06 November, 2014

Greek Yogurt with Honey, Figs and Almonds

Today's recipe can hardly be called a recipe as it is just an assembly of raw and mostly unprocessed ingredients. My diet has gone more and more into this direction over the last few months: not much processing and cooking, just lots of raw ingredients, perhaps combined with something quickly grilled. The predicament now is a lack of "real" recipes and as a result fewer posts on this blog.

Nevertheless I want to share why I took this direction and why I like it.

You may have noticed that I haven't posted on this blog for a while. It coincides with the fact that I am sidetracked by a few other things at the moment. My motto in life is "eat to live" rather than "live to eat". Don't get me wrong, I still love good food, but I don't have the time or patience to spend my day sourcing rare ingredients and cook for hours, or even sit in a restaurant for a meal that I could have easily made at home in half the time and a fraction of the money spent. I still cook, eat, run and read a lot about nutrition and running training. The cooking part, however, has been replaced by lots of quickly assembled, mostly raw meals and snacks.

My diet is neither 100% paleo, nor is it 100% grain free, even though many of my recipes are one or the other. I'd classify it rather as a low carb high fat  (LCHF) diet. It is less restrictive as it allows meat, fish, eggs, low sugar fruits and vegetables and full fat dairy products.
The typical high-carb foods, such as bread, rice, pasta and many fruits are simply to be avoided at most times to keep the carb-intake low.

Now most of you know that I am an avid runner. I spend a lot of time doing that or dealing with the issues that come with it: e.g. eating more food to meet increased energy demands or the need for more sleep. Two very time-consuming side-effects of running!

In high-intensity training times (e.g. a 12-week marathon training) the carb reserves stored in my body get used up and need to be replaced more often and to an higher extent and I find myself craving carbs more during those times. Naturally, I will give in as this is what my body needs.

At all other times, I do very well on a lower carb diet. You will be surprised how many carbs you still consume, even without bread, pasta and rice. My regular fruit and veggie intake usually gets me to more than 150g of carbs per day. A very knowledgeable and experienced running coach once said to me that no-one needs more than 180-200g of carbs per day unless you run at least 10k each day. Anything beyond that will just end up on your hips and mess unnecessarily with your metabolism.

So what do I eat now? It's more and more fresh salads for lunch and dinner, accompanied by some boiled eggs, grilled salmon or steak. Or omelette wraps filled with green leaves and tahini sauce. And for snacks? Whole raw fruit and whole raw nuts. You see that each meal and the snack contain some high fat or high protein foods, such as the salmon, eggs, tahini or nuts. Those will keep you full and make sure that blood sugar levels don't spike.

Same applies to my breakfast which is today's recipe: some fresh fruit topped with full-fat yogurt and a handful of raw chopped nuts. It adds up to about 600 calories. That's a good base to start the day. I assure you, you will last until lunch without cravings.

Greek Yogurt has worldwide fame, deservedly, for its creaminess and richness, obviously provided by a high fat content. In Crete where I spent my summer holidays this year, the yoghurt with the least fat percentage available was 2%. I spoke to Greeks who smilingly admitted that anything with a fat percentage below 2% is not considered yoghurt.

It doesn't only taste better, full-fat products are also less processed. Another reason to go for them. What do you eat for breakfast?

(Print Recipe)

200g/8oz Greek Yogurt
3 fresh and ripe figs, chopped ( or any other fruit of your choice)
1 handful almonds, chopped

raw honey to taste (optional)

Serves 1
Place the chopped figs in a breakfast bowl. Add yoghurt and drizzle over with honey.
Sprinkle with chopped nuts. Ready to eat.
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23 August, 2014

Jeweled Cauliflower Rice

Welcome back after a little summer break!
I went on a three week holiday to Crete in Greece. All prepared with recipes and food photos that prepared beforehand and that I would serve you along the way. But then, all those plans to keep you entertained were thrown overboard as soon as we arrived. For good reasons only, don't worry!

Crete is a quite big. By a Greek friend we were recommended the south of the island. Not knowing what the differences would be between north, south, east and west when we got there, we figured out very quickly that this must be the most unspoiled Mediterranean island, in the middle of holiday season.

The south of Crete is pretty inaccessible, hence no concrete forests for package tourism. Greece, and of course, Crete has great history and culture. However, I think it's not a place where you tick sights off a list. It's a place that wants to be explored. Quite to my liking, it's also a place where you won't need much more than a couple of shirts and shorts, swimwear and a toothbrush. In my case, add half a suitcase of running gear :-)

Oh, what a beautiful place this is to run. If you live in Dubai or have followed this blog for sometime, you will know that Dubai is flat as a pancake. It's so flat, I consider street bumps undulations. Crete, on the other hand, is hilly. Avoiding streets, I hit the trails into the mountains, through olive tree plantations, past lemon and orange trees, and fig trees on the roadside. The cicadas in the trees would be so noisy, I would hardly hear my Garmin beep. Most often I would not see a single soul on my runs, apart from the occasional ancient Cretan farmer who came to look after his olive trees in his rusty pick up truck and who would usually be too chauvinist to even acknowledge me running past. I loved it.
In those three weeks I ran more than 200k, at slow pace, due to the trails and hills that were quite a challenge in the first week. They wouldn't stop me though, to an extent that I ended up with a little Achilles niggle in the last week. Due to excessive hill running.

You readers of this blog will appreciate another thing: you won't find a single fast food chain on the whole island. No KFC, Burger King or McDonalds. The closest thing to a fast food shop was a little snack point called "Super Donalds" with the a hand-painted sign outside the shop. Apparently, there was a McDonalds a few years ago. But it had to close down, as it did only business during the holiday season between April and October. When all the tourists were gone, no-one was left to eat there. The Cretans, old and young, were not interested. I am not surprised: The Greeks make the best meatballs on the planet.

In my next post, I will share my thoughts on Greek food, with a suitable Greek recipe. Today, I leave you with something quite un-Greek: jeweled Cauliflower rice. I made it a few times before our holidays. A lovely refreshing vegan, paleo and grain free dish that's light enough to be a light lunch. Or that will go well as as side dish with grilled meat. I hope you enjoy.
inspired by Comfy Belly

(Print Recipe)

4 cups cauliflower florets
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 tablespoon turmeric
salt to taste

1/3 cup dried apricots, finely chopped
1/3 cup dried cranberries, finely chopped
1/3 cup pistachios
1/3 cup parsley, finely chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice
salt and pepper

Serves 4
Preheat oven to 200C/400F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.

Place cauliflower florets in a large bowl. In a small bowl, combine olive oil, turmeric and salt. Drizzle over the cauliflower and blend to coat the cauliflower.
Spread cauliflower on prepared baking sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes or until cauliflower is tender and slightly browned.

In the meantime, dry-roast the pistachios in a pan over medium-low heat, shaking the pan often to avoid burning. Let cool, chop roughly and set aside.

Let the roasted cauliflower cool for a few minutes before pulsing it in a food processor to rice size pieces.

In a serving bowl, combine cauliflower rice with apricots, cranberries, chopped pistachios and parsley. Season with lemon juice, salt and pepper.

Serve cold or at room temperature.
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24 July, 2014

Paleo Chocolate Banana Bread

Remember my last post about the upcoming Ramadan 10k race that involved big prize money? Well, the prize money was doubled to 2.1 million AED (that's 400.000 EUR or 540.000 USD). I ended up finishing 10th female. After doublechecking nationality and residency of each runner, I moved up to 8th female in the expat female category.
As no specifications were made upfront as to who would get how much money, I would not know if I was in the prizes. It's been almost three weeks now since the race. My residency details have been checked three times. Now I am waiting....for that email.....that will tell me about the IF and HOW MUCH.
It's summer and it's Ramadan. In Dubai, those are sure signs of things moving very very slowly. I have no choice to sit and wait.

The actual race was great fun. It was extremely hot, around 38C/100F with very high humidity. Running paces were totally off due to the heat. The race started at 1045pm. Sheikh Hamdan himself, Crown Prince of Dubai, was there at the start. The announcement of the provisional first three in each category was at 0120am at night. A huge stage with DJ was set up to announce the winners and to entertain us while we were waiting. Almost festival atmosphere. Everything was so off what I usually do: a 10k race in July, running at 11pm at night, staying up til 2am in the morning....But well organized and thoroughly enjoyable. Now if that email would just come...

My running is back to base training. Lots of long slow runs. Nothing strenuous. I run by feel rather than let my running watch predict my pace. I find these slow runs very invigorating. It's my favorite way of taking a rest.
Low heart rate training is the best thing you can do in the off-season. It boosts the metabolism and gives my legs a well-deserved break. I have a three week holiday in Greece to look forward to. Can't wait to go run there. And look forward to Greek food too. Lots of yogurt, olives, fresh veggies, seafood....simple, straight forward food.

I have realized that I haven't baked for a while. My last baked dessert post was in April. Not sure how that happened. It could possibly be explained that my diet has become simpler and more straight forward too. I am happy with plain nuts and seeds and a piece of fruit rather than processed dishes.

However, cravings come and go. And this chocolate banana bread I have made and perfected in several attempts. It certainly satisfies and sweet and chocolate cravings. And it's amazingly simple to put together with an ingredients list that couldn't be much shorter. I hope you enjoy!


(Print Recipe)

150g/1 1/2 cups almond meal
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

2 eggs
1 cup mashed banana (ca. 2 large bananas)
1/4 cup honey
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Serves 8
Preheat oven to 180C/350F.

In a large bowl, combine almond meal, cocoa powder, baking soda, cream of tartar and sea salt. Mix until well combined. Set aside.

With an electric mixer, beat the eggs until creamy. Then add mashed banana, honey and vanilla and mix some more. Add egg mixture to dry ingredients. Gently fold in until ingredients are just combined. Pour batter into prepared loaf tin. Bake in preheated oven for about 45 minutes. Let cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.
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04 July, 2014

Salade Niçoise

My running break is over. Thank goodness for that. It lasted about 2 1/2 weeks. I am not sure if it was enough to recover physically from the strains of a very long season. Probably not. But I couldn't sit at home and/or cross train any longer. While I enjoyed the rowing machine in the gym as a cardio alternative and as a good whole-body workout, it's not the same as running. Running is where my heart is.

Those 2 1/2 weeks were surely enough to make that clear again. In terms of motivation, it worked wonders. No race in the near future was planned anyway, as I decided not to participate in the Berlin marathon in September for which training would have started now. This decision was very deliberating, as I would have a whole long summer of just leisurely runs, as many or few as I wanted, as long or short as I wanted, just for the fun of it.

However, my leisurely summer running plan had to be abandoned at short notice. For a 10k race tonight. It's Ramadan. Here in Dubai eating and drinking is not allowed in public from sunrise to sunset. Naturally, all activities are scheduled between dusk and dawn. Like this crazy 10k race tonight. Start time is 1015pm, and huge prize money is involved. While there will not be any international elite runners, there will be prizes worth 1 million Dirhams (that's 200.000 EUR or 270.000 USD), and rumour has it that a few Mini Cooper cars have been thrown into the prizes too. The six categories include both male and female Emirati club runner, expat club runner, social runners and kids under 16.

That all sounds great, and if they spread the prizes over the first 10 of each category, I might stand a chance. Now the downside: it's the middle of summer in Dubai and temperatures at 9-10pm are still around 38C/100F. Not exactly ideal conditions to run 10k. Perhaps even a dangerously long distance for the untrained runner.

When I picked up my race pack last night, I saw who else signed up. The Who is Who of the Dubai running scene will be there. Gold diggers!!!!...... And I am one of them. Although I really will only have a chance if the Top 10 gets prizes.

So wish me luck. I'll keep you posted. Until then I leave you with our current family's favorite summer salad: Salade Niçoise. My favorite lunchtime salad if we eat out, as it is light enough for hot Dubaian summer days, yet has enough substance to be a main dish with the addition of potatoes, eggs and tuna. I hope you enjoy.

(Print Recipe)

2 medium potatoes
150g/6oz green beens, trimmed

2 hard-boiled eggs, quartered
150g/6oz tinned Albacore tuna, drained

1/2 cup cucumber, sliced
1/4 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
1/4 cup radishes, sliced
1/4 cup black olives

2-4 anchovy fillets

Lemon Mustard Dressing
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
salt and pepper to taste

Serves 2
Scrub the potatoes, and with the skin on, cut them into chunks. Cook them in boiling salted water until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool.

In the meantime, steam the green beans, until just tender but still crisp, approx. 4-5 minutes. Put the beans into a bowl of iced water to stop the cooking process. That way you keep the green color. Once cooled, drain and put aside.

In a small bowl, combine all ingredients for the dressing. Whisk vigorously until well combined. Set aside.

Assemble potatoes, green beans, quartered eggs, tuna and salad ingredients next to each other on a plate. Sprinkle over the black olives and place the anchovy fillets onto the potatoes. . Drizzle over the lemon mustard dressing. Ready to eat.

TIP: all ingredients can be prepared in advance and kept in the fridge for up to 12 hours before assembling.
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18 June, 2014

Coconut Frozen Yogurt

Breaks are good. Change of scenery is good. Breaking out of your routine is good. Doing something different is good. Even if it's only temporary.
A running coach that I consulted about my tiredness and dwindling running motivation two months ago asked me when I last had a break? - A break from what? - From running?! - Errrhhhmmm....maybe in February for 5 days when I had a cold.....not sure....Before that I can't even remember. Probably another cold....
I can tell you, that wasn't good news. Me not running?! Dark times ahead for myself and all the people close to me. It took me two whole months until I found the time not to run. Crazy, isn't it? There was still a couple of races to get out the way before I could afford a running break for few weeks.

So for how long should I not run? Two weeks he said, or three. I might feel the urge to go for a run after a week. Hold back for another week, he advised. I was dreading it. But the good news, I don't have to sit at home and do nothing. I decided to focus on strength training. As I am not big on swimming or cycling, he recommended the rowing machine in the gym in order to not lose too much cardio fitness.

I have always ignored the rowing machine. It looked like like it would need a lot of upper body strength which I don't have and I struggle to get despite hard efforts in the gym. To my surprise, my efforts must have gotten me a bit further and I really do enjoy the rowing machine. It's a workout that strengthens legs and upper body at the same time plus I get some cardio in. The rowing machine has been my life saver. 10 days into my rest from running and I am not missing it at all. That means a lot.
With TRX classes, some weight training and the rowing machine there is not much time to get sluggish. I never thought a break from running could be so easy and challenging at the same time. My plan was not to run for three weeks. I am half way through and I am confident I will make it and it will do me good, both physically and mentally.
With all the strength training, I feel that I need to eat more these days. Regular meals don't fill me for long enough. An hour after dinner some sort of dessert has to be dished up. The  Football Soccer World Cup matches with  8pm and 11pm starts here in Dubai are just another excuse to enjoy a tub of ice cream on the sofa.

The healthy food blog world is full of coconut milk based ice creams. I have tried them and never really got to like them. I found them to thick and heavy and the coconut taste to overbearing. Something tart needed to cut through the coconut texture and flavor. So I combined it with yogurt. Now with the yogurt, it's not paleo or vegan anymore. But it is delicious. That I can assure. I hope you enjoy!

(Print Recipe)

2 cups Greek yogurt (or 4 cups regular full fat yogurt)

1 can coconut milk, refrigerated
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup fresh grated coconut
1/4 cup raw powdered sugar

Serves 6-8

If you use regular whole milk yogurt, strain 4 cups of whole milk yogurt through a cheesecloth or clean kitchen towel for at least two hours. Discard the whey.
Mix the thick white parts of the refrigerated coconut milk into the strained/greek yogurt. Add vanilla extract, fresh coconut and sugar and mix until well combined.

Without  ice cream maker
Pour the yogurt mixture into a shallow bowl or pan. Freeze until almost solid, about 1-2 hours. Take out of the freezer, and thoroughly stir it with a fork. Put back into freezer and freeze again until almost solid. Scoop out the frozen mixture and place it into a food processor. Pulse until smooth. Transfer ice cream into a container suitable for freezing.

With ice cream maker
Transfer mixture to ice cream maker and follow its instructions. Transfer ice cream into a container suitable for freezing.

Cover and freeze until firm, about 2 hours. If you keep it frozen until completely solid, keep at room temperature to soften a bit before serving.
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