30 January, 2012

Banana Molasses Granola Bars

Granola bars are very popular if I can believe the statistics of my blog. Therefore, I cannot withhold this granola bar recipe any longer that got me through the last couple of weeks of my marathon training.

As you might also know, I have run the marathon last Friday in an amazingly good time that had me over the moon for three days or so. I have been following a 12-week marathon training program that included speed training and the regular long runs up to 36k. I have been eating well and tapering down sensibly the last few weeks before the race. My finish time last year was 3:58 which I wanted to reduce to 3:45 this year. That was my goal. It all came together in the end. I ran the race sensibly, and by the book. I kept in mind that I should have negative splits (running the first half slower than the second half), and so I did. I finished the marathon in 3:35:40 with split times of 1:50 and 1:45. It took me literally three days to believe it myself that this was MY finishing time. Something that I didn't dream of in my wildest dreams.

Only now I have returned to reality and everyday life, and am ready to share recipes and stories again. I will write a comprehensive recap of the marathon next couple of days incl. what I ate the 3 days before the race.

Today's granola bars are not only good for marathon trainings. In fact, I just baked a new batch this afternoon. It's the perfect mid-morning or afternoon snack for kids and adults with the right mixture of sweetness, crunch and chewiness, that will satisfy any hunger pangs between the main meals in the moist nutritious way possible.

1 cup old fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup chopped nuts (I like almonds or hazelnuts)
1/4 cup desiccated coconut
3 tablespoons white sesame seeds

1/2 cup mashed ripe banana (2 medium bananas)
2 tablespoons molasses
2 tablespoons coconut oil (alternatively olive oil)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup cranberries

Yields ca. 8-10
Preheat oven to 160C/325F. Line wide loaf tin with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine oats, nuts, coconut and sesame seeds. Set aside.
In small bowl, combine mashed banana, molasses, oil and vanilla. Add wet to dry ingredients and stir until well combined. Stir in cranberries.

Transfer batter to prepared loaf tin. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until top is golden brown. Let cool completely on wire racks. Cut into bars. Keep refrigerated or freeze for up to a month.
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26 January, 2012

Anja's Food 4 Thought Cookbook Giveaway

Hi there, this is a special post without a recipe. What? No recipes? How boring! What am I doing here then? I know, I know.... (or rather hope) that my recipes is what you come here for.

Today I've got something for you. A Giveaway. The first ever give-away on my blog. It's something special. Homemade and homecrafted.
I designed a cookbook with a selection of recipes that I posted on my blog over the past 2 1/2 years. There is no particular theme to it: it's neither vegan, nor gluten-free, nor sugar free. It's got a little bit of everything. The categories are
  • Breakfast
  • Bars & Squares
  • Sweet Quick Breads
  • Savory Snacks
  • Salads
  • Soups 
  • Quick Meals
  • Dinners
  • Desserts

I designed this book and printed a single copy of it. It was a dummy run, as I just wanted to see how, in my dream world, a cookbook of mine could look like. I learned a lot by designing it, and also was able to see the mistakes I made once I had the printed copy in my hands. It's far from being perfect, but it's a unique book.

I am giving away this one copy of Anja's Food 4 Thought Cookbook, worldwide.

But I want something in return. I thought it would be a nice change to the usual giveaways to NOT force you to like me on Facebook or to follow me on Twitter. Only if you really do like me or want to follow me, feel free to do the FB thing here or the Twitter thing here. But it will not increase your chances of winning this book.

Instead I think it will be fun to ask you some questions that I always wanted to ask my readers and do some field research about some ideas that I have about my blog. Are you in? I compiled 10 questions in a little questionnaire, that I ask you to answer. Here we go:
Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey, the world's leading questionnaire tool.

Entry Requirements for Giveaway:
Please leave a comment here on this post, once you are done with the questionnaire, by just saying so, or by whatever comes to your mind or whatever it is that you always wanted to tell me. I can take constructive criticism! In fact, I want it! Please leave a valid email address or ID where I can track you down.

Deadline: Wednesday, 1 February 2012, 11:59pm GMT + 4h (that's Dubai time)
I will select the winner by using Random.org. All entries received after the giveaway closing day and time will not be considered. Winner will be notified via email and will have 48 hours to confirm receipt of the email. If the winner does not reply within 48 hours, another winner will be selected. Giveaway will be mailed to the winner’s address.

Good luck to everyone!

I will publish the results of this little questionnaire afterwards, in case you are interested!
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22 January, 2012

Carrot Coconut Breakfast Loaf

Five days to go until the Dubai marathon. I ran my last training run today, 12k at marathon pace. It felt good. I know from experience that I find it harder to get into a certain pace in training runs, but don't seem to have the problem at races (where it actually counts). My adrenaline works very reliable then, and gets my competitive side going.
I decided not run until Friday, to have rested legs. I am a firm believer in rested legs. In the past (intended or not) I often did not run at all for 4-5 days before a race. So it has become part of my religion or race superstition. It might get hard not to run by Wednesday, as my nerves will surely get jittery by then. I have planned to carb-load on Tuesday and Wednesday, and just eat normally and light on Thursday. Too many carbs can you make feel quite heavy, and I want them stored in my muscles and otherwise out of my system when I line up at the starting line on Friday morning.
The weather conditions will be good. The forecast now says it will be around 18C. That's quite cool for Dubai, and surely good enough to run a marathon.

I have trained hard to run this marathon in 3:45:00. Please keep your fingers crossed that I will make it. I feel confident. I know I can do it.

I hope it will pay off that I not only trained hard and systematically, but also paid more attention than ever to my diet. I hardly ever eat processed foods, refined sugars and flours are eliminated to almost 100% from my daily menu. I eat as wholesome as possible, with a good variety of raw and cooked veggies, fruit, nuts, legumes, lean meats and eggs. I go gluten-free wherever I can. I am feeling energized, balanced and healthy.

Today's recipe is a breakfast loaf that I have been baking for 4-5 times in a row. It fits the bill for all the dietary adjustments mentioned above. It's good enough for breakfast or as mid-afternoon snack. A good snack to have after a long run too. I also baked this loaf for a friend who gave birth to a baby girl a month ago. Delicious, wholesome and nutritious for breastfeeding mothers. A no-guilt cake for absolutely everyone!

3/4 cup almond meal
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 tablespoons coconut oil
1/2 cup mashed bananas (2 very ripe medium bananas)

1/2 cup dates, pitted and chopped
1/2 cup carrots, coarsely grated
1/4 cup desiccated coconut
1/4 cup pistachios or hazelnuts, roughly chopped
1/4 cup cranberries

Yields 1 loaf
Preheat oven to 180C/375F. Grease or line loaf tin with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine almond meal, baking soda and cinnamon. Set aside.

In another bowl, whisk the eggs. Stir in vanilla, coconut oil and mashed bananas. Combine wet and dry ingredients. Fold in dates, carrots, coconut, cranberries and chopped nuts. Break up bigger lumps of dates if they stick together.

Transfer batter to prepared loaf tin. Bake for 40 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean.
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21 January, 2012

Marathon Training Recap - Week 12 out of 12 Weeks

© Runners World
Week 12: With that looming injury, I was very careful to run. I kept telling myself, that I the training was done, that I would not increase my fitness level at this stage of the training. That I could rather do damage than good with the wrong training now. However, it still felt wrong not to run. I went for a relaxed 9k run on Tuesday night, and walked after 6.5k as the pelvic pain came on again. I really couldn't understand what it was caused by.

I rested until Saturday, giving that 20+ run that I actually wanted to do a miss. A few people that I spoke to about my littleinjury said that it might be in my head and that the nerves are already getting the better of me. I was hoping so.
On Saturday night, I run with a group. It's a two-lap course, and I took it very easy on the first 3.5k. I could feel a little niggle in the pelvis, but as my body warmed up it seemed to go away. The second 3.5k I did at usual fast pace, and the pain finally went (almost). I was relieved, as I figured that it was not a real and serious injury. It probably was the nerves in combination with whatever. Nevertheless I got myself painkiller creams and tablets.

Sunday's run was supposed to be my last run before the marathon: 12k at marathon pace. It felt good. I had just the tiniest niggle in my pelvis. I felt confident, and I finally started to believe that I could run the whole 42k at this pace.

If you like numbers as much as I do: I ran a total of 641k during this marathon training. 720k were scheduled. I often didn't quite make the scheduled mileage. But I feel good. I think I am the fittest and fastest I have ever been. The missing mileage was due to extra rest days that my body definitely needed at the time, and surely not caused by laziness. I have been eating right. My plan for the next 4 days before the marathon looks like this:
- Monday: nothing special, eat right, go on with everyday life.
- Tuesday: carb-load
- Wednesday: carb-load, pick up race number
- Thursday: eat light and right, take it very easy

Week 11: I turned this week's running program upside down, as I had a 10k race scheduled for Friday. Another 24k race was planned but I didn't want to tire my legs too much before the 10k race. I took it very easy, and just ran a very relaxed 10k run on Wednesday before the race. I believe in rested legs, and I wanted to do well in the 10k race. One of my goals for the season was to get under 45:00. Only 17 seconds had to be knocked off my PB. With the marathon training at such an advanced stage, I felt I could do it.

On the day, the weather felt very warm (too warm for Dubai in January), but very windy. After the gun went off, I ran off quite quickly with a 4:24 pace over the first kilometer. With two points of strong headwinds on each of the three laps, I wasn't sure if I could keep up my pace. Somewhere during the second lap, I literally felt the marathon training kicking in. I didn't feel as exhausted as I expected and knew I could keep up my pace. My halfway time was 22:02, which would result well under 45:00 finish time. In the end, I crossed the line at 43:56. I was a very happy girl. Read a full report here.

After a rest day, I did the long intervals on Sunday: 2x4.5k at tempo pace. For some reason, that was a tiring session, which I didn't expect. On top of that I felt a  strange pain in my pelvis over the last 2k. The last thing I need now, was an injury. I got very nervous about it.

That pain was familiar to me. I had it before, during the early stages of last year's marathon training. At that time, I was increasing my weekly mileage by  quite a bit, and I explained these pains with overexertion. But why would OI get it now. I was tapering already, I didn't do many runs in the recent past. It was surely not overexertion. I decided to take it very easy in the following week, and rather recover from whatever caused these pains instead of running with pain.

Week 10: Taper time has begun, and I am quite happy that I can slow down a bit. Now that I have come to this stage, I feel that a 12-week marathon training program is not soooo bad after all. The first month are sort of hard, as I usually just jump in without being really ready to do the required mileage. The second month is hard because all the really long runs are being done between then. And then it's already tapering time. A 29k run doesn't feel as bad anymore. One 29k run was scheduled for week 9. I just did it. No big deal. 

I started the week with a rest day on Monday, did a 13k run on Tuesday, an 8k run on Wednesday, and 28k on Friday. Managed another little 3,5k speed run on Saturday, before Sunday's long Intervals of 2x6k at marathon pace. I am settling into this 5:20 pace and I start to believe that I might be able to run the whole marathon at that pace. With the marathon still 3 weeks away, I am feeling very confident and am quite a bigmouth in my running group. I know I will quieten down as race day comes closer!

Week 9: Alright, Christmas is over. I moved last week's interval training to Monday this week. My fellow runners seemed very itchy to run, and suggested to keep on jogging between intervals. We usually just walk or rest for a few minutes. Oh, how I regretted to having agreed to that. It added up to 18k, for which I wasn't prepared at all. I thought I'd do my intervals quickly before dinner. Wrong mindset. I cheated by half a kilometre at the end, dropping onto the nearest bench totally exhausted.

As a result, I needed to rest the next day. After an easy 8k run on Wednesday, I planned the longest of my long runs on Thursday, 36k. The weather in Dubai is perfect now. Low 20C in late afternoons and evenings are perfect for me.
However, I started off slightly to early in the afternoon. The sun was still beating down, and in areas where there was no shade, it wasn't very pleasant to run as it was simply too hot. From about 4pm onwards, temperatures got better. Although I struggled for the first 18k. During the whole time I was negotiating with myself if I should swap this week's 36k with 29k. Once I got past the halfway mark, I felt better and knew I would do the 36k. Ticking that run off the list was all I wanted. Not to have any further 30+k runs on the schedule after this, was motivation enough to get me through.
The second half of the 36k was much easier than I thought. Surely, it was painful to run, especially the last 8-10k, but I managed. I was surprised and proud when it was all done, that I actually just ran 36k.

Again, I recovered quickly from the long run. After a rest day, I could do a 7k pace run that still left enough energy to do Sunday's intervals. Sunday's intervals were just hard to run because I ate the wrong things before. We were invited to a BBQ, and I had grilled chicken, beef steak, apple cake and ice cream. Too much proteins and the wrong carbs.
This week's mileage added up to some whopping 82k. I never thought I could run that much and still feeling fit enough to manage everyday life. Now I am officially tapering! Fellow runners are questioning each other for running strategies on race day. Perhaps it's time to think about this now.

Week 8: It's the week leading up to Christmas. The two toughest weeks of the program have started, as the long 30+k runs have to be done. The only good thing about it is that any Christmas indulgence will be run off for sure. In that sense, it's good timing. Otherwise, I just want to get it over and done with. I am coming to that stage in the training where I am ticking off runs. Whatever I do today, I don't have to do tomorrow.

I did a relaxed 13k and a 8k run on Tuesday and Wednesday. These short to mid-distance runs have become really easy by now. It's more a question of time to squeeze them in, not so much a workout anymore that leaves me tired. I take it as a good sign that my fitness levels are going up.

After a rest day, I tackle the 20mile/32k long run on Friday. I went to Safa Park in Dubai, which is surrounded by a running track. One lap is just over 3,4k and I am intending to run 10 laps. It may sound boring, but it suits me to come past my car every 20 minutes, where I keep water, sports drinks, bananas and GU gels ready. And there is toilets. Knowing that they are there, lets me focus more on getting those 10 laps done. When I go off, I intend to stop at my car every 2 laps/7k to top up my water or have a snack.

I am feeling really good right from the beginning and change plans. Instead of running 5x 2 laps, I run one 4 laps and two 3 lap sessions. My pace is about 6 min/k throughout the run.
When I do those long runs, I feel that I need to run at a pace that is the least tiring. It's almost that I don't want to feel that I am running. Sooner or later you will feel it, there is no doubt. But the start should feel like no effort at all.
When I hit the 29-30k, I remembered last year's 30+runs of the marathon training. Very reliably, between 29 and 30k, the pain level goes up a lot. That's the time when I remember a quote about the marathon that I once read: A marathon only starts at 30k.

I admit, the last 5k were no fun. But I saw the end in sight and pushed myself to finish. Ticking these long runs off, rather than trying to do them again the next week, got me going until I completed the 34k.

No-one can argue this, it is a long time to run. Apart from the breaks,  I had a net time of about 3:27 to do these 10 laps/34k.  I was happy to have done 2k more than asked for. And all this just before Christmas!

I took the next two days off. On Christmas Day would have been another interval session. But changes have to made when necessary. So I moved this session to Monday, first week of the 9th week.

Week 7: I started this week with a rest day after last week's half marathon followed by a relaxed run and interval training. I still believe, that running on three consecutive days is all I can do. It feels unhealthy from the fourth day on. Another long run was planned for this week. At this stage of the training I put all my energy into the long runs and the interval sessions. I want to complete these as prescribed in the program. I am ready to sacrifice one or the other smaller run for it.

I did a 9k run on Tuesday to be fit for the long run on Thursday. I ate well before the long run. I didn't want to feel hungry again during the run. I planned to run for 3 hours, which would translate to about 30k. All went well for about 2 1/2 hours. After that my legs felt really tired and I just wanted to go home. I struggled for another 20-25 minutes. So in the end, I guess I ran about 28-29k. I was happy with it. In the end, it's all about getting the miles in at a slow and steady pace. That's what I did.

Saturday was a special 7k run with my running group. It's actually a race, and I set a new PB over the distance that we run (which is 2 laps around a park). Sunday's interval training I usually do with a group. This week I had to do it on my own due to time commitments. It was a bit of a let down, as I wasn't checking my training plan before setting off. Instead of tempo pace, I ran the intervals at marathon pace. Oh well..... The mileage this week added up to 56k, quite a bit less than the goal mileage of 65k. Never mind. I still feel good with the way the training is going.

Week 6: There is only one Half Marathon in Dubai and it was scheduled for this week. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, runs in it. I wanted to do well, so I opted for extra rest days before. In non-marathon training times, I usually don't run for 4-5 days before a race. In my experience, you don't gain any fitness on such short notice. At the same time, going into a race with rested legs is a big advantage.

I had a relaxed 6k run on Tuesday, and rested on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. During the whole week I was fighting a cold that started on Sunday and peaked on Wednesday. On Wednesday evening I was feeling so rotten that I thought I would not be able to run this half marathon at all. I was glad that it got much better on Thursday. My family told me not to do anything stupid and run while being sick. But they could rest assured that I would not get up at 4.45am if I wasn't sure I could finish a 21k race.

Come Friday, and my adrenaline was working as reliable as expected before and on race days. I didn't need my alarm clock to be up at 4.30am. I ate a bowl of porridge and banana (without much appetite), but I think I did good by carb-loading a little bit before the race. I didn't want to feel hungry again DURING the race, like it happened to me a week before on my long training run.

The race went really well. I started off much slower than the Half Marathon three weeks earlier in Abu Dhabi. The initial pace was 5:20min/k. I was a bit surprised but everyone seemed to go off slowly so I just hung in there. Having the 1:45h pacemaker behind me, gave me a little comfort. I went with the flow, which got gradually faster. As I just run with a normal stopwatch, I don't have split times. I only remember crossing the halfway line at 52:37. In the second half of the race I missed many distance markers, so I wasn't really sure where I was standing timewise. I wanted to be under 1:45, and gave whatever was left in me on the last kilometers. A few hundred meters to go to the finish line, I checked my watch again and realized I would do a 1:42 time. Final time was 1:42:36, net time 1:42:16. I was very impressed with what I had achieved, to say the least!

On Saturday, I did a very relaxed 7k run, to be fit enough for the long intervals on Sunday. I was surprised that I was able to do both runs after Friday's Half Marathon. I think the marathon training finally got me to the next level of fitness. I recover quicker from previous runs. The training doesn't seem as hard as it was in the beginning. I feel less tired. It's motivating.

Week 5: Week 5 is the first week in the program when I was supposed to run the maximum mileage I had set myself: 72k or 45 miles. That is a lot of kilometers. I didn't do 72k. I managed 67k. I was quite pleased with myself, as I ran all five runs, and in the middle of it a 28k run, after which I finally registered for the Dubai marathon.

I feel I have more energy, as the interval training sessions on Sundays have become slower (although longer), but that suits me well. I have dropped my weekly short (and fast) interval session with my running group in favor for a regular relaxed and steady training run. These changes make me recover much faster from the runs, or don't even leave me as tired in the first place.

My first run of this week was supposed to be a 15k run. I did 10k, as I could feel last week's 16k run and 11k interval session still hanging around in my legs. At the same time I wanted to be ready and fit to do Thursday's 29k, my most important run this week. I allowed myself another rest day on Tuesday, and had a another slow and steady 10k run on Wednesday that would still allow me to manage the 29k on Thursday. I ran 28k, and I didn't make it a progression run. My leg muscles were feeling tight. I ran the whole distance in a 5:50min to 6:00min pace, with just little breaks every 7k for water or a GU gel. I wouldn't say I struggled, but these 28k didn't come easy to me. I was glad when it was over. One of the reasons why it didn't go so well, was because I didn't eat enough before the run. Halfway through I got quite hungry, but had nothing with me than a banana and a GU gel. Anyway, another long run to be ticked off the list.
I was glad to see that I recovered rather quickly and did another 7k plus the interval session on Saturday and Sunday as planned.

I think my fitness and endurance levels are going up. I don't feel as exhausted after my runs as I did in the first few weeks. And I recover much quicker. That surely is a motivation and makes me think I do all things right so far.

Week 4: I started week 4 of my marathon training with two rest days. It was expected, but I didn't feel good about it. My level of exhaustion felt above the level of what marathon training exhaustion should be. I decided not to do any speed runs this week, just run some 10-15k runs at relaxed pace.

Wednesday was my first run day. I went out to do 10k, and struggled over the second half. I must have walked about a third of the whole distance. Not good. I wasn't quite sure what made me feel so lame, as my legs were feeling OK. Perhaps, my body fought a little infection? I don't know.

On Thursday I felt better, and completed a 13k run at my usual training pace. It felt good and I finally felt back on track. I allowed myself another rest day on Friday, and ran 16k on Saturday afternoon. On Sunday evening I was ready to do some pace training again. The pace training switched now from shorter distances at fast pace to longer distances at marathon pace. With my marathon training group I ran 3x3k at a pace of 5:20min. I t felt good and comfortable. However, the thought of running the whole 42k at this pace wasn't quite appealing yet. Oh well, it's another two months of preparation. I am still in the early days...
At least the mileage almost added up o what I was expected to run this week. Instead of 53k I did 50k. I am happy with that.

I also think that I do well with a maximum of three days of running and then have a rest day. Those four days of training are too much for me. I will probably readjust my rest days in the following weeks. I don't necessarily need a rest day before my long run, as long as I take it easy on that day.

Week 3: Oh my, what have I done!! A half marathon race is supposed to replace my 24k long slow run on Friday. I am having second thoughts about it, as I feel that too many of my runs are speed runs. The fast runs take a lot out of me. But then again, I do them in a group, so it is usually easier.

Now let's get down to the facts: I was supposed to run 67k this week. Not a good idea if you want to run a half marathon. I decided to go low on the weekly mileage and dropped Monday's 15k altogether. Sometimes less is more, and I usually go well with running little to nothing 4-5 days before a race. On Tuesday I did a Short Interval Training Session with my running group which added up to 10k. Wednesday's 7k run was a very, very slow run, more to loosen up my muscles and to make feel less guilty about the missed-out mileage on Monday and Tuesday.
I am getting to know myself from a whole different side:  I didn't know I would become so competitive with this Marathon training. However, when I created my marathon plan, I put my weekly mileage very high, in order to have weeks like this one, were dropping or shortening one or the other session would still be acceptable.

Friday's half marathon was great. The temperatures were good, not too hot. My legs felt a little tight in the beginning, but I ran a steady 5min/km pace right from the start. On the first half, I was a little scared that I would get tired. Having the rising sun right in my face also didn't help to get me more relaxed.
Thankfully, the second half of the race was in the other direction. I had enough energy left in my legs to run the last 6k even a little faster. I finished with a new PB at 1:44:39. (Read here for a more detailed race recap).

Eager to see my fellow runners from the half marathon the next day made me forget about my rest day. Instead, I joined my Saturday evening running group, and did a 7k speed run. I was probably still running high on endorphines from the race the day before, and managed pretty well. In retrospect, I shouldn't have done it. Comes Sunday, and the speed key workout is on the schedule. My legs feel very tired now, I feel exhausted, I am not looking forward to this session at all. I am telling myself, It's just 30 minutes, then it's all over.
After a 1,5k warm-up we are getting ready to run 6k at 5min/km. The first couple of kilometers feel OK, but I can sense that I am doing too much. After 3k I am starting to feel almost sick. I decided to drop out after 4,5k. The signs of my body were more than obvious. Rest was needed.

Now I am paying the price, for doing too much speed training. I probably need more rest days than planned. I must focus more on slow, relaxed runs. They won't be so hard on me, and I won't struggle to get the mileage in. Instead of 68k I ran only 54k this week. Four of the five runs that I did this week were races or speed runs. You don't have to be an expert to see that this is too much. Lesson learned, hopefully.

Week 2: Famous last words from the first week: I expected tired legs. Here we go, I had very tired legs at the beginning of the second week. Training on four days in a row is still a bit too much for me. My body is not used to the strain I am putting it through on such a frequent basis. After the Tuesday run, which was the fourth day in a row, I felt exhausted. Having to run 26k just two days later on Thursday seemed absolutely impossible until Wednesday evening.  I was already making mental arrangements to postpone the long run to Friday. But then, surprise, surprise, I felt good and rested when I woke up on Thursday morning.

My sleep has definitely changed since I started the training. I need more sleep, 30 minutes to an hour per night. I sleep deeper. And I find I recover best while sleeping well  and enough hours.

I went off for my long run on Thursday afternoon and ran into the evening when temperatures got cooler. I had two GU gels with me, this time vanilla flavor. I took it after one hour of running. Again, it went down well. I was planning to take another one 45 to 60 minutes later, but decided against it. As this 26k run was supposed to be a progression run where you increase your pace to Marathon Pace towards the end, I felt that I had enough energy to do so. I don't have a Garmin, but it felt like I ran the last 3-4k faster than the other 22k. I had a big bowl of Traditional Oat Porridge about 45 minutes before the run. An old classic of mine, always goes down well and delivers energy as needed for those runs.

I recovered quickly from the 26k run. No problems to run the Saturday 7k. The Sunday Speed Training that I usually do with a group, I had to do on my own this week. It was not too difficult though. I think, that long intervals com easier to me than the shorter, fast ones.

Nutritionwise, I am trying to put more proteins into my body to speed up recovery after the runs. I have been eating a lot of lentils, eggs and grilled chicken/fish during the week.Those Zucchini Chickpea Feta Fritters have become a staple, and I can always eat a big bowl of Red Lentil Dal.

A good week of running. I feel confident with the training. The fact, that I seem to recover quickly from strenuous runs makes me feel confident and optimistic that I am on the right track. Let's see how next week goes.

Marathon Training Plan - Click to enlarge
Week 1: I did all my runs this week as laid out in the plan. In fact, I did even more than that: on Tuesday, when only a 7k run was planned, I went with my usual running group to do our weekly short distance interval training, which added up to almost 10k. I mentioned my marathon training to this group, and we decided to start a new group to do the long distance interval training as prescribed by my training plan. That was unexpected, but is great as any interval training is much easier (at least in terms of motivation) when done in a group.

On my Thursday long run (21k) I ate my first ever GU energy gel. Just to see if I could stomach it. It had chocolate flavor and wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. It tasted a bit like a melted cheap chocolate praline. I couldn't quite feel an energy boost afterwards, but I didn't have any stomach troubles. That's all i wanted to know at this stage. Will now stock up on GUs and try and incorporate them into my marathon preparation on all long runs.

The Sunday tempo run in a group was brilliant. After having done regular short interval training sessions for almost half a year, I must say that the long distance interval training seems to come easier to me. Short intervals are much more of a challenge to me. I consider dropping the short intervals, when the going gets tough with the rest of the marathon training and do just a regular run instead.

All in all I, I felt great after the week. Quite proud that I completed all runs as prescribed. As my weekly mileage went up quite a bit by starting this marathon training, I expected tired legs. It went so well that I signed up for a Half Marathon on 18 November.

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18 January, 2012

Chicken Curry in a Hurry

So far, I am taking the year 2012 in a storm. It started with a cover photo and a double page spread about my blog and recipes. Now I am working as a assistant photographer/food stylist on someone else's cookbook. It started only this week, and will go on for a month or so. It's hard work to be creative on demand with the clock ticking in the background, but I am loving every single bit of it. It's a whole different league than taking pictures for a blog, I find. For my blog, I usually don't spend more than 30 minutes on a shoot, incl. set-up. That's also because I already spent some time cooking the dish.

Now with the cookbook, everything is ready and cooked. We have to dish it up, make it look pretty and set the "table", and photograph it. This, in the longest case so far, can take up to 2 1/2 hours. I am drained after each day, but happy. Another fact, that I didn't realize before: it's very physical. I don't sit for one second during the shoot.  It's constant bending, shifting, kneeling, holding, carrying, straightening, tidying, running back and forth ..... you name it.

Believe it or not: once I come home I still feel like cooking something nice and new and sometimes even photograph it for my blog. In a way, it relaxes me to be home in my own kitchen. Because the photo shoots are so tiring, I am in need of hearty but quick meals for dinner.  Just the right time and place to share my Chicken Curry in a Hurry with you: ready to serve in less than 30 minutes, hearty, full of flavor, filling and good for you. Dishes like these are perfect for cold winter nights and comforting after a long day's work. It's one of our family staples. Leftovers are great to eat the next day. Bon Appetit!


1 tablespoon olive oil
1 red onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated

1 lb/500g skinless chicken thighs

2 tablespoons curry powder
1/2 teaspoon chili powder, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 can coconut milk
1/2 cup cooked chickpeas

Serves 3-4
Heat olive oil over medium heat. Add chopped onions and cook until softened. Stir in minced garlic and grated ginger and cook until fragrant, another minute or so.

Add the chicken thighs and cook until the outsides of the chicken is no longer pink. Stir curry powder chili and salt into the chicken onion mixture and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the coconut milk. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer over low heat for 15 minutes. Add cooked chickpeas and cook for another 5 minutes. Serve with brown rice.
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15 January, 2012

Basic Tomato Sauce

I am a sucker for quick and simple recipes. As much as I love cooking, I don't want to spend hours chopping, mincing, sifting, whisking or stirring my food. All cookbooks with recipes that announce that they can be prepared in 30 minutes or less (ideally including the cooking or baking time) are made for me. Ingredients lists with less than 10 items are my thing too. The less ingredients I have, the less there is to chop, cut or mixed together. Less is also the chance that I will mess it up, I believe.

This tomato sauce is one of a the standard recipes in our household that can be whipped up in less than 30 minutes. My son loves pasta and tomato sauce (this one!) in his lunchbox for school. I often make a big batch. That leaves room for variety and extension. Add some clam meat to make it a seafood tomato sauce over pasta, or add capers, olives and anchovies for a Puttanesca sauce. Thin it out with vegetable stock to make it a hearty tomato soup. The list is endless. The freshness that comes from the ingredients is unbeatable. No tomato sauce from a jar can ever taste like this.

1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1 red onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced

4 medium ripe tomatoes, chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon chili flakes (optional)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Serves 4
In a medium pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Fry onions for a few minutes, then add minced garlic and fry for another few minutes. Stir in chopped tomatoes and tomato paste. Season with thyme, chili (optional), and sea salt. Cover with lid and simmer over low heat for about 15-20 minutes. Stir occasionally. Puree wit a blender to a smooth sauce or leave chunky.
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13 January, 2012

10k Abras AC race, 13 January 2012

The first race of the year 2012. I am actually in tapering mode for the Dubai marathon in two weeks time. But I love 10k races, and this one in particular. It's a small event where the Who is Who of the local running scene lines up to compete.

It's been very warm the last few days in Dubai, much warmer than average. Not a good thing when you are having a new PB on your mind. There is nothing that can be done done about it. The race was supposed to start at 7am, just after sunrise. I was just hoping it wouldn't get hot too quickly.
The good thing is that 10k races don't really make me nervous anymore. I had a quiet evening before. Carb-loading is not really necessary when running 10k. They might sit too heave in your stomach. I had made a big pot of a hearty vegetable stew the night before. This was just the right food, still some carbs, but light on the stomach and hydrating the body at the same time. I slept well and woke up rested just before 6am. I chomped down a banana without much appetite, just to have something in the stomach, and drove to the race.

After a little warm-up run and chats here and there with fellow runners, the gun went off at 7am. The first kilometer I ran in 4:24. It felt fast, and I had a few doubts if I could really keep up that pace for the whole distance. The second kilometer was a reality check, as it came with strong headwinds. A few fellow runners that I considered as fast or even faster than me, were behind me by the end of the first lap out of three.

The second lap is always the hardest one, I find. At least, you come past the halfway mark. I was at 22:02 at 5k, good enough to break the 45min finish time that I set for myself. That gave me confidence. During this lap I realized that I could keep up the pace, and relied on the end-in-sight motivation for the third lap.

Nevertheless, all runners were confronted with these horrible headwinds twice on each lap. I couldn't quite gauge if this would take its toll on my pace. I can't remember my exact time at 8k, but I recall that I would comfortably finish under 45 minutes. I ran as fast as I could, didn't check my watch anymore. Just a 100 metres before the finishing line I realized that I could even break 44 minutes. And so I did. Finished in 43:56min, 1:21min off my previous PB. It was a very good run. And surely the perfect confidence booster for the upcoming marathon in two weeks time.
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11 January, 2012

Spelt Quick Bread

Although many of my recent recipes are gluten-free, neither I nor any family members are actually allergic to gluten. It is rather the case that I decided for myself to eat gluten-free as much as I can because I think my overall well-being is better when I eat less gluten. But if I was invited to a dinner party or BBQ where glutenous food was dished up, I would surely not make a big fuss. Quite the opposite probably: I'd dig in.

During all this time that I have been avoiding gluten, my husband still loved his white baguette bread and my son takes a wholewheat sandwich to school every day.

I never forced my healthy foods on anyone, rather find the healthiest alternative possible. My family are my hardest critics: to them taste was the only things that mattered. It served my purpose: if they ate my healthy foods, it must be good. My family would always have the choice. I would eat my foods in front of them, and would be more than happy to let them try or share. You may call this strategy "Leading by example".

The changes in my own diet over the past few years have been small but constant. I think that any conscious changes in someone's diet are only sustainable if that person is convinced that previously consumed foods were having a bad impact on his well-being. That insight alone is a great achievement. I see so many people around me everyday who stuff themselves and their families with foods that have zero nutrition.
I am proud to tell you and happy to take credit for the fact, that white breads are no longer wanted in our house. Instead, I am asked to bring dark wholegrain breads or even bake them myself. That's a challenge, as I know from previous attempts that wholemeal flours and yeast combined in my kitchen usually have disastrous results. That didn't stop me from trying alternatives. I can now proudly present you a truly successful Spelt Quick Bread. I am happy to serve this to my family and improve their diet, ensuring their long-term health and well-being. Step by step.

1 1/2 cups whole spelt flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup mixed seeds (divided)
1 cup buttermilk

Yields 1 loaf
Preheat oven to 200C/400F. Line loaf tin with parchment paper.

In a bowl, combine spelt flour, oats, salt and baking soda. Stir in mixed seeds (keeping 1 tablespoon aside). Form a well in the middle of the flour mixture. Add buttermilk and gently stir until well combined. Transfer batter to prepared loaf tin. Level the top and sprinkle with remaining seeds. Bake for 30 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean. Let cool for a few minutes in the pan, then cool completely on wire rack.
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07 January, 2012

Silesian Potato Dumplings aka Giant Gnocchi

Alright, 2012 is in full swing. We all had our fair share of Best Of Lists of 2011. Now it's time to move on and look forward.
So far the year has started great for me. I was featured in the  Dubai food magazine Ahlan Gourmet with two recipes plus pictures, and another photo of mine was used on the cover. It's the first time ever I see any of my photos printed. I am quite proud, to an extent that I have sleepless nights, out of excitement.
I haven't made any New Year resolutions. A whole year is too much to foresee. I can think in projects, that might take shorter or longer than a year. Otherwise, there is only general terms: to live happily and fulfilled. Whatever that means on the day or over a period of time.
My next big project will be the Dubai Marathon on 27 January 2012. Until then, life will be divided into before and after marathon categories. I think my fitness levels are good. I had a good training program. I was able to follow it more or less. I didn't get injured, I am feeling fit and ready for it. So far, I think I can do another Personal Best Time. The tapering time has started now, weekly mileage is coming down, muscles have to be rested to be 100% ready on Day X. Whatever fitness level I haven't reached until now, I will not reach at all til marathon day. Resting is more important now, to be able to run the 26miles/42k on the day.
In other words, my training amount is coming down. I have more time to spend on other things, like cooking, photographing, blogging.

Today's recipe is an old classic that I grew up with: potato dumplings. My grandparents brought this recipe from Silesia (a part of today's Poland). They passed it on to my mom and now to me. In our family, potato dumplings are the one and only side dish for special occasions, to accompany a big roast with a deep dark gravy. When I was a kid, my cousins, my sister and I used to have competitions who could eat the most dumplings with gravy (we didn't care much about the roast). The boys always won, eating eight or ten of these.
Now that I am an expat and far away from home and with my own family, I like to make these these dumplings for special occasions too. It's usually just for Christmas. Then they have to be perfect and taste like my mom or grandparents make them.
The ingredients are the same as Italian Gnocchi are made from. The only difference is the size. If you make them smaller or cut them up, they may as well go with a light Italian tomato sauce or pesto. Bon appetit!

1lb/450g starchy potatoes
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 -3/4 cup flour (my mom uses AP, I use wholewheat)
1/2 teaspoon salt

Yields 10-12
Peel the potatoes, cut them into big chunks. Cook them in plenty of salted boiling water until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and let cool a little. Push the cooled pieces of potato through a potato ricer into a large bowl. Add salt and the egg and blend into the potatoes. This is best be done with your hands. Knead in the flour, little by little. You might get the right consistency with 1/2 cup of flour. If the dough seems too wet, add more flour, just a little at a time. The dough should be moist. At the same time, it should be easy to form balls out of the dough. No dough should be left sticking to your hands while rolling.

To be on the safe side, you can do a test run with just one dumpling.

Roll a ball of the size of a medium tomato.

Keep a big pot filled with hot (not boiling, but close to it) salted water over low heat. Add the dumpling, and let it cook in the hot water. The dumpling is ready when it pops up to the water surface. That takes about 5-10 minutes. Take out with a slotted spoon. Cutting it with a knife, and giving it a taste will give you a clue, if the consistency is right. They should be slighty springy, keep their shape when cutting. Adjust the flour amount in the dough, if the dumpling is falling apart or seems to wet. If the dumplings seems rubbery, you have used too much flour. In this case, you gave to start from scratch.
If the consistency is right, repeat rolling balls until all dough is used up.

Place the remaining dumplings into the barely simmering water. Don't overcrowd the pot. They should not touch each other at the bottom of the pot. Once they pop up, take them out with a slotted spoon. Transfer to serving bowl. Ready to serve.
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04 January, 2012

Readers Favorites of 2011

After compiling my favorites, I thought I'd check which recipes you liked the most in 2011. I put the recipes with the most comments into this TOP 10. And hey, I bust you!
Looking at this list, one thing is very obvious: my readers definitely have a sweet tooth. Nine recipes out of these 10 are sweet. Here is what you liked the most!

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