Sunday, 27 April 2014

53. I went to Nob End

Hello everyone! I realised that I hadn't done a regular update post in a while and seeing as April is almost over (exactly how I don't know), there is no time like the present! Before you all ask, no the title of the post is not an innuendo, it is a real place name. This week, most people at my university were still off but I was in Tuesday to Saturday (most days 10am to 5pm) on a field course in the Greater Manchester area. Nob End is actually in Bolton and is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI- sounds like Parseltongue). Between 1835 and 1885, Nob End was home to a washing powder factory and the waste from the factory was highly toxic so not much was around in terms of wildlife until the 1950s when some local schoolchildren spotted orchids. As it is a SSSI, Nob End has to be conserved so it remains the same as to what it was like in 1988 when it was declared a SSSI. We also went to Chorlton Ees which used to be a sewage works that closed in the 1970s. Ees is a term given to land prone to flooding. Whilst at Nob End and Chorlton Ees, we used keys and books to help us identify the plant species to define the different habitats e.g. broad leaf woodland to produce a Phase 1 survey map. We also collected invertebrates and we found some pretty spectacular specimens. At Chorlton Ees, we collected a big black slug which I affectionately named BatSlug. We also collected some yellow snails, a couple of spiders and lots of other insects and flies using sweep nets. Despite living in Manchester for the entirety of my existence, I had no idea how green it was. There were lots of people walking their dogs at both sites and they were both parts of larger green areas so there were child friendly playing zones, benches and lots of paths for walking, cycling and running too so if you are from the Greater Manchester area, they are worth checking out for a nice picnic over summer. 
Nob End
For a nice (and hopefully permanent) change, I have actually been out and about more AND exercising. I am sick to death of sitting down in front of screens, either watching Eastenders (who do you think killed Lucy?) on the TV, writing essays and lecture notes on my laptop or scrolling through my Instagram feed on my phone. For the first time since Year 11 when I used to be a gym addict, my face looked like a beef tomato last week because I have decided to do the NHS Couch to 5K challenge. I've probably already mentioned on here how I want to run a marathon/10K for charity, specifically Parkinson's UK in 2016 once I've graduated so need to prepare for that as much and early on as I can because I'm not the most athletic person. Also, running is a great way to improve your physical and mental health and best of all, it's free (well you will need to invest in a decent pair of running shoes). I did a trial run of week 1 of the challenge last week and it was basically a 5 minute brisk warm up walk followed by alternating cycles of 90 seconds of walking and 60 seconds of running finished off with a 5 minute cool down walk. The NHS couch to 5k podcasts are free to download here:( if you would like to check them out. I managed to complete the 30 minutes without getting blisters or a stitch, surprisingly and I intend to complete the 9 week challenge over summer. 
To treat myself for running, I did some baking. Last weekend was Easter so I decided to bake something that used eggs as the main ingredient- macarons! I used my Lekue macaron kit ( contains a silicone mould and a special piping device with lots of different nozzles. The piping device isn't very good as the lid of the device is made from tough plastic so you can't squeeze out the mixture so I ended up using a standard disposable piping bag. The mould is fantastic however and saves the time and hassle of drawing out uniform circles all over baking paper. I used the lemon macarons recipe from John Whaite Bakes but changed the recipe by omitting the lemon as my Mum doesn't like it and instead using strawberry jam and vanilla buttercream for the filling. It was my first ever attempt at macarons which is why they are far from perfect but I will definitely be making these again as practice makes perfect. I definitely recommend that you give them a go as they are incredibly cheap to make at home and nowhere near as difficult as they are rumoured to be. I'd say they were like mini merignues but you need to be extra careful and precise when making them. I really want to overcome my baking fears in 2014 so my next challenge is to make more dough whether it's bread or bakes like Chelsea buns. What have you been baking?
Until next time, take care.
Mancunian Sheep x

Thursday, 17 April 2014

52. Apple Woes

Hello everyone, slightly different post but I hope you enjoy Story Time with Mancunian Sheep regardless.
Regular readers are probably aware of my fruit addiction but the past few months of my life have been rather traumatic. I have had an apple a day for as long as I can remember (even before I had heard of the famous expression) but since approximately September 2013, I've unfortunately found that apples no longer taste of anything. I'm not exaggerating. I might as well be crunching into an apple shaped ice structure or a raw potato (perhaps the latter as it would be less painful for my gums).
The usual apple variety I have is good old Gala but when they started tasting of nothing I thought I might try the more fragrant Braeburn and Pink Lady varieties. Nope, nothing changed. Then I thought perhaps I should switch retailer as we do our big food shop from Asda so I tried the good old Sainsburys, Tesco and Morrisons stores near university but again nothing changed. I didn't know what else to do because we have two apple trees in our back garden but I'm sure one of them has cooking apples growing on it and the other has Crown Gall's disease which I identified after learning about Agrobacterium tumefaciens in my first year microbiology module. All winter I've been eating plums and dried fruit instead like apricots, dates and raisins to make up my five a day but nothing could replace the crunchy satisfaction of biting into an apple. 
O Malus, Malus, wherefore art thou Malus? Unlike Romeo and Juliet, this story does have a happy ending. After an incredibly tough 7 months, I have just eaten a Golden Delicious apple that tasted like an apple should and I really hope my ordeal is over. I'm pretty sure I've not finally gone mad because my Mum's been complaining about their bland taste too. 
Let me know about your #applewoes below or if you've dodged bland apple syndrome then let me know which apple variety you enjoy and where you purchase them from. Until next time, take care.

Mancunian Sheep x

Friday, 11 April 2014

51. Song of the Month- April

Hello everyone, yes it is that time again! This month's choice comes from one of the best bands ever to have graced the Earth, Coldplay. I am incredibly excited for their new album if the rest of it is anything like Magic. 

I don't know what it is about the song but overall, I just find it very soothing. The lyrics are beautifully written, the video is stunning and reminds me of The Great Gatsby. Perfection. Welcome back Coldplay. What did you all make of Magic?

Until next time, take care.
Mancunian Sheep x

Thursday, 10 April 2014

50. Cheese and Onion Quiche Recipe

Hello everyone, I hope you're all okay! As I am off university for the Easter break for two weeks (it should have been three weeks but in the final week I have my field course for six days, sad times), I thought I would do some baking. Now my inner fat girl and I love baking sweet treats but I want to start doing some more savoury baking so decided on quiche. This will be a very visual recipe so I hope it is of use and if you try it out or have any questions then comment below!

Serves: 6

Ingredients and special equipment:
  • 280 g plain white flour
  • 165 g cold salted butter, cubed
  • 8 tbsp cold water
  • 3 large onions, finely chopped
  • 300 ml double cream
  • 150 g mature cheddar cheese, grated
  • 2 medium free range eggs
  • Salt and black pepper to season
  • 20 cm loose bottomed flan tin
  1. Rub the flour and 140g of the butter until it is well combined and crumbly.

  2.  Add 8 tbsp of cold water to bind the ingredients together and roll into a ball of dough.

3.  Roll the dough into a circle 5 cm larger in diameter than your pastry tin. Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

4. Whilst the pastry is in the fridge, preheat your oven to 180°C. Cook the onions in the remaining 25 g of butter by melting it and then on a very low heat, stirring occasionally until the onions are golden and soft. It should take about 25-30 minutes.

5. Remove the pastry from the fridge, lightly prick with a fork. Place a circle of baking paper  to cover the centre of the tin. Place some baking beans or uncooked lentils/rice and blind bake for 20 minutes. Carefully remove the paper and rice and bake for a further 10 minutes until golden brown.

6. In a large bowl, beat the eggs and gradually add the double cream. Mix in the cooked onions and half of the cheese.

7. Pour the mixture into the pastry case. Season and top with the remaining grated cheese. Bake at 180°C for 30 minutes.

8. Serve, with salad or whatever takes your fancy!
I hope you've all enjoyed this post. Let me know if you'd like me to do more recipes. Until next time, take care.
Mancunian Sheep x

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

49. Why YOU should know about Parkinson's

Hello everyone, in addition to my last post on here titled "Parkinson's Awareness Week 2014- Carers in Control", I've also made two YouTube videos. In the first, I discuss the more scientific side of Parkinson's after having written a 9 page dissertation on Parkinson's Disease and Deep Brain Stimulation. I discuss the epidemiology, symptoms and treatments available as well as  important research findings. You can watch the video here:

In the second video, I offer my 5 top tips for Parkinson's carers and carers in general of people with other conditions regardless of age. You can watch the video here:

I hope the videos are of help. Thank you for reading and watching. Until next time, take care.

Mancunian Sheep x 

Monday, 7 April 2014

48. Parkinson's Awareness Week 2014- Carers In Control

Hello everyone! This week is Parkinson's Awareness Week, the largest annual event ran by the charity, Parkinson's UK. I wanted to share my story with you because this year's campaign is "in control". Parkinson's itself may be incurable at present but that does not mean it can take away the control you have over your life whether you suffer with the condition or care for someone who does. 

Parkinson's disease is a cause close to my heart, I was just 9 years old when the symptoms first appeared in my Mum. Her left arm began to shake and she became increasingly frustrated that she could no longer cook and picking me up from school became a struggle. One Friday evening in May 2004, she couldn't get out of the bath tub so I helped pull her up and later that evening, she was admitted to hospital. From that night, it took almost three years until she was diagnosed in April 2007 as the doctors were unsure whether she had had a stroke that night as her left side became so badly affected. When she was diagnosed, things did not change much. We received no information about the condition from either the GP or the consultant. 

Although my Mum was responding well to several different medications such as Stalevo (dopamine) and Neupro Rotigotine patches, things took a dramatic turn for the worse in 2009. Mum had her daily dosage of rotigotine patches increased from 6 mg to 8 mg in October 2009 and started experiencing hallucinations and was hospitalised in November 2009 until October 2010. The most shocking thing is that we had no idea that the medication could cause such side effects. While my Mum was in hospital, I began to do a lot of reading around the area in between visiting Mum and studying for my GCSEs when I stumbled upon the Parkinson's UK website. For the first time, I realised we weren't alone. My Mum wasn't suffering from a rare incurable illness making her some sort of outcast. There was an army of people out there actively raising awareness and fundraising to battle this condition. This inspired me to become one of them and spread the word!

By becoming a Parkinson's UK member, I receive quarterly newsletters full of advice and the latest news on Parkinson's research all for just £4 a year (£15 for overseas members). Parkinson's UK produce a vast amount of literature that is free to order in the post or to download. The topics range from gene therapy and retiring abroad to driving and pregnancy. Parkinson's UK actively campaign to ensure as many patients as possible have access to a specialist Parkinson's nurse and that cuts to welfare benefits do not affect Parkinson's sufferers unable to work. 

In April 2012, Mum started to show similar symptoms to 2009 with hallucinations and exceptionally bad mobility and I was terrified that she had relapsed despite not taking rotigotine for almost 3 years. I rang the Parkinson's UK helpline in complete despair when a specialist Parkinson's nurse spoke to me and reassured me that it was likely Mum was suffering with not psychosis but a urinary tract infection which is common in Parkinson's patients and is prevalent during periods of hot weather such as those we experienced around Easter 2012. The halluncinations were probably due to delirium and not the medication. The nurse was right and after a six week stint in hospital with a long course of antibiotics, Mum amazingly has been at home without a single night in hospital for almost two years so things can and will change for the better. Having Parkinson's does not mean the be all and end all and sufferers go on to live for decades in the majority of cases with a reasonable quality of living assisted by treatment.

No matter how bad the dyskinesia, stiffness and pain (amongst all of the other symptoms) get, just remember that you are not alone. I have left all of the contact details for Parkinson's UK at the end of this post . If you are a carer then tell someone, this is particularly targeted at young carers (under 18s). Do not suffer in silence. It is inevitable that your physical and emotional health and grades will be affected and the last thing you need is teachers on your case. If you don't want to tell your teacher or friends then there's always someone like at an after school club, a neighbour, or a leader at a youth club. Tell your favourite teacher like I did. You do not have to broadcast it to the entire school if you're not comfortable in doing so. I didn't. The only people I told were my amazing best friend, Sammia and my favourite teacher, Mrs Hickey. When I was younger, I often got quite upset because I thought why is it my Mum? As an only child, I've always been close to my Mum so when we could no longer go shopping together or cook and garden together because of her condition, I didn't know what to do and how to explain it to a class of 30 odd teenage girls who can be overwhelming at the best of times. 

The person who you are caring for will probably have a social worker (if they don't then contact your GP or local council) and they will refer you to a a special social worker for young people who will tell you about local young carer's groups where you can meet and make friends with people in a similar position to you! Every cloud has a silver lining and you might end up making a whole bunch of great friends at the carers groups. You will also be entitled to a young carer's grant and I know that no amount of money is a substitute for health but you can use that money to treat yourself because you deserve it. Caring is as demanding as a full time job and if you're still at school then you are amazing for juggling two magnificent tasks. Similarly, Parkinson's UK also has local groups. Respite care is also available in some cases and that is when the person you care for is taken to a special care centre for a week or so in order to give you a break. Again, contact your local council, social worker and/or GP to find out more about it. Just because you are a carer does not mean you should not be cared for. You need to look after yourself because otherwise who will look after the person who you look after?
Parkinson's UK has a special section on their website for young carers:

If we can eradicate conditions like Smallpox, why should Parkinson's not follow suit? Text PARK14 £3 to 70070 to donate £3. 

To find out more, here are the Parkinson's UK contact details :
Helpline: 0808 800 0303 

Thank you for reading. Until next time, take care.
Mancunian Sheep x

Sunday, 6 April 2014

47. The Cake and Bake Show Manchester 2014

Hello everyone! I have just come back from a wonderful day at The Cake and Bake Show in Manchester with my very good friend Misbah. It has honestly been one of the best days of my life and I highly recommend that you ALL go to the London one later this year or join us for the Manchester show in 2015. I'm currently relaxing with my feet up munching on some cheddar, basil and sundried tomato focaccia. Italian food is my absolute favourite. Yum! Today Misbah and I met not one, not two, not three but FOUR Great British Bake Off contestants from both series 3 and 4 and every single one of them is so lovely and humble, they are some of the nicest people on Earth! Everyone else at the show was so nice too particularly the man at the Yum Yum Tree Fudge stall and all of the girls who were also queuing up with us and so kindly took some photos of me and Misbah with the bakers! As a biologist, I LOVED all of the animal cakes, the peacocks were fabulous. Below are the photos I took and I hope you enjoy salivating at all the extravagant cakes! 

I love the burger and fries!

I am usually a fan of dolls but these are creepy.

Dream wedding cake, so so pretty.

Corrie cake.

Adorable orangutan.

Terrifying mountain gorilla!

Look how happy the gingerbread men are, they are dressed in
Where's Wally like attire!

Too pretty to eat.

Mutant meringues, would  be perfect for a generous Eton mess!

John Whaite did a great demonstration on stromboli
buns which are like pizza rolls. He suggested using a deep muffin tray
for similar bakes and also Chelsea buns to avoid a dry crust. 

Sharing is caring!

Gorgeous cake elephant. I asked the lady and she said it
took a week to bake the elephant cake and
3 days to decorate!

The level of detailing is amazing.

Edible elephant dung. Anything is possible.

Misbah and the peacock!

In the jungle, the mighty jungle..

So cute!

They looked rather menacing!

John Whaite, the winner of GBBO 2012 and I. Make sure you all
buy his new book John Whaite Bakes at Home which contains
over 120 mouthwatering recipes. I can't wait
to bake something from it!

Kimberley Wilson, GBBO 2013 finalist with Misbah and I.
Such a lovely smile and amazing hair!

Ali Imdad, also a GBBO 2013 contestant. Really excited
for his new free student's recipe book which will contain
20 easy and cheap recipes. 

Frances Quinn, the winner of GBBO 2013. She is so sweet!

Lots of goodies that I bought from the show. Misbah and I
both bought two bags of Yum Yum Tree Fudge (starawberry
and cream flavour which is too good for words and the
Madagascan vanilla flavour which I am yet to try) and the lovely
man on the stall gave us a free bag of the mango flavoured fudge
too  to share which although sounds odd, is one of the tastiest
 things I've ever eaten. Check them out here :

What I call, the Mancunian Sheep cake! Don't think anybody
could have it in them to eat this little chappy.

Where it all happened- Manchester Central- train station turned baker's 
heaven. The interior is very similar to that of St. Pancras in London, 
were they designed by the same architect?

Until next time, take care.
Mancunian Sheep x