Fig focaccia bread recipe by Ink SugarSpice

Eat positive: happy hormones and a fig focaccia recipe

Fig focaccia recipe by Ink SugarSpice

Two years ago (two years!! Blimey) I looked at analogue hobbies, that was all about putting down your device and doing something mindful and encompassing.

Lately, I’ve been reading extensively into the four ‘happy hormones’. These chemicals are neurotransmitters; chemicals that transmit messages from a neuron (typically but not always) across the brain to a target cell and directly affect our mood in a positive way. Conversely, a lull in the availability of these neurotransmitters can have detrimental effects on us. Although there are also some instances where an excess can be problematic too, in general it’s great for positive mental health to look to ‘activate’ or increase these four neurotransmitters.

These four are:

  • the “feel good” or “runner’s high” hormone: dopamine;
  • the “love” hormone: oxytocin;
  • the “happy” hormone: serotonin, and;
  • the “pain relief” hormone: endorphin

Of course I’m no expert whatsoever, but this is what I’ve gathered together on food/eating and “happy hormones”. At the end of this article I’ve included a recipe for a focaccia which includes many ingredients experts have identified as promoting or producing one or other of these hormones.

It is possible to identify activities, foods and more that encourage the production of these neurotransmitter chemicals. This can help us better understand what makes us happy, contented, relaxed and help us promote those positive feelings.

After each round of up the hormones, I’ve given links to more scholarly and in-depth articles so you can research more and read advice from experts.


Dopamine is produced in situations where we’ve rewarded ourselves, it makes us feel great and contented and is there in evolutionary terms to help us to repeat activities that are safe and enjoyable (and therefore stay away from things that would imply danger).

Dopamine triggers in circumstances such as being told we’ve been praised but interestingly also when we praise others. So, start spreading the joy and pass on a nice, genuine compliment (hopefully karma will ensure you receive similar in return). We feel dopamine’s effects when we indulge ourselves in some self care or ‘me time’ or treat ourselves with food. Listening to our favourite music or participating in a celebration of some sort also raises your dopamine levels. In short, it’s a chemical pat on the back.

No foods actually have dopamine, but foods do look for foods that are rich in an amino acid called l-tyrosine, which is crucial to the body’s functions that produce dopamine. Foods rich in l-tyrosine include:

  • Unprocessed meats and fish
  • Dairy foods
  • Nuts
  • Chocolate (specifically dark chocolate)
  • Eggs
  • Peas, beans and pulses of all kinds
  • Dark green vegetables (particularly the leafy ones)

Studies show that low dopamine may be associated with addiction, perhaps because the individual is always chasing that great feeling. Dopamine is also beginning to be linked with ADHD and Parkinson’s disease.


Fig focaccia bread recipe by InkSugarSpice


Oxytocin is often described as the ‘love hormone’ as our bodies release it when we have those intimate, compassionate or empathetic moments. Although it is released during sex, it’s not all about that – think of the good feelings you get when spending time with your pet, bonding with your children (including apparently during childbirth to facilitate bonding and it also is brings on contractions), hugging a friend a walk in an oak forest on a sunny day. They’re all instances when oxytocin is released and you feel that rush of warmth and contentment.

There have been recent studies to research whether oxytocin can help those with anorexia and eating disorders/body dysmorphia and that it may help those with an autism spectrum disorder to overcome social anxiety.

No foods directly contribute to the production and release of oxytocin, however there is a food link: oxytocin can be produced when preparing food together, eating a family meal, going somewhere romantic to eat, sharing food and meals with children and enjoying a glass of something with your loved ones. All these situations help release oxytocin. So, if oxytocin be the food of love, play on!


Current findings on the role of oxytocin in the regulation of food intake – University of Birmingham

Oxytocin, feeding, and satiety – University of Edinburgh


The mood stabilising or ‘happy hormone’. The relationship we have with the production of serotonin is mood regulation (including lowering anxiety), keeping to balanced sleeping patterns and feeling that sense of happiness.

You can easily boost your own serotonin levels but spending some time (safely) in the sun, getting some exercise, being meditative or, similar to oxytocin, getting our into nature and really appreciating it.

You can’t actually eat foods that directly affect serotonin levels but do find foods that are rich in the amino acid tryptophan, which has a direct correlation to oxytocin production (similar to the dopamine-L-tyrosine relationship).

Foods rich in tryptophan include:

  • honey
  • chicken and turkey
  • dairy produce
  • mushrooms
  • brassicas and legumes
  • figs, bananas and avocados
  • eggs
  • olives/olive oil
  • leafy green vegetables
  • sunflower and pumpkin seeds
  • nuts


Chichester Wellbeing Weight Loss

Nottingham Trent University student guidance


This is the one that can have a euphoric effect, despite being only nicknamed the pain relief hormone.

Do you experience ASMR? Auto Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) is a very pleasing tingling effect starting on your scalp and moving down your neck, shoulders and into your back when one or more of your senses is triggered. Scientists are tentatively beginning to link the release of endorphins as a cause of these pleasant sensations in individuals (not everyone experiences ASMR).

Even if you don’t get ASMR, an increase in endorphin levels will make anyone feel great. It’s believed that they are the body’s response to help you manage pain and as a reward system when you do something good. Evolutionarily speaking, it soothes when times are difficult or stressful and encourages you to repeat positive experiences by linking them to a natural high.

Simple things can boost endorphin levels from having a good laugh, indulging in your favourites scents and smells, exercise and being kind to others (what a fabulous way! That’s a win:win situation) .

Foods that encourage the release of endorphins:

  • Chocolate – the darker the better
  • Wine, specifically red wine
  • Spicy foods



Taking in to consideration as much of the above as possible, I’ve come up with a little recipe incorporating happy hormone encouraging ingredients. I hope you enjoy: on many levels!

Fig focaccia

Pleasingly alliterative as well as delicious!


  • Large bowl
  • Scales
  • Sharp knife
  • Baking tray
  • Rolling pin
  • Clean tea towel/cling film/food safe bag for proofing time

Ingredients – dough

  • 300g strong white bread flour
  • 200ml water
  • 1 teaspoon of dried yeast
  • 15ml of a good extra virgin olive oil (plus extra for drizzling and preparation)
  • 8g fine salt
  • 20g of seeds (such as sesame, linseeds, pumpkin etc)

Ingredients – topping

  • 2 figs
  • 1 tablespoon of pine nuts
  • 6-8 walnut halves
  • 1- 2 tablespoons of fresh herbs, such as oregano, marjoram and rosemary (these are the three herbs I used)
  • 1-2 tablespoons honey
  • Semolina, chickpea or other coarse flour for dusting (if you don’t have any of these extra bread flour can be used)


  • Mix the ingredients for the dough (flour, water, yeast, oil, salt and seeds) in the large bowl until it’s a rough mix. Leave for 10 minutes
  • Tip out on to a floured surface and knead for 8-10 minutes until the dough is glossy and smooth
  • Oil the bowl and place the dough back in. Cover the bowl and leave for about 50-60 minutes for its first proof
  • Dust the baking tray thoroughly and have close to hand
  • On a surface dusted with the semolina (or whatever you’ve got instead), tip out the dough and knock it back (that is press down with your fingers to burst the larger air bubbles)
  • Press out the dough with your hands or a dusted rolling pin into an oblong shape. The dough should be quite thin: no more than 1cm / less than 1/2 inch high
  • Carefully transfer to the baking tray
  • Slice the figs into four (at least) and place on the dough
  • Cover the dough and leave to proof a second time, for about 30 minutes
Fig focaccia bread recipe by InkSugarSpice
  • Warm your oven to 110C (fan) or 120C (conventional/non-fan)
  • Uncover the focaccia and place the walnuts on, sprinkle over the soft leave herbs (marjoram and oregano) and drizzle over the honey and then the olive oil

Fig focaccia bread recipe by Ink SugarSpice
  • Once the oven is up to temperature, place the focaccia in and bake for 20 minutes
  • After 20 minutes, retrieve the focaccia and sprinkle on the pine nuts and rosemary leaves
  • Place back in the oven for another 5 minutes (if your focaccia already looks done, turn off your oven when putting the focaccia back in for the last five minutes)

To maximise the happy hormones, serve with a leafy green salad

Fig focaccia bread recipe by Ink SugarSpice

Colouring and hobby art resources

I aim to start filling this post over time with some resources, printable and ideas for hobbies during these times of (inter)national lockdown.

I find this an almost impossible to believe situation; I’m sure you do too. Creative pursuits can really help provide an outlet to relieve stress and distract your mind. Also, depending on your situation, you may have some unexpected extra free time to try new things.

If you want inspiration because you are stuck for ideas what to try, then read my post creative analogue hobbies for good mental health – there is an enormous list of ideas for hobbies on there to get you started. There’s also some information within that post about the benefits of such hobbies for good mental health.

I’ll keep this short and sweet for now, and add the first resource:

1. Adult colouring resource of modern Alice in Wonderland – Alice and friends take a selfie! Download and print – A4 sized file.

Download using the link below (not the image).

2. Gifs for sharing on social media for the #NHS #clapforNHS #Clapforourcarers actives on Thursday evenings

I’ve drawn five Alice inspired images and animated them I’ve applied to get all five of my artworks shared as gifs on social media so that anyone can use them – three are currently showing, and I’m hoping all five will be available soon.

In the meantime, you can use the links below to copy the gif files or use the links to show them in social media.

How to use

Right click the gif or the URL you want and either copy or save to your local drive.

Much love, Lynn.

Don’t forget to leave a nice comment – and if you post an image of your completed craft, please do tag me in @inksugarpice on Instagram or Twitter.

Creative hobbies - leather working - Lynn Clark - Inksugarspice

Using analogue, creative hobbies for mental wellbeing – and a HUGE list of hobby ideas

From previous posts in here or comments on my Instagram or Twitter feed you may have come across me owning up (occasionally and discretely) to having been diagnosed with both anxiety and panic disorder. I am also, in general, an advocate for looking after positive mental health and I am a trained mental health first aider.

Key to managing my own stresses are all my hands-on, lo-fi, non digital hobbies. I don’t use any medication for my anxiety (I have tried in the past: it just doesn’t suit me) and apart from the occasional blip, I handle my situation by having these tools to turn to when I need both distraction and mindfulness – and supportive people (this is crucial but I won’t address this here).

Looking after your good mental health with activities isn’t confined to those who have an issue! If you consider that you have great mental health these activities will still bring you benefits.

It’s been well documented that creative outlets are great for good mental health and can even help with much more severe conditions (I’ve tried to find a few reputable sources and I’ve listed these at the bottom of the article). It doesn’t take, or need, a PhD research paper to be able to work this out yourself though.

It’s the full engagement that really helps I think: what has (for the past few years) been described as mindfulness. When I was younger I’d describe it as ‘me getting happily lost’ in what I was doing. The same level of immersion also works with many non-creative activities (even clearing out a cupboard, labelling or vacuuming the car can be engrossing) but I find that creative hobbies provide another positive layer as well as the mindfulness.

However – and it’s a big however – a skill level for being creative is immaterial. You do NOT need to have any kind of ‘gift’ to engage in a creative hobby to benefit from it.

A creative hobby isn’t necessarily art or craft related. Cheese making, gardening, playing a musical instrument, sport and fitness, being a model railway enthusiast or going fishing are all examples. I’ve written a big list of ideas of creative and immersive hobbies below.

Your creativity is just for you, less you choose to share. You don’t need to inform anyone about your hobby nor does anyone need to see you doing it or your end result (unless you want them to). That said, engaging friends or family (your children for instance) in the same activity may help you start something new if you are better in a group environment.

Although this will vary for you, I’ve found my own benefits of engaging in a creative project might be (not all apply, depending on the type of activity):

  • Mindfulness/that sense of being lost in something
  • Peace and tranquillity
  • That total immersion and concentration on one thing
  • An abatement/lessening of symptoms of anxiety or panic
  • That it is a period of time where other external factors are forgotten for a while
  • A sense of completion/achievement/progression
  • A sense that I have made something tangible and lasting
  • The chance to learn and grow
  • The chance to try something new
  • The ability and time to fail and make mistakes (and therefore learn from those mistakes) without anyone needing to criticise you
  • Pride in a job well done, or at least in the learning of something new and overcoming obstacles in its completion
  • Achieving the milestones I’ve set for myself – however small (eg the first time you’ve run continuously for 10 mins, finishing a new hiking route, producing a loaf with an unusual flour, using a new tool etc)
  • An excuse to obtain, make and use nice materials and tools (where finances allow)
  • The tactile nature of physical hobbies – feeling different materials, especially natural ones is a positive experience
  • Getting outdoors
  • Getting away from the digital world for a while
  • Re-engaging with old traditions and skills

I aim to increase the craft and art posts in my website (as well as continuing with the recipes and food-based information) to provide little easy projects. Whatever you try, it doesn’t matter if you are brilliant or dreadful at a thing or anywhere in between. All that matters is the process: the act of creatively completing something. And if you find you don’t enjoy one activity, there will most certainly be something out there that will suit you.

Hands on bread making - here I'm plaiting a boule - Lynn Clark - inksugarspice

My BIG list of ideas for creative hobbies for immersion / mindfulness / to get happily get lost in

(I’ve created three areas that relate to the subject matter of this website: crafts, food and lifestyle, but find what works for you!)

Note: updated March 2020 following the Covid-19 pandemic. All hobbies in BLUE can be done indoors or in your garden/on your balcony (such as birdwatching). Also remember that here in the UK at present you can exercise outside (running, walking, cycling) once a day at the moment if you adhere to the social distancing guidelines. Get supplies online.

Arts and crafts

  • Crochet
  • Sewing
  • Knitting
  • Embroidery
  • Leatherworking
  • Basketry
  • Weaving
  • Spinning wool
  • Tufted rug making
  • Macrame
  • Papier mâché
  • Decoupage
  • Upcycling old furniture/restoration/upholstery
  • Watercolour / gouache
  • Acrylic or oil painting
  • Clay sculpture
  • Pot throwing
  • Lino printing
  • Wood whittling
  • Carving – wood, clay, shop etc
  • Carpentry
  • Model making
  • Origami
  • Illustration
  • Felting
  • Pastel or chalk drawing
  • Calligraphy
  • Quilting
  • Stop motion filming
  • Block printing (fabric or paper)
  • Blacksmithing (you’ll need a course and access to a forge but it is possible!)
  • Silversmithing / metal jewellery making
  • Qulling/paper sculpture
  • Enamelling and resin jewellery making
  • Bead work
  • Miniature model painting
  • Tie dying
  • Making paper
  • Paper marbling (oil paint on water – like on book fly leaves)
  • Pyrography
  • Engraving


  • Bread making
  • Sourdough bread making
  • Pasta
  • Flower sugarcraft / modelling
  • Character sugar craft / modelling
  • Hand painting cakes
  • Preserve making
  • Cheese making
  • Brewing
  • Wine making
  • Fermenting
  • Decorating iced biscuits


  • Rambling
  • Foraging
  • Wild flower bombing
  • Bird watching
  • Flower identification
  • Flower pressing
  • Gardening
  • Vegetable growing
  • Herb growing
  • Photography
  • Soap making
  • Running/jogging
  • Yoga
  • Pilates
  • Tai Chi
  • Juggling
  • Keepy-uppy / hackysack football skills
  • Dancing lessons / sessions
  • Flower arranging
  • Singing – along or a group (choir / rock choir)
  • Bonsai
  • Creative writing
  • Blog writing
  • Poetry
  • Playing a musical instrument
  • Astronomy
  • Model planes/boats/cars
  • Jigsaw puzzles
  • Scrapbooking and journalling
  • Fishing
  • Geo caching (including setting up geo caches for others)
  • Geneaology / family tree tracing
  • Collecting
  • Bee keeping

Psychology papers and academic articles

Psychology Today (online) article “Recent Art Therapy Research: Measuring Mood, Pain and BrainPsychology” written by Cathy Malchiodi PhD, LPCC, LPAT, ATR-BC, REAT. Looks at two studies:

  • Art therapy improves mood, and reduces pain and anxiety when offered at bedside during acute hospital treatment (Shella, 2017) focuses on the role of art therapy in possible improvement of mood and reduction of pain perception in patients hospitalized for medical conditions;
  • Cortical Activity Changes after Art Making and Rote Motor Movement as Measured by EEG: A Preliminary Study (King et al, 2017) uses a common neurological instrument to compare cortical activity after art making with rote motor movements.

Frontiers in Psychology (online) paper “Creative Arts Interventions to Address Depression in Older Adults: A Systematic Review of Outcomes, Processes, and Mechanisms” by Kim Dunphy,  Felicity A. Baker, Ella Dumaresq, Katrina Carroll-Haskins,  Jasmin Eickholt,  Maya Ercole, Girija Kaimal, Kirsten Meyer, Nisha Sajnani, Opher Y. Shamir and Thomas Wosch (see article for author details).

The Health Benefits of Knitting – by Knit for Peace (findings by Harvard Medical School)

Other resources of interest

TED talks ideas website on “Why grown-ups love [sic] coloring books tooExcert: Just what is the adult coloring book craze all about, anyhow? Anyone who has appreciated a meditative mental drift while knitting or mowing a lawn knows that there is something calming about engaging in a familiar, low-impact activity that requires minimal thought and bestows a clear sense of progress.

Hobbycraft blog on ‘How to practice mindfulness through craft‘ written by Sandra Owen, a Creative Teacher and Grief Recovery Method Specialist.

Huff Post article (2014) on ‘How baking could help stressed Brits access mindfulness and relieve anxiety’

University of East Anglia: How singing your heart out could make you happier Researchers examined the benefits of singing among people with mental health conditions including anxiety and depression. They found that people who took part in a community singing group maintained or improved their mental health. And that the combination of singing and socialising was an essential part of recovery because it promoted an ongoing feeling of belonging and wellbeing.

Mental Health First Aid England

I’ve been trained as a Mental Health First Aider – please follow the link below if you’d like to know more about this, to train yourself or encourage your workplace to investigate supporting this.

Find out more about Mental Health First Aid England

No Panic – registered UK charity which helps people (or those they care for) suffering from panic attacks

I’d love to know what works for you… especially if you have any additions for the three lists above under arts/crafts, food and lifestyle headings that I could include or additional online resources.

Hugs 💚

The student kitchen

guitar4It’s getting a nip in the air in the morning and at the University where I work workmen are frantically trying to finish off new buildings, groundsmen are sprucing up the campus, new signs are going up, early international students are looking lost and staring at maps and that can only mean one thing; it’s fresher’s week soon.

This year it’s different for me… I’ve worked in this Uni for 14 year, and at a previous Uni for 3 years before that, seeing many new students arrive. Of course a long time ago I was a student myself (very freshfaced and completely clueless). This year though, my twin sons are going to be freshers themselves. Yes, that’s two disappearing all at once and no, don’t ask me if I’m coping…

It’s not about me though – it’s about them getting the fun and opportunities they deserve and of course I’m immensely proud of them and I want them to have an amazing time. Being someone who does like to over prepare (not just lists, but lists of lists!) I’ve got a good handle on what they need for a basic kitchen in their first year of Uni. Both can cook, thankfully, but their ‘Red Cross parcel’ had to account for the fact that they’re probably going to do the basics and only occasionally cook something complex (one is in part-catered halls, the other is in self catering).

So this post is an ode to my sons and to all new students. It’s not ‘cooking 101’ – there’s enough of that availabel already. This is advice on your basic kitchen kit, your basic food cupboard and some tricks and hints for buying/eating/preparing cleverly on a student budget.

Good luck, have fun, be safe and eat healthy at least sometimes.


First week treat

I know you’re going to be drinking enough and its possibly not great advocating more alcohol, but I’ve packed my lads off with a bottle of drink with the purpose of it being a way to help break the ice with the other students in their apartment. A bottle or two of Prosecco, a bottle of posh gin like Brockmans or Sipsmiths with some tonic or Barcardi with some diet coke for instance (or whatever their tipple of choice is). They can toast themselves for getting to Uni in one piece as well as introducing themselves.

Equipment basics – assuming self catering

  • Medium – large deep fry pan which can double as a wok or saute pan. Ideally with lid. Non-stick preferably. Perfect for stir-fries, Bolognese, chill, curries, stews etc. Don’t go too cheap with these as the non-stick isn’t that non-stick and frankly who wants to be eating bits of Teflon in their food? I purchased some reasonably for my sons from TK Maxx
  • Medium saucepan, preferably with lid, solid base and you don’t need non-stick. Go for one with an insulated handle (saves getting burnt or setting fire to a tea towel on the hob). For everything from soup, to peas, to boiling an egg, to rice and pasta, to packet noodles. These you can get anywhere, but beware of those with the bottom of the saucepan as thin as the sides: you need a thicker, heavier base or your food is likely to catch and burn as it will not distribute the heat well. Again, I bought saucepans from TK Maxx, as actually they have such an array of makes and sizes you can get the perfect one for you. I’ve suggested getting one with a long insulated handle, but you may prefer one with two shorter handles: entirely your preference
  • Additionally, you may want a small non-stick shallow fry-pan for a single-serving omelette, fried eggs, mushrooms etc. See notes about the larger saute pan above and the false economy of buying too cheaply
  • Medium/large-sized baking tray. For bacon or baking potatoes etc and large enough so a medium pizza can be put on it too (no need for a separate pizza tray then). The cheap ones buckle in the oven, but frankly it doesn’t stop them working (it’s only a problem if you want to make something that needs to level out, like a sponge: I’m sure you’re probably not going to be making those. If you are, then buy a rugged expensive one)
  • Wooden spatula, or two…
  • Sieve. or better yet a colander with ‘feet’. Get to a market stall for little bits and pieces like this and don’t buy too small a sieve as it’s easier to balance or stand one in the sink for draining and to balance over your saucepan
  • Can opener and bottle opener (a waiter’s friend is ideal)
  • Tongs or slotted ladle
  • Large spoon/solid ladle
  • Click-lock storage box for fridge or freezer storage of left overs
  • 1/2 cup measure or mark a real cup in permanent marker where 1/2 cup measure sits – a half cup is the perfect size for a single serving of dried rice for cooking up
  • Cutting board, ideally two if you’re a carnivore – one specifically for meat (or at least mark one side of the board for meat only)
  • Sharp, mid sized chefs knife. Possibly also a bread knife if you think you’ll be eating a lot of bread. A mid-sized chefs knife is versatile enough for all your jobs (you can always get a small veg and a larger chefs knife later)
  • Tea towels. They dry (! yes, you will have to wash up eventually) and are a replacement for oven gloves when folded over
  • Cheese grater. What student isn’t going to eat cheese on toast?
  • Plastic bowl – might be useful for mixing up omeletttes etc, but you can just do it in your saucepan and save on the washing up
  • Stuff to eat and drink out of/on: don’t forget a plate, a bowl, a mug, a glass/beaker and cutlery at the bare minimum. You can get all these incredibly cheaply from a second hand store, raiding your parents’ cupboards, pound shops or if you want something a little nicer, then it’s still affordable at Ikea, Tiger, market stalls and supermarkets.


  • Salt – the cheap, fine stuff in a big pack will do (you maybe want to cut down on salt intake, but you’ll still need quite a lot for putting in with pasta, rice and similar). You can always go for LoSalt, but this is a little dearer and it’s difficult to cut out salt completely
  • Pepper, although actually you can get away without pepper if you’re not that fond of it and are cooking basic foods: I find I reach for paprika more than pepper as a seasoning
  • Paprika, onion granules, garlic granules, dried chillies/piri piri seasoning – these all make great additions to flavour your food and all are also good when sprinkled on food afterwards. (I recommend you don’t get garlic ‘salt’ or garlic ‘powder’, these just don’t go on the same, don’t have the same texture and you don’t need additional salt). You can buy these in larger packs from the world food aisle or an Asian or Middle-Eastern supermarket, however you’ll find these in most supermarkets in own-label or Schwarz jars. (You might expect me to suggest some dried herbs here, but I think you can get away without them)
  • Stock cubes. You can get these cheap – for instance we’ve bought a pack of 16 for £1 in Lidl (Sept 2018). Go for your preference of beef, chicken or veg (or even get one of each!). Crumble a stock cube into an instant noodle pack, enliven your large dishes like Bolognese or curry or crush and sprinkle over the top of your meal as seasoning instead of additional salt and pepper
  • Soy sauce, sriracha, Worcester sauce, Tabasco – your favourite to enliven your dishes
  • Tomato, brown, HP or hoisin – your choice of favourite condiment, but these are thickened sauces so are also useful in dishes to flavour and to thicken them slightly
  • A jar of your preference of Vegemite, Marmite or Bovril. They replace stock cubes, go on toast, pep up a cheese sandwich and make a great hot drink
  • Tinned tomatoes: you can buy tins of chopped tomatoes, but these are a few pence more and you can chop them yourself easily enough. A great thing to make with tinned tomatoes is a cheap soup: add in a tablespoon of curry paste or seasoning. Check the world food aisle as often a tin of tomatoes from there is a few pence less than even the plain supermarket brand from the tinned veg aisle
  • Rice – get a giant bag from the world food aisle or a local Chinese supermarket. Basmati/long grain is the most versatile. A 5kg bag can be anything from about £4 – £10 so shop about. Once person will get about 30 – 35 meals out of this bag
  • Pasta – again, you can buy a giant 5kg bag for about £3
  • Porridge oats. Please don’t buy the branded ones, these are extortionate and are no different whatsoever. Even worse are those single pots! Over a £1 for about 5p’s worth of oats – what a rip-off. Every supermarket will sell a plain, unbranded large bag for about 70p
  • Coffee creamer. Yes, even if you don’t drink coffee. This is a great milk substitute. If you run out of milk you can make your porridge (for example) with water and stir in a few spoonfuls instead. It also thickens instant hot chocolate, creamy curries/cheesy sauces etc
  • Sugar or low-sugar substitute, unless of course you’re sure you don’t need it for cereal or tea/coffee
  • Tea bags/coffee/squash
  • Oil – rapeseed or a ‘standard’ olive oil will do for a variety of jobs and both keep well (even a basic [non-virgin] olive oil isn’t that expensive and will last). Also look at the cheap “Vegetable oils”: many will say the ingredient is rapeseed oil anyway and so it will be a fraction of the price of the bottle that is actually labelled up as rapeseed


Affordable store cupboard treats

  • Instant hot chocolate – you can get budget brands. They only need water so don’t use up costly milk, plus if you bought coffee creamer this will thicken it and make it milkier. They may be a few quid, but it’s a treat when you need something comforting so should last you
  • Choc spread, again you don’t have to go for the usual brands, the cheaper supermarkets like Lidl and Aldi do nice tasting ones. A pick-me-up, just don’t live off it please, ok??
  • Dried fruit and tinned fruits – get some vitamins! Look in the baking aisle for cheaper, larger packs of dried fruit than there are in the snack or fresh fruit aisle. Also, the non-branded tins of fruit are not much different (some maybe are chopped up less, have cheaper juice or maybe aren’t quite so perfect) but they’re still good. A tin of peaches is a great treat
  • Tinned veg, or ideally frozen veg (if you have access to a freezer). Cheaper than fresh quite often and clearly it’ll last to you need it, as with fresh fruit and veg there’s a danger it’ll go off before you eat it (let’s be realistic here) and that means if you throw it away you’re throwing your money away. If you have a freezer, this is awesome, as you can take only what you need each time from a pack (with a tin, you’ll need to eat the contents within 24-48 hours)
  • Snacks – you may be worried about fat intake, living by a healthy diet gaining weight etc but your student years are the most active you’ll ever be so you can worry a bit less about these things. Do get yourself some snacky, high calorie treats as there will be times when you’re feeling a bit poorly and don’t want to go out and need some sugar, for the late night treats (especially post alcohol) and to avoid any chance of getting hangry and stressed while studying because you’ve forgotten to eat. You need to look after yourself as a student and sometimes this does mean you may need additional calories – I’m far from advocating high sugar high fat treats as a staple food group, but one or two occasionally is not going to affect you too much during such an active time in your life. It doesn’t have to be bars of chocolate or crisps: try cereal bars, dried fruits, trail mix, mixed nuts or things like Bombay mix, Japanese seaweed crackers or raw fruit bars

Cleaning basics – don’t forget these! With some of the kitchen items you could buy them with the others in your apartment by using a kitty of money that you put in equally:

  • Bin bags
  • Kitchen plastic drainer
  • Washing up brush, scourer pads, sponge or J-cloth wipes
  • Washing up liquid
  • Clothes wahs and conditioner – it’s actually easier to buy those 3-in-1 pods. It’s more expensive but saves time, faff and possibly you’re not going to wash stuff as often as you should (and take things home!) so a pack should last you a long time
  • Tea towels (yes I know I’ve mentioned these but you could buy together)
  • Kitchen roll
  • Anti-bac spray/anti-bac wipes, dettol, bleach
  • Toilet roll


  • Got a freezer? buy some cheap ice cube trays and put in any excess ingredients that you don’t use in one go, like tomato puree
  • Batch cook – always freeze at least half. Convenient and cost effective. Besides, if you’re using a whole tin of one thing and a whole tin of that it’s probably too much for a single person’s meal
  • Buying bread and only want a few slices? Bread freezes well, and you can ‘peel off’ a slice or two direct from the freezer (either buy pre-sliced or cut it yourself all the way down before slicing). Then, most toasters have a defrost option, or you can leave for a while to defrost (bread doesn’t take long)
  • Baking paper is cheaper than foil usually, and can be used for most of the jobs you’d expect foil to do. Also the paper is less likely to stick to things like pizza, fish fingers etc (ever had to peel off little bits of foil from the crispy cheese edges on a pizza? This is easier). And another bargain: it can often be wiped down and dried for re-use, where foil often rips and spoils
  • Save the small plastic bags from supermarkets and the brown paper bags from the market for re-use. Both can be used to store food in for either fridge or freezer
  • Want a stock cube but run out? A spoonful of Vegemite, Marmite or Bovril is just as good
  • Double up with a room mate – no, not that way. You cook a meal big enough for both of you for two nights, reheating half the next day. On the third day they cook something and day four you reheat half of that. This means you both have three nights off in four from cooking (how cool is that?) and planning meals together is cheaper on ingredients. Imagine if there’s three of you… that’s the whole week bar one day where you get six meals having cooked only once
  • Save on electricity/washing up when cooking noodles and pasta (works best on thin stuff like spaghetti and udon): break up your noodles into your bowl and pour on boiling water. Cover the bowl with a plate or pan lid. Leave for 8-10 minutes and they should be soft and ready, no cooking apart from boiling a kettle required
  • A large spoonful of pesto makes a meal when mixed into cooked spaghetti (I know pesto isn’t ‘that’ cheap but it will make six + meals from one jar this way, just make sure you close the jar tightly and refrigerate (as they’ll spoil easily otherwise)
  • Can’t be arsed with two pans? If you’re cooking rice, pasta or noodles (or even baby potatoes for that matter) you can chop up your veg and add it to the same pan to cook together. Examples are adding frozen peas to spaghetti, a tin of sweetcorn to noodles or chopped carrot to rice. Just bear in mind that the veggies will need to cook for less time in the pasta and rice so pop them in after a couple of minutes (noodles tend to cook quicker so put the veg in straightaway)
  • Look for non-branded, cheap range foods. All supermarkets do a plain label food range now (called something like basics or essentials). These are not vastly inferior, what they’ll be is less prepared or the slightly wonkier pieces. For example, tinned cheap tomatoes will be those where the skin’s not all been taken off compared to the normal tin of toms. Also look for things like tuna pieces or chunks instead of tuna steak in tins, these are perfectly good pieces of tuna, just the broken up bits
  • Don’t buy a student recipe book: save your money. These all say the same things and this stuff can be found online. Better go read the recipe’s on Jack Monroe’s website ‘Cooking on a bootstrap’ and buy a secondhand (or request for Christmas) a proper all-round cookery book, something like Delia Smith, so you can learn the full skills and adapt a decent recipe to your budget, rather than yet more recipes for spicy beans on toast that you can guess yourself anyway
  • Buy in bulk, if you’ve got room. Multipacks of things are great to buy in bulk with room mates
  • Do not forget to buy some fresh fruit and veg as well as the cheaper frozen and tinned stuff. Buy in-season from a market stall. If you think an item seems expensive, then it’s probably been flown in from far away and so go look at an alternative. In season suggestions:
    • Spring: carrots, kale and cabbages, cauliflowers, spinach, cheap spring greens, watercress, rhubarb
    • Summer (though you may well be back home!): raddish, beetroot, courgettes, beans, peas, lettuces, onions, tomatoes, herbs, berries, early potatoes
    • Autumn: mushrooms, potatoes, squash and pumpkin (these are awesome – and will last for weeks uncut), corn on the cob, lettuces, plums, apples, soft berries and fruits
    • Winter: Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, fennel, parnsips, carrots, swede, turnips, apples, pears, kale, oranges
  • Unless you have a health condition which precludes this, bulk up on carbs. They’re cheap, filling and (even the ones that some vilify for being ‘white carbs’) are slow to release their energy. This is pasta, rice, noodles, potatoes (baked potatoes, mash, boiled salad spuds rather than chips, though they will do occasionally), bread etc. It’s tempting to buy cheap bread but it’s better to spend some more on bread than other items. See the note above about slicing and freezing. Better loaves will aid digestion, provide slow release energy and are less likely to affect IBS or other bowel problems (for instance, we thought one of my sons might be building up a gluten intolerance, but we discovered his issue was the preservatives in the cheap bread and pittas etc that they served at his school)
  • Find an Asian supermarket. Most Unis are based in or near large towns and cities and each one of those will have an Asian supermarket. These are a godsend for students (and keen cooks alike). Large bottles of soy sauce, packets of flavoured noodles, sacks of rice can all be found here usually much cheaper than anywhere else. I’ve briefed my sons to go to these for their shopping, but I’ve also given them hoisin sauce, soy sauce, rice, noodles, a tub of Thai paste, schichimi togorashi and dried chilli flakes (amongst some other things) in their ‘pack’. These shops are also good for steamers, chopsticks, utensils, dried and tinned fruit and vegetables and things like large cheap jars of pastes that will supply you for many meals
  • Equally go find other regional speciality shops, there’s bound to be at least one locally. Polish/eastern european (particularlt useful for cheap veg tins, flour, drinks etc) Indian/Pakistani (veg, fruit and spices), Turkish/Middle eastern (great veg often a hot food counter) often or West Indian supermarket (fab jerk seasoning, chilli sauces and veg – plaintain is a great strudent staple) plus all will usually have many ‘general’ items as well as unique foods. You’ll find great bargains in here and wonderful, wonderful foods to make your meals much more interesting and provide a variety of ingredients including some difficult to find normally (a good diet is one that encompasses a range of foods), plus you’re supporting local small businesses not large corporates (yay! Go stick it to the man… isn’t that a student ideal??!)
  • If you can be bothered, it’s financially worth it to make your own sandwiches or a boxed salad for lunch (did you know that reheated or cold pasta has an even lower glycaemic index than pasta you’ve just cooked? Bonus points)
  • Like using fresh ginger, turmeric and garlic? You can pop these in the freezer and grate them into your food (a bit fiddly but works), or what takes a little more prep but is easier in the long run: pre-grate/chop, then pack into ice cube trays, using a single “ice cube” straight from the freezer in your cooking (ask someone at home nicely to prep a few bags of frozen ingredients for you!)

Good luck and enjoy yourselves! If there is any advice on food, recipes or equipment that you think I can help with please leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.

Inspiration and relaxation

I’ve been asked recently where I get my ideas from and also how I chill out and relax… after a bit of head scratching I realised the answers aren’t actually that disparate.

Boredom comes very easily to me and I have a dreadful attention span. My colleagues at work are used to me drawing while I’m in meetings or training. I’m not being rude: this activity helps me actively listen. If I keep a part of my mind active through drawing it stops me switching off. Basically, if I don’t draw I’ll start nodding off. I have on occasion completely fallen asleep and been woken by a screwed up ball of paper finding its target of my face. If I can draw then I can listen, which in turn means I engage and fully participate. The upshot of this permanent state of fidget is that I’m always doodling, looking, investigating, making and I find inspiration just about anywhere.

Chilling out for me isn’t complete peace and quiet – that’s just being asleep. For most of my life I’ve coped with anxiety disorder and low self esteem, and part of the advice to overcome this is to be mindful and taking time out for yourself. This mindfulness is tricky for me: as you can gather I intensely dislike being quiet and sitting still. So how to chill without being bored or falling asleep? I’ve managed to find some ways to quiet myself that are still mindful but help me to gather new ideas and inspiration in the process. Relaxation and inspiration. It’s all starting to tie together.

So this latest ramble is a bit of relaxation, a bit of reflection and a lot of idea-generating and a heap of inspiration gathering. If any of this aspect of my jumbled life helps a single person with ideas then it’s been worth the write up 💙

What are your ways to relax and unwind and where do you go to (physically or mentally) to find inspiration?

Creative inspiration

Favourite artists

Favourite illustrators/designers

What I do when I want some inspiration for food, for art

  • Take out an old sketchbook – what ideas did I overlook that I can rework?
  • Open the fridge: (the less that’s in it the better) what can you make right now?
  • What sort of day is it – what mood are you in?
    • Lazy? Make something simple. Got plenty of time or energy, then go make that complex bake you’re been meaning to for ages
    • If it’s overcast, what could you eat that’s cheerful (no, not just that giant bar of Galaxy, though that might work!)?
    • Is it unusually bright – bake something that would photograph well bathed in sunshine
    • Are you on your own today or with friends and family or working? This could make you think about a dinner for one, baked treats to cheer up colleagues, family get togethers
  • This may sound odd, but I actually AVOID the Internet when I am actively seeking inspiration. I want it to come from my ideas and what has influenced my life, not just what my search tells me are the things to look at. I’m more likely to pick out my own old recipe notes, look in my bookshelf, go to the library or just go for a walk. The only thing to search for is specific advice… like recently I wanted to know which icing type is best for making delicate modelled structures for a cake, in order to work out the practicalities of what you decide to make
  • Make a colour palette to inspire your recipe or photograph – I love the free online Adobe resource called colour wheel (which used to be called Kuler). As a designer I also use this to import swatches into Adobe software but you can just use it to create sympathetic (or even clashing) colour palettes to guide you
  • More on colour palettes – follow Design Seeds on Instagram which shows you how to pick out colours from your photos for a cohesive look for your Instagram
  • Walk round a deli or a food shop you wouldn’t normally go in. I often get inspiration for coloured pasta from the shiny packets of dried pasta imported from Italy (the packaging is often even more beautiful that what’s inside), or if I know I have a glut of vegetables or fruit I need to preserve the jars on the shelves will give you some ideas. Also, definitely a chance to buy some more goodies – especially ones you’ve never tried before. There is a list in Resources of some delis and food shops I particularly love (including Delilah in Nottingham)

Look at this fabulous dried pasta in Delilah’s – products like this are my inspiration and I’ll end up buying a new ingredient while I’m browsing too. Photo taken on my iPhone (hence how bad it is!) Aug 2018 and added with permission from Delilah
  • Do you normally follow fashion, a clothes/tech/sportswear designer or are you into shows or accessories? Be guided by what’s in the shops now and what’s coming up for next season. Right now felt pom-poms seem to be on everything: earrings, shoes, bags, swimwear. Could you make a pom-pom cake? If you read fashion magazines see what fabrics and colours are ‘in’. For instance, if Dolce & Gabbana had a lot of black and maroon lace in a photoshoot you could look to make a cake incorporating lace icing and those colourways (this is just a random made-up example that popped into my head. Could’ve been any designer, any fabric, any colours. If it turns out they do black and maroon lace I may fall over)
  • I know I hark on about this but GO OUTSIDE!! Even my garden dictates what I do… there may be nasturtiums in bright colours ready to use, a certain herb has particularly flourished, it’s autumn and the apples need picking. Also just the colours – they’re naturally seasonal and will guide you to seasonality in your food. A walk in an October wood with orange leaves and the smell of autumn might make you think you want a rich pudding, a wholesome soup or an in-season game casserole. It’s warm and sunny? Are you dying for a refreshing, crunchy salad or just want to cool off with ice cream or a cold IPA? At the very least it’ll make you hungry and you’ll know what you fancy
  • Interior magazines are great inspiration. Often interior and architectural design is seasons if not years ahead of everything else (even fashion designers can get their inspiration from interior trends), as it’s more likely to be fuelled by new manufacturing methods, new tech, innovations in paint or materials, the work of furniture or appliance designers who are looking years ahead. For instance, last year and the year before interior magazines were full of large leaf and tropical prints, and this is now filtered down to fashion this year. Take good note of the colour trends, patterns and materials (I don’t just mean fabric – use of wood, granite, marble, quartz, copper, etc all appear here first then filter down)
  • Go in a new cafe. One you’ve never been in before. Take a good look at how they’ve done the interior – could this inform your styling or your photo? What do they have on the menu. What’s popular (popular may be what you’re after if you want ‘likes’) or what’s new and unusual. What are people chatting about, what are they wearing. Take a sketchbook – doodle some ideas and write some notes. It doesn’t have to be good, just so it captures the moment and helps inform you
  • Take photos of anything you like the look of – whether you use it or not. Delete at the end of the day if you want. Often I combine my phone snaps with notes in my sketchbooks (see the later note)
  • When abroad go in the shops and cafés and observe. Many places frown on the use of photography, but if you ask nicely and say it’s for inspiration/memories they may allow you.

    • What ingredients are different? Can you bring any back in your luggage?
    • If you normally like the cuisine is there a technique you didn’t previously know about (for example, with pasta is there a regional variety of shape you’ve not come across before, or a sauce you’d never had paired with the meat or vegetable?)
    • Which local ingredient would provide a different slant to your cooking?
    • When eating out, what is on the menu, what did you eat that looked great on the plate or was there a taste of an ingredient that you’re not used to?
    • What bread and pastry shapes are there – is there anything you’ve not seen before?
    • Write it all down if you can’t photograph it (or bring it back), which leads on to the next point:
    • Carry a sketchbook EVERYWHERE. Even if I don’t get chance to use it I am NEVER without at least a plain page notebook and often with two or three sketchbooks and a case of pens, pencils and paints. I use them as much to write notes as to draw. I write down notes on:
      • colours (it’s unlikely you’ll have the colour to hand to use it, so take a picture and note down adjectives and how it makes you feel for example: a little side plate in peacock blue, with a slight green iridescence to it – you’d think it would feel cold but next to the gold edging it looked warm and sumptuous – would be a great colour combination for a birthday cake, maybe with flecks of peach to bring it to life)
      • time of day – what’s the light like? Do you like the candles glowing, a good idea to capture the sun coming up? Does the sun make great angles on the building or through the leaves?
      • what was the most popular thing you heard get ordered in a restaurant? Why? What flavours or presentation made it so popular? Could you translate the flavours to another dish, could you recreate that dish at home?
      • what flavours and colours enhanced a recipe?
      • what smells were in the glass of wine or wafted out of the open kitchen window as you went past?
      • what textures and materials in the restaurant, bar or cafe have you seen that you liked? Can you recreate these for backdrops and props?
    • Draw:
      • Patterns you like
      • Shapes of cakes or food – has a garnish been added you’d not seen before? Can you sketch it briefly?
      • Logos, graffiti and artwork on buildings and even people’s clothes that you like
      • How items are styled and placed together – rows of books with succulent plants and old sewing machines… anything that takes your eye

    Design resources

    • The Grammar of Ornament – Owen Jones – I bought this book when I was an art student and it’s been a source of inspiration ever since.
    • We made this – a design agency run by Alistair Hall. You may think ‘Why would I want to look at some graphic designer’s pages?’ but just go look at the blog pages. Beautiful imagery, ideas for colours and compositions to bring into your photos (they can just as easily inspire food Instagrammers), the writing is witty and informative. Just have a browse, you may thank me (or rather Alistair) later
    • Design Museum Instagram
    • Anthony Burrill Instagram
    • AIGA eye on design Instagram


    Best way to relax or calm myself down (while doing something)

    • Doodling, sketching ideas. it doesn’t matter how good or rubbish you think you are. It’s not about ability it’s about wandering with the pen, getting ideas and being mindful on what you’re producing not what was worrying you. And you can always recycle the paper before anyone else sees it
    • Read some poetry. It’s doesn’t have to be heavy stuff, try some Betjemen to dip your toe in the water. There’s something about the lyricalness and timing of poetry that’s calming. Go read In Portishead by Tim Clare that always makes me grin from ear to ear
    • Baking or pasta making – well, they work for me!
    • A warm bath, scented with lemon verbena with a history programme on iPlayer on the tablet, though not one to do if you’re feeling isolated or lonely (this is about as quiet as I get!)
    • Get out for a walk in the fresh air, away from traffic – it doesn’t matter what time of year it is or where it is. Connect with what’s around you. Scour for things you can forage, count bird species, identify plants, hug a tree: whatever makes you physically connect to the bigger picture. Drag someone along too. You never know what you find that might inspire you…
    Street art near Brick Lane in London
    • Clear out a cupboard – donate to charity what you don’t want (but isn’t derelict). You may even find some barganous thing in the shop when you hand your stuff in. You’ve tidied, rid yourself of unwanted stuff and helped charity. Win:win:win
    • Make something… even if it’s temporary. I feel most fulfilled when I create something with my hands. This could be as simple as playing with some blutack or playdough to build little animals that you then squash up and reuse. I call it doodling in 3D. Fine if you have a hobby that you can resurrect like sewing or woodwork, but it doesn’t have to be mammoth or permanent. Other small ideas are: making muffin cases from baking parchment for future use, cleaning old plant pots and giving them a coat of paint with a tester pot, covering old shoe boxes or books with wrapping paper, get an old jar and wrap it in raffia to use as a little vase or clean a large stone up from the garden, paint something simple on it and use it as a door stop, collect and dry some herbs to use as drawer scents. The sense of accomplishment in the littlest of things is invaluable
    • Pick up an old cookbook you’ve not used in ages at random. Read the foreword and introduction but don’t flick through the recipes. I’m sure most of us usually jump straight in to pouring over the photos and the ingredients lists. Think of it as a short story that leads you to food. You get the mindset of the chef and the reason for the book (granted some are much better story tellers than others in this manner and some should have used a ghost writer as they’ve been terrible at writing prose! Still, those ones made me laugh and it normally doesn’t mean the recipes are poor and you still get their thoughts). Only now chose a recipe or two to make. Any new recipe book I get now I try to use this approach – I wait till I have the time to read it and then I open it at the first page. I’ve started reading cookery books like novels and I’ve learnt so much more. Plus, it’s engaging and relaxing.

    Looking up to others

    Women I am fangirling (sorry boys: there’s plenty of you I admire but this is about the girls)

    • Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock – I could listen to her explain the universe for a year and not get bored
    • Julia Bradbury – my kind of woman: outdorsey, windswept, likes a beer and fond of the Peaks
    • Dame Kelly Holmes – what an inspiration. The result of never giving up
    • Jessica Ennis-Hill – all her mammoth hard work and determination and sheer brilliance is worn with a smile and a lot of grace
    • Anna Del Conte – the lady who brought Italian food to new generations in Britain
    • Ursula Ferrigno – prolific chef, writer, demonstrator and all her recipes just work
    • Diana Henry – just writes well, as well as writing great recipes
    • Liza Tarbuck – such confidence, humour and quick wit
    • Sandi Toksvig – sharp as a knife humour, taking on previously male dominated media roles
    • Dr Alice Roberts – her enthusiasm for her subject just oozes through the TV
    • Liz Bonin – calm, funny, speaks beautifully, a great presenter and she knows here subjects inside out
    • Lucy Worsley – love how she’s so posh and yet down to earth and cheeky at the same time. If only history at school had been that interesting
    • Ruth Goodman – another history lady, she immerses herself in her subject and you know that she understands it implicitly. Another lady I could listen to for hours
    • Ruth Rodgers – with her late business partner Rose Gray – they brought seasonality and authenticity and honesty to British cooking via the River Cafe in the late 1980s and you can see her influence in many of today’s TV chefs (quite literally as many trained there)
    • Elizabeth David – I have most of David’s books, all picked up second hand (there’s always one of her books in a charity shop). Some people love her writing: I love what she wrote about, her recipes and the details and research, but I confess I’m not a great fan of her actual style in her articles and column writing. I do love that she was a pioneer: this took guts and determination, especially on your own as a woman at that time. Her recipes are brief (how I like recipes written up) and never expanded into huge unnecessary depth, even for her contemporary audience that had not even seen many of her ingredients at that time. The breadth of recipes is enormous and all that I’ve tried just work well (no mean feat). Also you can thank David for much of the variety of goods we see on UK shelves – after rationing disappeared her books made people want these ingredients. They subsequently pushed for them and the shops eventually obliged. Thank you Ms David for your legacy

    Pasta and Italian writers I love

    • Ursula Ferrigno
    • Anna Del Conte
    • Katie and Gianfranco Caldesi

    Pasta people I follow online

    Just a small fraction of my Italian and pasta cookbooks – some are family hand-me-downs and older even than I am, most are in English but I’ve a few in Italian, including the seminal La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiar bene by Artusi. A couple I was given in the 80s, and then I had a big stint of buying pasta books in the early 1990s when I started working and it’s been added to non-stop since then. The earliest book is Great Italian Cooking by Luigi Carnacina (mid right) and the most recent I’ve bought (at time of writing) is Semplice by Dino Joannides (top left). All my books are hand-me-downs, presents or second hand purchases (I’m not sure I’ve ever bought a book at full price). Notice the book in the middle? This is a 1990 publication and shows that coloured pasta isn’t a new phenomenom thanks to social media (I am really pro social media: I love seeing fantastic pasta creations, but often we forget people did all this stuff before the Internet existed, not just since). “Weird” coloured pasta started appearing in the late 80’s/early 90’s as a bit of a fad, but it caught my eye as I was already well into pasta making (including some basic colours like spinach, tomato and beetroot) and that’s about when I began experimenting with different fruit and veggie dyes. I was prompted in a small way by this particular book (it even has blue pasta on the cover!) but much more by the shiny, exciting packs of imported dried artisan pasta in pretty colours, stripes and multi-coloured combinations that started appearing in trendy delis around this time.

    Food journalists and online resources

    • Sheila Dillon/R4’s The Food Programme – the presenter of Radio 4’s the Food Programme since 2001, although she did do some reporting for it long before that. To me, Sheila’s voice epitomises food and an honest, open approach to food reporting. It was she (and the Food Programme as a whole) that were the first to break the story and investigate the Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) scandal. I’ve turned to her to inform me of the big stuff: foot and mouth, avian flu, ingredient scares, the truth behind food fads and healthy eating. Plus I listen for the lighthearted, informative things and investigations into food types, ingredients, diets, manufacturing, drinks and their championing of the BBC Food and Farming Awards. Sheila and the programme go beyond just the flippant coverage you’d find in a foodie mag or newspaper. For instance, the trend for fermented foods that is building would just get a cursory explanation and one or two recipes for kimchi in a magazine feature. For the Food Programme Dan Saladino went to interview Sandor Katz (you can still catch this here). There is a massive archive wealth of past programmes online. I’ve been listening to this since about the time Sheila started presenting and have barely missed an episode (many I’ve re-listened to time and again as podcasts on journeys). My only gripe is that it’s only 30 minutes long per week ~ I need more! I’d urge you to look through the archives and listen to some podcasts – there will be a foodie subject you’re interested in
    • Dan Saladino – producer, reporter and sometimes presenter for Radio 4’s the Food Programme. I love his reporting style and his contributions to all of the groundbreaking reporting mentioned above
    • Nigel Slater – you know this already: he writes wonderfully
    • Marina O’Loughlin – food critic. I stumbled across her on Twitter many years ago and she’s naughty, witty, acerbic, not afraid to say something’s rubbish and just plainly, down to earth honest. Refreshing, compared with most food critics who think their writing should be up for the Booker Prize in literature and over-engineer their columns. Her tweets are usually pretty funny too
    • Great British Chefs – what an amazing online resource. Details and recipes on chefs, recipe and how-to-cook posts, videos, restaurants: it’s all here
    • Great Italian Chefs – a sister site to Great British Chefs and frankly, I’m looking through here at least weekly. The regional overviews are wonderful and the Italian cooking and recipes are superb. I particularly like picking a chef and finding our more about them, then reading through their recipes. Can’t believe these two related resources are actually free
    • Locavore website and quarterly magazine (the website and monthly newsletter have plenty of resources) – slow food, seasonality, thoughtful well written pieces on sustainability, food, growers and more. A slower, richer pace of life

    Bread bakers and recipe writers

    • Richard Bertinet
    • River Cottage
    • Vanessa Kimble/The Sourdough School
    • Dan Lepard

    Patisserie books

    • Patisserie – Christophe Felder
    • French Patisserie – École Ferrandi
    • The Art of French Baking – Ginette Mathiot

    Popular and clever baking people I’d recommend on Instagram – these I am lucky to count as close Instafriends and started out with – they all have deservedly gone on to have huge followings. (I try and keep the list of people I follow maintained, so if you want to know the other fabulous people I follow do just have a scout down my feed)

    Lists of things that enrich my life

    Best beaches UK

    Beaches are my Nirvana:

    • Holkham to Wells – Norfolk
    • Porthminster/Porthmeor (too close to decide – one is quieter, more picturesque has the great Porthminster Cafe and backed by sub tropical planting and the other is lively, has Tate St Ives and is good for rock pooling, surfing and body boarding)
    • Charmouth – not actually nice to look at. But it has fossils and awe inspiring cliffs. Enough said

    Best towns for a browse in interesting shops/markets

    • Creative quarter, Nottingham city
    • Lyme Regis
    • St Ives
    • Matlock – for antique shops
    • Lincoln – Steep Hill
    • Chesterfield market
    • Wells-next-the-sea – Staithe Street
    Fore Street, St Ives

    Favourite modern music (now you get an idea of me – music tastes really identify a person, I believe). I like stuff I can jump about to, that puts a smile on my face and gets adrenalin going

    • Pixies
    • Muse
    • Black Keys
    • Radiohead
    • Artic Monkeys
    • Stone Roses
    • Arcade Fire
    • Catfish and the Bottlemen
    • Blossoms
    • Wolf Alice
    • Sam Fender
    • Richard Hawley
    • Underworld… and a whole lot more besides (though I wish more women produced the music I like)

    Great places in Derbyshire for beautiful scenery and escape

    • Winnats Pass/Mam Tor/Peveril Castle/Castleton (I’ve added the town as you should go have a beer in The George after your walk and it’s very cute)
    • Monk’s Dale
    • Robin Hood’s Stride
    • Middle Black Clough
    • Froggatt’s Edge
    Castleton – Peakshole Water
    View from Mam Tor looking north east

    Favourite small things

    • Time spent with my husband and my sons
    • Having the cat lie on me, purring so hard I can feel it as well as hear it
    • A brand new interior or food magazine, as yet unlooked at by anyone else
    • Cracking the seal on a new jar of coffee, Nutella, Marmite (I just love breaking the newness of it)
    • Shaking and rubbing the herbs in my garden to get billows of beautiful scent – I especially love the lavender and the lemon verbena
    • Being cheeky, going up to the owner of a new puppy and asking if I can say hello to it (like most I’m a massive sucker for dogs)
    • The way that with some family and friends it’s like you’ve never been apart – you just click – even if you’ve not seen each other for a year
    • That our neighbours are such good friends with us we pretty much just walk into each others house and gardens and we’re always there for each other
    • A big bowl of strawberries. To myself
    • Finding something amazing for 50p or so in a charity shop and giving it a new home
    • A long, long gin and tonic with a huge ice cube and tons of lime
    • The sound of kids laughing and chuckling in the summer – whether that’s your own kids, background noise over the garden fence or on the beach. When kids are happy it makes others happy
    • Fish finger sammiches
    • The mix of tarmac, diesel, heat and excitement when getting off a plane on holiday
    • Playing my guitar, in fact even just messing around on it really and learning new things as well as playing my favourite pieces. It reflects my mood – sometimes I play classical Spanish, sometimes it’s loud with lots of fuzz on an electric guitar, sometimes it’s rhythmical and almost tribal on a bass, sometimes difficult layered finger picking songs like Van Morrison, Paul Weller or complex and fast like a Muse song
    • Being out on a warm summer night. It’s rare in the UK for people to just go out for a walk at night except during the warmest evenings. I love doing this – it’s my favourite part of any holiday abroad to get out in the evening and socialise or walk through a town or city with other people bustling around. I adore it during the summer months in the UK when this happens here, most particularly in coastal towns – couldn’t we all just wrap up and do it all year round too, please?
    • Hats. Not sure why I love seeing people with a hat, even a beanie as it shows they’ve thought about their whole outfit and it’s like the icing on the cake; the finishing flourish. Bring back trilbys and bowlers.
    • Telling someone randomly what I like about them … I often compliment strangers on their hair, bag, shoes, whatever I’ve spotted that makes them look fab. I like that it’s a nice surprise for them
    • Calligraphy – often I just copy out a recipe, a poem or a phrase from a book. Very relaxing and satisfying
    • Simple handmade pasta in fresh pesto
    • Sitting under a beautiful tree and looking upwards at the canopy
    • Crochet – I’m not great at it (the complex stuff is beyond me) but I find it mindful and creative. It’s a hobby I do only in winter really – I can knit but I really detest knitting, I’m not even sure why I dislike that and like crochet. I also quite enjoy embroidery but I have to be in the right mindset for that – it’s more of a planned project, sketched out and then completed. The crocheting I can just pick up and almost do without thinking
    • Eating something bad for me and watching a Studio Ghibli film
    • Our stove, roaring with heat in the winter with the cat passed out, deliriously happy in front of it

    Self help


    Organising storage in a small kitchen (and a Joseph Joseph Nest product review)

    Caveat. This post contains a review of a Joseph Joseph Nest product sent to me for testing which I was allowed to keep after use. There is no monetary involvement and this post was long in the making before I was approached and included it. I would only product test if it was a clear match to a recipe or a post’s subject matter. I also would only test an item if I felt it was not a disingenuous / inappropriate ‘freebie’ and a product I would probably have bought (or do buy) myself.  I firmly believe in giving an honest appraisal, not just an automatic positive review. This approach is very important to me and as such very few products will be appropriate for this blog (I have already turned down many review offers as they did not a ‘fit’).

    With the proliferation of food I make you might well think I have a luxurious, spacious and beautiful kitchen. The truth is just the obverse: I have a kitchen with a pretty awkward layout (we’ve decided it was put in by someone who never actually cooked), hardly any storage, about a square metre of usable worktop, it’s 18+ years old and has areas that are literally falling apart. A cramped playground for a cooking and baking geek.

    I thought I’d share a few ideas about storage, as I bake and cook every day in this cramped space. In order to cope, I have to be:

    • creative with food storage and organisation;
    • clever how my ingredients, gadgets and cookware are laid out and located;
    • mindful of how much and what ‘stuff’ I own (clever purchases, reusing, recycling and decluttering);
    • ruthless with making sure things fit (together, on the shelf) and are conveniently to hand, and;
    • dedicated to keeping my kitchen clean.

    Over time I’ve collected kitchenware that goes together well or will even stack, Russian doll-like, and a few space and money saving tricks to keep my kitchen in order.

    I’ve now honed down what I own (although there’s always excuse for a mooch for new things) and items that don’t fit in have been taken to the charity shop, given away or swapped. They’ve been replaced or replenished with a mix of brand new items, junk and charity shop finds and swapped or gifted items. Some things I own I’ve kept since I started cooking as a student and some things are way older than me (gifted or discovered in a second hand store and some very old indeed). I also have some brand new things. Any piece of kitchenware that makes the grade and gets kept has to do its job well and fit neatly for space saving.

    oraganisingHaving organised, neat ingredients and kitchenware also saves time in the long run. By regularly reorganising I know where it all is; if something gets put back in the wrong place, in a mislabelled jar or simply eaten and not put on the shopping list or replaced I can spend too long looking for it. If I’m busy cooking dinner after a full day at work and can lay my hands on a pack of exactly what I want first time then I’m a happy bunny.

    To save my limited kitchen space for everyday items, less perishable and infrequently used ingredients and most bakeware is in tough, lidded boxes in the garage. Items I use regularly are on a wire rack in the kitchen by type (for example a box of my many Asian cuisine ingredients or a wicker basket of fresh veggies). We’ve recently added a double cupboard (what a godsend this was) in the hallway for cumbersome common items (stand mixer, pasta making tools, jars of dry ingredients). The few fitted cupboards are filled with crockery, glassware and saucepans which frankly have to go in a proper cupboard and two tiny wall cupboards house spices, condiments and tea and coffee as they’re close to the hob and kettle. The dining room accommodates ‘posh’ glassware, breakfast cereals, my flour stash and the toaster. We’ve had to adapt to use racks, pinch space from other rooms and encroach on the garage space but now it all works happily. I’m now not sure I wouldn’t find having a large kitchen a really freaky thing!

    I’ve written up my notes on ingredients storage, cookware storage, labelling, reorganisation and a couple of cleaning ideas to make the most of a small space. I’ve given my thoughts on cookware storage, ingredient storage, labelling, organisation process and a couple of relevant cleaning notes:

    Gadget, bakeware and cookware storage

    • Much of the issue with my kitchen storage is less about the small space available but the size and shape of the items
    • Big items like my stand mixer, food processor, Panini press and toaster for example are simply non-compromise items and have to be accommodated first (though my mixer and processor are in the hall cupboard, the Panini press sits in its box in the garage and the toaster’s decamped to the dining room)
    • I prefer glass casserole dishes, although I do have one posh stoneware oven-to-table casserole [a present: thanks Mum!] but this is kept in a stack with my sauté and frying pans as I use it on the hob as much as in the oven.


      Joseph Joseph nest of casserole dishes

      I have been careful to select glass casseroles that fit together in the cupboard. I have one very large Pyrex dish (bought second hand) and a slightly smaller one with a plastic lid. These fit comfortably in one another and luckily are both large enough to now fit a Joseph Joseph Nest of four lidded dishes in as well. I have a neat stack of six different sized dishes ranging from huge to individual lasagne-size. The Joseph Joseph Nest set comes with colour coded lids which mean they’re quick to find while fumbling in the cupboard. Lids and glass go through the dishwasher and have so far coped with some pretty tough baked recipes including lasagne and roasting veggies, all washing up well. If you are short of space, as the glass casseroles fit inside one another with their lids on, all four take up no more space than the single large dish on its own.

      While the older glass dishes I have fit together, they do so more because it’s a happy accident (even though they are the same make) and they rock about considerably if I nudge or move them. The Joseph Joseph dishes fit much more snuggly together and when the lids are in place these slightly buffer the other dishes, stopping them rocking about too much (though sadly the lids aren’t quite a total solution to clinking dishes). The only negative thing I’d say is that the lids at first are quite tough to prize off, but after a couple of uses this has eased. The lids really do enhance the set as they enable storage of leftover food more safely, without resorting to cling film, foil or decanting into yet something else. See Joseph Joseph for the whole Nest product collection

    • Some items are natural stackers even if they’re not all from the same brand, such as measuring cups and bowls. I have a large number of mixing bowls, from giant (and enough for a 750g+ loaf) to almost pinch-bowl size. While I have a set of Joseph Joseph nesting bowls (these I purchased myself and have owned for years – actually they came with a set of measuring cups which my Mum liked so much I let her keep) I also have a motley collection of others of plastics, Pyrex, Mason Cash ceramic and metal, which I’ve collected, but they all bundle together in one stack
    • hangingPansLarge and/or heavy pans I’ve hung from S hooks off a kitchen rack so they hang vertically. This keeps them flat to the storage rack, saving space and also ensures their surface isn’t damaged
    • I’ve also hung long thin items as they then remain easy to hand, not buried in a drawer and are less liable to damage. These are my glass bulb sugar thermometer, my hand blender (a Billy blender with handy ‘ears’ for hanging), microplanes (so I’m not going to take the skin off my hand rummaging in a drawer for them)
    • I group smaller items and store them in lidded boxes – so for example all my cookie cutters are together, all my piping nozzles are in a small tub, my bread making tools are altogether and my pasta tools are in a lidded basket, kept with my pasta machine
    • Anything that’s stored in my garage is kept in a plastic box with a tight-fitting lid. I learnt to my cost that even a modern garage away from the countryside can easily attract mice
    • Check the quality of the fit of the lid on any boxes you buy which are for outside the house or long-term storage. It matters less how cheap or expensive the boxes are and more that the lid is not going to pop open while you’re not there (even expensive boxes sometimes have dodgy lids)
    • Likewise check that a box destined for outside the house does not have air vents/holes. You’ll be surprised how small a vent a mouse can get through, plus it also needs to be insect- as well as rodent-proof
    • My fine cake and chocolate making tools are stored in a large DIY toolbox. I find these are extremely handy to pick up and carry plus the internal trays are useful for separating items. I have a number of different sized tool boxes (some very cheaply obtained) for other things too, like my art materials and paint tubes
    • Saucepans are stacked and the lids I keep separately in a storage box so they don’t rattle around
    • Frying and sauté pans are treated the same as saucepans, stacked with cloths separating and protecting any non-stick surfaces
    • I lay an old (but clean) tea towel or J cloth on the inside of any non-stick items so other items can be stacked on them without damaging the non-stick surface
    • Bakeware tins are stored in large lidded plastic boxes in my garage, apart from a select few baking trays and tins which I use regularly and these few I keep in my empty oven when it’s not in use

    Ingredient storage: recycle and reuse or buy clever new

    • I’ve got a mix of begged, borrowed, recycled/reused and new storage
    • Kilner/other clip lidded jars are fabulous for both ingredients storage, preservation and fermentation and worth having a few in various sizes from tiny right up to the largest. (I’ve picked up such jars from charity shops as well as bought spanky new)
    • Reused glass food jars, coffee jars, big tubs of yogurt with hard lids, plastic zip lock food bags all store wet and dry ingredients well (just be careful with wobbly food bags – I put mine inside cardboard boxes to stop them falling over and spilling)
    • I confess I sometimes buy a jar of something I need based on what the jar looks like for future recycled use – a handily sized or nicely designed jar will get bought over a plain one of a similar content!
    • Dried yeast tins (the little Allinson metal ones with plastic lids) make excellent spice jars
    • Baking powder (and the like) plastic tubs – especially the wider-sized ones from Dr Oetker – are also great for spice jars and small amounts of dry ingredients
    • Reuse spice jars – buy refill packs of the same spice, or clean out and refill and label for something different
    • JarsGlass coffee jars are normally sizeable and therefore great for storing pulses, nuts and flours. I luckily get to keep the finished Kenco ‘posh’ coffee jars when they’re empty from the office tea and coffee stash – you may be able to obtain some similarly?
    • As the smell of empty coffee jars is quite strong, give them a normal wash then stick them through your dishwasher on high or then steep in boiling water and a little lemon juice (if you don’t have a dishwasher)
    • Ice cream tubs are great for (unsurprisingly) homemade ice cream, keeping other foods separated in the freezer such as pre-made ice cubes or frozen fruit, for biscuits and meringues that aren’t going to hand around long until they’re eaten and for small tools like piping nozzles or cutters
    • Yogurt tubs can be used for decanting out tinned foods to store in the fridge
    • Cereal boxes can be cut down and used as partitions on shelving or for storing the lids of tupperware-type boxes neatly
    • Any sized glass jars are good for preserve making – I try not to use many for storage so I have a stash in the garage for jams and such. Find advice on sterilisation on my lemon curd recipe page
    • Not related to food storage but old tin cans, olive oil and spice tins (especially authentic Italian, French and Spanish tins) and glass jars are all great for things like pens, paintbrushes and potting up herbs for the windowsill
    • If you want a cohesive look, you can always buy a can of spray paint and give all your upcycled objects a new shiny coat of colour


    • Label your ingredients clearly and briefly so you don’t have to hunt through
    • Add use-by or best before dates to the labels if you are decanting ingredients
    • You can buy beautiful pre-printed or plain labels online or from places like Lakeland or stationery shops, but personally I use a range of cheaper things
    • Permanent markers write straight on the jar
    • Printing/address labels are great (and a box of white labels can be cheap and you get tons in a pack)
    • Blackboard labels bought from craft shops
    • Strips of masking tape are good as labels and you can now get brightly coloured masking tape
    • ‘Permanent’ marker pens are particularly good on tubs and food bags in the freezer (I’ve found these permanent markers actually wash off very easily from glass and plastic)
    • If you like doodling, add a few little pictures to your labels
    • Involve your kids – mine loved making the labels for jars when they were smaller (not so cool now they’re teens…!)

    My process and tips for reorganisation of storage

    • Take all the items out of one cupboard or off one shelving unit (don’t do it all at once: you’ll lose the will to live and your whole kitchen will be upside down)
    • Vacuum up any major spills and wipe down
    • Wipe over any jars, tins or boxes that are sticky, have ingredient residue or any dust and dry them off
    • Spice jars often need a little looking at. Clip top lids that don’t close are liable to be due to small amounts of the spice getting caught. Take any messy lids off and wash them, making sure you get into any corners. They have to be bone dry before you put them back on the jars, else the herbs or spices can get mouldy or go rancid
    • Check the quality of the herbs or spices. Often many can still be used past their best before date (still edible just that potency and flavour will be diminishing). I sometimes keep certain things a bit longer than I should, but if you’ve got a jar of something that’s very out of date, it’s time to get rid
    • Recycle or bin any items that are out of date or items you genuinely are never going to eat to reclaim space
    • Test which items of kitchenware will fit together, but keep fairly similar items together in a stack/group (or you’ll lose where you put things)
    • Similarly to thinning out your wardrobe, put kitchenware you’re sorting into separate piles: a definitely keep pile, a charity shop pile, a pile for friends (give or swap!) and a past it’s best pile. Clean and re stack the ‘definitely keep’ pile first, then review the rest
    • Duplications of dried goods can be repacked together – for example two part-used bags of rice to save space
    • Small amounts of dried items can be combined: dried fruit and nuts make trail mixes; lentils, split peas, pearl barley or similar can be a casserole or soup base mix. Remnants of different pasta shapes can be put together as ‘pasta mista’
    • Open packets can sometimes be damaged or ripped, fix them with duct/gaffa tape or put in a zip lock bag
    • Is an ingredient mismatched to the size of the container? Can you put something in a small jar and reuse the original to keep something else as a better fit
    • If you transfer to a jar from a packet, write the use by or best before date on the jar or cut off the use by/best before date and any cooking advice from the packet and tape it or clip to the new container
    • Keep dried items away from the cooker (and the sink) so steam from cooking doesn’t affect them
    • Have you got anything that could be moved to a shed or garage that you don’t use often? This will free up a lot of cupboard space
    • Can any items be hung and have you got a side of a cupboard or a wall where it’s appropriate to put up a rack or a few hooks?
    • Rotate items like they do at the supermarket: shops put the oldest stock at the front and the newest at the back. This ‘stock rotation’ enables older items to sell first as a) it’s good practice for them and b) it reduces food waste. (If you grab items in a shop from the back of a shelf you get longer lasting dates!) You can do this in your fridge, in your freezer (this is an especially good idea) and on your shelves too, so you use the older items before they go out of date


    • I put my cloths through the washing machine and cellulose sponges, washing up brushes, thicker pads and brushes and the like can all go through the dishwasher on the top rack
    • I use a few natural items alongside commercial products: lemon juice and vinegar to degrease the cooker top or glass and bicarbonate of soda as a soaker or rub on difficult items
    • I don’t use anything unnatural on my dining table, which is where I knead my bread. Yeast is a living organism and I’m worried it would suffer if it comes into contact with antibacterial cleaner residue. I err on the side of caution on my table as it is wood, and wood being permeable will retain some of what’s been applied to it. I have no issues wiping down my hard kitchen surfaces with antibacterial sprays and then rinsing off with water as that is impermeable. While I’m kneading my bread hard into the surface it’s bound to be picking up everything that’s on the table, so it’s a different kettle of fish to formica, granite, quartz, corian etc. On the wood table I use a clean scourer dipped in hot water with lemon juice or vinegar. My table is ‘worn in’ (read: battered) and solid wood, so using a scourer doesn’t matter to me. A softer cloth with more elbow grease for a delicate, expensive or treasured table would be in order – check your table won’t get scratched by rubbing the pad on the underside of the table first in a hidden area. I finish with a light covering of olive oil using a kitchen towel.