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Archive for June, 2012

Tomorrow we’re hosting a much overdue housewarming and engagement party; something we’ve been planning for months without actually committing ourselves to a date. Now it’s finally upon us and I’m so excited to get so many of our friends together in one place, some who I haven’t seen for ages and ages!

The plan is to supply a good selection of nibbles for everyone, in the hope that guests will bring drinks. Hopefully enough drinks for them to soon not notice that we don’t have any chairs. Or any space in general! Ah well šŸ™‚

I’m having fun thinking of things to provide for the evening; dishes that will be quick and easy to prepare, that aren’t too fancy, and that will go down well with our friends!

I’m thinking…

This amazing houmous recipe, with raw veggie sticks.

My special veggie chilli with homemade garlic bread.

Crumbly cheese with charcoal crackers.

Baked nachos with salsa.

Fruit salad.

Doughnuts.

Pimms spiked with gin, and fresh mint from the garden.

Cider. Lots of cider.

I love nibbling, especially with a drink in my hand and some good music on the stereo!

Do you have any tips for a successful house party? Please do share!

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During my wheat-free week we had planned to have an easy tea of veggie burgers with homemade chips one night. I took my favourite vegan veggie bean burgers out of the freezer and realized that, of course, they’re coated in breadcrumbs! I was frustrated, tired and hungry, and for once didn’t fancy cooking, but I got my blender out, had a look through the cupboards, and came up with probably the second best veggie burger I’ve ever tasted. The best veggie burger I’ve ever tasted is this one, and I’m not even going to try to compete.

Now, chickpea burgers have been done time and time again. It probably all started with falafel, and then I imagine there was the falafel burger, and then the chickpea burger which was sort of like falafel but not quite. This burger, admittedly, is sort of like falafel but not quite, but it’s the not quite of that description that remains the important factor. This veggie burger is nutty, crunchy, burgery and delicious! Try it and see!

Wheat-Free Chickpea and Spinach Burgers
Makes 4 large burgers

1 tin chickpeas
1 onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic
1 slice of wheat-free rye bread, such as Biona
2 large handfuls of fresh spinach
2 tbsp tahini
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp hot chilli powder (or to taste)
1 egg, beaten
salt and pepper

1. In a blender, whizz the onion and garlic, then transfer to a large bowl.
2. Now whizz the chickpeas until most (but not all) are in pieces, then add the spinach and whizz for a couple of seconds so that some spinach is shredded while some remains leafy. Add to the bowl with the onion and garlic.
3. Finally, whizz up the bread and add this to the bowl too.
4. Add the tahini and lemon juice and stir everything together. Now add the egg and all the spices. Season well with salt and pepper.
5. Using damp hands, shape the mixture into patties. You can freeze them as they are now, or leave them in the fridge for later if necessary.
6. When ready to cook, bake at 200C for about 30 mins, turning halfway through cooking.

These burgers are delicious in a bun, or served with brown rice and salad. They also work well served cold in a lunchbox the next day!

 

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Back on the Bike

I have Mondays off these days, which is a wonderful opportunity to pack up some cereal bars and a couple of maps and head off on my bike into the day. I love my solitude, and somehow the space gained from the world when cycling alone through the countryside is the perfect antidote from the often overwhelming crowds of life.

York’s surrounding countryside hosts a fantastic web of country lanes to be explored; some are hardly wide enough for a car, but perfect for cyclists who can zip freely around the lanes, swerving around corners and leaving tummies behind atop steep descents (while practising appropriate levels of road safety, of course!).

The freedom to jump on a bike and cycle off for a day, a few hours, or even an hour before or after work, is extremely precious to me. It’s something I took for granted when I first lived in York, but when I left this city for apartment living (bikes kept in pieces, 2 storeys from the ground) in an area with busy dual carriageways, it soon became apparent that a large chunk of my lifestyle had been left behind. Now I intend to make as much of I can of where I live!

There is so much out there to find, so much to be explored. It doesn’t fit to be afraid of seeing what’s around the corner, what can be discovered with two wheels, a map and a bag of energy bars and puncture repair equipment. There is such freedom in fresh air and rolling fields. So much satisfaction in reaching tops of steep hills, and so much pleasure in rolling back down the other side.

I’m increasing my distances, slowly, impatiently. I’m nervous of something going wrong when I’m too far from home, all naive recklessness of last year’s solitary adventures abolished for a more careful, more informed approach. In time I’ll get my hill strength back, and with it, I hope, a bit more confidence to tackle some of the more challenging roads that I long to revisit.

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Yoga moves in and out of my life, and has done for years now. There are times when I practise every day, and other times I don’t get my mat out for months. I’m ok with both of these extremes; yoga isn’t something that I want to push; when it comes, it comes naturally, and, to me at least, that’s how yoga should be.

I spent too much time in the past trying to push myself into poses that weren’t comfortable. My hips aren’t flexible in the slightest, and my tight running hamstrings are never going to allow me much flexibility. It took a while for me to realise that it’s ok that I can’t touch my toes, and once I got there, yoga became to me what it still is today: natural, unforced movement and stillness, used to compliment all the other things that exist in my life (namely running, working in a shop, sitting at a desk, not sleeping well, worrying, cycling…).

Throughout this revelation, though, my favourite pose has remained. The first time I tried pigeon pose I felt as if my body were contorted yet also the most natural it could be, and for some reason I breathe more deeply in this pose than I ever can elsewhere. I’d never do this pose without warming up in some way first, and it would normally come at the end of sun salutation, but whenever I need to exhale completely, this is the position in which to do it.

Do you have a favourite yoga pose or sequence? Please do share!

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My main breakfast stable is always porridge, so during my wheat-free week I didn’t have toĀ struggleĀ at all in the mornings. However, muesli is one of my favourite afternoon snacks, and mostĀ  appear to contain wheat in some form. Spelt is actually an ancient form of wheat, so even my favourite spelt muesli, which doesn’t list wheat on the ingredients list, was off the cards for the 5 days that I managed to abstain!!

This muesli is quick, and can be adapted to suit all diets and tastes. I love dates and walnuts, so I used these as the main fruit and nut combination here, but I love roasted peanuts in muesli, as well as dried apple or fig. The choice is yours!

Toasted Oats Muesli
Makes 1.5 large jars

3 cups jumbo oats
3 cups plain rice puffs (I likeĀ Kallo)
1/2 cup flaked almonds
3/4 pack packed dried dates (or 1 cup chopped dates), chopped
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup raisins
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt

1. In a large wok or pan, toast the oats with the salt and cinnamon. This takes about 8 minutes. The oats should turn a golden colour; take off the heat when some oats turn darker brown!

2. Put the oats in a large bowl and toast the almonds for a couple of minutes until golden brown. Add to the bowl with the oats.

3. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well.

This muesli stores well in a large jar or container for a few weeks!

What are your favourite muesli ingredients?

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Rain is my absolute favourite weather to run in.

Throw a bit of bluster in there, and I’m as happy as can be! Wind on its own is actually my least favourite running condition, but when the rain is lashing around in different directions, and when my face is burning and soaking wet, that feeling of being completely away from the comfort of real life is at its strongest. And that’s why I love to run!

This morning’s run was just that – rainy, blustery, wild. I wanted to get off-roadĀ and into the mud, but my feet hurt too much for cross-country today, so instead I took a nice 7-mile loop around the river, and back through the early morning city streets. Glorious!

What’s your favourite running weather?

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I decided at the beginning of the year that I wanted to try a sort of ‘detox’. I’ve suffered for years with bloatedness, stomach cramps, stomach acid and plenty of other rather unglamorous symptoms, which have always been put down to IBS, but the problem with IBS is that it’s not that easy to control. Rather than just suffer without questioning the diagnosis, I thought it might be worth trying to cut out a few things from my diet, one at a time, to see if I felt any better. Wheat and dairy were first on my list; I’ve been slightly intolerant to milk products my whole life, and I always feel puffy and uncomfortable after eating bread, so I thought I’d give it a go – how hard can it be?!

I was all ready with my rye bread, but then I signed up for a marathon. I didn’t want to be thinking so hard about what I was eating while putting in so much training, and I didn’t want to have to limit myself in any way. So I put it on hold.

Then, a couple of weeks before race day, I started to feel really awful. It might have been something to do with the stress of leaving a job, it might even have had something to do with my pre-race nerves, but my tummy was not happy with something. At the time I was drinking a glass of warm milk before bed every night, eating loads of yogurt, and snacking on cereal with milk whenever I got hungry. We had been given some free hemp milk with a recent supermarket delivery, so I took the plunge and cut out all milk products, aware that it wasn’t exactly the best time to be changing my diet.

During the week leading up to the marathon I had more energy than I’d had in…maybe in years. I was really busy with a new job and certainly wasn’t taking it easy, despite tapering for the race. Even better than that, my stomach was pretty much fine. The bloatedness disappeared, as well as all of the other icky symptoms, and I was slightly unnerved at how fantastic I felt for the first time in as long as I can remember! Race day was the biggest test, as I always get a really dodgy tummy before any event, and I was amazed to find that I was pretty much ok; standard tummy nerves, but nothing too hard to handle.

With the exception of the evening and morning after the marathon, and maybe a sneaky digestive biscuit last weekend, I haven’t touched milk for four weeks. I don’t crave milk, and actually the thought of eating yogurt turns my stomach slightly – I never thought I’d feel anything but love for yogurt, so this is a real surprise! I’m also finding that I crave more nuts, seeds and oils, and that I’m eating better than I ever have. Rather than snacking on a bowl of cereal, or eating greedily from the yogurt pot straight out of the fridge, I’m eating more fruit, and am enjoying regular morning smoothies before breakfast. I’m not hungry quite as often because the good fats that I’m munching on in the morning and at lunch are more filling than the bowlful of low fat yogurt that I’d normally have after a meal!

So, feeling super duper healthy and more energetic than ever, I decided to try going without wheat for a week. I replaced my lunchtime cous cous with quinoa or rye bread, stopped munching biscuits or granola before bed, and cut out muesli, bulgur wheat and bread. I ate rice, pot barley or potatoes every night, and the meals we cooked were delicious. At first I was really excited to see how awesome I might feel in a few days!

But then cravings started. I was desperate for pudding, for some reason; I just wanted stodge, and in the supermarket I found myself pouring over the cookies and cakes in the bakery section! Rice became wholly unappealing, and rather than sticking to a square or two of 70% chocolate in the evenings, as I had been doing previously, I found myself hungrily munching on sweet porridge! I felt hungrier than ever, more tired than I thought I reasonably should, and fed up with the limitations that I’d set myself. I stuck to it for 5 days, but Saturday came and we were simply too tired to cook. A takeaway peshwari naan was my undoing!

Now I’m back eating wheat again, and my appetite is back to normal. I’m still living happily without dairy, though, and will continue to do so until my body tells me otherwise. I’m not being super strict about it – a bit of milk here and there doesn’t do much harm, especially when I’m keen to avoid limiting my diet wherever possible. I’m looking forward to going out for pizza in a couple of weeks, for example, but I’m sticking to coconut milk instead of cow’s milk, and yogurt is still a big turn off for some reason! One day I might wake up and crave a massive dollop of Greek yogurt on my muesli, and when that day comes I’ll go out and buy some Greek yogurt!

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One fun thing about this experiment was trying out new ingredients, and developing new recipes to keep life interesting. Look out for a delicious wheat-free breakfast, and a wheat-free veggie burger to top all veggie burgers soon!

One thing for sure is that today’s lunchtime bagel couldn’t have been tastier!

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