Happiness Project – Tools:

After I read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, I bought several copies for my closest family and friends to read in the hopes they would get as much out of it as I had. Today, I caught up with one of my closest and most wonderful friends for our first “Happiness Project Date”. We chatted about what we ultimately wanted to achieve this year with our own version of Rubin’s Happiness Project and what our monthly themes could be and the resolutions we would attempt to stick to during each month. We both agreed that January would be a month of focus and organisation as well as new beginnings in order to set ourselves up for the year and for the following eleven months of resolutions and goals.

As I mentioned in a previous post I am completely and utterly obsessed with kikki.K. As such, their amazing workbooks, journals and stationary have been a major aspect  in the development of my Happiness Project. This probably sounds a bit too obsessive, right? Let me explain. They have a series of notebooks, divided into sections that aim to help you put together your thoughts about your personal development.

I have been using their Goals Book, Wellbeing Journal and Gratitude Book in the development of my Happiness Project and I think they will be invaluable tools in tracking my progress during my year of happiness.

The Goals Book is split onto Personal Development, Family & Relationships, Finance & Career, Health & Fitness and Dare to Dream with pages for you to write the steps needed to get you to each specific goal as well as a mind map for your ‘perfect life’ and questions to work through to realise your goals.

The Wellbeing Journal includes the tabbed sections Body, Mind, Surrounding and Journal with specific pages to help you set goals in relation to food, exercise, sleep, time for yourself, positive thinking, stress reduction, reclaiming time, social wellbeing, personal surroundings and our planet.

The Gratitude Book is more of a simpler format filled with lined pages for you to write down three things you are grateful for each day. I think it is very important not only to take time to think about what you are grateful for in your life, but also to show it through your actions. This book is great as well because it comes with 10 postcards that you can send to people telling them what you are grateful for.

 

So, these are the tools that I will be using to create and track my happiness project. In my next post I will detail my goals for the month of January and share my personal resolutions.

 

“It’s your world.

You’re a shareholder,

take an active interest in it”

Anonymous-

 

Eleanor x

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My Happiness Project

I cannot even count how many times I tried to write an intro to this post. The fact is, I am not the one to clearly explain what a Happiness Project is. The idea comes from author Gretchen Rubin who just so happens to have written a book called The Happiness Project. “It is the account of the year she spent test-driving studies and theories about how to be happier.”

Cover of "The Happiness Project: Or, Why ...

Cover via Amazon

In her very first blog post (one of the tasks she set herself during her Happiness Project) Rubin describes her venture like this:

“Now, what is the Happiness Project? One afternoon a few years ago, I realized with a jolt that I was allowing my life to flash by without facing a critical question: was I happy? From that moment, I couldn’t stop thinking about happiness. Was it mostly a product of temperament? Could I take steps to be happier? What did it even mean to be “happy”? So The Happiness Project is my memoir of one year in which I test-drive every principle, tip, theory, and research-study result I can find, from Aristotle to St. Therese to Benjamin Franklin to Martin Seligman to Oprah. What advice actually works?”

It is a wonderful book that I picked up mid-last year after seeing a referral to it in a magazine. The entire time I was reading it, I had a massive grin on my face, I could relate to many of the things she spoke about.

According to Rubin:

“A “happiness project” is an approach to changing your life. First is the preparation stage, when you identify what brings you joy, satisfaction, and engagement, and also what brings you guilt, anger, boredom, and remorse. Second is the making of resolutions, when you identify the concrete actions that will boost your happiness. Then comes the interesting part: keeping your resolutions.”

Rubin designed her Happiness Project so that each of the twelve months of the year would have a set theme about something she wanted to tackle in relation to happiness and she created resolutions around that theme to adopt during the month, building on more each month. She tackled Vitality, Marriage, Work, Parenthood, Leisure, Friendship, Money, Eternity, Books, Attitude and Happiness.

Upon reading this wonderful book I decided I wanted to embark on my own Happiness Project. Of course, mine cannot mimic Gretchen Rubin’s as not everything applies to my life. I have been preparing for a while and identifying some themes I would like to focus on. I am now working on making my own resolutions.

I don’t want to write an essay of a post, so I’ll just leave it at that for today and I’ll keep you updated with my progress.

If you like the sound of starting your own Happiness Project, or are intrigued to learn more, I suggest you buy the book or head to The Happiness Project Blog.

Eleanor x

Watermelon and Vodka Summer Cocktail

If you have been following my posts, you will be ever so aware that I am mildly obsessed with my brand new juicer and have been experimenting with lots of yummy juice recipes. Over the weekend I was keen to try making a cocktail fro fresh juice and decided the perfect fruit to juice for a sunny weekend sip was watermelon. The recipe below is a but rough, as I was making it up as I went, so feel free to tweak it to your taste and make sure to try it and add anything you might need. I accidentally (I swear!) poured a teensy bit too much vodka in my jug to begin with but just countered it with more lemonade and it turned out fine.

Fresh Watermelon, Cucumber, Mint, Lemonade & Vodka Cocktail

  • 1/4 watermelon
  • 1/4 cucumber
  • 8 mint leaves to juice + garnish
  • 1 cup lemonade
  • 1/3 cup vodka

the most divine summer cocktail

 

Happy Sipping!

Eleanor x

Confession: I Murdered a Mango

Let’s begin with the homicide that occurred in my kitchen this morning, shall we?

It was a quite Sunday morning, I awoke early to head across the road to the park – dumbbells in tow – for my Tough Mudder training.

All was well (apart from feeling physically ill from training) and I truged my way back up to my apartment with my mind on one thing: MANGO. Yesterday, after celebrating Ethiopian (or, Orthodox in general) Christmas at my boyfriend’s mothers house, I was given a bag full of food – injera, siga wat, mesir wat, basil, rosemary, strange cup-a-soup stuff and the mango.

christmas lunch leftovers for last night's dinner

So, anyway, I was given a mango and had plans of juicing that baby for my post-training morning juice. Now, my brand new, shiny, whizz bang juicer may be brand new, shiny and whizz bang but unfortunately the juicing of a mango in this machine first requires said mango to be peeled and pitted. “Sure thing! No worries! Easy done!” I thought. Little did I know what was to come…

I have never peeled a mango in my life. There, I said it. Weird, I know. I have long been impressed by the skilful way so many of my friends a family members slice up a mango all too casually into to enviable little cubes, like this…

Mango, манго - дары тропиков

oh, perfect little cubes, how you taunt me!

Now, I have observed this technique in passing and I thought I had it down. How wrong I was. I started by cutting my mango in half. Only to encounter the giant mother of a seed in the middle. Yes, I knew it was going to be there, but when I got to it I was stumped. “How do I get those nice little semi-circle “cheeks” from which I gracefully slice my perfect little cubes?”, I pondered. I was then left to rip off the skin of the mango, crudely scraping the sweet, orange flesh from the thick outer layer. My next dilemma: “How on earth do I get the fruit off that goddamn seed?”. Try as I might – or should I say, scrape as I might – I had very little luck removing the flesh from that whale of a seed (I mean really, they charge us for that? Mangoes are pricey as it is!).

And thus, at approximately 8:54am on Sunday, January 8th 2012, a murder was committed in my kitchen. The crime scene was not a pretty sight…

mango murder

ALAS! All hope was not lost. From the ashes of a brutally murdered mango rises the almighty juice. Some kiwi and strawberries were willing to sacrifice themselves as well and later persuaded an apple and a pear to join their humble pursuit.

20120108-195137.jpg

The end result: juice perfection

So, while my mango made the ultimate sacrifice – it all worked out for the best. He’s in a better place now – aka “my belly”.

Eleanor x

Note: I found this video on YouTube far too late. I now realise that (attempting to) cut it in half was possibly the worst decision ever made. Instead, one should cut the mango twice. On either side of that mother of a seed.

You learn something new every day, don’t you?

My Baking Secrets

Baking – like all forms of cookery – is a food science. If you get the ingredients or the proportions wrong, you can spoil the outcome. That is why it is important to always follow a recipe and only improvise if you know the food science behind any substitutions or additions you choose to make. Throughout my years of baking I have encountered every problem you could come across – from burning everything and cakes failing to rise to finding uncooked mixture in the middle of a cake and (worst of all) finding a whole cooked egg inside a cake. Below are a few of the little secrets that I have found to fix my baking blunders – and greatly enhance the flavour, texture and looks of my final products. I will add more hints to this list as I come across them.

Butter

Make sure butter is softened before using to bake. Especially when creaming with sugar. It is best to keep the butter that you use for baking in the cupboard, not the fridge. Or if you insist on storing it in the fridge due to weather, be sure to leave it out on the kitchen bench for about an hour to soften before cooking with it.

Always use full fat butter, none of this “lite” business.

Unsalted Butter is best for sweet baking, as in butter cakes etc

Lightly Salted or Regular Butter is best for savoury baking and recipes with chocolate or caramel as it enhances the flavour

Milk

Milk, like butter, is best used at room temperature when baking. If you use cold milk (and I’m sure you have in the past) you’ll notice that as soon as it comes into contact with the creamed butter and sugar – it will turn lumpy. Of course, it’s not reasonable to leave milk in the cupboard, so I suggest you measure the amount the recipe calls for and leaving out for 30 minutes or so before using it in your baking.

Again, full fat, full cream milk. Not skim!

Eggs

Once again, room temperature is best. Most recipes are written for large eggs, too, so keep that in mind when shopping for ingredients.

Flour

If possible, use good quality flour.

Always sift your flour when the recipe calls for it (hell, even if it doesn’t). You’ll avoid yucky little clumps of flour in the final product and it will make your mixture lighter and smoother.

Sugar

In baking, caster sugar is the most commonly used as the size of the sugar crystals dissolve well and allow for light and fluffy cakes. If a recipe specifies caster sugar, don’t be cheeky and use normal white sugar instead – it won’t work.

Vanilla

Most recipes out there with vanilla in them will usually call for vanilla essence. If you can afford it, using vanilla extract will improve the taste. It’s all I use now, I refuse to use essence – it’s just not the same. I bought a 200mL bottle in August and still have about a quarter of it left – and I’ve been baking a lot.

Oven

If you can find one, it’s a great idea to grab a thermometer and test out your oven’s temperature. People often blame their ovens for ruining their baking – but it could just be that the temperature you’re setting on the dial isn’t actually right. Test out the temperature and mark your oven dial for future reference.

 

I hope this helps! Please leave a comment if you have any questions. Happy baking!

Eleanor x

Exercise Program (with free download)

My older brother recently asked me if I would be able to suggest some exercises for him to “get rid of his belly” and to define his chest, back and arms. Not a completely random question, I’m a qualified personal trainer. Rather than just rattle off a whole bunch of exercises that he won’t remember to do – or have any idea how to do them – I decided to do one better and write up an exercise program for him. (As well as popping by his house to show him how it’s done)

Since I was in the process of writing up a program for him, I thought I may as well write one for my readers too! I’ve attached a basic, beginners exercise program. It’s designed to be short and sharp, only 30 minutes in total and easy to do at home, in the gym or outdoors.

It is so incredibly important to exercise regularly – 3 times a week for maintenance and up to 5 or 6 times a week for fat loss. Especially if you have a bit of a sweet tooth like me and regularly indulge in cupcakes.

So I don’t want to hear any excuses or whinging “But Eleanor, I don’t have any dumbbells, oh well I guess I can’t do it…” 

Yes, you most certainly can! Can. Can? Can-can? Yes! CANS!!! As in, go to the cupboard and take out some cans. Cans of beans, cans of tomatoes, whatever! You can use them as weights. And as you get stronger, you can move onto the hard stuff. Water Bottles.

Click the following link for the PDF: Exercise Program

I am working on visual images to guide you through the exercises. Please let me know if you have any questions, concerns, comments or requests!

Eleanor x

Watermelon, Pear, Cucumber, Grape and Mint Juice!

That’s right! And it was GOOD! I used:

  • 1/4 of a 1/4 watermelon (I bought a quarter slice of watermelon and chopped off a quarter to juice..I guess that makes it one sixteenth? Ugh, math. Who needs it? Just use some watermelon!)
  • 1 pear
  • about 1/4 of a cucumber (ever so many quarters!)
  • 10 grapes
  • 3 leaves of mint

and it's pink! bonus!

I’ve basically been throwing together any fruit I have in the fridge so far and crossing my fingers and toes that it is drinkable.

Please, do share your recipes with me! It may end badly next time..I have broccoli in my fridge….

Eleanor x

Yummy Smoothie Recipe

Today I decided to use some fresh juice to make myself a smoothie. I just juiced up all my fruit (in my shiny new juicer) and then blended it together with a banana – and that’s it! No need for milk, yogurt, ice cream, sorbet or any of those nasties that often get added to smoothies that you buy from the juice bars. Just fresh, healthy fruit! Speaking of which though, I need to get a bit more adventurous with trying more veggies in my juices/smoothies.

20120105-084910.jpg

kiwi, strawberry and apple juice blended together with banana for a yummy smoothie!


Do you have any good smoothie or juice recipes with fruit AND veggies? I’d love to hear them!

Eleanor x

Dark Choc-Chip Fudge and Toasted Walnut Cupcakes

My boyfriend was casually flipping through my Crabapple Bakery Cupcake Cookbook a couple of days ago and came across this recipe. After reading the recipe and the ingredients list, I knew it would be a winner. He made a quick call to his work mate and his decision was confirmed (he loves taking my cookies and cupcakes into work for his colleagues – and himself!) and I wrote up my shopping list. These cupcakes are incredibly rich, enjoy responsibly*

Dark Choc-Chip Fudge and Toasted Walnut Cupcakes

Dark Choc-Chip Fudge and Toasted Walnut Cupcakes

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups walnuts
  • 225 grams unsalted butter
  • 500 grams dark cooking chocolate, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups soft brown sugar. firmly packed
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 6 eggs, whisked
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups plain flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup dark chocolate chips

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 170°C  and line muffin tins with cupcake papers
  2. Spread the walnuts over a flat biscuit tray and bake in the oven for 20 minutes
  3. Allow to cool, then chop
  4. Put butter and chocolate in a metal bowl and place over a large saucepan of simmering water
  5. Stir continuously with a flat-bottomed wooden spoon until melted and well combined
  6. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature
  7. Add brown and white sugar to cooled chocolate mixture
  8. Stir until well combined
  9. Add the whisked eggs and vanilla extract
  10. Stir until well combined
  11. Add the sifted flour, salt, chopped walnuts and chocolate chips
  12. Stir until well combined
  13. Divide mixture between cupcake papers
  14. Bake for 30-35 minutes
  15. Wait 45 minutes before icing

i didn't have a metal bowl, so just used a small pot over a large one

this is what firmly packed brown sugar looks like

mix mix mix

baked cupcakes ready to be iced!

Caramel Sauce Icing

This is the same icing used for the Sticky Date Cupcakes – and it is delicious!

Ingredients:

  • 100 grams butter
  • 2/3 cups soft brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup golden syrup
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • 8 cups icing sugar

Method:

  1. Combine the butter, sugar, golden syrup and cream in a heavy-based saucepan over medium heat
  2. Stir occasionally with a flat-bottomed wooden spoon until the sugar has dissolved
  3. Turn heat up to high and boil for at least 5 minutes (keep a watch on the pot – don’t let the mixture get too hard!)
  4. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature
  5. Add half of the sifted icing sugar to the cooled caramel mixture
  6. Beat on medium speed for 3 minutes of until light and fluffy
  7. Add remaining icing sugar and beat for a further 3 minutes or until light and fluffy and spreadable
  8. Add extra cream if too dry or extra icing sugar if too wet

use a non-stick saucepan and stir continuously

if mix gets any darker than this, stop. recipe says boil on high for at least 5mins but i would recommend something between simmering and boiling - otherwise it just hardens and is unusable

mixture should run off spoon smoothly

We had a beautiful dove perch itself on our balcony while I was icing my cupcakes. He was sitting there happily for over half an hour when I looked up from what I was doing and called out to my boyfriend that our dove had gone. Five minutes later my boy calls out from the study that it’s back – and was wandering about our living room! He even waddled over to the kitchen before I registered what my boyfriend was saying! Luckily we ushered him out of the house with no dramas 🙂

out little friend - surely doves coming into your house are good luck, right?

Eleanor x

*responsibly: always maintain a healthy diet and exercise regime and enjoy things in moderation! 😉