The Wonderful World of Legumes – THE POWER OF PLANT PROTEIN

Before switching to a more plant-based diet I used to think of legumes as an extra interesting ingredient. Now they are a staple. High in protein, fibre and minerals, and so tasty prepared in the right way!

What do you mean you don’t like legumes? Have you tried a black bean burrito? Sweet potato and lentil curry? Roasted red-pepper hummus? That got your pulses racing…

Now I’ve got your attention, let’s start with lentils, shall we? Red lentils are my absolute favourites, quick to cook and make an awesome soup (learned that from my Granny). I also love combining different veggies to make a lentil stew, and all my favourite curries have lentils!

Beans, beans, good for the heart, beans, beans, make you… hold on a minute, not anymore! Once your body gets used to the extra fibre from legumes then digesting them isn’t an issue. There’s much more to them than ‘beans on toast’, I mean what would Mexican food be without beans? In fact, beans are one of the oldest cultivated plants and a staple all over the world. How about a bean burger with smashed avocado or a classic Chilli (sin) Carne? The possibilities are endless!

I never liked peas. I used to stab my fork at them with contempt as a kid. That weird texture of watery, rubbery little green balls, skin half falling off. That was until I discovered pea pesto pasta! Oh my goodness… game changer. If you haven’t tried it, what are you waiting for? Go and defrost those little green weirdos, put them in a blender with olive oil, salt, garlic, lemon juice, nutritional yeast (optional), pine kernels (or cashews) and lots of fresh basil (or parsley). Stir into some pasta with chopped cherry tomatoes et voilà! You’re welcome.

A few tips:

  • If you’re using dried beans or lentils, soak them for a few hours prior to cooking.
  • If you’re using tins or jars, make sure you rinse and drain them first.
  • Don’t forget about chickpeas and edamame beans!

 

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Best European City to live in your 20s vs 30s

Having spent most of my twenties living in two of Europe’s capitals (London and Madrid) I now find myself at 30 re-evaluating what I look for in a city.
In my 20s I was more focused on meeting new people, surrounding myself with exciting opportunities, discovering new places to eat, cultural activities, social events. I enjoyed the vibrant night-life and buzz of a big city.
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Trafalgar Square, London. Photo by @elegantglowphotography
In London I felt like I was right in the middle of what was happening globally. I loved how cosmopolitan it was, how people instead of identifying themselves primarily by their nationality, where first and foremost – Londoners. I loved being able to eat the cuisine of any country in one city. I was lucky enough to live in London for the 2012 Olympic games. I could spend my weekends in some of the best museums in the world (Natural History Museum), had work drinks in some of the most iconic buildings in ‘the City’ and partied with some amazing people in some awesome places to incredible music (Guanabara).
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La Latina, Madrid. Photo by @pattolmo
Madrid was a completely new adventure – learning a new language and a new culture. Madrid has a very different vibe to London; more laid-back, more friendly, more homely in a way. But it is still a capital city. I wanted to completely immerse myself in la vida española. It changed me as a person more than I could have ever imagined. YOLO was my philosophy for those first few years in Madrid. I found myself living much more in the present – easier when it’s glorious sunshine and people prioritise social time. I discovered new food, places, people. I met some amazing friends who will be in my life forever and then I also met the man I plan to spend the rest of my life with.
So what’s changed? I still want culture, opportunities, somewhere which feels connected to the rest of the world. Having lived in Madrid and learned a new way of life, I would also like somewhere where people aren’t overly competitive, where there is a healthier ‘work-life’ balance, and where the sunny weather creates an outdoor culture. But I can do without hours on the underground / metro, the crazy nights out, the overly busy streets. I’d like to feel closer to nature.
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Málaga, Spain.
So what’s the answer? I know that I still need to live in a city but perhaps not a capital city. Having just spent a few days in Malaga it seems to offer many of the things I’m looking for but I still haven’t decided. I feel very different to how I felt when decided to move to Madrid. There is more riding on this decision. It’s not just about me this time, it’s about us. Not just where we’ll both be happy but also where we can imagine bringing up our own family but also feeling connected to our parents, siblings, relatives, friends. There will be some important conversations happening in the next few months and ultimately a decision but even then it doesn’t have to be final. We are so lucky to live in a time where people can move around, change their minds, try things out. I’m excited about our next step, wherever that may be.
There are so many lists of top European cities but I’m creating my own from my own experiences and tastes. As you’ll see, I tend to be drawn to the Mediterranean. Here are the places I would have liked to live in my 20s and could imagine myself living in my 30s.
20s:
London
Madrid
Barcelona
Edinburgh
Lisbon
Paris
Berlin
Rome
Geneva
Athens
30s:
Malaga
Oxford
Bristol
Biarritz
Valencia
Oporto
Florence
Cologne
Valletta
Naples

 

Minimalism for beginners – How to Live More with Less

I still consider myself a beginner when it comes to minimalism but the things I have learned and implemented so far have had such a positive and profound impact on my life that I wanted to share them.

  • streamline your wardrobe
  • back to basics food
  • create more space
  • priorities and time management
  • economise and become more eco friendly

One of the first steps on my minimalism journey was to declutter my wardrobe. I had so many clothes and yet only regularly wore less than 40% of them. Of course there are some items which will never be worn regularly (an elegant evening dress, ski socks, bikini) we need a few special items but we can be selective about which ones deserve a place in our wardrobe. As I have gotten older my style has evolved and I now wear what suits me rather than trying to follow trends. Now it’s about quality over quantity and simplifying my life including what I wear. Over the course of a few weeks I went through every cupboard, draw and shoe-stand and donated well over half to charity. Now I try to maintain a 1 in 1 out policy so if I’m buying something new then I should be donating a similar idem that I already have.

Simple, healthy food doesn’t mean boring food. When you buy quality ingredients and combine them in the right way there will be an abundance of flavour. Natural ingredients have always been my preference but now that I understand the health and environmental benefits of eating a predominantly plant-based diet I will never go back to eating how I did before. Finding ways of buying food with less packaging will mean less waste for you and a happier planet. Minimalism is also about taking time to enjoy the simple things in life like preparing a healthy meal and enjoying it with a friend. I talk more about my diet on my Food page.

It is amazing how much space you can create by decluttering and rearranging. In Madrid we lived in quite a small flat and it’s amazing how you can transform a room with a lick of white paint, some rearranging of furniture and keeping only the things which have a purpose (preferably multifunctional) or are beautiful and genuinely add aesthetic value. The hardest thing about this aspect of minimalism is letting go of things which might hold sentimental value. Something I did was to take photos of things so I would always have the memory but I didn’t need to keep the actual item. This phase is definitely an ongoing process. I love light bright rooms with very simple furniture, maybe a plant or two and a simple colour scheme, I find it so much easier to concentrate and feel peaceful in a space like that.

For me, minimalism is not only about the physical (what we wear and eat, our possessions) but very much a philosophy of being mindful and deliberate in our decisions and how we live. More on my Lifestyle page. It’s so easy just to ‘go with the flow’ but what if the flow isn’t taking you where you want to go? What if the flow is actually detrimental to your longterm happiness and health? Something which I have always been careful of is not following the ‘path of least resistance’. For me, that path leads to becoming who others want me to be or who society wants me to be, not to who I want to be. To feeling unfulfilled and more susceptible to manipulation. It is important to prioritise the things which make you happy and healthy; those things are often not the easy options. Think about how you spend the 24 hours of your day – yes, 8 are for sleeping but what about the others? Is 3 hours of television really contributing to health and happiness?

The great thing about minimalism is that with a 1 in 1 out policy you end up shopping less and when you do you are more likely to make better purchases. When purchases are well thought out and each thing has it’s place it means you spend less and live more! We can also make more environmentally-friendly decisions which will be more economical longterm. Some good quality re-usable bags instead of plastic ones, a natural multi-purpose facial oil instead of 3 different products full of chemicals. Using good quality Tupperware to take some food into work for lunch instead of throwing away so much packaging and eating something less healthy and more expensive. Televisions, laptops, desktops, tablets – how many screens do we actually need in one house? As I already mentioned if things are multi-purpose then that’s even better. What other eco-friendly ways do you save money, I’d love to know in the comments!

Why music makes us happy

Music is found across all human cultures and far back into human history. We all have different tastes in music but we enjoy music in similar ways.

  • we use music to enhance our emotions
  • we feel connected to other people through music
  • we can relive happy moments through music
  • music makes us want to move
  • music motivates us

It is amazing that after years, even decades without hearing a song, we can still sing along. If you play music with an upbeat rhythm to young children (and not so young) they will almost certainly start to dance along and probably with a smile on their face. Sports fans are moved when chanting and singing together and feel like part of something bigger than themselves. Music can remind us of a loved one or of a familiar place. A certain piece of music can take us back to a specific moment in our lives in a much more visceral sense than a photo could.

Music had such a huge impact on me as a child that for my second birthday I asked for a violin and I still have it, a tiny little quarter size. As with most children, when I heard music, I would dance happily around the room with no idea what I was doing. That is until I was 3 and started ballet lessons, then I could add a bit of technique into my random movements, but I never stopped improvising to music.

I actually ended up playing the cello. As I was growing up dancing and playing music and also singing, I always found the link between dance and music fascinating. I finally (partially) unraveled years of intrigue when I wrote my Masters dissertation titled ‘To Dance to Music is Human – an evolutionary perspective on rhythmic sound and movement’. It is a huge topic and I will write more blog posts about the link between dance and music but for now let’s focus on what it is about rhythmic sound which is so powerful for humans.

Depending on how we are feeling we can choose music to enhance our emotions depending on, for example, the tempo (fast or slow), rhythm (time signature, repetitiveness, syncopation) the melodic and harmonic quality (e.g. key signature, dissonance), orchestration (which instruments are used). Of course we don’t need to have any idea of these musical terms to be able to feel and enjoy the music.

For all of human history up until the last 150 years when sound recording was invented, music meant humans making rhythmic sounds with either their voices, hands, feet or instruments. Therefore if you were listening to music (that you weren’t making yourself) then you were with other people, in the same physical space. Historically, music was social and in fact played a very important part in ritual and social life for many cultures throughout human history. Very often music is made by more than one person playing or singing at the same time. This is an incredible ability which only humans posses, to be able to ‘rhythmically entrain’ to one another in order to play together and keep in time.

We are incredibly lucky now to have an incomprehensible amount of music available to anyone with an internet connection. Music written hundreds of years ago, music from all over the world. The irony of this is that now when we listen to music we don’t feel alone because throughout human evolution, music has (nearly) always meant being with other people. However, listening to music through headphones, as great as it is, will never replace the experience of live music. Just as playing the radio on our own in the car will never be the same as dancing along to a great song with friends.

Any of us lucky enough to have made music with other people (in a band, orchestra, choir) will know that there is another level of connection to the music and to each other in that moment. That is why I believe it is so important to offer children the chance to make music and develop this amazing human capacity.

I won’t go into dopamine and all the other hormones related to music because that could be a PhD on it’s own. We can all relate to how music can make us happy, it can move us to tears, it can make our hairs stand on end it can motivate and inspire us in ways that nothing else can. If you will take anything from this post I hope it is that you will take time to enjoy music with other people, include more live music in your life, and if you feel like you’d love to make music but think it’s too late to learn an instrument (it’s not) don’t forget the instrument you carry with you at all times –  your voice.

 

 

Why start a blog in 2018?

Having your own blog gives you complete control over your content and freedom in how you present it and interact with your online community. No crazy Instagram algorithm or unwanted YouTube videos are going to appear here. In a loud and crowded online world, a personal blog is all yours.

I’ve had my Instagram account @nataliedanza for over 3 years and my YouTube channel for over 2 years so why is now the right time to start a blog? The honest answer is that it would probably have been better to start a blog much sooner, but it’s never too late!

I originally started my Instagram to have somewhere to post my ballet photos and videos for myself mainly so I wouldn’t annoy my friends and family on Facebook by flooding their news feeds with arabesques and pointe shoes. I never expected to grow a following of 250 people, never mind 25k! Turns out there are a lot of adult ballet dancers out there!

Later came my YouTube channel mainly because I wanted to share my love of health, fitness and dance through online videos. I didn’t even know at that point that people could make a career out of social media. YouTube was a wonderful platform because it allowed me to answer so many of the questions I had on Instagram and direct people to my existing videos and share them with a bigger audience.

I’ve had this website domain for 4 years, I bought it when I was thinking about setting up my own dance classes as a way of advertising. I ended up teaching for a company instead so this website sat forgotten and forlorn. A year ago I decided to create a few pages and share a few videos but the thing I’ve realised with the internet is that you’re either in or out. There is no half way, everything moves so quickly that if you’re not uploading and interacting regularly or you have another way of streaming traffic to your website then you might as well forget it.

So now comes the blog. I can’t tell you how excited I am about the freedom of blogging. I love that this is my space to share. I designed every aspect of it and I’m going to fill it with positivity, passion and (hopefully) inspiration. I really hope you enjoy it!

Why start a blog in 2018?

  • share your knowledge and experience

  • create an online community

  • interact with your audience

  • control of all your content

  • design it your way

  • compliment your other social media

  • develop your brand

  • increase your online presence

  • be selective about advertising

  • market your own products or services

  • make a positive difference