Making time for the things you love with Virgin Trains on the East Coast

Life often has an annoying habit of getting in the way of the things we love, from busy work commitments to lack of money or suddenly making us feeling poorly or blue. It can be really hard to make time for the things you love when you have so many other commitments and only seven short days to fit them in.

This week I've teamed up with Virgin Trains on the East Coast to show how planning ahead can give you a head start and give you more time for the things you love. During the last week, Virgin trains on the East Coast have challenged me to work my way through my to-do list, comprising of things that I either needed to get done or have been putting off for far too long.

Booking a gym class

One of my first items on my to-do list was booking into a gym class. I've been paying for a gym membership for nearly four years which includes unlimited gym classes and I've never been to any of them. This was mainly due to my lack of confidence, but also partly due to the fact that I always forgot to book in advance and spaces would fill up. This week I booked myself into a class a few days early on my fitness class and then attended my first ever pilates class. It was fun, it really pushed me out of my comfort zone and it gave me the motivation to do a lot more of them.

Book a trip to London

The next item that I was keen to tick off my to do list was booking a trip to London. It has almost been six years since my husband and I spent the night in London and the last time we went, it was when we got engaged. Over the last few months we have been working really hard to save for a house deposit, so it was about time that we treated ourselves. We booked our tickets in advance on the Virgin Trains on the East Coast website travelling from Leeds to London and we managed to get tickets considerably cheaper than booking only a few days ahead.

Cooking from scratch

Meal prep or batch cooking is a great way to save time when you have a busy working week and something that I've been looking to do more of recently. I leave the house at 7am and usually don't get home until 7pm and I often feel too tired to cook, but I need to cook a lot from scratch due to my nutritional needs as a vegan. This week I bought lots of ingredients in advance and spent an evening cooking and freezing meals to free up space for the next few days. It felt like a big task, to begin with as I needed to cook several meals at a time, but it was great knowing that I could come home from work the night after and simply reheat my meal. I was then able to dedicate the time I freed up to blogging and even going to the gym.

Sorting out my photography

On Friday night, I spent the evening in front of the television, with a big glass of wine, printing off my travel photographs from 2017. Now we're in the digital age, most of us just keep our photographs on our phones or computers, but what happens if they break? Last year I lost a considerable amount of photographs when my hard drive broke and I was devastated. I kept telling myself that I would print off my photographs in future, but the months have crept by and until now I hadn't printed off any. Printing my travel photographs means that I have physical copies of my favourite memories and also that I can make space on my camera for more photographs of the things I love.

Spending time with loved ones

Last, but definitely not least on my to-do list was to spend much needed time with my husband. Although we live together, we rarely get to spend quality time together because we're too tired on an evening and we both have very hectic lives.  We spent Saturday having a few cocktails then went for a meal at one of our favourite restaurants and it was great to be able to have a laugh together without feeling too rundown. It also happened to be the day that we finally put an offer down on a house and it was a great distraction whilst we waited for it to be accepted...hopefully we will hear back from them soon.

How do you make time for the things you love?

*Collaborative post
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Six ways to rekindle your lost motivation

We've all been there, staring at a to-do list and not knowing where to start. It can be incredibly frustrating when you have a task to do for a specific deadline, but you cannot find the 'get go' to begin. Before you know it, the list gets bigger and what seemed like a one hour task can suddenly feel overwhelming. There are many things that can affect our motivation from juggling our workloads and problems at home to simply feeling tired or the weather making us feel cold and uninspired.

This week I'm teaming up with Virgin Trains on the East Coast* to highlight how planning ahead, such as purchasing earlier train tickets or meal prepping, can help you stay organised and free up your time to do more of the things you love, rekindling your motivation for life. Over the next week, I will be posting my daily challenges on social media and striking off my to-do list, but first, here are just a few tips to help you find the motivation to get what you need done.

Your working environment can really affect your mental health and positivity, so before you embark on your to-do list, make sure you declutter your desk space and create 'thinking room.' Hang up photographs of the things that inspire you, make note of what you would like to achieve and have space where you can spread out all your paperwork so you can see and think clearly.

Set goals
Some people work better when they have a target or a set goal to reach, so try to think of a date when you would like to have completed your work by or achieved what you are setting out to do. Think of your short and long-term life goals and write out a plan to help you get there.

Don't overdo it
Taking on too many tasks at one time can lead to stress and burnout and you're less likely to achieve what you have set out to do and if you do achieve it, your performance may be subpar. Only take on what you can handle and only take on a few tasks at a time.

Be positive
Although it can be hard at times to remain positive, always try to keep a smile on your face and surround yourself with positive people. If you have a 'can do' attitude, you're more likely to get things done.

Be inspired
Sometimes we all require a little bit of inspiration to show us that the tasks we are doing are worthwhile. Think closely about what you would like to achieve and then browse social media, the internet or books to find inspiration from people who have had similar successes.

Reward yourself

Once you have completed your goals, don't forget to reward yourself however big or small. You will work harder knowing that there's something you want at the end of the task and once you have that sense of achievement, you're more likely to do it again when you have something else you need to get done.

Do you have a long to-do list?

 *collaborative post
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Burns Night at The Dakota Leeds

The Dakota hotel in Leeds has been open less than twelve months, but it has already become an established part of the city with its sleek, modern design, sophisticated bar and grill and it's close proximity to Greek Street, the bar and restaurant hotspot in the city centre. The hotel boasts 84 bedrooms and is the fourth hotel in the Dakota group with the other three situated between Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Just over a week ago, I was invited down to the Dakota hotel in Leeds to celebrate Burns night with them and to take part in a Scottish whisky tasting session with Johnnie Walker and a traditional Burns night supper. With my love of food, whisky and boutique hotels combined, I really couldn't wait to attend.

The Dakota hotel is a boutique hotel with a very modern, yet retro vibe and from top to bottom, it is full to the brim with character. The decor features a lot of greyscale and vintage style artwork, contrasted against abstract furniture and ornaments. All of the rooms come with state of the art televisions complete with Sky TV, a work desk complete with Bluetooth and HDMI connectivity and the bathroom features a rainfall shower with bespoke Dakota hotel toiletries, everything you could need for a luxury, comfortable nights stay in the city.

I was very impressed with our bedroom, it had lots of space to get ready, the plugs were at the side of our bed (which is the first thing I check when I get to a hotel) and the view from our hotel window was lovely as we could see the town hall lit up late at night. There were ample amounts of space to hang your clothes as you're getting ready, great tea making facilities and the bed was firm, yet soft enough to swallow you up and make you not want to leave.

The Burns night event took place in the stylish Salon Prive on the first floor of the hotel. The Salon Prive is one of the Dakota's event spaces, which can accommodate up to 150 people. It featured a glamorous bar with plush seating and the balcony looked over the hustle and bustle of Greek Street. Our welcome drink consisted of Johnnie Walker Black Label and Ginger ale - one of my new favourite drinks. If you love Jameson and ginger ale, you will love the alternative J.W version - Jameson has quite a smooth texture, whereas Johnnie Walker and ginger ale has a lovely kick to it.

Once we had all arrived, we were lead to our tables and talked through the history of Scottish whiskys and were given a selection of the best Scottish whiskys to sample. In between each whisky, we dined on traditional Burns night grub - with vegan alternatives for myself and my husband. I was incredibly grateful and impressed with the level of detail that went into creating my vegan dishes, one of the highlights was my little vegan Scottish haggis tart made with lentils, topped with a layer of 'neaps' and 'tatties'.

With our bellies full of scrumptious food and warm with the feeling of whisky, we decided it was time to call it a day and head back to our room. When we arrived back to our room, the staff had put chocolates on our pillows, turned the radio on to Smooth FM and dimmed the lights, it was created the perfect relaxing atmosphere to end a busy day and helped us gently nod off.

Our night at the Dakota was nothing short of wonderful from the doting staff to our comfortable and sophisticated surroundings. Breakfast in the morning was plentiful and satisfying - I had the most wonderful avo on toast and we woke up with a spring in our step ready to embrace the next day, as well as also feeling that little bit sad that we wouldn't be returning back to our room. Until next time, Dakota.

Rooms are available from £110 per night at the Dakota Hotel website.

Have you stayed at the Dakota before?

*My stay was complimentary, but all views are my own.

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Think Vegans can't eat desserts? Think again!

One of the questions I get asked a lot since going vegan has been 'what do you eat?' It's a perfectly valid question from someone who has not been exposed to a plant-based diet before, but it is a vegans bugbear when it crops up on a weekly basis. The short answer is, what don't I eat? I pretty much eat everything that someone following a meat-based diet would eat, but all the meat and dairy has been substituted for plants. In fact, I'm yet to find one of my favourite omnivore dishes that cannot be 'veganised'. However, desserts can be troublesome.

Vegan versions of traditional dishes such as pies, crumbles, yoghurts and ice-cream are quite easy to find in your standard supermarket, in fact, the majority of them are 'accidentally vegan' without people realising, but creamier desserts such as vegan cheesecakes can be difficult to obtain. One of my favourite desserts before going vegan was GU, I loved their rich indulgent flavours and it was the one craving that I had on a weekly basis (but didn't succumb to), but thankfully now I've found a  vegan, dairy-free replacement that I would say is even better, Freaks of Nature*.

Freaks of Nature's puddings and cheesecakes are free from gluten, dairy, egg and soya and are vegan and vegetarian society approved. Their products are delightfully creamy and indulgent, so much so that you wouldn't even think that they are plant-based.  The range includes a Strawberry Blonde and Choc & Awe cheesecake and a 'Coca Loca' and 'Mango Fandango' pudding, which is deliciously fruity and satisfying. Their products are great for those who suffer from intolerances or who are following a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle or for those who are actively trying to broaden their plant-based diet.

Today I've teamed up with Freaks of Nature to give one of my followers a selection of the Freaks of Nature desserts. All you need to do is fill out the form below before the 28th February. Good luck! Open to UK residents only, aged 18 and above.

                                                             a Rafflecopter giveaway
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Issho Vegan Menu review

Vegan food over the last year has seen a surge in popularity, creating a demand for more plant-based cuisine in restaurants all over the UK, not just in dedicated vegan eateries. Eating out as a vegan was something that always daunted me and initially put me off my transition to a plant-based diet, but now more than ever it is becoming easier to grab food on the go and even dine in some of the best a la carte restaurants.  The Leeds foodie scene has adapted incredibly well to the veganisms newfound followers and we're seeing more and more vegan menus popping up all over the city. One of the newest restaurants to announce their vegan offering is the ultra trendy, Japanese tapas bar Issho, situated in Victoria Gate and a few days ago, I was invited to try it.

The word Issho is Japanese for 'together', which is a pretty apt name for a restaurant that is incredibly open to dietary requirements. Whether you're with co-workers or looking to head somewhere for a date night, Isshos low lighting, relaxed, but sophisticated surroundings make it the perfect place to come together and enjoy the array of Japanese sharing dishes, sakes and Asian inspired cocktails.

Issho's vegan menu boasts nine sharing dishes and six snacks ranging from sushi to tempura to hot pots and bao buns. It is recommended that you order 4-5 dishes each to give you a full range of dishes to share. I opted for the Maki, the pumpkin tempura and a bao bun with spicy tofu. The Maki rolled with cucumber, peppers, cabbage and lettuce was incredibly fresh and flavoursome and beautifully presented - it was great to see a vegan dish that had so much thought put into it. The pumpkin tempura had a lovely crisp outer layer and soft, melt in the mouth pumpkin inside, it wasn't too greasy and there was plenty to share between us.  The Bao bun had the crispiest tofu inside and the bun itself was light and bouncy, everything you could want to satisfy your bao bun cravings. 

Between us, we also ordered some pumpkin miso gyozas and the robata grilled sweet potato with smoked lime coconut butter. The grilled sweet potato was a simple, yet incredible dish and possibly the star of the show. The robata grill gave it such a smokey barbeque flavouring and the lime added an extra zing to the dish. The pumpkin gyoza was exactly as a gyoza should be - flavoursome, moreish and cooked to perfection.

I'm not usually a dessert fan, but after seeing the superb quality of our main dishes, our curiosity got the better of us and we felt that we couldn't leave without sampling the remainder of the vegan. The only vegan dessert available is sorbet - which is usually the case as vegan desserts can be quite complex, but it did not disappoint. Our sorbet selection consisted of mango, green apple and sake, black cherry and lychee flavours and each of them were the perfect palate cleanser for the meal. Incredibly fresh, very juicy and not too overly sweet, it was a great way to end the night.

If you love Japanese food and you're looking for somewhere with a classy atmosphere, Issho is a great choice. I left with the restaurant feeling incredibly satisfied, wowed at their vegan menu and with an appetite to visit again.

Have you been to Issho before?

*This meal was complimentary in exchange for this review. All views are my own.

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