Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Getting Back Into The Swing of Things

Well, that was a good, long silence wasn't it.

I am very sorry for being so absent for the last few weeks, I hope I can get around to catching up with you all as soon as possible! I seem to have submerged myself under a semi-self-imposed avalanche of work and am just about beginning to breathe again now. Although I still have about 150 research articles to read. Eek.

Here are a few things I've been up to this term, just to get back into the swing of things. Michele (formerly known as Magro) has alerted me that my camera has returned from Sony (and they even cleaned the sand out of it for me hehe) so blogging can well and truly recommence from Sunday when my personal courier, I mean boyfriend, comes on down to Exeter.

Until then, I have been...

1) Eating at the amazing Rusty Bike

2) Walking miles and miles and miles to a pretty, picturesque town, only to discover we were on the wrong side of the estuary at low tide.

3) Having regular dinners with my amazing housemates (even if mine and Lauren's cocktails are too strong for some!)

4) Irritating the crap out of people by taking photos of them whilst they're eating

5) Eating some damn good burgers at Hub Box

6) Exploring Exeter

7) Eating LOADS (more posts will follow)

8) Going to awesome local events like the Ottery St. Mary tar barrels (this definitely deserves its own post)

Ok, perhaps there are reasons beyond essay-ing for my having been so absent.. 

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Happy Movember!

Today is the 1st of November.

An ordinary day for most but a special day for many.

Why? Because today marks the beginning of Movember.

You may have noticed that facial hair has been in vogue for quite a while with the shops on the high-street full of clothes and accessories emblazoned with cheeky moustache motifs and hipsters across the world battling it out to grow the bushiest beard possible.

For lots of people, Movember is a bit of fun and the amount of guys taking part each year is an amazing testament to the reach of the cause.

Because like Christmas, Movember has a deeper underlying meaning than just a bit of fun and games. It's a chance to spread awareness about men's health issues (click here to read a bit more about them) and hopefully save some lives in the process.

When you think about gender stereotypes and sexism, women's issues often spring to mind. But men are affected by them too and it has a deep, lasting impact on their wellbeing. We are so often told that crying is for little girls and that men must be big and strong.

If a man feels alone and depressed, he might feel like he can't show it. If a man feels weak and vulnerable, he might feel like less of a man. And if a man notices his health deteriorating or finds a lump, he might feel reluctant to seek help because that's not what we've been told men do.

Whilst depression is officially much higher in women, male suicides hugely outnumber female suicides. Rates of depression are subject to bias; the depression needs to be detected and reported in order to feed the statistics. Furthermore, if depression is reported, it is more likely to be treated.

Suicides are much harder to hide. It strikes me as incredibly worrying that the male suicide rate is 3 and a half times higher than that of women.

Likewise, cancer is best treated when it is detected early on. The number of men and women with cancer is fairly similar yet men are much more likely to die from the disease. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women and programmes exist to screen women from high risk groups for signs of tumours. A similar programme does not yet exist for men and prostate cancer is the largest killer in this group, a group that is less likely to be diagnosed early, possibly due to reluctance to seek medical advice (click here to read more).

But this is why Movember is so brilliant.

And that is why I am so proud of Magro. Whose name is actually Michele (Me-KEL-eh not Me-SHELL) as will be revealed if you go to his Movember page (click here)

Michele works in an oncological hospital. Despite having lost some of the most important people in his life to cancer, he spends his weeks surrounded by those currently suffering from it, working so, so hard to give people with the disease a better chance at life. He is passionate and hard-working, despite the inevitable ups and downs that come with his job. One day might bring a patient who gets to go home. Another might mean saying the final goodbye to a teenager who had become a good friend during his time on the wards.

I don't know how he does it. I feel that if I were in his shoes, I would want to distance myself from cancer as much as possible. But he doesn't and I am so proud of who he is for that.

I am also incredibly proud of him for taking the tremendous first step of Movember and sacrificing his great big bushy beard. He was incredibly fond of that beard. It has been with him at varying lengths for over a decade. Not once has he ever gone fully clean shaven. He's doing his part, please do yours. We are all human, we should all care for and help each other.

If you've got some spare money, even a few pounds, please donate. Your money will contribute to saving lives. Michele's page is here and it would mean a lot if you donated whatever amount you are willing to give.

You can also register online as a Mo Bro or a Mo Sista but the important thing is to just keep the message going! Talk to the guys in your life, encourage them to grow a 'tache and just keep spreading the word.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Hello Goodbye

Apparently I haven't posted in ten days; where has the time gone?! Final year at uni is absolutely ripping my time away from me. I've always been a pretty conscientious student (yep, I'm the annoying person who always does all the readings and then pretends they haven't just to seem socially acceptable) so I can't say that I'm spending any more of my time (i.e 100% of it) on my work, it's just that this time, I never seem to be getting anywhere near the top of the pile.

Ok, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't enjoying the cognitive stimulation (ahem) but it is a bit much. I feel like I'm on a running machine and someone has suddenly come along and punched the speed right up and now I can't reach to turn it down again. I can just about stay upright but... it's a hell of a lot of effort! I suppose it doesn't help that I have all but one of my classes this term (I am looking forward to next term a LOT) and on top of that, I have been promoted to a key-holding supervisor at the shop (woo hoo!)

In short, blogging has fallen by the wayside quite a fair bit. I am sorry. Especially as I keep going on about how I still have so much to write about Italy (I do - I wasn't lying. But now I have 50,000,000 pages of work to get through.)

So instead, here are some "teaser" photos of the Dolomites where I went on holiday this August with Magro. I am still utterly obsessed with this holiday and feel my heart soar and sink in equal measure whenever I look at pictures of this unimaginable mountains.

When I have a bit more time, I'll go through my pictures properly and write some posts about what we did, where we stayed and most importantly of course, where we ate.

For now... enjoy.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Exeter Eats: The Exploding Bakery

Unless you've had your head stuck under a rock for the past year, you'll probably be vaguely aware of the ins and outs of a big food debate occurring right now.
Fat, the scientists say, isn't actually bad for us after all; sugar is now the main culprit.
Considering that we've been fed this supposedly empirically-based information on fat for years, I'm beginning to feel a little confused about what I should and shouldn't be eating. I'm sure I'm not alone in this.
Despite half-hearted government attempts to get the nation back into shape and widespread knowledge on dieting programmes, weight-loss pills and hydrogenated fats, the fact is we're still in a spot of bother when it comes to our health. The conventional advice hasn't worked and now we're being told we need to seriously cut back on another food group.

Whilst I am far from being an expert on these things, I am beginning to suspect that our health problems have a lot more to do with the fact that quite often, we simply do not know where our food comes from or indeed what it is made up of. For an entire year in Italy I gorged myself on fat and sugar frequently - but it was fat and sugar that came from small, local businesses with no added nasties. 
Italy is famous for its food and quite rightly so. It is an incredibly important part of their culture with meals often taking place at a dining room table instead of slouched on a sofa and recipes being passed down through the generations. In miserable contrast, we quite often reach into the freezer and microwave our dinners which are poor, plastic versions of foods from all over the world.

In short, it's time to take food a little more seriously.

We need to start asking questions about what's in our food or even better, going out and seeking out the fresh, local produce ourselves.

Fortunately for me and other Devon-based dwellers, the Exploding Bakery takes food pretty seriously.

And it takes cake in particular very seriously.

The bakery opened in 2011 but by that time, they had already been making cakes for almost a decade. As demand for their cakes grew, they realised it was time to open a wholesale bakery space with a smattering of tables and chairs for eager cake-lovers like you and me to use whilst basking in the aroma of freshly baked goodies.

The menu is simple; there are regular options such as the beautiful croissants stuffed with ham and cheese or jam or the brilliant tortilla which will beat any other you've tried hands-down. When Magro comes to Exeter, a croissant and a piece of cake is an incredibly easy way to satisfy this fussy Italian's gastronomical needs at breakfast time.

As well as cake and croissants, coffee is a main attraction of the bakery.

I don't know about you, but when you're told there's a particular way you're supposed to eat or drink something, I know I'm in good company. A year in Italy has taught me that the finest quality ingredients and dishes must be cooked or served up in a particular way.

The bakery has an entire blackboard dedicated to telling you how to take your coffee.

The decor is simple and honest, much like the food which is made in front of you in their open bar and kitchen areas. There are no walls dividing the cafe area from the kitchen, meaning you can sit munching your cake whilst planning your next one depending on what's going in or coming out of the oven.

The Exploding Bakery is the only place I've ever visited with such an open and honest approach to serving up food. You can sit there with your coffee with the clatters of baking trays and the slam of oven doors all around you, warm and cosy in a cloud of cake; they have nothing to hide, both in their kitchens and in their cakes.

Or, if the day is nice enough, you can take it outside and sit at one of the tables in the sunshine.

We went a couple of weeks ago for Lauren's birthday and tried the banana and chocolate loaf and the ginger and honey tea.

The bakery uses fresh, local ingredients and real Belgian chocolate in their recipes. Ours was moist and sweet, the light flavour of banana being complemented perfectly by the rich chocolate chips.

In short, it was bloody beautiful and didn't last long at all.

I had a little chat with some of the people behind the bar whilst I was in there (mainly to reassure them that the girl who looked like she was about to rob their kitchen bare was actually just trying to get blog photos).

Everybody was more than happy for me to have a little snoop around and take pictures of them whilst they were hard at work.

With such an emphasis on good, simple food (their website explains that they like to bake only with the things you could find in your own kitchen), it's no surprise that they have links with the Slow Food movement - so Slow Foodies, get yourself down there asap!

Luckily for me, one of the cafes at the university now stocks Exploding Bakery cakes.

I tried the raspberry and white chocolate bakewell during a lecture break and can confirm that it tastes just as good as it looks. Just look at that moist bakewell layer and the hit of raspberry cutting through the sweetness.

Our lecturer's personal favourite is the Lumberjack below. In fact, it was he who alerted me to the fact that the cakes were being sold in the cafe downstairs. I pretty much ran down as soon as the first half of the seminar ended.

In short, the Exploding Bakery is the perfect place to treat yourself, whether you're in the town centre or taking a break between classes. You'll also bump into their cakes in various cafes and delis around the town (and I've seen that they also deliver to London and the surrounding counties... it's a £40 minimum order but I could quite easily justify that).

Find them next to Exeter Central Station or the cafe in the Queens building at the University of Exeter.

I know I will be.

(Especially as I have just joined the Slow Food on Campus Society as a blog editor! How exciting! This basically means I now have an official reason to eat food, take photos of food and talk about food even more. Plus, I will obviously have to go back to the bakery and try all of their cakes for research's sake and I will have an entirely justifiable reason to doing so! Watch this space...)