Real beauty uncovered…

In the ‘real’ world, not the flittered, shiny, air brushed version of the world, real beauty comes in all different shapes and sizes.  Something which should be celebrated not agonised over. Yet sadly for many, insecurities surrounding body image prevail. Affecting, the curvy, the skinny, those who have had children, those who haven’t and everything in between. I’ve been there and worn the T-Shirt.

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to take part in the third Warrior Woman project, organised by the inspirational London style blogger Nat who writes Style Me Sunday. In partnership with Dove, the perfect fit for such a project, the theme was the importance of being fierce and overcoming insecurites and vulnerabilities, putting your best foot forward and being the best version of yourself. Encouraging positive body image and high self esteem the day involved, inspiring talks, comedy for the sensational Scummy Mummies and a photo shoot like no other, a first for me, bearing my soul in my underwear.

Easier said than done when you have to get your kit off in front of strangers and stand in your over sized Bridget Jones knickers, seven months after giving birth to your second child. But it’s one of these things that has strangely been on my bucket list and was an important milestone in terms of my own self esteem and self confidence and I hope it sends out all the right messages at a time when both men and women, girls and boys are living in a culture obsessed by appearances and not in a healthy way.

The photos arrived in my in box on Friday evening. Your gut instinct is to scrutinise over them in agonising detail, magnifying all the flaws which only you can see. However, given that just over 10 years ago size 6 clothes were too big for my tiny frame, my periods had stopped and I had an unhealthy relationship with food and exercise, I took a step back and saw my body in a whole new light. 

Having had two boys 19 months apart I have a new love and appreciation for my body. This has been a slow burner but pregnancy has allowed me to develop a much healthier appreciation of my body. It’s a pretty awesome tool and one that should be celebrated and as I’ve written before the lumps, bumps, and stretch marks are positive reminders that I have housed and grown a tiny human for nine months. 
Admittedly since Reuben was born I’ve made an effort to keep fit and active and generally eat healthily, as although I’ve fully recovered from the demons that haunted me in my early 20s, there is an element of control that never quite vanishes, after the hangover if you like, of an eating disorder.

But equally I have a healthy appetite for food and a love of cheese, bread, pasta and G&T’s by the bucket full. My tummy is squishy, my boobs are exhausted, my but is wider and my thighs chunkier but I’m not going to loose sleep over any of this as I don’t get enough sleep as it is. And actually since having children I have actually uncovered a new level of confidence and can love myself a little more than I used too. My priorities have changed and my focus has shifted. My new body shape is just perfect the way it is thank you very much. It may not be cat walk worthy but it’s worthy for the path I’m walking.

I also want my two sons to realise real beauty comes in all shapes and sizes and shouldn’t be measured by your waistline or the size of your thigh gap. Equally I don’t want them to grow up scrutinising their own bodies. By being confident in my own skin I hope I can inspire them to be as confident in their own.

Real beauty doesn’t come in one size. If we were all carbon copies of one and other the world would be a pretty desperate place. Being human is about having imperfections. Striving for perfection is exhausting and comes at a price. Our imperfections instead should be embraced as they make us who we are as individuals. I may have been the second person to stand in front of the camera but despite the nerves the Warrior Woman project certainly uplifted my mood and boosted my self esteem, standing along side a wide variety of talented and inspirational women, who shouldn’t be defined by their dress size or their body shape. Their individual characters bring so much more to a room and make a bigger impact.
A big thanks to Style Me Sunday, The Tape Agency, Dove and Imogen Loveday.

Photo credit Angela Dennis.


Vanilla quark chocolate muffins…

One of my earliest memories of helping my mum in the kitchen was ensuring I got hold of the wooden spoon to devour the left over cake mixture. A trait that my two year old, Otto, has also developed. I’ve indoctrinated him early. He is now officially my sous chef in the kitchen and loves nothing more than mixing, blending, sifting and of course making a mess. Stirring up messy homemade memories is almost a daily occurrence.

Our most recent endeavour came off the back of a tub of Graham’s vanilla quark, a recipe for chocolate muffins, which Otto loves baking as much as he loves eating. Give them a whirl. 

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/Fan 160°C/Gas Mark 4. Line a deep muffin tray with silicon cases. The recipe makes about nine muffins.

2. Sift 175g of self raising flour,  50g of cocoa powder and 1tsp. of baking powder into a large bowl, stir in 175g of dark brown sugar. Add 1 tub of 250g Grahams Vanilla Quark, 75ml of sunflower oil and two large eggs, then use an electric whisk to beat all the ingredients together for about a minute until they are smooth and fluffy. Stir in 25g of dark chocolate chunks or chips.

3. Divide the mixture between the muffin cases and bake for 25 mins or until they have risen and are firm to the touch. Serve warm or cold. 

Motherhood is not always a walk in the park…

I often get asked how do you do it? How do you manage being so far away from friends and family with two small humans to look after? Do you really enjoy being a stay at home mum?

Firstly I hate the label ‘stay at home mum’. In fact I hate any sort of label when it comes to defining motherhood and the choices you make. I don’t actually stay at home all day. If a I were to do that I would actually go bananas as would my children.

The truth is motherhood is no walk in the park. It’s a tough gig that doesn’t resemble the filtered squares of Instagram. There are days when I would very much like to resign and hand in my notice. But the reality is I can’t do that. This is a contract, which can’t be terminated. Instead I manage. I never leave the house without my war paint on, it’s the perfect disguise to hide my tired eyes. And when people comment how calm and collected I always appear, the truth is I’m like a swan. 

On the surface I’m gliding through motherhood trying to keep up appearances. However, beneath the surface I’m paddling ferociously trying to keep my head above water, dealing with a toddling dictator, a sleep thief and a milk monster, whilst I crave adult conversation and try to remember what it was like to go on a proper date as your sex life is comparable to the Sahara Desert.

This week is Maternal Mental Health Week. I thought long and hard whether or not to write this post and I should say from the outset this is not a cry for sympathy but an attempt to raise awareness and highlight the simple fact that it’s okay not to feel okay. It’s okay to feel a bit shit and as I can testify it’s normal to feel isolated and lonely. Ironically being a new mum in such a wonderfully diverse and bustling city such as London, can be and is isolating. As a result I’ve felt low and questioned whether or not I’m cut out for this job. The truth is I am and I’m pretty good at it and I have two gorgeous boys who I love more than I could ever describe on paper. But there have been periods when it’s been tough.

Our first pregnancy didn’t reach fruition, which planted the seeds of doubt and worry throughout my second pregnancy. Every scan that followed was never pleasant, only anxiety was felt. Otto however arrived safe and healthy in 2015 and I through myself into my new role but when he hit the six month mark I hit a low. Geoff was in France, my family were 400 miles away. I was exhausted and sleep deprived and felt so low. I was terrified that those I loved were going to come to harm. I spoke to my GP and it was at this point I realised the importance of talking about my anxieties and not bottling up my feelings when I felt down and blue.
In the middle of my third pregnancy my anxieties escalated once more. This was a period of huge change. Not only was I pregnant, but we were moving house from one side of London to another, my husband was transitioning from one career to a completely new one, we had been told Reuben only had one kidney (the missing one was however discovered at my 30 week scan) and we were also involved in a car crash. Consequently I had a series of panic attacks but my family were quick to encourage me to seek the necessary support, which has given me the tools to deal with periods of uncertainty. As well as the occasional stretch on my yoga mat, mindfulness, cooking and long daily walks help me to keep my mind clear and focused so I can do the best job possible.

On paper it’s understandable that sleep deprivation, hormonal changes and the addition of a new life into your own life may cause you to feel like your old self has been abducted and replaced by someone you don’t recognise. This is normal but it doesn’t mean you have to suffer in silence. Maternal mental health matters, before you give birth and after. Long after your six week check I might add.

It’s okay to ask for help and to talk. In fact it’s not heroic to keep anxieties and feelings of depression bottled up. It’s heroic to speak out and and say; “You know what I feel pretty shit, it feels like it’s getting a bit much, I need a little support and help.” 

You’re not the first to go through this rollercoaster but at the same time you feel you are very much going it alone. But dig a little deeper and you’ll soon discover you’re not alone.

At a time when mental health has never been in the spotlight as much as it is now, it’s time we keep dismantling the barriers, which prevent so many from seeking the necessary help. It’s okay not to be okay. We’re in this together, so if you’re having a crap day, phone a friend, tell them how things really are and that you need a shoulder to cry on and a large cup of hot tea. Trust me I’ve been there and got the t-shirt. I have a supportive and patient husband and some wonderful friends and talking and opening up to them is one step towards feeling human again. 

Travelling with Tots…

Apologies for the radio silence over on the blog. I’m a little focused on getting my head around our relocation back north, having spent the last three years in London. And as we have acquired two new members to team Cross during that period, we have quite alot of packing to conquer. 

In the meantime as a distraction I’m dreaming of our holiday in April to Treworgey Cottages. It’s one of those magical hidden gems you don’t want anyone else to get wind of. However, I must share it with you, especially if you have young children but you don’t want to relinquish a little bit of luxury….

When you go on holiday on your own you can be selfish. When you go on holiday with a newly turned two year old and a five month old it’s a game changer. But if like me you’re not quite ready to embrace a Bultlins type holiday and you’re still in need of a dose of luxury, which also caters for children, Baby Bolt Holes is a must for choosing a self catering holiday, delivering all the necessities for travelling with tots and allows you to travel a lot lighter. No travel cots, high chairs, potties, extra entertainment, sterilisers, stair gates, changing mats required

Three generations have lovingly restored and brought back to life Treworgey Cottages,  set in 150 acres of Cornish countryside. With 15 cottages, each with it’s own private garden, it truly is a rural idyl, yet only a short drive from the sea.  And you know you’ve stumbled upon a gem when everyone you meet has been coming for a number of years. This wasn’t there first rodeo.

img_4880This was our first holiday as a team of four and the idea of jetting off on a plane to a hotter climate really doesn’t appeal to me with two little people in tow. I’ve struggled with the heat wave that has embraced London. But set me up in a beautiful house in rural Cornwall, with all the mode cons, stunning 360 degree views and a four poster bed as well as a conicopia of things to keep our toddling dictator entertained, I’m all game.

Our home for the week, Honeysuckle Cottage, was the stuff of dreams. Beautiful, comfortable but practical. Super kitchen and heavenly bathroom. The private garden off the lounge allowed Otto to explore freely and safely and alfresco dining was irresistible, with picture postcard views, making it easy to not even leave the vacinity of the cottage.

The welcoming Cornish food basket was a great touch and to ensure we had a great start to our first day I preordered a Cornish  breakfast hamper, which showcases a small selection of Cornwall’s top class food and drink products.

As well as your own garden to explore, Treworgey cottages has some fantastic woodland walks, ideal for big and little legs. There are also tennis courts, a riding school, a heated outdoor pool and a pretty spectacular adventure playground all a stones throw away. Every morning children can feed the wide selection of animals, which was one of the many success stories of our trip. It really is the simple things that make memories.

Thankfully the weather gods where on our side, but for rainy days there is a beautiful indoor play area and a comfy stove room with books, dvds and an honesty cafe and farm shop.

Everything has been thought of including a home cooked meal delivery service, which I fully took advantage of for our final evening. This was one of the highlights and a definite bonus to any self catering holiday, especially if like me you do the cooking. Foood always tastes better when someone else cooks it and the team at Coombe Kitchen certainly know a thing or two about satisfying healthy appetites like ours.

No trip to this part of the Cornish coast is complete without a trip to Looe. The beaches at this time of year are still pretty quite and relaxing, adding to the charm of this village. And when in Cornwall one should not leave without sampling a Cornish pastie or two as well as a traditional Cornish high tea, fish and chips and ice cream. It would be rude not too.

Relaxed holidaying with tots in tow is a rareity but Treworgey Cottages has certainly gone to a huge amount of effort to reduce the stress, making for a pretty special holiday in a spectacular part of the the world. Of course there were tears and tantrums but the highlights wiped these out from our memories. We’ll be back just like everyone else who visits. There is an irresibiable charm.

Treworgey is a real family affair, which puts families at the centre.

Banana & Cherry Smoothie Bowl…

In preparation for Easter weekend, which also coincides with Otto’s second birthday and will most likely involve a truck load of chocolate, I’ve jumped on the smoothie bowl bandwagon, the new avocado on toast obsession. Although I fully appreciate there is likely to be a new trend next week and I’m already behind the curve.

A cross between a smoothie and soft scoop ice cream, this is a great way to get extra fruit into your diet in a fun and colourful way and Otto loves nothing more than to blend the ingredients together in the food mixer, another great way to get little cooks into the kitchen. It’s a win win situation.

To make this breakfast or snack or pudding the key is to have a stash of frozen bananas peeled and in the freezer as well as any of your other favourite fruits. Frozen fruit and frozen puff pastries are my two secret weapons. Who has time to make pastry!

1. Chop one frozen banana into four chunks and place in a food blender (I use a Magimix), along with a good handful of frozen cherries and two juicy dates.

2. Add a splash of full fat milk and blend until the mixture resembles the texture of soft scoop ice cream. You may have to add a little more milk as you blend.

3. Divide the mixture between two small bowls and top with chopped kiwi chunks, blueberries and desiccated coconut. Serve and eat immediately. Done!

Afternoon tea with two under two…

With two under two meals out are a rareity and if we do dare to dine it’s a military operation. A sharp intake of breath on my part is also required and you have to learn not to give a damn about what other people think, especially when the toddler decides that he would very much like his voice to be heard. 

The idea of going out for a decadent afternoon tea in one of my favourite London locations is  now the stuff of dreams. However, I could not resist an invitation from the lovely team  at to give afternoon tea at Monmouth Kitchen a whirl as well as putting their children’s menu to the test. So we were bold and brave and the four of us ventured into the heart of London. I slapped on some lipstick and the toddler, aka the mini taster who will turn two next week and is very much at the stage of pushing ever boundary in sight, almost kept it together. As did I!

Located in one of my favourite pockets in London, the colourful and vibrant Seven Dials, Monmouth Kitchen provides a relaxed and contemporary setting with a touch of glamour and keeps good company with a few of my favourite hot spots, including the Wild Food Cafe, 26 Grains and Monmouth Coffee close by.

It’s afternoon tea offering with a Mediterranean twist, is a welcome break from the traditional norm. Striking the right balance between savoury and sweet, there was not a cucumber sandwich in sight. Instead we enjoyed a trio of savoury bruschetta and mini tacos, which were imaginative and delicious. And for our carb loving toddler he received his very own mini pizza, the perfect ancidote post tantrum on arrival to the restaurant, much to the delight of those around us.

As suspected the sweet offerings where a hit with both the mini and the chief taster. The fresh fruit tartlet and the white peach and oregano panna cotta were refreshing and not too heavy and it turns out churros and Puruvian chocolate sauce and flourless chocolate orange cake will buy parents of toddlers at least five minutes of peace and quiet, but will also leave quite a mess. 

The hot chocolate got the thumbs up not only from the mini taster but also the chief taster and he knows a thing or two about a good hot chocolate, so that is high praise. 
The scones, amaretto and lemon flavoured with homemade lemon and necatarine preserve and vanilla mascarpone, were also a great twist on what is normally the centrepiece of a traditional afternoon tea. 

I would be lying if I said it was a totally care free and relaxed experience, but that’s the reality of dining out with a nearly two year old and a five month old baby. There were tantrums and tears and baby Reuben needed pacified throughout by the magic of my milk machines. 

However the menu was fantastic and the staff were faultless, incredibly helpful, and most importantly patient. Our waitor Gabor was super friendly and although at times I wanted the earth to swallow me up inbetween screams and glares from other diners, he and his colleagues made the whole experience seamless.

Long gone are the days when it was perceived that children should be seen and not heard. Pushing boundaries is normal and healthy. It’s after all an important milestone, one that will however mean I’ll be biting my lip and pulling my hair out for the next year I suspect. But the chocolate covered face was well worth the chaos and needless to say he slept the whole way home after peaking from his sugar hit! Maybe next time however we’ll leave the kids at home and enjoy an overnight stay and put the breakfast menu to the test after a long lie. Wishful thinking.

Raspberry & coconut rock cakes…

Toddlers, plus baking equals a mess but it’s a mess I’m willing to take on the chin because the fun is really worth it. Fast approaching the ripe old age of two, Otto loves nothing more than mixing (and eating) the ingredients of my weekly bakes. It’s also a great way to encourage him to try new foods and new flavours and learn new skills if he gets involved in the action. Well that’s my theory anyway.

My raspberry and coconut rock cakes are a cross between a cookie, a biscuit and a rock cake, a child hood favourite of mine. There not too sweet and make for a great snack or breakfast alternative served with fruit and yoghurt. Give them a whirl!

1. Pre heat the oven to 180c and grease a baking tray or line with baking paper.
2. In a bowl add two cups of wholegrain flour, 1/2 cup of desiccated coconut, 1 cup of porridge oats and mix all the ingredients together.

3. Next add in two large eggs, a few drops of vanilla essence, 1/2 cup of maple syrup and 2 generous tbsp. of smooth peanut butter. Fold everything together before adding a cup of frozen raspberries into the mix.

4. Using your hands divide the mixture into 10 small ball shapes, place on the baking tray and gently pat down the tops. Make sure you leave a gap between each one.

5. Bake at 180c for 20 minutes.