Monday 19 April 2010

The Easiest, Tastiest Muffins in the World...Ever!

I recently made these gorgeous vegan apricot and almond muffins, which were such a huge success - something of a miracle for me - that people keep asking me for the recipe. So I thought I'd let the world (or at least my few loyal readers) know, by posting the recipe on my blog.

I have to admit, it's not actually my recipe. How honest of me! I came across it via the BUCFP (Brighton Unemployed Centre Families Project), who in turn apparently adapted it from Dan Lepard's recipe for Chocolate Passion Cake (although I don't quite see the connection personally). So, thanks Dan and the BUCFP. Here goes:

Ingredients (makes about 12)
100g dried apricots
150ml sunflower oil 1tbsp cider vinegar
150g grated carrots (about 2 small ones)
75g chopped almonds
150g unrefined sugar
175g strong white bread flour
3tbsp ground almonds
3tsp baking powder

1. Heat the oven to 170C/Gas Mark 3. Put 12 paper cases into a muffin tray or, better still, use one of those silicone muffin trays which are totally non-stick and so easy to use.

2. Pour 200ml boiling water on the apricots. Leave for 10 minutes to soften, then tip the apricots and water into a blender with the oil and vinegar.

3. Puree until completely smooth, tip the mixture into a large bowl and stir in the chopped almonds, grated carrots and sugar until evenly combined.

4. Sift together the flour, ground almonds and baking powder and beat this in.

5. Divide the mixture between the muffin cases/tray and back for 25 minutes or until a skewer removes cleanly.

Et voila! The easiest, tastiest muffins ever - I've even got the photo to prove it!

Friday 9 April 2010

Cigarettes & Alcohol

Oh ye Gads! Has it really been nearly a month since I last posted? My, how time flies when you're, err.... broke and stressed out!! One of my favourite pastimes to chill out and escape from it all is watching TV. Well, watching TV series on my laptop to be precise, as I don't actually have a TV per se.

My current viewing tipple is Mad Men. It's fantastic! It's set in 1960s Manhattan and follows the lives of the employees of Sterling Cooper, one of New York's most prestigious ad agencies, with particular emphasis on the dashing and extremely talented ad executive, Don Draper. The 'Mad Men' work hard and play hard, drinking and smoking like there's no tomorrow. In fact, I can almost guarantee that not a frame goes by without a cigarette or a glass of bourbon in sight.

In the light of today's healthier, smoke-free environments, witnessing the sheer frequency with which the characters light up is extremely noticeable and downright scary. They smoke in the office, in their cars, in restaurants, during dinner with their kids, even in bed at night when everything else around them seems so pristine. Of course, the health officials are just beginning to cotton on to the idea that it might not actually be very good for you, but for now it's definitely the height of fashion.

It struck me that, although the level of smoking seems so shocking in the series, I wasn't nearly as affected by the level of drinking. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I didn't really notice it at all. I mean, OK, so the ad execs have a plentiful supply of liquor in their desk drawers and do tend to glug back the potent brown stuff like it's coca-cola, but doesn't that sort of thing still go on nowadays? It certainly wouldn't surprise me.

And then it struck me that our ideas about drinking don't seem to have changed much over the years. We've realised the damage smoking does and have drastically altered our habits because of it, but what about alcohol? Doesn't that do just as much damage? In fact you could argue it does more, seeing as it can potentially have adverse emotional and psychological effects as well as simply physical. But drinking alcohol still seems to be the height of fashion, particularly in the UK.

How many people do you know who don't drink? And I mean don't drink at all? Nothing? Not one drop? Not many I'll bet. Britain is a country of boozers. Where do we do most of our socializing? Down the pub. What do we do to celebrate? Drink. What do we do with our sorrows? Drown them. What usually accompanies a nice meal? Alcohol. We seem to turn to booze whenever we want to relax or whenever we feel we've done something good: soaking in the bath with a glass of wine; cracking open a beer after a hard week's work.

It's astonishing when you stop to think about it. If you look around you, wherever you are, there's always someone somewhere having a drink. I seem to notice it more and more since severely cutting down myself. My daily early morning cycle into town invariably takes me past a group of drunks, still out from the night before; or a solitary individual clutching a can of Stella or Strongbow on his way to... well, who knows where?

If you've ever been the only sober one on a night out, you'll see how both funny and alarming it is (or sometimes downright boring) to watch other people get more and more rat arsed. I remember one such occasion last Hallowe'en in a nightclub with some friends. I suddenly noticed everyone around me acting very strangely and asked another sober friend "Are they all on drugs?" She laughed and replied "No, they're just pissed!" I was convinced they were all off their faces and it made me realise how strongly alcohol can affect us: our minds, our perception, our emotions, our reflexes, our bodily functions, in fact there doesn't seem to be a single part of us that isn't affected when we drink.

The front page of my local paper, The Argus, yesterday declared "CITY HAS A DRINKING PROBLEM". Apparently Brighton & Hove is drinking itself to death and I'm sure it's not the only city in Britain. But, unlike smoking, I can't see the government doing anything to curb our drinking habits any time soon. Well, how could they when it's such an ingrained part of our society, our upbringing even? It's part of what makes us British, what makes us human. But at what cost?

Well, I'll leave you to ponder over those issues for a while. I'm off down the pub to get shitfaced. Come on, it is Friday after all... ;0)

Monday 15 March 2010

Sex, Lies & Girls with Dragon Tattoos

This week I saw the film "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" (Man Som Hatar Kvinnor) at The Duke of York's Picturehouse in Brighton. I'd heard little about the film and didn't even realise that it's based on the first part of a trilogy of books written by Stieg Larsson, the other two being "The Girl Who Played With Fire" and "The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest". The trilogy is known as "The Millenium Series" and was published posthumously after Larsson died of a sudden heart attack in 2004.

The girl in the title roles is Lisbeth Salander, played by Noomi Rapace, a feisty young punk-goth computer hacker with piercings in her nose and a fierce look of defiant disinterest in her eyes. The main thread of the story involves Lisbeth's unlikely pairing with a disgraced financial journalist (who works for the publication 'Millenium', hence the trilogy title), Mikael Blomkvist, played by Michael Nyqvist, as they try to solve the 40-year mystery of the disappearance of a member of the powerful Vanger family.

The film is dark, violent and deeply engaging. The acting is fantastic and, as we learn more and more about the lives of the lead characters, we're pulled deeper into their stories and their sufferings. Although some parts were perhaps a little predictable, others were downright shocking and this is certainly not a film for the faint hearted. I found much of the film visually stunning and was gripped to my seat for the duration.

It seems to be one of those films so full of subplots that it feels like several stories in one. Just as you get to the end of one subplot you realise there's another loose end to tie up... and another... and another... which makes the ending drag on a bit. But nothing like the never-ending climaxes of Casino Royale! And in many ways it reminded me of Dexter. But that's all I'm saying on that matter. You'll have to watch it to see if you agree.

I would highly recommend this film and can't wait for the next part of the trilogy.

Thursday 11 March 2010

Wired Sussex Saved My Sanity!

I'd been feeling a bit disheartened by the whole copywriting thing. Hell, even the whole freelance thing. All those niggling little doubts were getting louder and louder in my head: Is this really what I want? Can I really do it? Wouldn't it be easier (and less stressful) to just go and get another job somewhere?

But then, like a shining beacon of light and hope, along came the Wired Sussex Media Jobs & Skills Fair. The small, quiet, all-knowing part of me managed to force the larger, grumpy, all-resisting part of me to go along to the event and I have to say I'm so glad it did! Not only did I find that I already knew a lot of the people there, I also knew the entire panel giving talks about making it as a freelancer (even if they didn't know me). And suddenly I felt a part of something. A part of this amazing community. And I realised I'm already on the right path. This is the direction I'm meant to be going. I AM a writer!

So, feeling all inspired and invigorated, I also made it to my first Brighton Farm meet-up, prompted by one of the speakers at the Media Fair. For those of you not in Brighton or just not in the know, this is a casual weekly meet-up in a pub for anyone in media. I'd heard it was a bit techy and, yes, I did mostly meet web designers and developers, but they were all jolly nice. And I realised I could tell them anything about me and they'd believe it. Well, why wouldn't they? So I told them all I'm a copywriter. And they believed me. Ha!

In the words of Martha Tilston, if we say it over and over again it will manifest somehow. So... I am a writer! I am a writer! I am a writer!

Tuesday 23 February 2010

The Answer To Everything

Ok so I'm now halfway through When Everything Changes Change Everything by Neale Donald Walsch, which I started talking about in Room for Change. Well, things are hotting up and I feel compelled to share some of the wisdom I've learned so far.

The book is about changing the way you experience change and I find it so fascinating. One of the important techniques he talks about is Noticing The Moment. This seems to be a philosophy that crops up in so many different approaches, i.e. living in the present, being in the now, etc., but it's so much easier to say than do!

The core of the book focuses on the Line of Causality:

event + data + truth + thought + emotion = experience = reality

So, an event happens, you add to it your past data (judged or factual), then your inner truth (either Imagined Truth, Apparent Truth or Actual Truth), which produces a thought which leads to an emotion which creates your experience which gives you your reality (either Distorted Reality, Observed Reality or Ultimate Reality depending on which inner truth you apply).

So, basically, if you can change your inner truth, you can change your thought and therefore your emotion. Which means - we choose our emotions!! And that's hard enough to get your head around but I think it's true. And of course the line is actually a circle because your reality feeds into events and it just keeps going round and round.

All of this information is looked at in great detail within Part 1 of the book, The Mechanics of the Mind. I've just started reading Part 2, The System of the Soul, which will apparently give me the tools to put these techniques in place. I've also just discovered the 2 most important sentences of the book (apparently), which are The Life-Altering Question and The Answer to Everything. But I'm not going to tell you what they are, as you should read the rest of the book if you want to find out! I'm not on commission (honest), I just don't think they'll have quite the same effect unless you've read the book first. So, get reading!

Sunday 14 February 2010

Social Media Freakout!

A couple of days ago I was watching social networking in action. There and then. Actually seeing it happen. Let me explain.

I log on to Twitter and notice a tweet by a friend and fellow copywriter, Leif Kendall. Well, many tweets by him in fact, but one in particular that catches my beady eye. He mentions something about Copify. Something not too polite. And a couple of other copywriters seem to have posted not-too-polite comments too. I'm intrigued. What is this Copify and why is it ruffling so many feathers in the writing world?

So I go to their website and it turns out they offer a service introducing publishers to writers. But most professional copywriters are offended by this scheme, arguing that it's nothing more than a "sweat shop" of writers churning out low grade copy for peanuts. It seems this debate has got so heated that Copify's latest blog post is a letter to all the copywriters they've offended, defending themselves and trying to explain their position. Which, unsurprisingly sparks a whole new thread of the debate and fills their blog with comment after argument after comment.

Anyway, 2 days after posting a very neutral tweet saying I'd just discovered the Copify debate and didn't know where I stood yet (I'm far too diplomatic), I get 5 new copywriters following me on Twitter from all over the world!

Not only that, but then I get an email from LinkedIn saying I have a new follower, who just happens to be the director of the web design company who built the Copify website! Ok, so then I log on to LinkedIn and it starts telling me about People I May Know. And not only does it come up with connections of connections, which is fair enough, but suggests I may know my ex therapist, the guy who interviewed me for a job last week, one of my aunt's friends, one of my partner's colleagues and a load of faces from my past who I'd "Rather Not Connect With", thanks. How does it know?? I was feeling just a little freaked out by this point, I can tell you.

I also find out during this process that lots of people I know from different circles are connected with each other on LinkedIn and I had no idea. It's such a small world. Oh and if that wasn't enough, my partner gets an email from one of the people I just linked with asking about any opportunities to work with him AND I get a random email inviting me to do business with a marketing and communications company. Woa!

And all this after attending WriteClub, a networking group for writers in Brighton and London, and discovering that at least 2 people at the table knew a very old friend of my Mum's who I used to babysit for. Now my head is positively spinning with online social media networking. Argh! But hey, at least I can say with confidence that it definitely, without a doubt, 100% works!

Saturday 6 February 2010

Room for Change

Change. It's such a simple word. Just one teeny tiny word. And yet it can mean so much. SO, SO much.

Yes, it can mean little tiny changes, like changing your socks, changing your brand of breakfast cereal or changing which route you take to work. But it can also mean big, scary, life-altering changes, like losing your job, ending your relationship or becoming seriously ill. According to a book I've just started reading, "When Everything Changes Change Everything" by Neale Donald Walsch, these are the Big Three: Relationship; Money; Health. "If one of these things is changing, it can be very challenging. If two of these things are changing, it can be incredibly difficult. If all three are changing at the same time, it can be utterly devastating."

Whatever changes we are going through in our lives (and we are all going through changes all the time), it's worth remembering that it's simply change. And change can be positive. Neale Donald Walsch tells an interesting story about a woman going through huge turmoil in her life. She explains that she wouldn't have identifed what she was going through as 'change', because when everything around you is falling apart it just feels like The End and there is nothing after. But when you realise it's simply change, that means the end of one thing but the beginning of another. Although it's still scary, it can give you a whole new perspective, as it indicates that something new is coming.

Neale warns that "The changes in your life are not going to stop....Change is what is and there is no way to change that...What can be changed is the way you deal with change, and the way you're changed by change."

So as I contemplate all the changes that have happened in my life over the last year or so... falling in love, moving house, leaving my job, losing my livelihood, changing my career, finding Ashtanga Yoga, altering my entire lifestyle... I am comforted by the fact that these changes are not going to stop, that they are the natural order of life, and that change is the only thing we can really count on.