Brewing and Stewing

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I didn’t post last week (sorry!) as I was snowed in and snowed under with freelance work and getting my new novel out there. If you’re interested in a literary romance with colorful characters in a magical town – then get “The Willow Lake Group” – and let me know what you think of it. (Shameful plug – I know!)

Here’s the link: (Kindle and paperback)

The Willow Lake Group on Amazon

Here’s the book trailer (I made it myself!):

Okay – on to brewing and stewing!

I started my Kombucha tea (fermented probiotic tea – which I’ve talked about in previous posts) on Sunday 1/17/16. Here’s the “flow” – recipe is at the end.

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I bought my scoby online (live culture – like a slippery disc) – seen in the clear plastic bag in the picture above. I used a bottle of plain Kombucha for the starter and 8 black tea bags. (The recipe called for 4 black and 4 green, but I only had black.)

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The recipe calls for a total of 14 cups of water (filtered – 3.5 quarts) – so I boiled only 2 cups to start with – to reduce the wait time for the tea to steep and cool down. Before the teabags went into the hot water – I stirred in a cup of brown sugar – even though the recipe calls for white sugar. Don’t worry about the sugar content – as the scoby “eats” the majority of it by the time the tea is ready to bottle.

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Then I poured the cooled, brewed tea into a large glass bowl and topped it up with the remaining 12 cups of filtered water and the starter tea, before gently sliding the scoby in.

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I then covered the bowl with a couple of layers of paper towels and secured the cover with a rubber band. After draping one of my black tea towels over it, I put it in a dark corner of                    the counter and left it to ferment – undisturbed for a few days. (The total time for fermenting is 7 – 10 days.)

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On 1/24/16 (the 7th day) – I carefully uncovered the Kombucha to check on its progress. You can see a new scoby forming (the circle of bubbles) – with the active scoby having sunk to the bottom. I gave it a taste test but I wasn’t satisfied with the level of tartness. (Apparently – the longer it brews the less sugary it is – which is fine with me!)

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Now – I know this looks like a gross science project – but I wanted to share what the scobies looked like after 10 days of brewing/fermenting. The compact scoby on the left is the original scoby and the blob of “matter” on the right is what I pulled from the top of the tea. I nearly threw it out, until I researched it and discovered that this can be another scoby for me! (I was very careful scooping the scoby from the bottom of the bowl. Remember – it’s a live colony of bacteria! Yay!)

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So – this is what I was left with after I removed the scobies on the 10th day.

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Okay – I just had to show you one of my Pinterest fails. I followed the recipe for a concoction that’s supposed to remove labels “in a jiffy!” Being a cheap-ass, I decided to use the bottles I’d kept. After submerging them in a sink of hot water, baking soda, dishwashing liquid and white vinegar – the fizzing stopped and the labels refused to budge. I left it until morning and they still wouldn’t budge. At least the bottles were spotless and clean – ready to be filled with my Kombucha.

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So I tore and ripped what labels I could manage to remove and decided to make half the batch with lemon juice and a few rinds – and left the other half plain. The recipe makes six bottles of Kombucha (approx 16 oz each). The lemon Kombucha has a whole lemon’s worth of juice in each bottle. (You can insert other fruits if you want or ingredients such as grated ginger – at this stage.)

At the moment – my babies are hiding in a dark cupboard – for a total of three days. I bottled them on 1/28/16 – the 10th day – and have tested the “carbonation” by opening a couple to see how they fizzed. A tiny hiss could be heard – but I’ve decided to let them sit until tomorrow, before placing in the fridge to chill for approx 4 hours. The Kombucha lasts for a few weeks in the fridge, but I drink one every day – so they’ll be gone in a week – when my next batch will be ready!

This recipe has been modified from the one I found at “The Kitchn.”

Kombucha Tea

Ingredients:

3 1/2 quarts filtered water

2 cups plain Kombucha (store bought or from your previous batch)

1 cup Brown Sugar

8 bags of black tea

1 scoby

Equipment:

I large glass or ceramic bowl

Measuring jug

Funnel

Six x 16oz bottles – washed good and proper!

Method:

Bring two cups of the 14 cups (3 1/2 quarts) of filtered water to the boil, stir in the sugar and then place the tea bags in to brew. Once it’s completely cooled down, take out the teabags after squeezing them and pour into the bowl, along with the pre-made or store-bought Kombucha tea and the remaining 12 cups filtered water.

Then carefully slide the scoby onto the surface (don’t worry if it sinks) and cover with a couple of layers of paper towels and secure it with a rubber band. (You don’t have to drape a tea towel over it – I just wanted to as I wasn’t putting it in the cupboard.) Leave in a dark place – away from direct sunlight – and leave undisturbed for 7 days.

On the 7th day, gently pour some of the liquid into a cup to taste it. If you’re happy with the levels of tartness and sweetness – you’re ready to bottle. Otherwise – cover and leave for another 3 days. When you’re ready to bottle, gently take the scoby (and the new one – if it’s grown) and slide them onto a plate – to be used for the next batch (if you want to do it again. Why wouldn’t you? I know I did!)

Then pour the tea into your bottles with a funnel (this is the stage when you can place fruit etc if you like) and cap them tightly with the lids. (Leaving at least an inch of room at the top.) Place the bottles in a dark cupboard and leave for up to three days – testing occasionally for carbonation. When ready, place them in the fridge for at least 4 hours to chill – then enjoy!

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This is Vali – Thor’s sister – doing her best cutesie-pie routine. She was trying to get my attention when I was bottling (on the counter on the other side of the kitchen – where the cats don’t go – and for those who freak about animals in the kitchen: I wipe our table down every time we use it.)

Fitness update:

Yeah whatever – did it sometimes (exercised) – but still losing weight and normalizing now that I’m settling into the life of a freelancer. It’s amazing how stress had a lot to do with me overeating (at times) – essentially fighting a losing battle for a long time there – even though I was slowly losing weight.

Food update:

Mostly good – although blips on the radar included takeaway and a day of movie watching with chips and chocolate! (I ought to be spanked – really!)

Here’s a soup I made – apparently close to one of Olive Garden’s.

Zuppa Toscana

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Zuppa Toscana Soup

2 tsp olive oil
1 pound Italian sausage, hot or mild
4 oz bacon, diced into ½ inch pieces
1 small onion, minced
5 cups low sodium chicken broth
2 cups water
2 medium russet potatoes, skins washed and sliced thinly
1½ tsp sugar
salt and fresh ground pepper
2½ cups half and half
1 cup packed kale chopped into bite size pieces (I used Swiss Chard)
1 cup finely shredded Romano cheese for serving

Instructions
Heat olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Crumble sausage (remove casings) and cook, breaking large clumps apart, until sausage is fully cooked and browned. Add diced bacon and saute for about 5 minutes. Add onion and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Saute until the bacon is cooked through (not crunchy) and onions are soft, about 5 minutes more. (Then tip off the excess fat.)

Add the chicken broth, water, sliced potatoes, Kale or Swiss Chard, sugar, salt and pepper to the bacon/onion mixture. Bring soup just to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Remove excess fat from the surface with a large spoon or ladle. Stir in the half and half. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle about 1 tablespoon of cheese over individual servings. Garnish with seasoned croutons if desired. Serve.

Mars

Chicken Masala

2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts (8 ounces each)
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup plus 1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon butter
2 teaspoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup finely chopped shallots
8 ounces sliced cremini mushrooms
3 ounces sliced shiitake mushrooms (I only used approx 11 oz of Shitake)
⅓ cup Marsala wine
½ cup Swanson 88% fat-free chicken broth (I used chicken stock since it was all I had on hand)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

INSTRUCTIONS

Slice the chicken breasts in half horizontally to make 4 cutlets. Season with ½ teaspoon salt and a pinch of black pepper.

Put the flour in a shallow bowl and lightly dredge the chicken pieces in the flour, shaking off any excess. Reserve the remaining flour to use later.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add ½ tablespoon of the butter and 1 teaspoon of the olive oil to the pan and swirl the pan until the butter has melted. Add the chicken and cook until slightly golden on both sides, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a baking dish and place in the oven to keep warm. (Preheated to moderately hot.)

Add the remaining ½ tablespoon butter and 1 teaspoon olive oil to the skillet. Add the garlic and shallots and cook until soft and golden, about 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms, season with salt and a pinch of black pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle in the reserved 1 teaspoon of flour and cook, stirring, for about 30 seconds. Add the Marsala wine, chicken broth, and parsley.

Cook, stirring and scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon, until thickened, about 2 minutes. Return the chicken to the skillet with the mushrooms, reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer in the sauce to let the flavors blend, about 4 to 5 minutes.

To serve, put a piece of chicken on each of 4 serving plates. Spoon the mushrooms and sauce evenly over the top, and serve hot.

Spirit Update:

Okay – for those of you who know that I re-dedicated myself to the pagan path on Halloween last October, I’d like to share some interesting developments and observations.

At the time, I was still working for the State and stressed to the max. I called on Kali (to help cut my negativity) and Ganesha (to help with my writing career). Even though I lean towards atheism or at least – agnosticism – I understand how ritual and visualization speaks to the subconscious, in order to program ourselves for whatever purpose.

Over the next few weeks, certain “anomalies” became known to me. Whether or not it was wishful thinking – the following occurred:

  • I inadvertently swapped my handbags out – switching to my black leather satchel that has a skull design on the front. After a couple of weeks I realized the connection to Kali.
  • Elephants became prominent in my web searches, TV and movie watching, etc.
  • My energy stabilized and I conducted myself well when dealing with “snakes in the grass.”
  • My husband advised that he was earning enough for me to leave my job in early December ’15 – so we made plans and I handed in my resignation on 12/21/15. I’d already started picking up freelance work, so the transition was almost seamless.
  • I started getting reviews for my books and people coming out of the woodwork – willing to help with promoting me and my work.
  • I have repeat customers with my freelance work – with great feedback

and many more that I can’t think of right now. (I’ll update next week!)

Okay – I’m done! Catch up next week and until then – stay happy and healthy!

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An Authentic Life

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People have been going on for ages talking about living the authentic life. As soon as you hear it, you either think of it in terms of spirituality or as a call to action – to shrug off your old skin and reveal your true purpose in life. Sometimes it’s both. Other times – you want to bitch-slap the easy/breezy mouth it comes out of – as you’re taking it as an indictment against your own “run-of-the-mill”, boring, “inauthentic” existence.

The first time I heard the phrase – a light bulb went off in my head. I can’t remember if it was Oprah, Dr Phil or some other self-styled Guru – but I felt it deep in my solar plexus. Having always felt like a traitor – working in jobs that sapped my energy and precious time (notwithstanding the fact that all jobs are vital when it comes to paying the bills and putting food on the table!) – the concept of living an authentic life appeared to me as the Holy Grail.

I do believe that in essence – even when working a job until we find the job – most of us are still striving to be as authentic as we can be, whether as honest individuals or being true to ourselves and our desires. For the most part, we spend a lot of our time living up to other’s expectations, like a mouse on a wheel – keeping things going for the sake of our families and to keep the “status quo.”

The idea of living the dream and making a crust doing what we love is foreign to most of us. There’s something solid about a “proper” job, where we can count on a steady income and not have to worry about where the next meal is coming from. (And that’s for those of us who aren’t living on the breadline!)

Some of us don’t even entertain the concept of making money outside of a traditional job – especially when it means going it alone and becoming self-employed – utilizing our skills and turning our hobbies and passions into a livelihood.

I’ve seen and heard many people react in a variety of ways when in the presence of someone talking about breaking free and making it on their own. They tend to huddle together and nearly hiss in protest, making statements such as:

“Oh, it’s nice for some, isn’t it?”

“The bills still need to be paid.”

“It’ll never work – too much competition.”

“I need a steady wage – I couldn’t possibly chuck it all in!”

“Well, it’s fine to be a dreamer, but who’s going to pick up the pieces when you fail?”

I could go on and on – as I’ve heard it many times before. I’ve worked in many industries – in factories, in corporate offices, in nursing homes and fast food. Every job I held was of course necessary at the time, but in my spare time I was writing and researching – honing my skills – as I knew that one day (even if it meant when I retired), I would be a full time author.

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I’m one of the lucky ones, who has a partner working a job that could back me up if I’m ever short. (Although I’ve planned my finances carefully so I don’t have to lean on him.) Some of us are single parents (I was for a long time), so the luxury of drifting into the sunset – following our hearts – seems like a frivolous pursuit, at best.

Some of us are struggling even with both partners working – sometimes two or more jobs – just to keep a roof over our heads and food in our children’s stomachs. Then there’s college fees, health insurance, gas, etc. The idea of living an authentic life seems like a slap to the face, when just breathing and keeping our heads above water is the main focus each and every day.

It all boils down to three things:

  1. Can you make money doing what you love?
  2. Can you plan and organize a strategy to cover all contingencies?
  3. Can you set realistic goals and recognize when it’s not working?

The best back-up plan is to have a job waiting in the wings – in case you need to crawl back. (I don’t have this – but I’m confident that I could find a job within a couple of weeks of realizing that my plan’s not working.)

The biggest fear for anyone breaking free and going it alone – is just that. In a traditional job we have structure – which is usually set for us – by business imperatives and operational requirements. We know when our paycheck’s are coming and we know that we can rely on the security and stability that comes with a “normal” job.

But if we really think about it – no job is ever 100% secure. The bottom could fall out from any market at any time. Even if the company is secure – our position within it might not be. At best – when the chips are down – there’s redeployment or reduced hours, to name a couple. At worst – we could be let go – even if there’s every likelihood that we’ll be called back at a later date.

For me, the bottom line was not wanting to continue dragging my feet every day to a job that meant nothing to me. Pretending to care about new initiatives and office politics – especially when coupled with unsavory people and work practices – was soul destroying, to say the least. I’ve known for a long time that I have what it takes to succeed – even as an author. It was the idea of letting go – venturing out of a self-imposed comfort zone that masqueraded as “security” – that kept me locked up and gritting my teeth.

It’s daunting – to finally make the decision to leave a traditional job. I kept thinking of the Tarot card “The Fool” – feeling very much like the boy about to step off a cliff.

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I’d like to report – however – that things are looking better and better, thanks to Outsource and Upwork (where I get my freelancing jobs from) as well as my dogged perseverance and some opportunities that may not have come along, had I still been working 9-5.

A previous employer has asked if I would be interested in doing some occasional writing on a contractual basis, for things such as bids for funding, ideas for programs, etc. (Thanks Linkedin!) Also, a couple of the freelance jobs have turned into ongoing work and future opportunities, as well as the sales of my books increasing.

I received a lovely review for my erotic novel, “The Ninth Window”.

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You can buy it here (if you’re so inclined!):

The Ninth Window by Kelly Proudfoot

 

Now, let me fill you in on how my “regime” has been going. (I promise I won’t use Gif images! I know I can be random sometimes!)

I’ve been freelancing for nearly two weeks now and I can safely say that I’ve been slack with the exercise. I haven’t been feeling too good, but that’s no excuse. It’s a two edged sword when you stop something that’s good for you – even if it’s due to being ill – as it compounds how bad you already feel. I am getting back on track this week and will forge ahead.

  • 25 minutes per day on the elliptical
  • 10 x 15 second reps of planking
  • Healthy Smoothies when I’m craving ice cream or sweets
  • Eggs as a morning snack
  • Kombucha tea (probiotic)
  • Zero carbs after 3pm
  • Only two slices of bread or six crackers per day
  • Plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables (preferably organic)
  • Lots of soups and healthy casseroles, etc
  • Homemade where possible – such as granola bars, etc
  • If eating out – healthier options

I’ve been steadily losing weight but with the last two weeks – I feel like I could easily slip back to my old ways. Being at home all day actually makes it easier for me – in terms of avoiding fast food and not being sucked into eating wonderful snacks and treats brought into work by colleagues! Also, I’m not the type of person who will go out and get a burger etc if I’m at home.

This weekend I am going to start making my own Kombucha tea! My poor scobie keeps looking at me through the package with its hands on its little hips! I will take pictures and post them over the next few weeks.

I decided to ditch the gluten free bread – unless I find one that isn’t made from rice. (Rice shoots your sugar up considerably – whether brown, white or otherwise.) I really don’t want to eat gluten, as it’s one of the problems affecting my thyroid and it clogs my plumbing! Also – I found gluten-free bread quite unsatisfactory – being at least a third smaller than regular bread and quite dry (almost like a dried out sponge.)

I made Jamie Oliver’s Chicken in Milk – quite delicious and tender. (Although I did mine in the crock pot – after browning it – for about 3.5 hours on high.)

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Click for recipe

I’m going to try this recipe – apparently it’s Chuy’s Salsa – which I love!

Salsa

Ingredients:

6 or 7 tomatoes
1/3 white onion
2 or 3 serrano peppers
Huge handful of cilantro
1 or 2 limes, squeezed
salt to taste
Optional: garlic powder to taste
Optional: 1 small mango, peeled and seeded

Method:

Start chopping or throw it in the food processor. If you have a food processor, give everything except the cilantro a rough chop before tossing into the processor. Use the pulse button, and watch closely. It takes just a few seconds, and if you let it go too long, it will be pureed. Taste, and adjust as needed.

Link to recipe

Here’s an interesting image re: Sugar content –

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I haven’t done my menu plan yet – I’ll try and post it tomorrow.

Until then – Stay healthy and Happy!

One Step Beyond! (On Leaving the Rat Race)

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(From Madness – “One Step Beyond” film clip)

I loved Madness when I was younger – especially the song “One Step Beyond” – which seems appropriate now that I’m free from the rut I found myself in, working in a lackluster job where I was slowly dying inside. Stress was the number one factor in my decision to leave, but it helped that our situation allows for it.

Seeing the Madness gif brought back memories, when I was younger and had such high hopes for the future. Ageing can be bittersweet – when you realize that most of your dreams got lost in the static of everyday life and trying to make a living. (For some – simply surviving  and putting one foot ahead of the other can be a daunting experience.)

Family life, responsibilities and trying to fit into a society where you already feel like a fringe-dweller can take most of your time – if not all of it. That’s why it was such a momentous occasion for me to shrug off the shackles of a 9-5 job and immerse myself in my writing and freelance gigs.

So – how did I spend my first week (well – four days) of “freedom”? For one thing, I completed an erotic novel (something I’d shelved) and am waiting for it to be approved on Amazon! (Don’t judge me – at least until you read it!)

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(This is my “tentative” cover!)

It’s called “The Ninth Window” – and it’s about nine women with one thing in common. (A secret until the end!) They share their intimate tales with Louise – a counselor who runs a writing workshop they’ve all attended. When it’s discovered that Louise “piked out” and did not contribute a story to the group – she is given two weeks to come up with one – and it’s a doozy! (Especially when her husband finds it!)

It should be available by 1/11/15 – in Kindle format – on Amazon for $2.99. If you plan to read it – I’d love it if you could leave a review on Amazon – even if it’s good, bad or ugly!

I’m about to start my ghostwriting job (found at Outsource) and finish my novel “The Willow Lake Group” – which is about a literary group in a mysterious town, where a young man falls in love with a woman’s handwriting – only to “lose” the woman to another new guy in town. (Hilarity ensues – along with heartache!) There are many fascinating characters, twists and turns – along with a magical cookbook!

It’s so strange being out of work – deliberately – or at least, to leave the “rat race” and be my own boss. If you saw last week’s post, you witnessed me at my best – in terms of planning and organizing. I’m an incessant (obsessive) “list-maker” and everything always looks great on paper until it’s time for execution. Even though I completed and polished a novel – I’ve spent a lot of time taking naps.

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Robert predicted that I would probably crash – and I did – in batches. It’s amazing how pent up stress, anguish, depression and anxiety (especially when related to your work) can take a huge toll on your physical and mental health. You don’t realize it when you’re in the thick of it – but once you step outside of it – the maelstrom appears like a menacing storm-cloud, which hovers over your head just waiting to absorb you and infect your life.

As a side note, my manager tried to argue with me about my reasons for wanting to leave – rather than take me aside and openly discuss my concerns. I’d written a simple resignation letter – with a “Part B” as backup – in case they really wanted feedback. They asked – I gave it to them – all five pages. I was impressed with myself for not using any expletives!

She tried to tell me that “all jobs involve stress” and that I’d left my previous job due to stress – hinting that maybe I was the problem. I had to correct her (politely) by stating that I left my previous job due to the constant onslaught of face to face contact with marginalized welfare recipients. It can be a rewarding job, but also terribly and highly stressful – especially when you’re case managing 160+ people, most of whom are doing their best not to participate or even worse, who believe that yelling and threatening is the only form of communication.

Secondly (unlike my manager) I have worked across a variety of industries throughout my career – public and private – and have always worked well under stressful conditions. The everyday stress of trying to get work done is of no issue to me. Trying to do the same thing under management that is akin to either the Keystone Cops or the Three Stooges – coupled with the burden of performing the work of at least two to three people – makes the stress just a tad more unbearable. Throw in a snake in the grass sociopath who enjoys lording it over people, relentless phone calls and emails when everyone has been allowed to go on leave at the same time – with a panic-merchant of a manager who operates as a knee-jerk reactionary at the eleventh hour, well – you get the idea.

I had to keep reminding myself over the last few weeks that there was a light at the end of the tunnel. I’m fast approaching fifty (gulp!) and it’s now time for me to finally take the reins and forge my own path. No more knuckle-headed dimwits to have to deal with. No more endless paper shoving and pen pushing in a sterile environment where punchy keywords and pseudo-intellectual catchphrases are used in place of realistic, concrete goals and actual outcomes.

No more pretentious backslapping or kowtowing to “leaders” who are only concerned with empire building and peacocking.

I know that it seems as though I’m “purging” or exorcising my demons – but I’ve had a whole lifetime’s worth of horseshit to deal with in my “career” – just like most of the rest of us. The funny thing is – I was the common denominator. I made those decisions to accept those jobs and it was my consciousness (or rather – my “self”) who dictated how I experienced them and the people I dealt with.

I’m just grateful that I was able to see the light and strike while the iron was hot – backed up by the support of my husband. When opportunity knocks – grab it by the hand and don’t let go. It would’ve been easy for me to freak out and opt for the tried and true path – which was the “stable” job in the conventional world. I would’ve ended up even more bitter if I had stayed!

So – now I’ll give you an update on my “healthy regime” – with a series of gifs to illustrate how my week went (like an 80’s montage or interpretive dance!):

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Okay – it’s 12:59am and I tired myself out!

I’ll post some recipes on Sunday. See you then!