Sunday, 8 November 2015

Fridge Soup

Sometimes life doesn't entirely go to plan. Take this weekend, for instance. I should've been in Nice running a marathon. I'm currently at home in a onesie making soup. So you see my point?  I'd like to get upset about this and throw some outrage at the situation. But I'm a firm believer in owning up when you've managed a situation poorly.  

I currently have an injured leg.  My knee is painful, which has been caused by my IT band tightening, which was caused by physio intended to fix my overloaded hamstrings.  My hamstrings are overloaded because my glutes are horrendously lazy and do not fire at all.  They just don't activate.  So here's my confession.  I found out about the issues with my glutes over a year ago when I had a biomechanical assessment as part of my membership induction at Charlotte Ord Academy. And I have done nothing about it.  So I can't get angry about not being able to run this marathon.  I'd love to be able to pass the blame for my poor performance onto someone, something else. But I can't.  It's all my own doing.  I have got better at doing my rehab exercises over these past few weeks, but it was far too late to be any help.

I had secretly held out some hope that I'd get to Nice and feel just fine on the day and glide along 42km of the Riviera coastline like some kind of bad ass, but walking around a golf course for nearly six hours in the pissing rain on Friday put paid to any of those notions.  My legs were fine at the start of the day, but as time went on and I creaked around 18 holes as an auctioned caddy for my friend's memorial golf day, it became clear that my legs would not be up to the task of a marathon.  I headed home afterwards to pack my bags and get an early night before my 06:25 flight to Nice.  

It was as I dithered around the flat in a desultory fashion that I realised that I didn't want to go.  I had been determined to go to Nice anyway, as my flights and hotel were non refundable.  And it's a nice place, Nice. But I didn't want to go there. On my own. In November. To not run a marathon.  So I decided to stay home for the weekend. And immediately felt less anxious.  I felt even more cheerful as I headed to Guildford to collect Murdoch from the Dog House and started to look forward to a weekend spent snuggling with the mutt. Perfection.

Which brings me to this week's exciting batch cook up

Fridge Soup

This is a simple recipe, with no need for a sous chef, which is handy, as mine is nowhere to be seen.

Where's Murdoch?
This soup is basically another really simple way of using up whatever veg you might have lurking in the fridge.  I had plenty, as I have started getting veg boxes from Abel & Cole again.  I am a big fan of the veg box, especially as Abel & Cole have changed things up to give you more control over what you get in each box.  However, with that said, there are times when the amount of veg in the fridge reaches panic levels.  Especially when you've spent all week shoving the veg aside to get to the pizza and eat that instead.  Come on, we've all been there.  

Firstly, I chopped up a couple of leeks, a couple of onions and some garlic.
Vampires can't get within 200 yards of me right now.
Then I warmed up some butter in my most enormous saucepan and chucked them in on a low heat to gently soften.
I've sprung a leek!
While that was going on, I chopped up some more veg: parnsips, carrots (including some lovely purple carrots, so nice to get the different kinds to mix it up a bit) and threw that in the saucepan.
A lovely, colourful mixture of root veg
 I chopped up some cabbage and threw that in too.
Then I threw some potatoes in, what's the point of soup without potatoes? Hell, what's the point if life without potatoes?
If I could only eat one food for the rest of my life, it would probably be the humble potato.
I grabbed a couple of handfuls of lentils to add some bulk, rinsed them thoroughly and put them in the saucepan too.  
Adding a bit of bulk
I seasoned with plenty of sea salt and black pepper, chucked in a couple of vegetable stock cubes and lots of boiling water and left it all to bubble away on a low - medium heat for an hour or so.

Bubbling soup
Because I hate having chunks in my food, I got my hand blender out and blended the soup until smooth.
Smooooooooooooth soup
As I was feeling decadent, I served with a swirl of single cream and a buttered slice of granary bread. 
As I write this, the soup is still hotter than the surface of the sun. So I haven't put it into portion containers yet. But I think it'll be around 6 - 8 portions, which will see me through most of the week.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Hearty Mince

I'm not a chef. I'm not even much of a foodie. I could quite happily eat the same five meals between now and when I die and not really feel too worried about the situation. Which means that cooking gigantic vats of food to eat across the week really suits my temperament, as well as my schedule.

And there's something about this time of year, just after the clocks go back, that makes me feel all autumnal and jolly and quite in the mood to batch cook the crap out of something. So tonight I cooked..... well I'm never entirely sure what to call it. Is it a bolognese if you're not serving it on pasta? Is it a chilli if it has no kidney beans? I have no idea. So instead, I'm going to call it 

Hearty Mince

The first thing to note about making hearty mince is the invaluable nature of the sous chef. Mine is quite keen on veg preparation, but soon loses interest thereafter.

Murdoch loves raw carrot
There is no set recipe for this meal, not really. I look at what veg I've got in the fridge, pop to the supermarket to add what else I fancy and chop it up quite finely, as I don't like having big chunks of stuff in my food. This time round I had onion, garlic, leeks, chillis (with seeds left in for a bit of ooomph), carrot, courgette (not chopped in this picture as I ran out of room on the chopping board), fresh peas and edamame.

Chop veg finely. Or don't. It's your dinner, have it how you like.
Once you've got your veg ready to go, heat up a bit of butter (or olive oil) and chuck the veg in a big pan to soften on a low heat. I left the peas and edamame out at this stage, to be added later.

Probably at least fifteen of your "five a day"
Next, turn up the heat a bit and add some mince. I bought two large (750g) packets of extra low fat beef mince from Tesco and forgot to take a picture of it cooking, mostly because my pan isn't really big enough to accommodate that much meat, so there was quite a bit of unseemly swearing at this stage. Please imagine a picture of a metric fucktonne of beef mince browning off with the veg. Thanks. After it was all browned off, I drained it a bit, as there was quite a bit of liquid at this stage.

Starting to look quite tasty
Add some herbs, stock cube, salt and pepper (and if you fancy it, a spoonful of Marmite. But not coffee, as Sainsbury's seem to be suggesting. WTF Sainsbury's?! Give it a rest), some tomato purée and a couple of cartons of chopped tomatoes. Lower the heat again and let it bubble away for a bit.
Add the peas and edamame
Near the end of the cooking, I added the peas and the edamame. They only need a light steam, so best add them towards the end, otherwise you risk ending up with green mush.  I popped the lid on so that all of the steam stayed in and left it alone for about 10 minutes.

Everything tastes better with cheese on it. FACT.

This made eight nice sized dinners, which you could serve with pasta, rice, quinoa, couscous, veg or even eat just by itself. As you can see, I've popped some grated cheese on top to serve.

My final top tip is to decant into individual dinner sized containers, especially if you're a greedy bugger like me.  Then you have ready to go portions, rather than spooning gigantic helpings out of one big tub and wondering why it only lasted a day (come on, we've all been there).

Sunday, 4 January 2015

The Importance of friendship

When I was in my early twenties, as well as working during the day in an office, I also worked as a barmaid in a pub. I needed to do it to make ends meet, but it was also great fun and formed the greater part of my social life at the time.  One particular friend that I made was L, we immediately hit it off and our friendship grew as time went on, until she was my best friend and general accomplice.

Then one day a new guy started working behind the bar.  J was a few years younger than us.  I liked J from the start.  He had recently broken up with a long term girlfriend and held the general opinion that all women were dreadful, making him enormous fun to tease, which he took in remarkably good humour.

But L saw more and as their relationship progressed, she proved him wrong time and again, until he had no choice but to realise that some women weren't bad at all, that she in particular was great and that maybe he should keep hold of her.  Which was a very wise choice indeed, as it turned out and they got married.  I was so proud to be L's bridesmaid and to be a part of their big day, it was such a very happy time.

Life moves on, as it is wont to do, and over the following years, L and I grew apart.  She was married and having babies, and I (quite rightly) was not a part of that.  I was getting on with my own life.  But I never worried about her. Because she had J to look after her.  I knew that although life would have its ups and downs, she had everything that she wanted with J.

But I was wrong.  You should never stop worrying about your friends.  You should never let time go by without checking in.  Because before you know it a month has gone past. And then another one. And then before you know it, it's a year, then another one.  How does that happen?  Where does the time go?

If anyone reading this has fallen out of contact with people that they care about, then I urge you to get in contact with them. Right now. Pick up the phone, send them a Facebook message, however you do it, just do it.  If you know good people, then let them know that you care. Don't leave it until it's too late.

J died in a road accident on New Year's Day. He leaves behind him a loving wife, two daughters and a huge number of people who will miss him enormously. I hope he knows that I am one of them.  The world is a sadder place without him in it.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Welcome to 2015

This year I feel like I need to shake things up a bit. I've been living very deeply in my comfort zone and while that's not necessarily a bad thing (it's so warm and cosy in here!) it's time to find out what else is going on out there.

So to get the year started off on the right foot, I'm doing another Whole30 and I'm also taking part in Janathon again this year.

I've also set myself a couple of goals:

1. To spend the first half of the year focusing on more high intensity exercise, rather than endurance stuff.  I'm going to try and get quicker over shorter distances, so no marathons for me until at least the second half of the year, possibly not until 2016.
2. To try at least one new thing a month every month this year and to blog about it.

So on the Janathon front, I decided that a good way to see in the new year would be to get up and get running in time to see the sunrise. I was able to pressgang a couple of my lovely running friends into coming with me (even though they'd only got to bed an hour earlier thanks to some enthusiastic *ahem* carb loading the night before) and off we trotted, through the woods to the top of Hydon's Ball, where we indulged in a spot of trig point planking. We were soon joined by some of our walking friends just in time to see.... nothing. Worst sunrise ever, very grey heavy clouds. There's probably a life lesson in there somewhere.  But we had a lovely time and all agreed that despite the lack of sleep and probably still high levels of drunkenness from some members of the party that it had been quite a good idea after all.
My lovely running friends. Except the monkey, I don't know that guy

Thursday, 16 October 2014

It's not about weight loss

Today is day 31 and I have successfully completed my Whole30. Hoorah!

I shan't go into detail about the programme, if you don't know what it is, please refer to my halfway point blog here.

The main thing that I've noticed is that no matter how many times you try to explain why you're doing it - it's about resetting your metabolism, cleaning down your system so that when you reintroduce food groups afterwards, you have a clear idea of their effect. It's about examining your relationship with food to better understand why you eat the things you do (addiction, habit) - most people just want to know.....

How much weight have you lost? 

So you try to explain that it's not about weight loss.  It's about resetting your metabolism, cleaning down your system so that when you reintroduce food groups afterwards, you have a clear idea of their effect. It's about examining your relationship with food to better understand why you eat the things you do. Blah blah blah. And they smile and nod and then tell you that you look great, like you've lost a lot of weight. Which is great, it really is. But it is not the point.

So this morning, when I had this conversation with my colleague:

Colleague: "So are you going to go wild in the aisles for dinner tomorrow night?"
Me: "Errrm no. That would have made the last 30 days a bit pointles, wouldn't it."
C: "Would it? Why's that?"
M: "Because the whole idea is to clean your system and then slowly reintroduce foods one by one to see the effect they have on you"
C: "Oh. I thought it was going to be a 'school's out' kind of situation"
M: "No"
C: "Oh."
Me: *quietly goes to ladies loo to BANG MY HEAD AGAINST THE WALL*

I wanted to scream.

As a society, we're so obsessed with that number on the scale. On how we look. On what dress size we can squeeze ourselves into.  And really none of that matters a crap.

Which is why I love the friends who have asked me "How do you feel?". Because that's the point.  

And how do I feel?  I feel great.  I didn't really notice that I didn't feel great before, because when you feel that low-level-just-meh all the time, you get used to it.  It's being in the monkey house and not realising that it smells like poo. But you learn it on days 2-4, when you have a killer headache as you experience the caffeine and sugar come down. You realise how powerful those substances are when they leave your body and they are not going to go quietly. They are going to rage, rage against the dying of the light.

You notice it when you have a moment of panic on day 28 about what you might find yourself eating on days 31+ when you "can eat whatever you want" and then have a moment of epiphany when you realise that you could have eaten anything you wanted for the entirety of the Whole30, you've not been locked in a prison cell.  You have simply chosen not to. Doesn't that feel great? To take back control and realise that you can have a packet of crisps, if you want. It doesn't mean you have to feel bad about it, or subsequently eat an entire multipack. You can have a bit of chocolate, if you want to. I bought a slab of this to celebrate the end of my Whole30, chopped it into small sections, had one piece and shared the rest with my colleagues. One piece was enough. What a revelation.

Would I recommend doing Whole30? Well generally I hate to evangelise about things.  I get so annoyed when people who say things like "Have you seen Blah blah film? No?! You have to!". Actually, no I don't have to and I probably won't, so please shut up. So I won't tell you to do it.  I'll just tell you that in doing this, I have taken the first steps to changing my life for the better. The past 30 days have taught me a huge amount, about the food that I eat, about the person that I am.

And if you're the one sat there thinking "It just sounds so hard!", I'll leave you with this from the Whole30 website:

It is not hard. Don’t you dare tell us this is hard. Beating cancer is hard. Birthing a baby is hard. Losing a parent is hard. Drinking your coffee black. Is. Not. Hard. You’ve done harder things than this, and you have no excuse not to complete the program as written. It’s only thirty days, and it’s for the most important health cause on earth – the only physical body you will ever have in this lifetime.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Whole30 - the first half

Those of you who know me in real life may find this post unutterably boring, as I've spoken of almost nothing else for the past fifteen days.  So please do feel free to stop reading now. No really, please do. Are they gone?  Good.  Poor devils have already had to put up with me going on and on about this.

Now, for everyone else - SURPRISE! I'm doing Whole30. In case you don't currently have time to click on that link, here is an overview giving you the general idea (if you're really busy, skip through all of the blue text and carry on reading, but if you do have time, do read the information, it explains a lot!).

Think of it as a short-term nutritional reset, designed to help you put an end to unhealthy cravings and habits, restore a healthy metabolism, heal your digestive tract, and balance your immune system.

Certain food groups (like sugar, grains, dairy and legumes) could be having a negative impact on your health and fitness without you even realizing it. Are your energy levels inconsistent or non-existent? Do you have aches and pains that can’t be explained by over-use or injury? Are you having a hard time losing weight no matter how hard you try? Do you have some sort of condition (like skin issues, digestive ailments, seasonal allergies or fertility issues) that medication hasn’t helped? These symptoms may be directly related to the foods you eat—even the “healthy” stuff.

So how do you know if (and how) these foods are affecting you? Strip them from your diet completely. Cut out all the psychologically unhealthy, hormone-unbalancing, gut-disrupting, inflammatory food groups for a full 30 days. Let your body heal and recover from whatever effects those foods may be causing. Push the “reset” button with your metabolism, systemic inflammation, and the downstream effects of the food choices you’ve been making. Learn once and for all how the foods you’ve been eating are actually affecting your day to day life, and your long term health.

The programme also claims that

This will change your life.

We cannot possibly put enough emphasis on this simple fact—the next 30 days will change your life. It will change the way you think about food, it will change your tastes, it will change your habits and your cravings. It could, quite possibly, change the emotional relationship you have with food, and with your body. It has the potential to change the way you eat for the rest of your life. We know this because we did it, and tens of thousands of people have done it since, and it changed our lives (and their lives) in a very permanent fashion.

The physical benefits of the Whole30 are profound. More than 95% of participants lose weight and improve their body composition, without counting or restricting calories. Also commonly reported: consistently high energy levels, improved athletic performance, better sleep, improved focus and mental clarity, and a sunnier disposition. (Yes, more than a few Whole30 graduates said they felt “strangely happy” during and after their program.)

The psychological benefits of the Whole30 may be even more dramatic. Through the program, participants report effectively changing long-standing, unhealthy habits related to food, developing a healthier body image, and a dramatic reduction or elimination of cravings, particularly for sugar and carbohydrates. The words so many Whole30 participants use to describe this place? “Food freedom.”

Finally, testimonials from thousands of Whole30 participants document the improvement or “cure” of any number of lifestyle-related diseases and conditions.

high blood pressure • high cholesterol • type 1 diabetes • type 2 diabetes • asthma • allergies • sinus infections • hives • skin conditions • endometriosis • PCOS • infertility • migraines • depression • bipolar disorder • heartburn • GERD • arthritis • joint pain • ADD • thyroid dysfunction • Lyme disease • fibromyalgia • chronic fatigue • lupus • leaky gut syndrome • Crohn’s • IBS • Celiac disease • diverticulitis • ulcerative colitis

So we've got some pretty bold claims going on right there.  Are they true? Well I can't answer for the programme as a whole, all I can do is share my own personal experience of doing it over the past fifteen days, as recommended by my trainer at the gym.

1.  This takes a crapload of organisation. I mean really. Until you commit to not eating anything with any added sugar of any kind, you truly have no idea how much of the food that is sold in supermarkets contains sugar. Such as bacon. Are you freaking kidding me?! Bacon?! If it doesn't contain sugar, sometimes it contains milk (this is also a no dairy kind of deal). Chorizo?! Whaaaaaaat?! Why the hell is there milk in chorizo? Aaaaanyway, the point is that you have to carefully read absolutely everything that you put in your shopping basket (except loose broccoli, mainly on account of the fact that there are no words on loose broccoli).

2. This takes a crapload of organisation. Seriously. Given that the programme clearly states that if you ingest (even accidentally) any of the forbidden foods, you go hurtling back to day one (can you imagine that happening on day 29? Gah! I'd probably just round it up to 30 at that point), you're pretty much committing to cooking all of your own food for the next 30 days. Because you can't just pop out in your lunchbreak and grab a quick sandwich (no bread allowed and it's probably got freaking sugar in it anyway) and it's tough to eat in a restaurant (you'd sit there asking "Is it cooked in butter? What kind of oil did you use? Is there sugar in the sauce?" until the waiter clubs you to death with the menu).  

To recap, it takes a lot of organisation to do this.  I recommend doing a bulk cook of compliant food that you like and having it ready in the fridge so that you can just grab it and pop it in the microwave.

3. It's possible to get bored of food that you really really like. For example, I really like scrambled egg, with bacon (you can buy it without added sugar, thankfully!) and chopped onions. It's the sort of breakfast that I really look forward to at the weekend. But having eaten it pretty much most mornings for the past fifteen days, it's losing its appeal. So get online and research - there are loads of great resources out there with Whole30 compliant recipes. Check out my Pinterest board as a starting point and Naturally Leah has got this down nicely with some great recipes (I'm trying out the green chicken curry tonight - looks really quick and simple, ideal for a busy work night).

4. Although this isn't really easy, it's not been as hard as I thought it might be. I've had a few moments where I've really missed cheese (mmmmm cheese) but mostly I've been ok and haven't had any major food cravings yet.  That's not to say that it's been a sweet ride.  In fact for days 2-4 I had a really horrible headache.  Three days of full on, pounding headache.  I think that was caffeine and sugar leaving my system and let me tell you, they did not go quietly. 

5. It is worth it.  It's all worth it.  I'm on day fifteen right now and I'm feeling amazing.  I have more energy, I feel sharper, more mentally alert.  I'm getting so much more done, it's incredible.  And (although you're not supposed to weigh yourself) I've lost 12lbs. In fifteen days.  So the first week when I was out networking at work events for two nights, nursing a glass of water when everyone else was enjoying wine and pizza? Worth it.  The constant and excessive pile of washing up that needs doing? Totally worth it.

I'll do another update at the end of the 30 days - watch this space!

PS - in Murdoch news, Murdoch is awesome.

Oh heeeeeeeeeyy!

Monday, 4 August 2014

A History Lesson

Way back when, I used to be seventeen.  Seventeenme had a boyfriend and she thought he was amazing. And he was. Until all of a sudden, he wasn't. That swine dumped Seventeenme, which made her very sad. Then she discovered that he had cheated on her, which made her furious, in that overly dramatic way that only really exists for teenagers.

Seventeenme got over it and they ended up being friends, cautiously at first, but then properly to the point where he came to visit Eighteenme in her first year at university and they had a lovely time.

Life happened, as it tends to do and I didn't see him again for the best part of two decades.

We've been Facebook friends for a few years, so I knew that he'd moved to Canada, got married, had kids and so forth. But we hadn't met up at all in that time. So I was really happy to get a message from him asking if I fancied meeting up for a drink while he was visiting the UK.

I walked into the pub, and even though he had his back to me, I knew immediately that it was him. A jolt of recognition, of familiarity. We hugged and started reminiscing about old times. We talked about who we were then and who we are now (him, separated and healing, me tragically spinsterish and relatively comfortable with it).

As we sat there in the warm summer evening sun, I could see that boy,  Seventeenhim, still there inside the man he is today. And in his reflection, I caught glimpses of Seventeenme and remembered the girl I used to be.

Seventeenme was vibrant and passionate. She cared so much that she administered a full arm swing slap across his face when she found out he cheated on her. I've not cared enough to do that before or since. Time has tempered me, perhaps a little too much.

We're not the same people we were all those years ago. Which is probably for the best, as Seventeenme was a bit of a wanker. But there's still enough of her in me that I could almost hear her sigh regretfully as we parted ways at the end of the night without stealing a kiss.