a summer in sacramento | my story so far

It’s only 19 hours, I kept telling myself. 19 hours of travelling and you’ll be in heaven. It was daunting, super exciting and completely surreal to think I would be taking this trip all by myself.

About 3 months ago, it was time for me to submit my placement preferences as part of my MSc in Health Economics. It didn’t take long for me to put Sacramento at the top of my list. The promise of sun, guacamole, and an impactful project to work on was all I needed to convince me. When my allocation was released and I read “UC Davis” next to my name, I couldn’t believe I’d be spending three whole months in sunny California. Me? Who’d never flown for more than 4 hours? Impossible.

Preparations

I started planning right away and hoped to God I wouldn’t miss anything out. My visa application was particularly painful, but I don’t think anybody’s ever enjoyed applying for an immigrant or non-immigrant visa. It’s an administrative procedure that requires you to answer really obscure questions about your religious affiliations and pay large amounts of money to attend a 2 minute interview at an embassy, and maybe shed a few tears of frustration along the way, but you know what? It was worth it! My passport came back in the post a week later (because yes, they take your passport!) and I frantically finished packing up my life, sat my last ever exam at York, sold my furniture and tried to get some headspace before this huge adventure.

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Travels

As you can imagine, I barely slept the night before my 24-hour journey to Sacramento. I went to sleep late, making sure I had all my valuables and papers (you know, in case the immigration officer asked me for my birth certificate or my most recent bank statement… They don’t actually do that. I’m just paranoid.) and stepped outside my front door for the very last time, slid my keys in the letterbox and waited for Nicky and Mark (nimaconsultancy.co.uk) to drive me to Manchester airport. It was a super fun road trip; we yawned a lot and watched the sun rise, I read the sweetest good luck card they wrote me and I had a 5am chicken wrap, the first of many random meals in the next 23 hours.

First it was Manchester to Heathrow. Then navigating Heathrow terminals. Then security for the second time. And then the long flight, Heathrow to Dallas. Ten hours in the air. I got extra lucky (maybe because no one goes to Dallas?) and had a whole row to myself for the entire flight. I watched Red Sparrow (probably a 3/5) and Ladybird (probably a 4/5), which is set in Sacramento, ate all the mini pretzels they gave me, and the snacks I brought, and the meal they gave me. [Would you like me to write a post on surviving your first long haul? Let me know!] 9 bathroom breaks later and we landed in ultra dry Texas, and I couldn’t hide my excitement because omg I finally made it to the US of A. A 2-hour connection and 4-hour flight to Sacramento later, my travels ended at last. I could barely remember my name, trust me.

First days

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I decided to spend my time in Sacramento living with a host family; I call it a host family because that’s what they’ve become, but it was advertised as an en-suite room in a family home, and I initially thought that’s all it would be. But the more we spoke on the phone, the more I realised I would receive an immersive experience; they offered to share meals with me, drive me to work, pick me up from the airport, take me on weekend trips and show me where to shop for groceries! I was sold and super excited to live an authentic California life for the summer.

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I’ve settled in so well. And it’s thanks to them, for being so accommodating and making me feel part of the family! They’ve given me the nicest, aluminium frame bike (and if you know me even just a little, you know cycling is religion to me), which I use to cycle to work, the yoga studio and Insight Coffee. I had a week to get settled in before starting work, so I prioritised (a) going grocery shopping, (b) trying out the top-rated coffeeshops, (c) finding a yoga studio and (d) figuring out my bike route to work. America is not generally bike-friendly (we’ve all seen how hilly San Francisco is, and busy the highways are, in like every single film), but Sacramento is extra flat and has plenty of bike lanes, so I’ve only had to use the light rail twice.

(a) went really well; we went to Raley’s and Sprouts (my favourite) and I stocked up on plenty of snacks (especially Simple Mills and Mary’s Crackers, which I was hyped to try), avocados and sourdough (which is also religion to me). (b) went even better, with Insight Coffee, Temple, Chocolate Fish and Dantorel’s pretty much on my doorstep. Everywhere sells cold brew. I’m doing good. (c) went also well, although I wasn’t sure at first – I found Zuda Yoga, a 15-minute bike ride away, offering Ashtanga classes almost every morning of the week (which is so hard to find anywhere else!) The crowd seemed a little too lululemon to me at first, but the more I go, the better it gets! The service is amazing, the studio incredibly well-kept and the teachers really friendly. (d) was challenging at first – there’s a scary, really fast road I’ve gotta cycle through, which is just not happening during rush hour, so I’m still figuring out a way around it!

Sacramento, the low-down

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Sacramento is a pretty quiet, moderately large town in Northern California – it’s the capital of California (I know, I was surprised too), has plenty of trees and green space, has lots of farmers markets, a huge hospital which is part of UC Davis (the University) and is cheaper to live in than the ‘Bay Area’, i.e. San Francisco and surrounding area. Microbreweries are a big deal, as are outdoor festivals. Downtown is busy during the week, with state workers rushing to work and meetings, and Midtown has some great places to eat and drink (so I’ve heard!). It also has a golden/yellow bridge (which I have yet to see) crossing one of the two rivers; the American River and the Sacramento River. It gets much hotter than SF, because it’s further from the coast (about 2 hours), but it’s quite dry (less than 50% humidity) and always, always breezy (thank you Delta Breeze). It always cools down at night; even if it’s been 40 degree heat, you can expect to wake up to around 15 – no sticky, sleepless nights trying to adjust the air conditioning. Many Bay Area locals are fleeing the area due to rising living costs and moving over to Sacramento, bringing with them all the cool stuff, like longer shop opening times, guys wearing Birkenstocks and places to brunch. It’s also an ideal mid-way point between the madness that is San Francisco and some beautiful national parks, like Tahoe and the Sierras, where people spend summer weekends hiking and go skiing in the winter. That’s right, you can ski in Calfornia!

Working & finding my pace

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 After an amazing week discovering what California was all about (mostly Mexican food and single-origin coffee), it was time to get to work. I met my supervisor for lunch (we had a really good chicken salad) at the Medical Center, where my office is. He gave me an overview of the project, and I quickly realised I would be highly independent, would need to be resourceful and very pro-active. I’ve got a cute corner office, adjacent to where most of the employees work, and a few feet from my supervisor’s office. I don’t have a window, so I’m considering bringing a succulent. There’s a Starbucks down our street, which is ideal for a mid-afternoon pick me up (and before you ask, I’ve got my own reusable cup at the ready!).

The project we’re working on mostly involves people from Chicago, with the ‘modelling team’ (i.e. me and him) in Sacramento. It’s a pretty technical project; estimating the range of costs and benefits of introducing treatment for an ultra-rare disease. I’ve spent the past few days figuring out how much a wheelchair costs and debating whether the time lost to caregivers should be included in the model. It’s pretty stimulating and actually a lot more creative than I expected it to be, which I deem essential in a job. This project is not only a chance for me to work in the field for a few months, but also the basis of my MSc Dissertation. By the end of September, I will have written 10,000 words on our model!

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More food posts to come.. I promise!

I’m finding my pace and my comfort zones as time goes on – I’m trying to make friends, slowly but surely, which can be tricky at first. I’m figuring out where to have lunch, and how to fit yoga into a working life. And of course, I’ve been enjoying the gorgeous weather, which ranges anywhere from 24-40 degrees in the afternoon. Needless to say – I don’t want to leave!

 

Stay tuned for more of my Californian adventures – I can’t wait to share all my experiences with you all!

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ayurvedic + gut-friendly savoury oats

A warming bowl of porridge is so much more than a plate of food. Share it with a friend and it becomes a topic of conversation. Make it after a long day and it becomes a source of comfort. Let your imagination run free and it becomes a creative outlet.

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I think bowl foods are the best foods. Eleanor from Blue & Aquamarine and I created this recipe together, on a rainy afteernoon in my kitchen. The result was a fresh take on savoury porridge, featuring loads of toppings (because if you aren’t topping your porridge, what are you doing with your life, really?)

A few weeks ago, the Wise Herb Company sent me their Ayurvedic Turmeric Spice Powder – a blend of turmeric, black pepper and ginger. If you haven’t fallen in love with all things turmeric yet, now is your chance to! It’s incredibly versatile – turmeric lattes, smoothies, curries, dhals, dressings, sauces and of course, oats… The possibilities are endless. I really enjoy working with spice blends, which can bring an extra depth to your meal.

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We added a fried egg, coriander and spring onion, kimchi, mushrooms + spinach, avocado and slivered almonds. All the good stuff. It’s balanced, filling, and easy on your digestion, thanks to the fibre-rich oats and kimchi. Not to mention it’ll look awesome on your instagram feed (because sometimes, you just wanna eat something pretty.)

This would be a great meal to prepare for yourself (and a friend!) in the evening – especially if kitchen therapy is your kinda therapy. You can add as many toppings as you like; hummus, crispy bacon and Parmesan would work beautifully, too!

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First, we cooked about a cup of oats (for 2) with 2+ cups of water on low to medium heat. The longer they cook, the better. We let them cook for about 20 minutes, giving us enough time to prepare the rest.

Eleanor was on chopping duty: a handful of mushrooms, spring onions, coriander and 1/2 an avocado each. We cooked up the mushrooms and spinach with some garlic in a little olive oil and set aside.

I fried an egg until crispy (poached was option number two).

By this point, the porridge was silky smooth. We added a splash of oat milk, a splash of soy sauce, a pinch of salt and a teaspoon of turmeric blend.

We assembled it very simply; a ladle of porridge, all the toppings, a pinch of red pepper flakes and some almonds

 

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And there you have it, delicious savoury, turmeric oats!

You can find Eleanor at greenandaquamarine.com, and on instagram.

Looking for the video tutorial? Follow me on instagram!

The Wise Herb Company: thewiseherbcompany.com.

 

 

 

#SeptemberReset

I’m doing a September Reset!

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Last year, I did a whole30. It was interesting, to say the least, but not for me. I love a good bowl of lentil soup, and really, there’s nothing wrong with lentils. Or a grilled tofu salad. I can’t do without ’em. So, as advised by Melissa Hartig in Food Freedom Forever, I’m just doing a reset.

I’ve been on holiday and ate decently well (lots of fish and, ehm, lots of European bread which.. well, I just can’t resist!). It was totally worth it. But a lot has changed, both diet and life-wise, for me this summer.

I went to see an acupunturist. She said I should avoid salads and caffeine, and try more soups and stir-fried vegetables. Noted. I’m also consuming less waste. So however good and paleo-compliant the super fancy smoked salmon from ocado may be, I’m more inclined to see my local fishmonger for a less wasteful, less packaged and greener option (i.e. smoked mackerel, e-ve-ry time) – my diet has shrinked in variety, as a result. So stocking up on paleo ‘essentials’ like single wrapped snacks and packets of almond butter is a big no-no for me. Lastly, I’m doing a lot more yoga. My Ashtanga practice has sky-rocketed in the past few months and my diet has shifted towards a kinder approach to my body. I’m not quite vegetarian (I might get there, one day!), but I feel more balanced. I’m not constantly debating between being a macro-counting-egg-white-eating queen and being a raw-vegan-smoothie-drinking monkey. I’m just me, eating whatever I like and whatever makes me feel good.

Continue reading “#SeptemberReset”

june favourites

Happy July and happy summer! It’s been a busy month, filled with some exciting changes and revelations. Read on to find out! 🙂

mindful shopping

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This is definitely easier said than done if you’re edging on compulsive shopping, which many of us do without realising. It looks good on the mannequin, or it seems useful at the time, but when you get home you realise maybe you didn’t need it after all. Or you use it once and then it gathers dust at the back of a cupboard. I’ve done a lot of work on myself to reduce my attachment to stuff, but I’ve always been frugal, so it hasn’t been excessively hard for me to be more selective in my shopping. I had run out of summer clothes to wear and so went on many more shopping trips than I would have in the past, and most of the time, I went home empty handed. It’s life-changing to walk out of a shop knowing you didn’t feel pressured by the shop assistant, having carefully thought through any purchases (‘is it useful’, ‘is it durable’, is it worth the price’, ‘will it match my style’…).

Continue reading “june favourites”

this is how you pack exactly what you need

Holiday season is upon us once more! I’m super hyped becauseI have actually planned a couple of trips this year, which means my suitcase will be more than just a weekend bag for a few days spent with a friend. Or will it? Is packing a huge suitcase, 5 pairs of shoes and both a hair straightener and curling iron really necessary?

Having less is seriously cool. I’m no longer worried about stuff not matching in my wardrobe, or that pink jacket I never wear: if I’m not using it, I’m not keeping it.

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But then comes your exotic trip, and you think you need the entire asos swimwear department to survive it. (Just a piece of friendly advice before we start: you don’t.) I take more long weekend trips than weeklong holidays so I’ve become accustomed to packing a small carry-on and making the most of what I bring! Here’y how you can apply underpacking to longer holidays like I am this year!

1. Think ahead

Beautiful view of Ostuni, Puglia, Italy. Photo: Kate Holstein:
Ostunia, Puglia © Kate Holstein

If you’re not one of those people that starts packing or thinking about packing at least 2 weeks before you leave, start now. Honestly, this is a huge help – ask yourself where you’ll be, what you’ll be doing and how often, think of what you already have and what should be replaced or bought for the occasion. I’m leaving for Italy in a couple of days for a super casual poolside reading and city exploring break. Realistically, only 3 scenarios are likely: a day out, for which I’ll need some comfortable, functional and breathable, a day at the pool, for which I’ll need swimwear and a cover up and a classier option for the evening to wear to a nice dinner. My make-up and hair routine can be adjusted accordingly by increasing the intensity rather than the amount of products used. Instead of just slapping on some mascara and eyebrows, I might spend longer on some eyeliner or contouring. And then there’s the airport days, where you should think of wearing something comfortable and layerable, for example the only thicker jacket you’re bringing in case of colder weather, and to keep yourself warm on the flight, over a t-shirt you can wear on a city day later on. Write it down, draw it out, whatever you need to do: just think!

Continue reading “this is how you pack exactly what you need”

how to make the best gut-healing oatmeal

Oatmeal, porridge, whatever you wanna call it. One thing: treat it like risotto.

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Oats are like the perfect middle-ground between incredibly indulgent and incredibly nutritious.

I was probably born with a spoonful of oats in my mouth. Wherever I was, at home, at school, on holidays, oats always made an appearance. Except my oat consumption has changed drastically since those dairy and microwave days. I actually used to pour cornflakes on top of my porridge. That crunch was everything. Now it just comes in a different shape (i.e. spoonfuls of PB)!

Continue reading “how to make the best gut-healing oatmeal”

why you should seek balance + 10 ways to find it

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I love the YOGABODY Yoga Talk Show podcast. Every week, I look forward to the latest episode; the range of topics covered is so broad I’m guaranteed to learn something new. A couple of weeks ago, the topic of discussion was life balance and the causes of adrenal fatigue. It’s not a sexy topic, but it’s an important one.

I’m 21 and I truly believe our generation is seeking balance, or at least trying to tip the balance in favour of their well-being as opposed to reckless enjoyment. More than ever we are seeing turmeric lattes and superfood açai bowls and cool yoga studios. Public figures are healthy cookbook authors and instagram yogis and fitness ebook writers.

And yet so often it’s an all-or-nothing affair. You’re vegan or you’re not. You’re a yogi or you’re not. You’re healthy or you’re not. And you only ARE if you take things to the next level. You a raw vegan, and practice 90 minutes every day and always drink your lemon water in the morning. I’m not sure why there is such an obsession with perfection, but let me tell you, it’s not perfection you seek. It’s balance.

Have you ever regretted eating so healthily you couldn’t eat your mother’s apple crumble? Probably.

And have you ever been so careless you regretted eating the entire brunch spread last Christmas? Probably, too.

But did you regret having that one bite of your friend’s pancake stack and ordering the smoothie bowl for yourself? Probably not.
We also mistakingly feel that balance is just a food thing. Balance is an everything thing. Because what is imbalanced in one aspect of your life may be counterbalanced by something else. Balance is something that is advised by yoga teachers, nutritionists and life coaches; not choosing one extreme over the other. It’s a way of life, not a means to an end. Balance should not inspire guilt, either. It’s not because you’re not a raw vegan you’re a bad vegan. It’s not because you haven’t done the whole30 that you’re a bad paleo. Balance for you will look nothing like balance for someone else. But balance is so abstract, don’t you think? It’s an ideal that’s hard to pinpoint, you can only feel it. There’s no common denominator or way of measuring balance on a scale.

So how do you add more yin to your yang, so to speak? Well here are 8 things you can do to bring balance, rather than an extreme of good or bad, into your life!

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Continue reading “why you should seek balance + 10 ways to find it”

february favourites

February has been a beautiful month. I’ve been feeling energised and replenished, rested and peaceful. I’ve tried to reduce stress as much as possible, and I’m proud to say it has improved my quality of life enormously already!

I’m not a winter-lover. I love snow and Christmas vibes, but once January comes to a close, I am ready for spring. I’m ready to see trees and flowers blossom and to wear lighter coats. And put my UGG boots away. But this year, I’m trying to embrace the seasons, and I suggest you try, too! Seasons come and go for a reason, and nature is constantly changing. It’s a cycle of death and rebirth, and we should honour it rather than let it pass us by 🙂

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As always, my (slightly) obsessive nature has ensured that this past month’s favourites were very easy and obvious to put together in this post! Let me know what you’ve been loving, I’m dying to know! 😀

side braids

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Undercut side braid inspo

I don’t know if it’s because I’m channeling my inner Viking or trying to find a substitute for shaving one side of my head [eek!], but these side braids have been stuck to my head most of the month. Having short hair means you have to be relatively creative in tying it up, and I’ve said goodbye to The Topknot aka that shaggy pile of hair that is not-so-artfully tied up when I’m exercsing/working/doing the dishes to keep my front layers out of the way. Yeah. Not glamorous. These half french braids are way easier than they look, very functional and I always get complimented on them 🙂 Continue reading “february favourites”

the gut-friendly valentine’s guide you’ve been looking for

It’s almost Valentine’s. Can you believe it?
Truth be told, I’ve never really understood it! I think I got a card, once. Nowadays, being in a strong and well-grounded relationship means that Valentine’s hasn’t got much significance for us. We have other meaningful times and milestones we celebrate! But I admire those who make a real effort on the day. Buy something nice, take their S.O. for a decadent dinner or better still, COOK FOR THEM!

Food gifts are definitely my favourite kinds of gifts; to cook for me or to gift me something edible speaks in my sorta love language. I’m so easy to please.
But taking me out can be.. complicated.

There you are, sitting in an outrageously expensive restaurant and staring blankly at the 3 mains on the menu. And there is nothing you can eat. Because you’ve been avoiding gluten and dairy and nuts and soy and sugar and and and— Sound familiar?

So. We all know how to prevent this scenario from happening.
a) phone the restaurant in advance and have a lengthy and frustrating conversation about your dietary restrictions (“no, I’m not allergic, it’s just that I’m avoiding it for the moment because…”)
b) cook at home.

Option b) generally wins for me!

I’ve spent some time (not that I mind!) looking for the best gluten + dairy free, real food recipes to cook for yourself or someone special (or print this out and hand it to them. Wink wink.) And I guarantee you’ll have a much better night than trying to eat around the croutons in your overpriced salad.

Continue reading “the gut-friendly valentine’s guide you’ve been looking for”

is your whole30 whole enough?

It’s late at night and I’m thinking about the whole30. I’m thinking about my first whole30 and how I’m still seeking #FoodFreedomForever. And I really feel like I need to take some thoughts off my chest after seeing how much attention the programme has had over the month of January!

I did the whole30 back in September. It didn’t have a happy ending, but it did have lifelong positive consequences. My gut wasn’t happy, but my soul was, and I am so grateful for the experience. I’m also proud I lasted the 30 days without a slip. I know I won’t be doing the whole30 exactly as it is outlined again, but I know that applying the core principles was essential to my mental success the first time around.

But there’s stuff we’re not talking about enough in this community. I still stumble upon whole30ers who just want to “lose weight”. Who think it’s ok to eat almond butter by the spoonful because it’s compliant. Or worse, who stuff dates with almond butter and are cool with that.

No. Don’t be cool.

If these behaviours don’t seem like red flags to you, please don’t stop reading. You need this.

#1. it takes a while to get ready and figure out your boundaries

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Continue reading “is your whole30 whole enough?”