Mindfulness with Bikram Yoga Manchester

Life can be hard sometimes. Work, relationships, life in general – sometimes we need a bit of time out to think and reflect. I’ve tried yoga before and have to say I’ve never really gotten along with it. I have dreadful balance and let’s not even get onto the flexibility issue. So how I agreed to go along to Bikram yoga with a friend is beyond me, but I did.

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I went to Bikram Yoga Manchester in the Northern Quarter although I believe there is more than one now in the City Centre. Bikram yoga is the original ‘hot yoga’ – 26 hatha yoga postures and 2 breathing exercises performed over a 90 minute session in a room heated to 40 degrees.

It’s sweaty, that is a given. But I find the heat really helps to move my concentration to my breathing and control rather than worrying about being able to perform the postures or wander away to my life issues. By not worrying about it I find I am much better than I thought at holding the postures. That and the teacher talks you through each movement, encouraging you to breathe at all times, and guiding when to drink and when not to.

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This isn’t a quiet form of yoga, far from it. As a newbie you are encouraged to stand in the middle so you can see others around you as well as the teacher. You are guided, encouraged and talked through at all times. Those around you will breathe heavily, will audibly gasp to get more air into their lungs and perform the postures at different levels depending on how long they have been doing Bikram for. There’s a real mix of men and women of all ages, I’ve never felt more comfortable entering an ‘exercise’ class in my life.

I personally found that the heat helped my body to be more flexible and, whilst I ache like hell the next day, I always come out with a real sense of achievement and like I can conquer anything life throws at me.

Unfortunately for me no longer living in the City Centre, getting to Bikram regularly is proving to be a bit of a challenge but I visit as often as I can, certainly when I feel like life pressures are getting to be too much. Now I know my body can do this I’d certainly love to try other forms of yoga – aerial or ballet yoga anyone?

If you are interested in mindfulness you can read more in this article from Legal & General.

Images courtesy of Bikram Yoga Manchester. In collaboration with Legal & General. 

International Cheese Awards 2015 – An Overview

This year’s International Cheese Awards was bigger and better than ever with a record breaking 4615 cheese and dairy produce entries from 31 countries.

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I was lucky enough to visit on judging day where the tables were lined with huge chunks of cheese whilst the best in the industry touched, tasted and tested to find the best there was. I’m not entirely sure how they chose from such a large number but that is why they did it and not me!

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For the regular visitor you can expect a lot of tasting of your own as you walk the numerous stalls, chat to the cheese makers, sample their delights and – no doubt – come away with a bag or two to take home.

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I’m a bit of a sucker for something different and love the flavoured cheeses that seem to be popular at the moment. The Cheshire Cheese Company are based locally to me in Macclesfield and also have a deli within the Trafford Centre. I chatted with them for a while and was intrigued by the tequila, chilli and lime cheese. Bizarrely it changes in your mouth… first the hit of cheese, then a hit of chilli before that subsides to leave a zesty lime flavour. So different!

I also had some fun with the Lactalis range of cheese which you can see here. They even managed to get me to don a beret and string of onions for a selfie with the Eiffel Tower. The sheer amount of cheese consumed must have gone to my head.

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The awards themselves are a grand affair although, if you visit, you can also book lunch in this vast marquee. As you can imagine with such a huge number of cheeses there were lots of categories but the UK Supreme Champion was Greenfields Dairy with their Lancashire cheese. So nice to see such a local dairy pick up such an accolade. If you would like to see all the winners you can do so here.

I’ll see you next year when my ultimate aim will be to don the white coat and judge some cheese of my own, well, those flavoured cheeses have my name all over them.

I attended the International Cheese Awards as a guest.

Health – Crobar Protein Bars Review

When it comes to eating healthily I have to say I really struggle with breakfast. I really do prefer that extra half an hour in bed to getting up and prepping something nutritious for breakfast. Yes I know it is the most important meal of the day, yes I know it will set me up for the day in the right way, I’m just lazy. So I regular blitz up a protein shake or chuck some berries in yogurt and have that, recently I’ve been trying Crobar protein bars, and they’re a little different.

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Crobar protein bars have 19% protein per bar, contain no gluten, dairy or added sugar. And they are made with cricket flour, yep you read that right, cricket flour. Now I have to admit I am more squeamish than most. I’ve been presented with a BBQ’ed scorpion before and pretty much screamed rather than bite into it. It’s just not my thing. So when I was asked to try these I was a bit worried – would they contain bits of leg? And eye?

In terms of sustainability cricket flour is a no brainer. They need 12 times less feed than cattle, produce 80 times less co2 and require much less water whilst providing 65% protein, 3 times more iron than beef and all essential amino acids. So all that sounds great but what do they taste like?

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The bars are considerably smaller than the Quest bars I usually eat at just 40g and they are fairly high in sugar due to the amount of date added to the bars. It’s natural sugar but still, sugar is sugar and I try really hard to balance this in my diet.

The bar itself is soft and light without the ‘clagginess’ that so often somes with a protein bar. They are far from dry which I love, and the peanut crunch is loaded with chunks of peanut and sunflower seeds, it is definitely my favourite. The cocoa and chai is also soft with dates, cashews, goji berries, chia seeds to give a good dose of fibre along with the protein from the cricket flour.

There’s not a leg or eye in sight (pun intended), in fact, you would never know these were made with insects unless you read the packet. They’re not something I would eat every day due to the high sugar content but they are a great breakfast option if you are in a rush and perfect for a quick pick me up to help you recover after a heavy gym session.

Perhaps I should think about eating insects more often.

You can buy Crobar protein bars onlineand they cost £18 for a box of 8.

Item sent for review purposes.

 

Meet Your Match At TGI Fridays

TGI Fridays has been a firm favourite with my friends for quite some time so you won’t be surprised to hear that I regularly end up either at the Sale or Cheadle branches when we get together to catch up. As always, I’d rather try something local, but when friends are fussy and you are out in the ‘burbs, this is a pretty safe option. They are also more than willing to make changes to the menu meaning even the fussiest eater will be taken care of.

The new Meet Your Match menu promises to pair you with your perfect food match, whether that be bold and spicy or just a bit saucy, they say there is something for you. So I took the fussiest eater I know and went to see if we could both, indeed, meet our match.

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Things kicked off beautifully when the Head of Bar for TGI Fridays UK challenged me to make my own cocktail. Now I can drink a fair few of these pretty well but, when it comes to actually making them, I fall seriously far off the mark. That said I was in safe hands and my margarita had a lovely twist, the salt is on top of foam meaning you get a little bit with every mouthful. It turns out I make a mighty fine margarita.

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I tried one of his next with the cucumber martini and changed up my gin to Hendricks knowing the cucumber would work so well with it. There was also a hint of elderflower which balanced things out nicely and worked with the rose in the gin.

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Anyway enough about the drinks, what about the new Meet Your Match menu? We decided to try the Jack Daniels Bucket of Bones and the Double Layered Nachos. The bucket of bones we ordered without the fried onions and with the sauce on the side, told you he was fussy. I thought the ribs and wings would have been incredibly dry without the sauce but they were juicy and soft with the meat coming away from the bone beautifully. The sauce was sticky and sweet although I have to say I still can’t taste Jack Daniels in it at all, it may just be me. The nachos being double layered had gooey cheese on each piece topped with sour cream, guacamole and salsa. The salsa would have benefited from a little more heat but it was fresh and the nachos weren’t soggy at all which I was expecting with so much cheese.

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Onto mains and we shared the Warrior Burger and the Chicken Waffle Burger, the latter without the advertised honey mustard sauce. The Warrior Burger is really good, two 6oz patties sandwiched with mozzarella dippers, 2 types of cheese, caramelised onions and mayo. There is no way you can get this in your mouth in one so it is advisable to eat it either in half or with a knife and fork, not the way you should eat any burger in my opinion. That said the burgers are cooked medium so still pink and juicy and the mozzarella dippers added a bit of crunch. We upgraded our fries with cheese and bacon, it was the right decision. The bacon wasn’t crispy enough but the cheese? Samuel Adams beer cheese sauce, oh my. It is a good job they don’t sell this by the tub as I’d have bought their entire stock. Rich, smooth, cheesy and creamy – so good we carried on trying to fill our faces despite being ridiculously full.

Unfortunately the Chicken BLT Waffle was a bit of a ‘marmite’ one. Instead of a bun the crispy chicken and bacon is served between sweet waffles with cheese. Now I have to say this may have worked better had we had the honey mustard mayo it usually comes served with but it was all a bit dry and the flavours didn’t really work together. The sweet waffles were a little hard and dry making it tough to bite into yet the chicken was well seasoned and the bacon perfectly crispy. I’d rather have bread and you can have this instead, as I say, the beauty of TGI Fridays is they are happy to accommodate where necessary.

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Never outdone we finished with the Brownie dessert which was ok, warm chocolate brownies smothered in a rich chocolate sauce with smooth vanilla ice cream. The brownies weren’t sticky enough for me but the sauce and ice cream sure helped them stay from being dry.

The staff at TGI Fridays are eager to please and I left armed with a minion balloon figure, what’s not to love? As for Meet Your Match? We managed to find something to suit both of our palates and certainly didn’t go hungry. All in all a great option for a group of fussy friends who want a big feed and some pretty decent cocktails.

I was invited to dine as a guest at TGI Fridays and wasn’t asked to pay. 

 

Celebrate National Smorging Week With Castello

It sounds lazy but preparing a meal when you live on your own can be a right faff. After a long day at work combined with a gym visit, the last thing I want to do it be chained to the cooker trying to prepare a decent meal. Something I regularly do is prepare, what I usually call, a mini buffet. Bread, cheese, leftover meat, anything that can be chucked on a plate and eaten fairly quickly yet satisfy me is a particular bonus. Something I have learned this week is that this style of eating has a name! Dear reader, let me introduce you to smorging.

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Cheese brand Castello have taken inspiration from the Scandinavian smorgasbord and introduced smorging, a new way to enjoy premium cheeses in a tapas style rather than saving them for a special occasion. It is National Smorging Week from 24th-31st August so why not give it a go? You can pretty much use whatever you have in the fridge and, if you are around on Thursday 27th August at 6pm, you can send a photograph of the contents of your fridge to Scandi TV chef and food writer Trine Hahnemann who will give you tips on what to use for a bespoke smorg pairing.  All you need to do is tweet your picture or a list of your favourite store cupboard items to @castellouk with the hashtag #getsmorging, then join the Google hangout.

This relaxed approach to enjoying cheese pairings stretches as far as drink too. Do you enjoy a good port with your stilton? Or a fabulous merlot with your brie? Go for it, you only live once, enjoy things in the here and now.

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As for my smorging experience, I’ve already said I do this type of thing regularly and I’m glad I can now give it a name. My favourite is some crusty bread that’s still warm when bought, some salty parma ham, a selection of cheeses like these from Castello, some good olives and a pot of houmous. I used the Castello Creamy Blue which isn’t as harsh as most blue cheese, more like a brie with bite. The Castello Creamy White is light and buttery with a beautifully gooey heart whilst the Castello Pineapple Halo was my absolute favourite coated in chopped almonds and papaya for a fruity yet toasted taste.

I enjoyed mine with a glass or two of Torres Vina Esmeralda, one of my favourite Spanish wines and one I struggle to find other than in Bakerie or in Spain itself. I thoroughly enjoyed my smorging experience and I can’t wait to try pairing different cheeses with different dips and meats for a different experience.

Cheese provided for review purposes.

Recipe – The Ultimate Tuna Melt With Lactofree

The peeps at Lactofree are always thinking of new and innovative ways of helping you say yes to dairy and the latest is the ultimate in fuss free – grated cheddar. They sent me some to try and challenged me to come up with a recipe for the ultimate cheese toastie. I was apprehensive to be honest as I find pre-grated cheddar doesn’t tend to melt well, especially when the cheese has been processed in some way. This cheese isn’t really strong enough for me but DID melt well, what a bonus for lactose intolerant people out there!

Here you have it. My ultimate tuna melt, an absolutely favourite of mine with a twist.

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Ingredients – Serves 1

2 slices thick bread – I used Morrisons sunflower and pumpkin loaf as I love the nutty seeds
1 tablespoon butter
1 tin tuna chunks in brine – drained
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
2 teaspoons red onion jam
50g Lactofree grated cheddar

Method

Butter both slices of bread and spread with the red onion jam. In a separate bowl combine the tuna and mayonnaise with a tiny splash of vinegar, season to taste.

Top one slice of bread with the tuna mixture then top with the Lactofree grated cheddar.

Put the second piece of bread on top, buttered side down, and either pop in a sandwich maker or a George Foreman grill.

Cook until the cheese is oozy and gooey, enjoy straight away.

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Lactofree products provided for review purposes.

 

Try Something New With Hungry House

Whilst I love a meal out as much as the next person, there are sometimes when only the comfort of a decent takeaway will do. We all have a favourite Indian or Chinese takeaway that we turn to when the thought of turning on the oven and cooking a meal is just too much, but what about thinking further afield?

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Hungry House have launched a new campaign encouraging you to try something new and there’s loads of cuisines to choose from. From Thai to Korean, Brazilian to Greek, there is something for everyone and, even better, you can get 20% off for the first time you try something new.

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I had a quick look what is available in my local area and I have Jamaican or Thai to choose from as well as desserts – I can’t think of anything better than a dessert takeaway! I’ll certainly be ordering some cheesecake to eat after my curried goat next time I order, that’s for sure.

To celebrate the TrySomethingNew campaign Hungry House are giving away a whole raft of prizes including Rebel Bingo tickets, Hungry House vouchers and also Red Letter Day vouchers. To be in with a chance of winning just follow Hungry House on either Twitter or Instagram and tag @hungryhouse in a new post with the hashtag #TrySomethingNew. You’ve got until the 31st August and full details can be found on the Hungry House blog.

What are you waiting for? That Thai green curry is waiting… And if you want to know more about how Hungry House works you can read my last post about their service.

Images provided by Hungry House. In collaboration with Hungry House.

Health – Alo Drinks Review

Most of us have tried coconut water with the hype around the said health benefits, but how many of you have tried aloe vera drinks? They always look thick and gloopy to me so I tend to steer clear, so when Alo asked if I wanted to try theirs I was a little apprehensive.

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At first glance I could tell these drinks were different, for a start, they are all flavoured with something to compliment the aloe vera juice. This certainly makes them more palatable in terms of taste. The next thing I spotted was the bits floating in the drink. This really put me off at first as I am a ‘no bits’ kind of girl. Give me smooth orange juice or smooth yoghurt anyday. Once I bit the bulllet and had a sip I have to say the pieces are quite juicy and refreshing, almost jelly like in texture so not unpleasant at all.

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So what about the health benefits? Well Alo use real aloe vera pieces which is unique as most similar drinks use dehydrated powders to make aloe vera juice. Aloe vera is widely recognised as being excellent for relieving digestive issues and irritable bowel syndrome symptoms. Many people use aloe vera based products on their skin to sooth irritation and it works the same way internally. It is also thought to assist the immune system, improve joint flexibility and strengthen joint muscles. Unfortunately I can’t find any evidence of these benefits, I’d like to see some research before I buy into the ideas to be honest.

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Each bottle also has a q code on the back which provides positive tunes to enjoy whilst you drink. A total gimmick but certainly an interesting one!

My main issue with this product is it calls itself an aloe vera drink and talks of the benefits of drinking it. This product contains different amounts of aloe vera juice depending on the flavour you choose and between 11g-22g of sugar per serving, not per bottle, per serving.Whilst they use raw cane sugar it is still exactly that, sugar. I wonder how much this outweighs the health benefits of the aloe vera juice and pulp.

All that said these are pretty tasty, sweet as you can imagine, but tasty and I do feel hydrated after drinking them. Alo is available in the following flavours:

ALLURE – aloe vera with mangosteen and mango juices
APPEAL – aloe vera with pomelo, pink grapefruit and lemon
EXPOSED – aloe vera with honey
AWAKEN – aloe vera with wheatgrass
COMFORT – aloe vera with watermelon and peach
ENRICH – aloe vera with pomegranate and cranberry
ESCAPE – aloe vera with pineapple, guava and sea buckthorn

The latter is a firm favourite for me, what’s yours?

Alo is available to buy from Waitrose, Holland & Barrett, Ocado and Selfridges priced at £1.99 for 500ml.

Items sent for review purposes.

Health – Body Me Raw Cacao Nibs Review

You’ll have heard me witter on about chocolate being good for you many times. I got the opportunity to learn all about it at Hotel Chocolat not that long ago and always throw some cacao nibs into my Nutri Ninja when blitzing up protein shakes.

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Some interesting research into chocolate and whether it really is good for you has recently been conducted. It’s widely reported on that eating up to 100g of chocolate can help to reduce the chance of a heart attack, stroke or cardiovascular problems, but what about cognitive issues? A recent study tested the cacao flavonoids on individuals over a period of 8 weeks. Various improvements were seen in mental performance, problem solving was better and verbal fluency was enhanced. The study also found improvements in fat metabolism, insulin resistance and blood pressure. These cacao flavonoids aren’t high in your regular bars of chocolate I’m afraid; they contain too much sugar and dairy for you to reap these health benefits. What you need is cacao.

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With all that amazing news Body Me have released their cacao nibs in a huge 500g bag to help you reap the benefits of this wonder product for longer. They use certified organic nibs which are grown without pesticides or other chemicals, and never roasted as this can reduce the nutritional properties and antioxidant levels. They also donate 20p from every sale of Body Me products to the Healthy Planet organisation to help preserve our Earth for future generations.

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Body Me sell cacao nibs either in their raw form or in powder, the latter of which is great for smoothies and shakes if you don’t have a powerful blender. It is also great mixed into Greek yoghurt and served with berries for a protein packed breakfast. That said, the raw nibs themselves can be nibbled as a midday snack, easy peasy. They are fairly hard in texture and you won’t get that instant sweet hit you get from a bar of chocolate. What you will get is a strong, bitter, nutty and fairly earthy chocolate flavour which is why they taste so good mixed into other ingredients.

Body Me cacao nibs are available online priced at £13.99 for 500g and the cacao powder is available at £3.99 for 50g.

Item sent for review purposes.

Recipe – Easy Peasy Mac And Cheese

As much as I love a good baking session I am pretty rubbish when it comes to anything inventive in the kitchen. Now I am all moved into my new house and have a large kitchen to potter in I thought it was about time I turned my hand to something a bit more interesting. Supplied with some cheese from Seriously Strong and some butter from President, it seemed the perfect opportunity. It turns out I can make a mean macaroni cheese and it is so easy, if only I’d known this before!

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Ingredients – Serves 4 

250g Macaroni, uncooked
1/4 cup of President Unsalted Butter, softened
1/4 cup of Flour
2 and 1/2 cups of full fat Milk
2 cups of Seriously Strong Extra Mature Cheddar
1/2 teaspoon of Salt
1/2 teaspoon of Pepper
4 rashers Bacon
1 pack of Ready Salted Crisps, crushed

Method

Cook the macaroni according the packet instructions.

In a large saucepan melt the butter, stir in the flour and add the milk slowly until the mixture thickens. Once the mixture starts to bubble add the cheese and stir until it melts.

Cook the bacon in a frying pan until crispy and crumble into the cheese mix. Stir this and the macaroni until coated in the sauce. Season with the salt and pepper then stir.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.

Tip the macaroni cheese into a baking dish, top with the crushed crisps and bake for 10 minutes or until bubbling and browned on top.

Tip into a bowl and enjoy.

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There are so many variations that could be added to this dish. I’m going to flake some salmon in next time instead of the bacon! The Seriously Strong cheddar makes this a really cheesy dish so a topping of cheese isn’t needed, a bonus.

Some of the ingredients in this recipe were provided for recipe development purposes.

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