Real Talk: Blogging with a chronic health condition is hard.

I know it's not just me. Blogging has changed and keeping up is difficult. It's exceptionally difficult if you have a condition that limits your time online and destroys your concentration. I am a mental health blogger with long-term, pervasive conditions and M.E/CFS.

Blogging should always be a stress free zone
via Google Images
This does not make creating content and keeping 'locked in' to social media easy, at all. In fact, the vast majority of the time it is incredibly hard to sit up and type for more than half an hour. How other people are able to work full time, have a social life AND blog is absolutely beyond comprehension. I do know how much hard work is involved in blogging and to be honest I am very jealous of their ability to function so highly - and I'm sure they feel they aren't doing enough! 

Blogging used to be my 'safe space' but I think since the start of the year I've felt a shift into something a lot more stressful. There's an enormous pressure to keep up, post regularly, make sure your photos are of the most perfect standard, have an immaculate layout and all the while be ever present on social media which I really don't think is a terribly good thing to be doing. I keep hearing that people who spend too much time on Facebook, Twitter and such are more likely to feel negatively about their own lives and that could easily spiral into all sorts of dark avenues. I definitely need to step away from social media from time to time because all I see is reminders of how my life could be if I wasn't stuck in a body that doesn't function terribly well.


I have no problem with twitter but it now seems that Google+ is the 'place to be' and I honestly cannot get my head around it, or do I have the energy or brain capacity to try. Facebook annoys me and I really don't know why, so if you're wondering why I haven't bothered setting up a 'page' on there, it's because basically Facebook pisses me off! Don't even get me started on using Google Analytics to monitor your blog... 

If I'm not blogging, I'm either asleep, revising or in a dissociated haze somewhere. That's about the sum of my life. Occasionally I can make it outside to go to Body Balance or go for a swim. Blogging is not my priority and probably never will be. The exception to this is only if I am sent a product, then I will make a conscious effort to work my socks off to put out a decent post for them. I had hoped that my summer break from university would be spent making this little blog a priority and working hard to improve it, but life comes along and slaps you at the most annoying moments. I have resits to prepare for and that's just how it's got to be, sadly!

If you're a follower of my blog, I really and truly thank you for being here. There are probably so many things I am doing wrong but you're sticking it until I get shit figured out, and that makes you awesome. If you've not noticed, I really do abide by the quality over quantity philosophy and I hope that reflects in the content I do put out. You should see my drafts folder!! It's so full with half-written posts and ideas that I just can't quite 'get right'. Making your blog stand out from the crowd is probably one of the hardest things you are up against; while gaining followers should absolutely not be your motivation, I think we can all agree that it's nice to know you're not working your arse off to essentially talk to yourself. 

A common problem for people with M.E/CFS and anxiety disorders to an extent is having word-finding difficulties. You know when you know a word you want to say but you can't quite get it to come out? Imagine that, but for entire conversations. Or when you're trying to write an essay on the origin of eukaryotic cells - that was a frustrating ordeal. I believe it's sometimes called writers block but I'm not entirely sure if that's correct, to me that's more of a white noise issue than words just not coming out.

Something else I have noticed is that social anxiety can manifest itself online. I'm sure I'm not alone in feeling unable to comment on blogs or groups for fear of not being a 'regular face' and getting a whole load of 'what the **** are you doing here?' and 'please go away...' thrown at them. I do try. I try so damn hard but 99% of the time I just can't bring myself to do it. Pretty daft, because online you're pretty anonymous - unless you choose not to be etc. It's not a face-to-face situation which should take the edge off, right?! 

I have SO MANY ideas and plans for this blog but I really don't know if I have the capabilities to put them into place. I guess we could try it and see what happens...

In closing: blogging should never make you feel like this, and if it does it's probably time for a break! 


7

The University Diaries: The What If's

I hate it when the "what if's" hit. It sends me into a complete spin and I end up completely overwhelmed and terrified. Last time on The University Diaries  we talked about how everything was being put in place for my resits and the level of support I am receiving. Well, the exams are now in full swing and I have just finished my second of three and I feel like my mind is breaking into pieces. 

image from Pinterest

The first resit came along as a bit of a surprise. The dates had been changed and there wasn't really anything I could do about it. As expected, I was assigned three essays of 600 words to complete in 72 hours for Cell Biology. It was HARD WORK but I got it done in the allotted time and wasn't blind-sighted by the topics. Thankfully it was 'open book' so I was allowed to reference textbooks and journals. 

What if I completely misunderstood the questions? You've done that before. What if you made a mistake with your referencing? What if you didn't use the correct language? You suck at writing 'in science'. What if I fail? What if I have to carry this module? What if they flat-out withdraw me?

Yesterday I was given 24 hours to complete the Neuroscience and Behaviour exam. It wasn't exactly the same as the one I sat in June but it was fairly similar. I only really had issues with two or three questions out of about 50 so that's a marked improvement on the first attempt. I didn't understand what it was asking of me. The exam itself is supposed to take an hour but because I have absolutely ZERO confidence in what I think I know to be right I spent a good 8 hours writing my answers in draft then checking them repeatedly before deciding if it was the correct. It was a frustrating ordeal and a definite down-side to being given take-away papers! 

What if I fail this one again? It's my major. They'll make me change to a different subject at the very least. Some people are already pushing that idea. What if I have to carry this module too? What if I fail and completely lose my grip on my sobriety? 

In all honesty, this is the one I am most scared of because of how badly I did the first time around. The entire time I was sat in front of the paper I was being reminded of the fact I failed. Some people can turn this into motivation and excel, which is what I am hoping to have done, but until I see the result my brain is going to be stuck on FAILURE. 


Next up is Biological Chemistry and I am expecting that one to be the same format as Cell Biology. I have been informed there will be graphs so I'm going to practice those... Plus I have the boyfriend to tell me if I'm doing it wrong. He'd never give me the answer. I wouldn't let him! I learn by doing, not by having things talked at me.

As much as I want to stay positive and motivated and all of that, I am not going to sit here and lie about how absolutely terrified and stressed out I am. I made a deal with myself back in July and we're rapidly approaching the 'deadline'. On 15th September I will find out if I will be going into year two at Sussex. This is also the day that the boyfriend leaves for America for a god damn fortnight. I really am starting to think that karma is giving me 40 lashes for all the shit I've done in the past.

The What If's are in full swing and I honestly don't know what to do. My CPN will undoubtedly ask me these very same questions or offer some shade of a solution but for now the biggest and scariest is: WHAT IF I FAIL? What if I lose my biggest recovery goal because I'm too stupid? I will be entirely alone and I will freely admit that I don't trust myself, my addictions and my tendency to kick the living daylights out of myself for any sort of shortcoming. I don't know why I do it. I just.... do. 

The What If's lead to plans and bad dreams. The What If's are not something I have yet learned how to manage. They are an element of generalized anxiety disorder and used to be severe enough that I would not leave my bedroom. It's happening again. The What If's just play on a loop that gets ever more extreme. It's no wonder I am struggling to keep my head above water and this ever-increasing level of stress is impacting on more elements of my life - which is why I am practically non-existent on social media and my blog right now. I'm so tired.... 

We could talk about What If I pass, but to be completely honest, I don't have an answer to that question. There will probably be cake. 

2

How to cook: Oven-roasted herby tomatoes

Welcome back to #FoodieFriday! Originally released in April 2013, this recipe has been edited and re-released for the Currys Student Cookbook.

I can't quite remember how I came up with this but I have a feeling it was a Tesco recipe card or something... Maybe Sainsburys. Ohhhh, I don't know! This is great as a side-dish, as an addition to a salad or a savoury dish like chicken or white fish. So here's what you do! It's soooooo easy, I promise.

Note: I know this looks like a heart-attack inducing recipe from the amount of salt being called for but I can assure you that you won't taste pure salt or really consume an awful lot of it. It's purely there to draw out the juices when cooking.

What you'll need: 

  • Tomatoes, at least 8. Any larger tomato would be great, just don't use cherry tomatoes!!
  • coarse salt
  • ground black pepper
  • fresh thyme or dried mixed herbs
  • garlic salt, optional
  • high sided roasting dish
  • measuring jug
 Cooking time: 35 minutes approx

ThatRedheadSaid: how to cook oven roasted tomatoes

Your first job is to get the oven on and turn it to it's maximum temperature. Then you need to start cutting up your tomatoes into reasonable sized slices, roughly a centimeter thick. Keep the ends of the tomatoes in a different pile to the rest of the slices. We will use these to help stack the layers in a minute.



You need to get your roasting tray ready now. It's important that both sides of the tomatoes are covered with the seasoning so you need to add a layer to the empty tray. Here I used a fairly generous amount of coarse salt and garlic salt, then dusted with black pepper from a height and added roughly 3tbsp of dried mixed herbs.

Now we're going to add our first layer of tomato slices. Try to fit as many in as you can but make sure they all lay flat on the dish. Repeat the same process as above to this layer to season. Add the end slices of the tomatoes into the gaps and try to make sure you get an even distribution. Lightly season these pieces, leaving the garlic salt out here if you are choosing to use it.

Add your final layer of tomatoes and season generously, including the garlic salt again. Now we're ready to put it into the oven at maximum temperature for 20 minutes.. :)

ThatRedheadSaid: how to cook oven roasted tomatoes

After the first burst in the oven we need to take it our to drain the liquid into our measuring jug so they can continue to roast rather than boil in their own juice! Be very careful as both the oven and the tomatoes will be fiercely hot!! Turn the oven down to 200 degrees now.

There's no real technique for getting out the liquid if you don't have a baster. Just get out as much as you can by gently shaking the dish about and trying to get some out from each corner. As you can see I got out almost 1/4 pint!

Now that the tomatoes look much happier we can put them back into the slightly cooler oven for a final 15 minutes. If you have used more tomatoes than I have here you'll need to check them after 15 minutes and just use your own judgement for how much longer they may need, and of course drain them again if you need to.

The final result you're after is this:

ThatRedheadSaid: how to cook oven roasted tomatoes 

The tomatoes should be just about holding themselves together and starting to look 'dried' and not letting out much, if any, juice after coming out of the oven. I can't promise they'll hold their shape when you try to serve them, for that effect you'll need to make much thicker slices! 

You can reduce the cooking juices down to make the base of an awesome tomato soup or cook couscous in, just an idea! Definitely don't pour it away, there's a flavour bomb in that jug! ;)

Please let me know if you try this recipe, if you have any questions or general musings! 

Happy cooking!!! :)
0

How to cook: a ridiculously easy chicken tikka masala

Originally published in October 2013, this recipe has been edited and re-released for the Currys Student Cookbook! 

This recipe has been a long time coming! Us Brits love our curry, and tikka masala is probably still the number one choice for the vast majority. The trouble is, we either buy those pre-made reheat in the microwave or oven ones, or we order in from the local takeaway; and at well over 800 calories with a fair whack of that coming from saturated fats it's pretty scary!

I don't know why making a curry from scratch is so daunting. We are spoilt for choice in supermarkets now, with spice blends already there just ready and waiting to be used. It really is so simple! This recipe can be adapted for a veggie version, or you could use beef or lamb if you wanted.

So let us get our curry on:

What you'll need: 
  • chicken breasts - I used 5, but it was a batch cook operation!
  • tikka masala curry paste - I recommend Pataks.
  • tikka masala spice blend 
  • curry powder
  • olive oil
  • coarse salt
  • ground black pepper
  • 2 vegetable OxO Cubes
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 can light coconut milk
  • gloves for handling raw meat

Prep/marinade: First of all we need to marinate the chicken. Cover the chicken with 3 teaspoons (tsp) of tikka spice mix, 2 tsp curry powder and some coarse salt. You can do this on frozen chicken in the morning, then leave in the fridge while you go to work or uni. After at least 2 hours, or once the chicken has defrosted, transfer the chicken into a large pyrex bowl and add 2 tablespoons (tbsp) curry paste, season well with salt and pepper. Cover the bowl with cling film, put in the fridge for at least an hour.

ThatRedheadSaid : how to cook chicken tikka masala

Let's cook: Get a heavy based pan, and turn the heat on high. Put on your gloves and grab a sharp knife. Cut the chicken into reasonable sized chunks. Add some olive oil into the pan, and once it's hot add the chicken and oxo cubes. Stir well to make sure all the chicken gets coated in the oil. Use the least amount you can of the oil, we're aiming for healthy here! Put some warm water into the pyrex bowl and mix around with your gloved hands to the grab the marinade that is stuck to the sides. Add to the chicken and turn the heat right down. Stir, cover and leave to simmer. Remove your gloves. If your chicken or sauce is catching on the bottom of the pan, or it's just simmering too quickly, add some more water.

ThatRedheadSaid : how to cook chicken tikka masala
apologies for the picture! the light on my extractor is broken! :(

Now it's time to chop the onion. You don't have to be ridiculously talented with a knife, just get your slices as thin as possible without putting your fingers in danger! Once you're done, and you've dried your eyes, grab another frying pan and heat some olive oil. Once hot, add the onions and a generous sprinkling of salt. This will bring out the liquid and help them soften. We're not looking to fry our onions here, just soften them with as little colouring as possible. Keep the heat on low-med to stop them from running away with you. I also like to keep my sautee pan lid ontop of the onions to help them on their way.

Check on your curry. Add a tbsp paste and spice mix, plus a tsp of curry powder and season with salt and pepper. Give it a good mix, taste, re-cover and simmer for 5 minutes.

Check on your onions. Turn them over frequently.


Add half a can of coconut milk to the curry. Mix thoroughly and taste. Adjust the heat of your hob to a low-medium to allow the curry to continue to simmer gently. Your onions should now just be starting to catch on the pan, so add them to the curry and mix well. Add the rest of the coconut milk, cover and simmer for 5 minutes.


Turn the heat down, stir the curry carefully. Taste and adjust the flavour as you wish. Here I added a teaspoon of dried thyme. If you want a hotter curry, go a tsp at a time with the curry powder. What I love about this curry is the depth of flavour rather than spice heat that blows your head off and ruins the experience.

After a final 5 minutes of cooking your curry is ready! I recommend serving with brown rice. Annoyingly I didn't have any in the cupboard so the picture shows white basmati rice. Buy all means go for some naan bread and poppadoms too - but remember to buy the uncooked ones, they're vastly less fatty!

ThatRedheadSaid : how to cook chicken tikka masala



ThatRedheadSaid : how to cook chicken tikka masala

There we have it! One super easy and super yummy chicken tikka masala! The boyfriend said this was my best one yet - which is quite a bold statement to be honest. Give it a whirl, adapt as you like and let me know how you got on!!! :) 

Happy cooking!

4

How to cook: an awesome easy chilli


This is one of my most favourite recipes and I'm really happy to be sharing it with you! As with all of my cooking, it's very simple to do. I gave my boyfriend this recipe for him to take home and try - because he enjoys it so much! - and he did a brilliant job. Although he did add baked beans which I thoroughly told him off for!! Since it's initial release in April 2013 I have tweaked this recipe ever-so-slightly for the Currys Student Cookbook, due for release in September 2014! 

The key here is taste, taste, taste and add your spices a little at a time; which is why you'll see I use a teaspoon (tsp) measurement throughout this recipe. Everyone is different, some like it hot while others prefer the gentle hum of mild chilli. This recipe is a great base to use, and adjust to your own preferences once you're familiar with it.

I used a slow cooker in this recipe, but you can always use a casserole dish instead. This makes enough for about 6 people, so you may well have leftovers to freeze or have later in the week. I love batch cooking. 

So here we go!


As you can see, I got very lucky when I went to Tesco and managed to get the mince for just 95p per pack! That is what made me decide to cook this which threw my entire shop into disarray but thankfully I still had enough spices in the cupboard to get the job done!
  • 750g lean beef mince, extra lean doesn't work as well
  •  3 peppers, not green!!!!
  •  2 small-medium onions
  •  1 garlic clove, you might need more
  •  1 tin condensed tomato soup, vital!!
  •  1 tin chopped tomatoes
  •  1 tin kidney beans
  •  3 beef oxo cubes
  •  mild chilli powder
  •  cayenne pepper
  •  paprika
  •  crushed chillis
  •  coarse salt
  •  ground black pepper
  •  dried mixed herbs
  •  fry light or olive oil
  •  high sided pan
  •  wide based frying pan
  •  slow cooker or casserole dish
  •  colander
  •  garlic crusher
  •  freshly boiled water

The first job we have to do is get the mince cooking, so heat up your pan on a high heat and add a little bit of oil. Add your mince and separate it up making sure you don't have any meatballs in there. Turn the heat down to low. Add a good amount of salt and pepper, then crumble in your oxo cubes. Mix well to ensure there is an even coating and leave to brown, stirring frequently. 

Hopefully your pan is big enough to empty out all three packets out into the pan at once, but if not, brown them off separately and just tip it into a bowl while you do the next pack then combine them again once they're all done and season as above.

Once the mince is fully browned it's time to add the first batch of spices: 2tsp paprika, 1tsp cayenne, 1tsp crushed chilli and 3tsp mild chilli powder. Mix well and add a little splash of water from the kettle. Leave to simmer gently on lowest heat. 

ThatRedheadSaid : How to cook an awesome easy chilli

Now it's time to chop the onions. I know, this bit sucks. You don't have to dice them up or anything fancy, just do the best you can to get them fairly thin. 

This is what I do: 


ThatRedheadSaid : how to chop an onion

Chop in half. Slice as thin as safely possible across the width of the onion. Hold the ends together then just slice down the length of the onion through the middle. Repeat and voila. Two chopped onions!

Now it's time to leave the kitchen for a moment, wash your hands and dry your eyes!

During this process it's important to keep an eye on the mince, keep stirring it and add more water if it's looking a bit too thick or is sticking. The mince should be able to move around easily. Don't worry about making it too thin, we've got a lot of cooking time left so it will reduce down vastly! 


Turn on your frying pan, add a little bit of oil and heat on high until the oil is hot enough, then add the onions with a sprinkling of salt. Mix the onions in the oil and turn the heat down to a medium-low, as we want to soften the onions without giving them much colour.

Check the mince.

Now we need to prepare our peppers. During this part you need to keep checking both pans, which is why they are on such a low heat. We don't want them to run away with us and cause stress. My kitchen is always a stress free zone!!

ThatRedheadSaid : How to cook an awesome easy chilliThatRedheadSaid : How to cook an awesome easy chilli

To speed up the process of getting our peppers ready, I use this method: Chop off the very top part of the pepper to reveal the remainder of the stem and the membrane. Using a small knife, run it around the edge of the pepper to disconnect the membrane. Get your fingers in two of the gaps, and pull upwards. You will be able to pull out the seeds and most of the membrane, leaving you a tiny amount to remove before you slice it up. Easy!

I absolutely love how colourful this is. You can chop your peppers any way you like. I like to cut each pepper differently but leave them big enough to hold their shape and flavour when they've been cooked. The reason I don't use green peppers is because they're a dull colour and bring nothing to the flavour party.

If your onions cook before you're ready for them, turn off the heat and cover.  The lid from my the sautee pan I'm using conveniently fits perfectly on my frying pan! Once you're ready to add the onions to the mince, add 1tsp dried herbs along with the onions and mix well.

Add water as needed.

ThatRedheadSaid : How to cook an awesome easy chilliThatRedheadSaid : How to cook an awesome easy chilli



Turn the heat back on your frying pan along with adding a little oil to heat up for the peppers. Add once the oil is hot enough with a small amount of salt. Turn the heat to a medium-low and leave to colour slightly, turning often to make sure they don't burn.

** FIRST TASTE TEST **

Obviously, be careful because it will be very hot! The flavour will be rather intense at this stage, but that's ok. The mince is what is holding all the spices for when we add more liquid ingredients soon. It will calm down, I promise!! What we're looking for here is a balance of flavours. I am adding 1 and a half teaspoons of dried mixed herbs and water. 

If you want to use hot chilli powder now is your first opportunity. I would suggest starting with 1 teaspoon for now and seeing how it develops until we adjust the spices again later on in the recipe. 

Check on your peppers and give them a good mix around in the saucepan. They should be nearly done. 

Now we're ready for our kidney beans; so drain them all out into a colander and rinse them thoroughly under cold water. The starchy water they have been sitting in tastes horrific and we don't want that anywhere near our chilli!! Leave them to drain for a moment.

My pan is getting pretty full now so I'm going to transfer out the mince and onions into the slow cooker pot before adding anything else and making life difficult for myself. The extra space is really useful at the stage because we're going to be adding a lot more elements now and getting everything mixed in well is essential.

ThatRedheadSaid : How to cook an awesome easy chilli

This is what you're after with your peppers. They should be softened, but not falling apart or turning to mush, and have a slight char to their skins. When you're ready, mix the peppers into the mince. We're not far off now. If you're using a slow cooker make sure it's on high, or if you're using an oven turn it on and pre-heat to 180 degrees. 

Now we're going to start adjusting the overall flavour of our chilli. To give it a little extra something garlic works great, so grab your garlic crusher and add one clove to start with.

My garlic is from Abel and Cole and is a lot stronger than what you will find in Tesco or Sainsburys, which is why I really recommend adding one at a time and tasting as you go. You don't want it to be an over-whelming flavour, but an almost soothing element on the after-taste. Plus it's wonderful smell works so well with the spices. Here, one was enough.

Now it's time to add the kidney beans and the tin of chopped tomatoes.

ThatRedheadSaid : How to cook an awesome easy chilli

** TASTE TEST **

You should really start to notice a difference between now and the first tasting! Add 1 tin of condensed soup, fill the can two thirds of the way with water from the kettle, mix around to get any leftover soup and mix very well.

** TASTE TEST **

What's the verdict now? If it seems watery, don't worry, it will reduce down. Worst case scenario, if after cooking it's still too thin you can use a little bit of cornflour. That stuff is like the batman of cookery.

This is our last chance to adjust the overall flavour of our chilli.

As I want my chilli to have a gentle hum of heat and lots of spice flavour, I am going to add: 1tsp paprika, 1tsp mild chilli powder and 1tsp dried herbs. If you wanted more heat, just swap out the mild chilli powder for hot.

** TASTE TEST **

For me, this is pretty much perfect.

ThatRedheadSaid : How to cook an awesome easy chilli

If you want more heat, go for it, but maybe try adding a half teaspoon of cayenne pepper rather than hot chilli powder. Remember: You can always add but you can't take away and tasting as you go is vital when you're using so many different spices.

Your chilli needs to cook for at least 30 minutes.

ThatRedheadSaid : How to cook an awesome easy chilli

Awesome job!

As always; please leave comments or questions here or tweet me. 

Happy cooking and don't forget to keep checking the Currys Student Cookbook for more amazing recipes!! 

7

The University Diaries : resits, appeals and support

Last time I wrote in The University Diaries I confessed to failing my end of year exams in a spectacular fashion and feeling very scared of myself. While I am still under an incredible amount of stress, I feel better than I did a few weeks ago. It has not been easy and there have been far too many close-calls, but I'm here and I'm in one piece and so far things look to stay that way.


ThatRedheadSaid: Anxiety Brain
via Google Images
The outpouring of support I have had from Sussex University has been overwhelming and the guilt I feel is very real, albeit illogical. It's a very hard thing to accept and even harder to ask for, but I absolutely refused to let my 'issues' get in the way of accessing what must be pretty standard protocol for disabled students that are having a hard time. All my life I've had to figure things out on my own, keep quiet and absolutely never speak about what was happening. That is obviously not a very healthy thing to be doing and this whole university experience is about normalising every facet of my life. 

Resits

I was automatically registered to resit the exams I failed so that was one less thing to worry about. Once the details were released I noticed that I had a 'sit' for one module and 'resits' for the other two. A sit gives you the opportunity to achieve more than 40, whereas a resit is capped to the bare pass mark. I'm still hearing conflicting information about whether your coursework is taken into account with a resit but it would be nice to have that work considered! 

Following a meeting with my mental health advisor on campus we applied for alternative modes of assessment, which were accepted that same day. This means that instead of having to endure three exams again and history repeating itself, I now have just one exam (neuroscience and behaviour) and my other two modules (cell biology and biological chemistry) will be assessed via essay questions. I also get to take these papers away from the campus and complete them at home which is nothing short of a miracle. I have 24 hours for the exam and 72 hours to complete the essays. 

I can't think of a word to match the level of relief I feel. This brings me right back to the format of The Open University and is something very familiar and I know exactly what to expect. We now know that exams are a very big problem for me and alternative modes will be considered in the future, but sometimes there is no escaping them and I am entirely ok with that. I don't want to be treated differently to everyone else. 


Appeals

This brings me to the next part of this saga. After I saw that two modules (neuroscience and biological chemistry) were classed as resits, I decided to file an academic appeal to challenge this and change them to sits. It wasn't my lack of preparation that led to failing, it was a legitimate and unpredictable medical condition. I don't know if I mentioned this previously but the general consensus is that I dissociated during the exams and spent the entire exam period in a transient state of consciousness. I say that very matter-of-fact but it really does fill me with terror. 

I couldn't file mitigating evidence prior to the exam because you can't really anticipate it and it's very rare I can actually feel it happening. The appeal itself is a pre-appeal meeting, then a form (of course) and gathering your own evidence in support of your application, with no guidance at all. You also have to state very clearly what you would like the outcome to be. I probably won't hear a decision until the results of the exams are released, but that's fine. I'm still going to approach these as though I could get 100 rather than 40.

I know I am only a first year and this set of exams doesn't even count towards my final degree classification but that's not the point here. I want to show to myself, as well as the university, that I am capable and I am working just as hard as everyone else despite what is going on in my brain. I got accepted into Sussex because I excelled with the Open University, so proving that I can handle a full-time institution is pretty essential. 



Support

I have an amazing support system. My mentor has been a lifeline and has definitely kept me from completely freaking out over this whole situation. The hospital are there if I need them but as my CPN is on leave for this month I feel super-awkward about calling my assigned 'substitute' when I'm having a hard time. Of course I shouldn't be storing all this up for when she gets back but it's a tricky situation and they're aware of how I operate. Having the support of friends is a very foreign concept but just being able to text them and 'just talk' is so special to me. So many people take having friends for granted and it makes me sad. 

For now I'm still in a state of mutual antagonism with my brain but if that is what it takes to function and get through this next stage then so be it. I'm still sober and that is the most important thing. There are some eating disordered behaviours surfacing but I really do think that's to be expected. If I can't fall onto one coping strategy it will automatically fall on the more long-standing. It's there, I'm aware of it and in control. 

I have a 'check-in' and assessment for a new group with the hospital on 18th August so I'll be sure to tell them what's been going on. There has been some weird stuff going on with voices I'd like to talk about too.

via Google Images

So that's where things are right now. What would you like to see me include in The University Diaries series? Study skills? Coping strategies? What to take to lectures? It's not too long until the next batch of Freshers arrive and I'd like to be helpful if at all possible! ;)

4

Foodie Friday: Baker Days Gluten-free Letterbox Cake

Hi friends! 

Today I'd like to talk about cake, yay! Last week I was contacted by Baker Days and given an opportunity to review their gluten-free letterbox cake. After much deliberation I chose this 'Thank You' cake. I'm absolutely obsessed with colour so this multi-coloured floral icing had me sold! A letterbox gift cake serves 3 to 4, is 5 inches in diameter and can be yours for £17.99! The cake comes in an absolutely beautiful tin which you can use as your own gift container or just keep it for your secret stash of chocolate and oreos - because I'm totally not the only one that does this. Right?!

Anyway.....


The problem most people find with gluten-free cakes is that they are dry and have an odd texture and/or flavour to them. Baker Days have solved this issue to a spectacular degree. If gluten is not your friend, here is a cake to make you feel better. Their use of ingredients is nothing short of genius; a word of warning however, there are other allergens lurking which I discovered the hard way! Thankfully a handful of antihistamines saved the day. I've highlighted the allergens in the picture below: Almond, Egg, Soya and Sulphites. Milk is also used on site. 

Baker Days Gluten Wheat Free Cake Ingredients
via bakerdays.com
My letterbox cake landed with an unmistakable thud on my doormat and I was instantly very concerned the poor cake wouldn't have survived the decent. It's a long way down from the letterbox to the floor! Thankfully it did and as you can see, the cakes will come securely packaged and sealed. A very clever touch by Baker Days was to use jam to physically stick the base of the cake to the board underneath; there was a little bit of migration as you can see that the icing has come away from the edges but I think that is to be expected to be honest! Using the rolled icing as an additional 'restraint' is another brilliant idea. There is also a super-sized desiccant packet attached to the lid to keep the cake in perfect condition! A really cute touch was the addition of three balloons, two candles and something that made a noise that put the fear of God into Lily when I blew into it. I can't remember the name but they have them at childrens' parties... Help!?

ThatRedheadSaid : Baker Days Gluten-Free Letterbox Cake

So. The question we all want answered: What does it taste like?! 

The sponge: I cannot fault it. Nor can I really distinguish it from a 'normal' sponge cake. It's perhaps ever-so-slightly drier but it really is barely noticeable. Compared to some other gluten-free sponge cakes out there, this is a masterpiece. The use of potato is really clever and is probably what is making such a huge difference. You can't taste potato, don't worry. The flavour is slightly nutty, obviously, but still carries that classical flavour we all know and love. If I were to offer one observation, it would be nicer to have a thicker sponge, just to save it from being swamped by the icing. 

The icing: I am an icing fiend and nothing makes me happier than good quality fondant icing. The icing on my letterbox cake left me delirious. It's about 2mm thick with a small amount of buttercream underneath. This has been added on top of a nice layer of strawberry jam. The icing has some bite to it but doesn't stick to the roof of your mouth - how annoying is that, seriously?! - and just melts away into sugary perfection. It's not overly sweet either, the balance of flavour with the cake is absolutely spot on and also works to add a little more moisture into your bite. The ratio of cake to icing is a close-call though! It works for me, but those who aren't so into icing might struggle a little. 

ThatRedheadSaid : Baker Days Gluten-Free Letterbox Cake

You have the opportunity to customise your cake when placing your order. For this 'Thank You' cake, you have two options: For the first text box you have a maximum of 40 characters and for the second text box you have a maximum of 80 characters. I can't remember where I saw or heard the quote I chose, but it's worth remembering that 80 characters really isn't a lot so choose your words carefully!

Another reason I chose this particular cake was to serve as a preview to my next blog milestone giveaway, where this cake will be one of the prizes! Of course, it doesn't have to be gluten-free... there are chocolate, fruit and dairy-free varieties available too, but this will be the design. Keep your eyes peeled for the announcement!

A huge thank you to Baker Days for such an amazing gluten-free letterbox cake! You can find them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+ so go and say hi and give them a try for your next cake-requiring event; you can get personalised birthday cakes and cupcakes too! If you order before 2pm, your cake can arrive the next working day and large cakes even come with a cake slicer! How cool is that?!

~  ~  ~  ~  ~

ThatRedheadSaid : Lily
Lily decided to sit on my cake before it got out of the box! 
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Samantha Nicholls. Powered by Blogger.

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