Runs with hamburgers

Last night I was running on a trail beside a railway line, while holding a large hamburger in my left hand. I was dreaming, of course. But it felt so good to be running. I was light on my feet despite my unweildy body and the whopping burger.

I felt an urgent desire to be on the other side of the tracks. I came to a bridge that crossed over the line but it was extremely narrow; about a foot wide. I’d need to turn sideways then somehow wiggle and squeeze my way over. The hamburger would need to go. As my run-ragged heart hammered away I looked at the bridge and then looked at the burger then looked at the bridge and looked at the burger again. What to do? What to do?

I woke up half-laughing. Random dream or a painfully literal metaphor for the lard busting efforts? Hmm…

This is not a burger with the lot“What kind of burger was it?” Gareth asked, “I bet it was an Aussie burger with the lot!

“Yes!”

“Well that’s a rubbish burger to run with. They put too many fillings in and it always falls apart. Lettuce onions tomato cheese bacon pineapple and I don’t know which is more ridiculous, the fried egg or the beetroot.”

“So I should have ran with a Scottish burger where it’s just crappy meat and cheese welded to the bun with grease?”

“Far more sensible.”

. . .

Once, twice, three times a blogging lady!

Three Times A Blogging Lady Challenge: Halfway Report. I’m slightly behind! I have three 85% completed posts. Shall knock those buggers over tomorrow. This Challenge along with the DVD Dust-Off have highlighted my tendency to noodle endlessly instead of just getting things done and moving on. Let go of that hamburger and CROSS THE BRIDGE baby!

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Monthly Check In: September 2012

We’re 75% done with 2012. Time for another monthly plan update.

First of all I must report that I spoke too soon about the laundered Fitbit. It is officially deceased now.

. . .

In case the hyperactive witterings didn’t give it away, September was ace. On the lard busting front, I was happy with how I did in the USA and ended up maintaining on the scale machine. As per the recent travel pattern, the days were so full of grooviness that I didn’t really think about food.

I did guzzle vats of iced coffee, however. Now back here in Scotland, a sultry 8°C/46°F, it seems hilarious that anyone would ever get the urge to put ice cubes in coffee.

THUS ENDETH SEPTEMBER REPORT.

. . .

Now here we are at half-October and I’m getting back in the groove after an extremely shoddy start to the month that involved excessive amounts of chocolate. I could say, “I don’t know what came over me” but I know exactly what happened and I was even aware of it as I was doing it.

After feeling shitty and sugar hungover and doomed for a few days I got re-organised. I find the week after travel to be the danger time. You’re back to reality, you’re tired, there’s no food in the cupboard; your suitcase has vomited its contents all over the bedroom floor.

Now I’m back to my usual routine. What else can you do but get up and crack on with it? I’ve been walking. I made a big thing of wholesome soup. I did some pretend kickboxing with Jillian Michaels. I caught up on the washing (no gadgets were harmed this time).

I choose to kick arse for the remainder of the month. Stay tuned!

. . .

Finally, about these Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Cocoa Nibs. They’re so crunchy and earthy tasting and come in a dinky little tin that’s fun to rattle. The hinged lid is very satisfying to flip on and off. I feel like an eccentric old lady. My pills! I need my pills!

Anyway, it hilariously says on the tin, 1 Calorie Per Piece. I wonder if anyone ever says, “Oh just one for me, thanks”. They are the size of a mouse dropping. Or maybe a rat? Or a Tic Tac, let’s be classy.

I bought three tins on my travels. Since I don’t live in the USA I’d planned to ration them out, one dropping at time for the next few years*. But thanks to these past choctastic weeks there’s only one left.  Let’s see how long I can stretch it out!

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Nibs

This pic was my 2011 stock. It didn’t last very long either!

* Not really.

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We are the champions

After both being bedridden with a horrible fever virusy thing earlier last week, this past weekend Gareth bravely cycled a total of 125 miles in constant driving winds and rain with our equally insane brave friends. And me? I bravely reorganised the food cupboard. It's hard to decide which feat was more noble!

Okay it isn't really hard to decide at all. But I feel an astounding sense of achievement all the same.

I don't know why there are so many jars of olives, either.

Pantry2

(I ran out of containers by the time I got to middle shelf of Side 2. The revolution will be containerised!)

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Trees and cake

A slightly early Monthly Check In: May 2012

image from farm6.staticflickr.com
I found this tree on my walk in the woods the other day. It's the kind of tree a kid dreams of, perfect to hide in while reading books and/or plotting the demise of parental overlords. It's got a touch of Enid Blyton Magic Faraway tree about it, don't you reckon? We tended to have scrabbly old gum trees that weren't really made for climbing, let alone housing cake-bearing fairies…

"Silky was pleased. She sat there brushing her beautiful, golden hair and ate sandwiches with them. She brought out a tin of Pop Cakes, which were lovely. As soon as you bit into them they went pop! and you suddenly found your mouth filled with new honey from the middle of the little cakes. Frannie* took seven, one after the other, for she was rather greedy."

- from The Magic Faraway Tree, as spotted on the sadly defunct Literary Food Porn blog 

Speaking of cake, I reckon I'm getting back at the place where I can have my cake and not go crazy with it. There was that one tasty wedge of Nutella pizza. Then a visit with the Edinburgh Cake Ladies that didn't result in a week-long a sugar bender. This past weekend there was an outstanding wodge of blueberry and white chocolate cake but I got right back into the healthy groove. Progress at last!

That's how I used to do it back in the day, before I let it all unravel – being really choosy with the treats, taking a sensible portion, then savouring the heck out of 'em. This is what my maintenance heroes seem to do too. I could cut cake out completely and get things moving faster, but I need to learn from the past and be sensible here and remember what works long term. I am done swinging between denial and deprivation. So here at the end of May, I'm down two pounds and rolling along on the trusty old plan with the occasional bit of cake thrown (mindfully) in. Bring on June.

* The LFP blog had "Frannie" in the quote as per the modern editions of the book but she'll always be Fanny to me, dagnabbit.

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Wafer Thin is IN!

Why does chopped up fruit taste so much better than whole fruit? This question has puzzled philosophers throughout the ages, or at least my sister and I since childhood. Our stepmum Julie would slice up apples, bananas and oranges and arrange them on a plate for a snack.

"Why does this taste so good?" we'd ponder, "It's the same fruit… only chopped up?". But tastier it was, even more so when shaped into a smiley face.

So I bought a mandoline. Not a mandolin a la Losing My Religion; this is the contraption that chops things up into wafer thin slices. I got the OXO Good Grips Handheld one and it's the best £11 I've spent in yonks. I've been digging through the fridge slicing up everything remotely sliceable.

Oxo
Image from amazon.co.uk

I sliced up carrot, fennel, pepper, cucumber, avocado and tomato for a salad. It was like vegetable confetti! And it tasted so much better than my normal hacked up salad, that same mysterious happiness as the fruit plate days.

Perhaps it's the tidiness of the shapes, or the layers of flavour you get in each mouthful. All I know is from now on I want all my salads to be transparent when held up to the light.

Carrots

Another revelation: wafer thin APPLES. Holy communion apple, Batman!

Apple

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Up & Running LIVE in Italy – Good times and Nutella pizza

Thank you so much for your comments on the Elephant post! You all rawk and I feel about 237% less loony now! :)

Last summer Julia and I became possessed with the idea of an Up & Running retreat. We'd just enjoyed a brekkie in Brussels with Cels, a lovely Up & Runner, and discovered that meeting the woman behind the 90 x 90 pixel forum avatar was bloody amazing. We had do it again. En masse! With running! And yoga! And goody bags! And wine!

We settled on a cosy gathering in Bologna, Italy in order to align with Julia's very own Running Festival race. We held our breath when we announced it on the Forum (you know that throw your own birthday party will-they won't-they feeling!?), but we ended up with Up & Runners travelling from England, France, Germany, Guinea, Italy, Netherlands, Scotland, Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates with Australian Jo scoring the prize for furthest travelled!

We took over a bed & breakfast in central Bologna. Julia had done a brilliant job scouting it, and when I saw the sun-dappled foyer with Fiat lurking in the background I sighed happily, "Ahhh… Italian as f*ck!"

Casa
The most gleeful part of organising was the goody bags. What's the point of going to meet a bunch of internet people if you don't get a goody bag, I ask you!? The goods included snacks, a hand-made Up & Running headband, STICKERS! and nail polish in the perfect shade of Up & Running pink.

Goody bags, full of goodness
Goody bags, full of goodness

My spewy nerves dissolved the minute the first runner came through the door. Cate, an expat Aussie in Switzerland, had a smile even more dazzling than her avatar and it hit me, "Holy crap these people are REAL! This is going to rock!".

After that initial weirdness of connecting real bodies to internet voices, soon the room buzzed with exotic accents and laughter. There was wine and delicious pizzas, those amazing wood fired ones that I will be dreaming about for months to come. Especially this baby for afters…

Nutella pizza. If this is wrong I don't want to be right.
Nutella pizza. If this is wrong I don't want to be right.

Friday morning began with Coach Julia's Boot Camp. She didn't bring her whistle or megaphone but I insisted on calling it a Boot Camp just to mess with everyone's heads.

Coach Julia pretty in pink
Coach Julia pretty in pink

I shed a few tears at the sight of our runners taking off for their warm-up run with Coach J out in front. Okay, it was a lot of tears. Not even a year after our very first 5K Course ended, here was a group of women from all over the world, zooming along together. Behind the international keyboards had lurked real life runners, after all!

I'd hoped I wasn't alone in feeling a sense of community and deep connection on the Forum right from the start, but oh man, it was so real. They were such a genuine, funny, warm and beautiful bunch of women. I was totally overcome with emotion all weekend long. Apologies to everyone I blubbed on!

Anyway… after the running came a runner-friendly yoga cool down.

Post-BootCamp yoga

 

Yoga
Love that smile!

 On Friday night we had a pasta demonstration at the B&B from a handsome young Pasta Man.

Pasta Man
He rolled it paper thin… amazing

 

Pasta lessons
Tessa gives it a go, sporting her official headband with the wee Italian flag on it! Swoon.

 

Julia shows the dough who's boss
Julia shows the dough who's boss

As well as the most light and tasty pasta ever, there was a mega load of antipasti. I particularly loved the artichokes, the hunks of Parmesan, the local soft cheese whose name I forget and the garlicky bruschetta. And another hunk of Parmesan for good measure, yes please…

Just part of our Friday night feast

Tiramisu
And homemade tiramisu for pudding. Oh my stars.

Saturday was a free day to explore Bologna (or in my case, fall deeper in love with coffee, eat gelato and chit chat endlessly). That evening our resident runner/photographer Sara set up a photobooth for us to play with.

Photobooth
There was a minor incident when some espresso-fuelled loon wondered aloud if one could be photographed mid-air by diving onto the bed, and then kinda almost broke the bed attempting it *whistles*. Thank goodness the camera did not catch that moment.

Julia and I attempted yet again to get a serious photo for our About page.

Trying and failing to get a professional team photo
This is where I suggested we do cheesy poses like the opening credits of The Young & the Restless

My buddy :)
My buddy :)

Now all we had left to do was Sunday's race…

Thanks Sara for pasta pics and photo booth and Cate for tiramisu and Pasta Man.

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The Great Crumpet Smackdown

The Great Crumpet Smackdown took place in a Weight Watchers meeting when I was about 13 years old. This was in the days before Points. Weight Watchers didn't let you eat just any old thing you fancied back then. It had to be on The List of Stuff You're Allowed To Eat.

One night after weigh-in we were sitting around in a circle airing our grievances and confessing our sins when a woman asked our lovely leader, "Why can't I have a crumpet?"

"Crumpets are not on the list."

"Why not? I read the nutritonal information on the packet. One crumpet is only 330 kilojoules (86 calories). That's less than a piece of bread. It doesn't make any sense!"

"They're not on the list!"

"We can have bread, bread rolls, pita bread, English muffins… but no crumpets. What's so wrong about a crumpet?"

"Because they're inevitably served dripping with butter! And/or honey!"

"But I don't HAVE butter or honey on my crumpet. I don't even have Weight Watchers Whipped Margarine! I have a plain, toasted crumpet with either banana or Vegemite."

"They're not on the list."

"WHY aren't they on the list?"

And on it went.

I remember being conflicted on the issue. Part of me thought, "Well hey, if it's not on the list, you know… we really should obey the list". But the teenager hitherto lacking a cause to rebel against was thinking, "Just let the woman eat her bloody crumpet!"

The incident was seared into my memory. One one of the first purchases I made as an independent householder was a packet of Golden Crumpets. I had them with butter AND honey and yes indeed, they were Golden Good. It was all downhill from there, as has been well documented on this blog.

I've wanted to bake my own crumpets since Clotilde of Chocolate and Zucchini blogged her Sourdough Crumpet recipe in January 2010. I bought some crumpet rings then promptly did nothing for 20 months. Then when Carla and I were coming up with our Five Fun Things for the podcast I decided it was time to give them a red hot go. Messing around with a sourdough starter was beyond my interest level so I went for a straightforward recipe from The Hairy Bikers (Edit: here's a video of them in crumpet action!). For those not in the know, The Hairy Bikers are two hairy blokes on the telly who ride around the countryside on motorbikes and cook things.

The crumpets were simple and satisfying to make. All that rising and waiting and rising and waiting was very soothing somehow. It was such a sweet feeling when I finally poured the batter into the crumpet rings and it went all bubbly like real live crumpets.

Crumpet

I ate the first one with doused with too much butter and eucalyptus honey as a two finger salute to the crumpet fascists of yesteryear. The rest were enjoyed more sensibly over the next few days. My favourite topping is a little butter and a scraping of Vegemite. Well worth the effort on a lazy Sunday if you like that sort of thing!

Crumpet3
P.S. I posted about my crumpetry on the Up & Running forum and the wonderful Yvonne replied: "I never considered that they could be made. I assumed God just dropped them out of the sky ready made, like babies." Snortle!

Crumpet4

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Parsnip Extraction Day

Nine long months after chucking the tiny seeds into ground, today we finally got to meet our parsnips.

"Just like having a bairn, but better… it's cheaper and you can eat them!" said Gareth.

The parsnips were buried under a couple of inches of ice from the late November snow plus some fresh powder from last night. I was worried they'd have rotted away but they were just waiting patiently and getting extremely large!

I'll spare you the three minute epic video of Gareth grunting and swearing as he wrestled this baby from the earth and fast-forward to the moment of triumph instead:

Snip-with-g
Snips
They are very weird and gnarly looking. Some have three legs from their attempts to burrow deeper into our crappy soil. But I still love them too bits. Did I mention they are freaking HUGE? Here I have used a 400g/14oz can of coconut milk for scale. The can is about 10cm/4 inches tall so you can get an idea of the height of them. Some of the tops have a bigger diameter than the can.

Snip-haul

It just blows my mind that for nine months while we've been working, eating, sleeping, angsting, travelling and running around like idiots, these beasts were just growing growing growing like mad under the ground.

I made this parsnip and ginger soup tonight and it was bloody tasty. Still have gazillions of snips left for Christmas Day too. Happy days.

Today's other highlight: watching this pigeon refuse to let a snow shower interrupt his dinner.

Edp-snow

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Season to taste

Crock Thank you everyone for your take on staying healthy over the winter! There was so much brilliant stuff in the comments. The podcast listeners will be lapping up your collective wisdom next week.

Meanwhile I'm adjusting to the darkness much faster this year, aided by lunchtime walks, kickboxing and the slow cooker! That's crock pot to you Americans. I bought one in January and was in such a zombie state that I couldn't work up the energy to get it out of the box. But now? DUDE. What an invention! Shove foods in the pot in the morning, add hot liquid, switch on, ignore for 8 hours then be rewarded with a hot dinner? Everyone's a winner baby, that's no lie.

It is unsettling though, to arrive home to the smell of a tasty meal and bypassing that whole WTF's For Dinner panic. I never realised how time-consuming that panic was.

What do you want for dinner? I don't know, what do YOU want for dinner. I don't know, I asked you first. Well what's in the fridge? Dying mushrooms and jar of non-inspiration, what's in the cupboard? Just BORING stuff, lentils and shit, we never have anything good. Well we could get a takeaway. You said you were trying to be healthy. Yeah well I said that before my tastebuds were bored to tears by the contents of the cupboard. Fine. Why don't we have beans on toast? But I already had that for lunch.

Thanks to the slow cooker we sat down to dinner at 6.15 the other night. Before we knew it, forks were resting on empty plates and we looked at each other and said, "Now what?" I mean, it was still a whole 85 minutes before University Challenge started.

I fear the slow cooker will accelerate our descent into middle age. Next thing you know when I invite people over for dinner and they say, "Sure, shall we say 7PM?" I will reply, "I was thinking more like FOUR THIRTY," in the manner of some parents-in-law I may or may not know.

I've got a couple of cookbooks and have been reading blogs such as the insanely comprehensive A Year Of Slow Cooking, but if you have any crock pot crackers – particularly vegetarian ones – I'd love to hear them!

Bon weekend, comrades!

P.S. Not a slow cooker recipe, but a few weeks ago I made Juliet's Roast Chicken from one of my favourite blogs, A Wee Bit Of Cooking. It's basically a whole chicken roasted on a bed of sauerkraut, seasoned with paprika. It's the simplest dish ever but there aren't enough superlatives in the world for its goodness! I've been hassling everyone I know plus random strangers to cook it immediately… and now I am pestering YOU :)

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Podcast, comments and yogurt

For your aural pleasure!Running is the subject of today's new episode of Two Fit Chicks and a Microphone! Our American-Italian superstar Julia Jones is back to answer listener queries about stepping up to the 10K distance, stretches for runners, conquering hills, bathroom stops, staying motivated for big races and avoiding skanky black toenails.

» Check out Episode 15 over at the Two Fit Chicks website

I wanted to say a huuuuge thanks for all your incredible comments on the last entry. It really means a lot to read your words and to know you're not alone.

By the way, I've had to enable comment moderation because of increased spam, so your comments are stored and won't appear on the site right away. I usually get to them pretty quickly though!

In other news, here's one's for the UK yogurt nerds out there. I found a quite decent Fage Total 2% Greek Yogurt substitute! Onken Natural Set yogurt. I saw an ad in a foodie magazine which claimed it was "just as creamy" as Greek despite having less fat and calories. Pffft, I said. But beggars can't be choosers – no shops stock Total Greek 2% in my town (they only stock 0% which I don't like as much, and full fat which is a bit too full-on for my breakfast).

Verdict: Surprisingly creamy. And cheaper than Total – £1.08 for 500g of Onken versus £2.20 for 500g of Total. I tried a blob on top of some Red Beans and Rice where I'd gone crazy with the chillies. Also tried it with my pseudo-bircher muesli (fruit, oats and yogurt mixed together and left overnight) and it was a good consistency – thick enough to be creamy but enough "give" to blend with the other ingredients. It doesn't have as much protein as the Total – 3.9g versus 6.8g per 100g. Rock n roll!

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