but still won't prevent the need for topical protection.

Enjoy the sun, in moderation, ensuring that you are in control, rather than allowing the rays to dictate the future, potentially-sorry state of your skin. If the fear of serious damage and putting your health at risk isn't sufficient to make you take preventative action, then perhaps the threat of premature ageing will.

sunny summer food - part one!

Ah! The weather in London is blissful (at the moment!) so a good opportunity to update one's eating habits.  If you believe in eating according to the season - as I do - you're in for a treat with some of the produce currently available locally.

I love healthy Mediterranean-style food - along with my passion for the area - and have recently got back into home bread making.  If you've never tried cooking with Spelt (an ancient grain related to wheat with a 'nuttier' taste and fewer allergy/intolerance problems) simply make some dough using water and fast yeast, knead, leave to rise for 40 minutes - in a warm place - before shaping into a flat-bread shape.  Brush with, or slick-on, a small amount of olive oil then cook, until brown 'stripes' appear on both sides, in a grill pan.  It's a perfect way to start the day, as it is, or along with your preferred topping and a serving of fresh fruit.   Also a great accompaniment to a creative salad, with a tasty dip, or as a light, fragrant pizza slice - later in the day.  

For the pizza method, all you need is a fresh herb of  your choice (rosemary works best) and a scattering of fresh courgette and red onion slices.  Simply press them into the dough and grill, as before.  For a more substantial slice, enhance the topping with some 'blobs' of goats cheese and tomato purée or a smattering of prepared tomato sauce (although best to add these after you've grilled with the other ingredients, if you don't want to make too much mess).   Alternately you can oven-bake and also adjust quantities, according to required servings.  Even nicer accompanied by a glass of chilled  Provençal rosé... 

Happy summer eating (and drinking)!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

To be a Mayor...

It's been a long wait for Londoners to officially discover the identity of their new Mayor.  Quite extraordinary how long it took to complete the count, of not much more than 6 million votes, yet nothing in comparison with Zimbabwe's scandal and shame.
As for the result... do you know Boris?  He's pretty distinctive and recognisable; to many best-known as bumbling Boris or Boris the buffoon.  I guess I believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt but NO!, I didn't vote for him...  I just hope that he will surround himself with an effective, good, strong, fair, honest and honorable team (if that's possible in modern politics...)

In his acceptance speech, he highlighted the 'huge divisions between rich and poor' and how he will 'focus on the priorities of the people of London' so that he can 'earn people's trust'.  I hope he doesn't let us down or have cause to swallow his words...

Any Questions...?

Just back from the Rose Theatre where Radio4's Any Questions? was broadcast last night. Having spent many years working on live radio it didn't hold as many surprises for me, as perhaps, for some others in the audience.  There was mainly an older presence, for this BBC programme, that celebrates an amazing 60 years on air, in 2008.

If you read the link above, you'll gather I'm a big fan and supporter of the Rose so I was happy to return there for a rare event and especially pleased to see Sir Peter Hall, Director Emeritus and theatrical hero, on the four-strong panel.  He was the star turn: succinct, entertaining and to-the-point.  

Caroline Spelman, Chair of the Conservative Party, was immensely long-winded and, on most occasions, completely failed to answer the question.  Harriet Harman QC, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, seemed determinedly on-message and constantly conveyed how the party was listening and would take note of public opinion and correct any wrongs.  She totally passed the buck on all the Shakespeare related questions - disappointingly - and surprisingly, for one so well-educated.  Local MP, Vince Cable, Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats, was impressive -  we discovered he had been up since 4am but he answered every question without rambling or straying - in an informed, thoughtful and intelligent manner.

If you want to tune-in, the (live) programme is repeated on Saturday (today!) afternoon, at 1.10pm.