20 December, 2013

Grain Free Sweet Potato Brownies

The year is coming to a close. Everybody seems to be wrapped up in the Christmas frenzy. Although I have been living in Dubai for 10 years, and have spent 9 Christmasses (is that the right plural form?) in warm weather, I still find it hard getting into the festive mood.

At least the tree is up. Two weeks ago, my daughter had the great idea of putting it up on the day I got up at 4:30 in the morning to run a half marathon. You may imagine that putting up Christmas trees after such morning activities is not very high on your priority list. Nevertheless, we did it and I am glad we did.
Last week, my daughter (she is 5 years old, btw) had the great idea of making a gingerbread house from scratch. Off I went at 8am to buy missing ingredients. She lost interest after about 45 minutes. I finished around 2pm. I don't regret it though. I love the smell of gingerbread. No-one is allowed to eat it yet.

I mentioned in previous years that December coincides with the toughest training weeks for the Dubai marathon. On top of that, in December we have the world's most beautiful half marathon on in Dubai. A must for every runner in Dubai. It's not a fast course. And December mornings can still be warm and humid. I had a 1:30:00 time in mind. Conditions were anything but ideal, so I threw my target times overboard and stopped looking at my Garmin all the time. That was deliberating. I just went at paces that FELT right. Despite the warm temperatures and humidity I managed a time of 1:32:57, a PB by two seconds (a PB is a PB, isn't it), and finished 6th lady overall out of about 500, and 2nd in my age group for which I got a trophy.
Me and my trophy
In the week following the half marathon I ran two more races, the above mentioned 5k race and another 7k fun race, while continuing to hitting high mileages as required by the marathon training program. After the 7k fun race, which was a disaster time-wise (not a surprise really), I was finished. My legs were heavy as lead and running no fun anymore. I am glad I came out of these 10 days without injury, as it would have been the perfect recipe.

Rest was all I needed. I didn't even go to the gym for strength training. I needed energy for the upcoming 32k and 35k runs as part of my marathon training. Those 30+k runs are very important both mentally and physically. They'd give me the confidence that I could run the 42k in a months time.

Even after having successfully run four marathons in the past three years which obviously proves that I am able to run the distance, I need these 30+k training runs to have the confidence once again. I would not be happy with just doing a couple of 29k runs. Funny isn't it?
The 32k run is in the bag since yesterday. I signed up for the Dubai Marathon afterwards. The 35k are planned for Boxing Day. Probably just what I need after Christmas lunch. If I get these 35k done without falling sick or injuring myself, it will be my first uninterrupted marathon training in two years. That is a very motivating thought. And yes, I do believe I can do my 3:10:00 this time. It's my second try after all. In Dubai I will not have to squeeze my way through the streets with tens of thousands of other runners like I did in Berlin.

In a nutshell, it's all coming together nicely at the end of the year. With the Christmas tree up and a Gingerbread House made from scratch, a half marathon and 5k PB in the bag, and the crucial part of the marathon training coming to an successful end, I thought I have to share all those news with a healthy treat. Who celebrates with Tabouli? No-one!! I will pester you with the really healthy stuff only in the New Year.

Today's recipe are Grain Free Sweet Potato Brownies. I have baked them several times in the past few week. I shouldn't call it a snack, but it has become my favorite one in the afternoon before my evening runs. Serve them warm with some vanilla ice cream and they are a killer dessert!

(Print Recipe)

1 cup cold sweet potato puree
1/2 cup unsweetened apple sauce
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
1/2 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
 4 eggs

1/4 cup coconut flour
1/4 cup tapioca starch
1 teaspoon baking soda 
1/3 cup cocoa powder

Yields 16
Preheat oven to 180C/350F. Line a 20x20cm baking tray with parchment paper.

In a bowl, sift together coconut and tapioca flour, baking soda and cocoa powder. Set aside.

Add sweet potato puree, apple sauce, coconut oil, honey and vanilla extract to the bowl of a food processor. Blend until smooth. Add one egg at a time and pulse until incorporated. Combine dry and wet ingredients and mix until just combined. Transfer batter to prepared baking tray and bake for about 40 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean.
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04 December, 2013

Cashew Coconut Cauliflower Rice And Rocket Leaves

Unless you have been living in a cave for the past few years, you must have heard of the paleo or primal diet. It's the diet our ancestors used to have which consisted mainly of fish, grass-fed pasture raised meats, eggs, vegetables, fruit, and nuts.

To me, it is not so much important what the paleo diet allows, as to what it excludes: that is all grains, legumes, dairy products, refined sugar and salt and processed oils. The foods that are excluded are the ingredients that convenience foods are made of: pasta, pies, cakes, sweets, crisps, chocolates, ice cream ..... It's all the sugars and starches that are off the plan. They are the ones that play havoc with people's metabolism. They are the ones that lay the foundation for all lifestyle diseases.

The restricted list of permitted foods make it easy to lose weight and to keep it off. In all those moments when you used to grab one of the above mentioned convenience foods, you have to find something else. It takes planning, perhaps a bit more home-cooking. You gotta be prepared for snack attacks. Perhaps you have to change your eating habits altogether, in terms of meal times and portion sizes. Perhaps you will feel more comfortable with three square meals that get you through the day instead of constant calorie-counted little snacks that make you look for food again a couple of hours later.
Your body will be grateful and your overall well-being will improve drastically, as you suddenly won't feel bloated, sluggish and tired: feelings that you got used to over years or even decades. Only when they gone, you will realize how much they dragged you down.

My latest favorite paleo dish happens to be vegan too. A combination that I like the most. It's cauliflower rice, spiced with a variety of anti-inflammatory spices and some green leaves stirred in at the end to add some color. I have been making this dish numerous times in the past few weeks. It's the perfect lunch, a good salad to accompany BBQ, or can even be used instead of a grainy side dish. It can be made in big batches as keeps well in the fridge. It's good hot or cold.

Most importantly, I put it in front of my grain-loving husband and let him taste. For nothing in the world he would have guessed that it was cauliflower he was eating. Now that the dish has been approved internally, I will dish it up for our BBQs with friends over the Dubai winter. I bet it will be a winner.

(Print Recipe )

1 medium head cauliflower, cut into florets

1/2 tablespoon coconut oil
1 red onion, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste

1/2 cup coconut milk
1/3 cup raw cashew nuts

1/2 cup rocket leaves, or other green leaves (e.g. parsley)

Serves 4
In a food processor, pulse the cauliflower florets until they have the size of rice grains. Alternatively, grate the cauliflower on a handheld cheese grater. Set aside.

In a skillet, heat coconut oil over medium heat. Add chopped onions and fry until softened, about 3-4 minutes. Add in spices, then stir in cauliflower rice until it has taken on the color of the turmeric. Add cashews nuts and coconut milk. Simmer over medium low heat for about 10 minutes, or until all liquid has been absorbed. Take off the heat and stir in rocket leaves and parsley. Let stand for a few minutes until wilted. Ready to serve.
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19 November, 2013

Grain Free Feta Thyme Muffins

Good news from the marathon training front: firstly, my groin and hamstring niggles are gone. Secondly, the weather in Dubai has finally cooled down so much that running outside is pure pleasure. Thirdly, because of 1 and 2, I feel highly motivated to train for the Dubai marathon on 24 January and tackle that 3:10:00 finish time that I didn't manage in Berlin in September.

Now in a bit more detail: my groin injury is still niggling a bit, but it does not affect my running and it is really minor. It recovers within 24 hours after a run. My hamstrings get less and less tight during and after runs. I am not sure why this is. A funny thing happened though: A week ago, I went to a TRX class in the gym that was very heavy on the quads. I regretted doing it when I realized how tired my legs would be later in the day, as I had a marathon-specific interval training scheduled for the evening. The heavy quad session though balanced out the tight hamstring, e.g. when your hamstrings are sore, make the quads even sorer, and the hamstrings will be fine. I managed my intervals that evening absolutely fine, and haven't had serious hamstring problems since. Go figure.

It's the third week of the marathon training. I was able to ramp up my weekly mileage 43k in week 1 to 64k in week 2. For this week 76k are planned and I am right on track.

I do double sessions almost every weekday: my regular training runs plus core strengthening workout in the gym, which is either Pilates, TRX, circuit training or just some light weight lifting.
I can feel that my core strength is improving. My back, glutes and abs are often in that slight pain when you have used muscles in a different way or on a new level. Especially the abs leave me with some sort of pain that is very similar to hunger feeling.

I have had a good appetite in recent weeks. Good enough to be noticed on the scales. Nothing to worry about, as the marathon training and recovery need to be fueled properly. Harder weeks with more mileage or races are still to come. A little fluctuation of my weight during marathon training is normal.

The slight weight gain may even be caused by more lean muscle mass due to my strengthening program. After 2 months of strength training I do see more toning in the muscles of my arms, shoulders and abs. My overall weight is rather on the light side. Because I don't have much body fat on me, the improvements may be visible sooner. I have no clue as to how much this new muscle mass could add up. Do I care? Not so much. I am feeling great. I enjoy my running. I enjoy complementing it by core training and a good diet.

More savory dishes are being produced in my kitchen these days. I guess it's due to the increased loss of minerals through sweating while on my runs that my body needs to replace.
These muffins are the result of some fresh thyme that needed to be used up, an appetite for something savory and bread-like that's grain-free at the same time. I ate them all by myself.  I was entitled to because I am the only one marathon training in this house. You understand this logic, don't you?

(Print Recipe)

2 cups almond meal
2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

4 large eggs
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
4 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves

Yields 8
Preheat oven to 180C/350F. Grease or line muffin tin.

In a bowl, combine almond meal, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
In another bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Whisk in olive oil and feta cheese. Combine wet and dry ingredients. Gently fold in the thyme leaves.

Fill batter into prepared muffin molds. Bake for about 20 minutes until muffin tops are golden brown.
Best eaten warm.
Continue Reading>>

06 November, 2013

Vegan Chocolate Teff Cookies

I went to a yoga class this morning. I'd like to share my thoughts with you that went through my mind during the last 10 minutes when we were supposed to be meditating.

How much of an addictive nature is necessary to be a long distance runner? My unscientific and tongue-in-cheek theory has always been that long distance running is for the untalented people. In my opinion, one needs talent and be at a young age to run well over short distances, e.g. distances between 100m and 3000m, as the fast-twitch fibres of the involved muscles are activated. The ability to use these is a genetic disposition, but also a capacity that deteriorates with age. Therefore, you will see many world class sprinters in their early 20s, whereas world class marathon runners can be well over 30.

Long distance running has got a lot to do with will power. You need will power to put in a huge amount of training. Will power that keeps you going when you get tired. It's the build-up of mileage that will eventually give you the endurance to run a half marathon or a full marathon. Once you have the endurance (and it doesn't come overnight, that's for sure), the speed will follow.

All this will happen in a time span of years. I only started training continuously and without further big breaks after my daughter was born in 2008. If I look at my 10k times since then, I can see the gradual improvement. Half a year after my daughter was born, my 10k time was 53 minutes. Five years later, my 10k PB is 41:22. Over the years, I have slowly worked my way up. Occasionally and with a bit of luck, I might even have the chance for a podium position these days.

So is it my addictive nature that got me here? Or simply the love of running? The kick that you get out of completing a tough session. The kick that you get that you beat someone in a race that used to be faster than yo.

Many runners I know that have been running for years or even decades will confirm that other runners are nutters. Oneself is, needless to say, always the big exception. They would run too often, too far, at crazy hours. Work, family life, social life and holidays are scheduled around the running and training for a particular race.

At times, common sense leaves the runner. Then they will run when injured. Sitting out an injury is not a runner's strength. A week might be OK, even two, but longer than that? They will get restless, will look for ways to speed up recovery. They will ice affected injury areas in the office, do strengthening and stretching exercises until they drop, wear compression garments underneath their work clothes. And then they will go for a run. Just a little one, very slowly. Just round the block, to see how the injury is behaving. And by doing so getting themselves back to Square One.

A physiotherapist once said to me that all the good work she is doing to injured athletes is being undone when the athlete goes for his next run.

My hip adductor injury that I suffered from during my Berlin marathon training is still there. In addition I keep on getting a tight hamstring on the same leg. I was prescribed complete rest after the Berlin marathon until all symptoms disappeared. I ignored this advice. The sore adductors and hamstrings are still bugging me. I took a 10 day rest from running. During that time I hit the gym everyday to strengthen my core, hips and upper body. After those 10 days of rest my training for the Dubai marathon was supposed to start. After the first run all my niggles were exactly were I left them. Those 10 days have done nothing. What is it now? Still love of running or my addictive nature taking over? My addictive nature doesn't let me rest. It sends me to the gym to work out like a lunatic. In my desperation to get over this injury as quick as possible, I seem to lose common sense at times. There is no shortcut to recovery. It needs patience and rest. Even my blurred mind can see that at times. At other times it sends me to the gym. Right now, my Dubai marathon training is at stake. I am not able to run as much as I want to. If I don't get the appropriate training in, I will not run in Dubai marathon. I am a sucker for PBs. If I don't have the chance for a PB, I will simply not run. That is quite a bitter pill to swallow. I will keep you posted.

Meanwhile, I have been cooking and baking again. I raided my pantry for ingredients and found an unused bag of teff flour. I had never baked with teff flour before. Cookies are a safe thing to try a new flour in. Chocolate cookies are an even safer thing, as the strong chocolate flavor might cover up unusual flour flavors. My kids loved them. That's the best compliment a cookie can get.

(Print Recipe)

1 cup teff flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder

1 tablespoon ground flax seeds
3 tablespoons boiling water

1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
1/2 cup coconut sugar or grated jaggery

Yields 20-30
Preheat oven to 180C/350F. Linebaking sheet with parchment paper.

In a small bowl whisk together flax seeds and boiling water. Let stand for a few minutes.Meanwhile, sift together, teff flour, cocoa powder and baking powder in a bowl. Set aside.

Cream coconut oil and sugar/jaggery. Stir in flax seed mixture. Combine wet and dry ingredients. If the dough is very soft, form it to a disk and put in the fridge for 10 minutes until slightly hardened.

Roll balls of the size of a walnut out of the dough and place on the prepared baking sheet. Leave about 2-3 inches space between the balls. Bake in the preheated oven for about 8 minutes. Let cool completely on wire racks.
Continue Reading>>

21 October, 2013

Spiced Quinoa Pilaf

My blog is slowly turning into a running blog with random healthy recipes added to each blog post. I am not sure I like this new direction yet. It all seems less coherent. On the other hand, my running rules my life these days. The Berlin marathon is done and dusted but had kept me busy for several month. You got your fair share of it. The Dubai running season has just started with the first 10k race last weekend. I am at a loss how to accommodate both in a more synchronized way. Hence the less regular posts/recipes these days.

Have I mentioned before that I am studying to become a Personal Trainer? I have already been asked to develop individual training programs for friends to prepare for half marathons, full marathons or simply to get off the sofa.
Recently I was asked by a parent in my kids' school to design an exercise program for her that will aid weight loss.We haven't started the program yet. I am curious to see whether I will get someone to implement long-term dietary changes in order to achieve results. If you ask me, the dietary side even more difficult than getting someone to exercise.
A Dubai-based fitness company laid out some food rules to go with their exercise program and I agree with it: getting in shape is 20% exercise and 80% food. You cannot out-train a bad diet. Good bodies are built in the kitchen and polished in the gym (or wherever you exercise).

My personal workouts and nutrition go hand in hand. I eat, I sleep, I work out, I run, I race. I am convinced that there is an interdependence between my diet, my sleep, my workouts and my race performances: My food choices impact on the quality of my sleep. Both sleep and food quality impact on my training quality and training load which translates directly to the quality of my race performances.

Exercise and food complement each other. I get the occasional feedback from you guys that you enjoy my rantings about my running. Perhaps I should get a little more serious and share more of scientific running and exercise data  that I read and put into practice on a daily basis, instead of emotional ranting about my injuries, training hiccups and races successes. Would you be interested in that?

Today's recipe is a spicy quinoa pilaf that I made when I cam back from the Berlin marathon. It's a vegan bomb of nutritious ingredients, full of vegetables and spices that have anti-inflammatory properties. An ideal dish to recover from a strenuous race, a hard workout, and to keep the immune system up to fight off any cold or other bugs before they can spread out. I hope you enjoy!

(Print Recipe)

1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 cinnamon stick
3 cloves
2 cardamom pods
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup quinoa, raw
3 cups water

1 cup cauliflower florets
1 cup carrots, chopped
1/2 cup raw cashew nuts

1 cup green beans, trimmed and chopped to 1-inch pieces
1 cup broccoli florets

1/2 cup frozen green peas

fresh cilantro, chopped

Serves 4-6
In a skillet, heat coconut oil over medium heat. Add cinnamon, cloves, cardamon, ginger, garlic and turmeric and fry until fragrant. 
Stir in raw quinoa, cauliflower florets, chopped carrots and cashew nuts. Add water, season with salt, bring to a boil, cover skillet and cook for 10 minutes over medium low heat. After 10 minutes, add green beans and broccoli and cook for another 5-7 minutes or until all water has been absorbed. Stir in green peas and let stand for another 2-3 minutes. Remove cinnamon stick, cardamom pods and cloves.
Transfer pilaf to serving bowl, Garnish with fresh chopped cilantro. Serve immediately.
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04 October, 2013

Brussels Sprouts and Egg Salad with Hazelnuts

A week ago I posted my last Beetroot and Lentil Salad, just before I got onto the plane to Germany to run the Berlin marathon. And now it's all over and done.

First things first: I did the race, my injury didn't play up. My finish time was 3:18:11, a PB by 8 minutes. I finished 202nd woman out of almost 9.000 and was 39th in my age category. I am very very pleased with that.

It was an awesome experience. Realizing that I was lining up with 36.000 other runners between Brandenburg Gate and Siegessaeule, two of the big Berlin landmarks, to run the 40th Berlin marathon got me almost emotional. It was freezing cold, 6 degrees (43 Fahrenheit), but clear blue sky.   
I had followed the weather forecast for a week leading up to marathon day. While I was looking forward to sunny weather, 6 degrees were pretty cold. When I arrived in Berlin on Friday morning, I realized that I hadn't been in such cold weather for almost 10 years, never mind running in it. I bought some cheap gloves to wear during the run, and decided to stick to my usual short pants and vest only.

I had family and friends positioned along the course at agreed spots. That was a good idea because for the 10-12k runners were still going in big crowds so that spectators had to scan through thousands of faces to detect their loved ones. Up until halfway mark it was me spotting my supporters on the roadside and shouting out to them, not the other way around.

I got a little frustrated over the first 10k as I couldn't run the paces that I wanted because of the crowds. The water stations were chaotic too, and I soon had to throw away my gloves, as wet gloves don't keep warm. I felt most comfortable between 20 and 30k. At 32k I suddenly realized that it was not long to go to the finish line. "Only" another 10k. My father was at the roadside at around 38k, and I thought it was about time to mobilize whatever was left in me with just 4k to go. There is nothing better than finish with style, and, as a lady, overtake as many men as possible, just before the finish line. My last km was also my fastest with 4:18. If someone had told me just 6 months ago that I could run this pace at the end of a marathon, I would have declared him mad.

Just behind the finish line, the organizers of the marathon had put up a board announcing the times of the fastest men and women and that Wilson Kipsang had set a new world record. It's actually no point comparing his run with mine, but I do it anyway: My average pace was 4:41min/k while his was 2:55min/k. I don't think I could keep up with him for more than a few hundred metres.

And guess what my first refueling food item was: a beer. In fact, I had two beers before I moved on to solid foods. Which was fatty junk food. There is a time and place for everything. Running a marathon in personal best time in an awesome city with awesome spectator support was reason enough for me to throw my healthy diet overboard for the day.

Now, 5 days later, I have replenished whatever was lost during the race. I was very hungry for a few days. By now things have gone back to normal. I still try and include the extra portion of proteins to help my sore leg muscles recover. 

Therefore, today's recipe is a salad packed with proteins from the eggs, healthy fats from the hazelnuts and all the goodness of green leafy vegetables from the brussels sprouts. Very nutritious, filling and satisfying. And incredibly delicious of course. I hope you enjoy.
adapted from With Style & Grace

(Print Recipe)

1lb brussels sprouts
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced

4 hard boiled eggs, roughly chopped
1/2 cup hazelnuts

salt and pepper to taste

Serves 2-4
Taking one brussels sprout at a time, peel back the individual leaves until you get close to the center and you can’t peel anymore. You may either discard the center or cut in half. Place all the leaves a bowl and set aside.

Toast hazelnuts in a dry pan over medium-low heat for 6-8 minutes, or until skin starts peeling off. Take off the heat, Let the nuts cool a little and rub off the skin as soon as you can handle the nuts. Chop nuts and set aside.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes. Add brussels sprouts leaves and sauté until slightly wilted or lightly browned. Remove from heat. Add the chopped hard-boiled eggs, chopped hazelnuts and season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.
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26 September, 2013

Beetroot and Lentil Salad

The big day has finally come: only 3 more days to go until the Berlin marathon. Tonight, I'll be flying out to Germany. I am usually not a person who packs days in advance before traveling. But this time, I was very tempted. For the past three days, in my mind I have been going over and over every single piece of clothing and all the gadgets, bits and pieces that I want take along for.

Am I sounding mad if I tell you that my complete race outfit will be in my hand luggage? In case, my checked-in luggage gets lost. Makes sense, doesn't it?

I did my last run two days ago, an interval session with my usual running group. After months of lonely marathon training it was good to run with other runners again. Now I will rest. My hip adductor injury is still there and doesn't need to be challenged before the marathon on Sunday. I'd like to get to the start line pain free. Whatever niggles, aches and pains will come on during the raced, I will deal with it then. Whoever has run a marathon will know that the aches and pains will come anyway. In the whole body. Both feet, legs, hips, just everything will be sore at some stage, probably somewhere between 20 and 30k into the race.

Honestly, I think my leg will hold together. Often in the past few weeks, the injury was only to be felt AFTER the run.

I keep a training log when training for a marathon. In the past 12 weeks I have run 730km, instead of the planned 800-850k. The deficit is due to two injury-induced complete rest weeks and a few more take-it-easy weeks. It is still 100km more than I trained for my previous marathon.

My goal time for the Berlin marathon is sub 3:15. That would be PB by more than 11 minutes. I don't know where the injury has left me physically and mentally. I don't know how training in the Dubai heat for the past 4 weeks will translate into running in cool Berlin September weather.  I gotta see on the day what I am capable of.

The weather forecast is looking very promising for Sunday: mostly sunny with temperatures between 6C at night and 16C during the day. Some 35.000 will be lining up at the start line at 8:45am. I have never run in such a big race. The runners will be sent off in three waves according to their abilities and previous marathon times. I will be in the last section of the first wave.

With three days to go, I am still calm and collected. I think the nerves will kick in, once I reach Berlin.  The place where I lived for 10 years and where I went to university. Where I partied myself to delirium countless times. It's the place in Germany that I identify with. The place where I feel home.

I have been looking after my diet with extra care for the past two weeks. Avoided take-away foods and anyhting ready-made or store-bought. Haven't had a drop of wine. With three days to go, I am trying to carb-load. All I want to eat is vegetables. Vegetables to me, are the safest thing right now. Easy on the stomach and with a very low risk for food poisoning. Last thing I need now is an upset stomach.

I have been craving beetroot. a vitamin C bomb to ward off any colds and other bugs that could possibly put my marathon at risk? This Beetroot and Lentil Salad is what I had for most of last week. I made it numerous times and the recipe is now ready to be shared. Loving the earthy-sweet flavors of the roasted beetroot combined with some lentils that give substance to the salad. Enjoy!

(Print Recipe)

1 cup green lentils
3 cups water
2 bay leaves

4 medium beetroots
dried thyme
olive oil

1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves, chopped
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

Honey Mustard Dressing
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon mustard

Serves 4
Wash the beetroots. Rub with olive oil and sprinkle with dried thyme. Roast in the oven for 45-60 minutes, depending on the size of the beetroots. Check with a fork if tender and cooked through. Take out of the oven and let cool.
Once cooled, peel them and chop into bite sizes.

Place lentils and bay leaves in slightly salted water. Bring to a boil, then simmer until tender, about 15-20 minutes. Drain and set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together all ingredients for the dressing. Pour dressing over the lentil and mix well. Fold in chopped beetroots and parsley. Sprinkle with feta cheese. Ready to serve.

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17 September, 2013

Chia Crispbreads

An update on my marathon training and progress of my healing running injury is overdue. It's been 10 days since I last posted here and whined and moaned in a lengthy post about my overused hip adductors that restricted my marathon training for the Berlin marathon.

Good news first, it's all looking much better now. The hip adductor injury is not healed. But its not getting worse and I did another 32k run a week ago, without aggravating it. In fact, in the last week, I ran 86k and I am feeling OK. The pain is no more than a niggle that doesn't inhibit my running or is slowing me down. My hamstrings have calmed down. I don't seem to compensate any longer for the injured muscles. I am still getting physio treatment. The physio says that after Berlin, I must put myself on complete rest until I am 100% pain free. It makes sense, although I already know that it will be hard to sit still. Even after a major event.

In less than two weeks I'll be running the Berlin marathon.The major part of the training is done. With only a few days to go, I cannot get much fitter and faster than what I am at the moment. It's taper time and I will do myself more good by decreasing mileage and arrive at the start line with rested legs. It's still hard. I feel I have lost out on so much training. The temptation is there to catch up quickly. But it will backfire.

Tomorrow night will be the first race of the Dubai season: a 5k race on a hilly course in horrible conditions, as weather is still hot and humid. I am being a good girl and help out as marshal. I thought it would be a good idea to not drink my traditional glass of wine in the evening for the two weeks leading up to the race. Needless to say, I look after my diet more than ever these days.

After a month of holidays, my family is also grateful to be back to on the foods that we usually eat. It's less heavy, less indulgent, less processed and simply less food. These crackers I made for the first time before we went on vacation, and were one of the first things I made again after our return to Dubai. A great snack that my family appreciates in between big meals. Enjoy.
adapted from Nyoutritious

(Print Recipe)

1/2 cup mixed seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, sesame, etc)
1/4 cup chia seeds
2 tablespoons flax seeds
1/4 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup wholegrain flour
3/4 teaspoon sea salt

1 cup water
2 tablespoons olive oil

Serves 6-8
Preheat oven to 150C/300F.
Combine all dry ingredients in a bowl and mix well. In a measuring cup, mix water and oil. Add to dry ingredients and mix until well combined. Let the batter stand for 30 minutes, so the chia seeds can absorb moisture and the mixture becomes a thick dough.

Between two sheets of parchment paper, roll out the dough evenly and as thin as possible, to 1/8 inch thickness (or less if you can). Carefully remove top baking paper. With a knife, cut the dough into desired shapes.  Transfer onto baking sheet (with bottom parchment paper).

Place in preheated oven and bake for 30-40 minutes until golden brown and crisp.
Let cool for 5 minutes before breaking them up at pre-cut edges.
Continue Reading>>

04 September, 2013

Coconut Cashew Cookies

The higher you climb the harder you fall.
It's been sometime since my last post. Not only was I on holidays and traveling abroad, as this has never kept me from posting here, but I was deeply demotivated to cook, photograph and write. The reason? My marathon training came to a complete standstill with a groin injury due to overuse.
In my last post I was bragging about a weekly mileage of almost 100k. These 100k were my downfall. A little niggle after a fast interval training session just wouldn't go away, and within a day I was feeling that pain non-stop.

The injury couldn't have come at a worse time. It was just before the important 30+k long runs. My training so far had gone absolutely perfect. But I wasn't quite there yet in terms of distance when the level of pain made me realize it's not sensible to keep on running. With a heavy heart I took a week off. It was particularly difficult because I was in Germany with perfect weather for any sorts of runs. My initial plan was to do as many of my long runs in Europe, so I wouldn't have to run in Dubai at 38 degrees outdoor temperature with high humidity. Now I was sitting at home, watching valuable days go by while I was icing my injury and feeling terribly sorry for myself.

After a week I had enough and went for a 30+k run. The pain was there right from the beginning, but I could run with it. Needless to say, it didn't get better. Common sense left me completely as I was panicking that weeks of marathon training would go down the drain, and I did another 12k run two days later. During that run I felt another niggle, in the hamstring of the same leg. Then we flew back to Dubai.

Upon arrival I made an appointment to see a physiotherapist. And went for another run right before the appointment. It's obvious, after common sense left me, stupidity set in. The physiotherapist confirmed what I suspected: overuse injury of hip adductors, groin ligaments and lower abs. The hamstring niggle was a consequence of my running with the groin injury. By trying to avoid the groin pain, I compensated with other muscles. I was at high risk to get the next injury straight away. I was told that a hamstring injury would have me sit at home with complete rest for at least 6 weeks. The Berlin marathon would happen without me and probably even half of the Dubai running season which starts in October. This outlook put some sense back into me.

I have been completely resting for another week, wearing compression shorts, icing the affected areas, doing daily walks in the swimming pool, and religiously do my light strengthening exercises.

A week is most probably not enough to completely heal the injury. But I feel much better, and I am not in constant pain. I will go for a run tonight, hoping that everything will stay under control. I haven't given up on the Berlin marathon, and my goal time of 3:10. My next physio appointment is tomorrow morning. She will have to fix the damage that I might be doing by going running to soon. In the end, it's my actions that will decide if I will be fine for Berlin or not.

Do you understand now why my heart and mind wasn't much with this blog in the past weeks? I am not even much into foods, as I am sitting at home, and my marathon fuel recipes are not much needed. To fill in, I am posting a cookie recipe. Grain free and just a third of a cup of sugar in thirty cookies almost doesn't count as dessert or treat, does it?
adapted from Kate's Healthy Cupboard

(Print Recipe)

1 1/2 cups raw cashew nuts
1 cup dessicated coconut
1/3 cup grated jaggery or raw sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
pinch salt

1/4 cup coconut oil
2 tablespoon coconut milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Yields 30
Preheat oven to 165C/350F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
Place cashews and coconut in a food processor and pulse until texture is of a coarse meal. Add sugar, salt and soda and pulse until combined.

In another bowl combine coconut oil, coconut milk and vanilla extract. Add to dry ingredients in the food processor
and pulse again to form a dough.

Form balls of the size of a walnut out of the dough. Place on prepared baking sheet press down slightly to flatten them. Repeat until all dough is used up.

Bake for 10 minutes, until slightly brown.
Remove from the oven and let the cookies sit on the cookie sheet for 5 minutes to set.
Continue Reading>>

19 August, 2013

Coffee Marzipan Pralines

I have spent the last two weeks in Germany and Portugal, as our long awaited and well deserved annual holidays and break from Dubai everyday life and routines have finally come.

I am in marathon training heaven! Ideal conditions both in Germany and Portugal had me running almost everyday. Since I left Dubai two weeks ago, I have covered almost 200k without even being overtly tired. The first month of my training back in Dubai was quite tough. I can feel it is slowly coming together. It was worth the effort, sweat and tiredness as I can feel it has made me stronger with more endurance.

I have lost a bit of weight, and with the weekly mileage that I am doing now it's not that easy to put it back on. I hope I just have to wait until taper time. Once the mileage goes down, I will have a chance to get the numbers right on the scales. Until then I will quote my husband: 'Fat chicks don't run a 3:10 marathon'.

I haven't cooked anything apart from the occasional breakfast porridge on our holidays in Portugal. We enjoy eating out or just having tapas style dinners on the terrace. Now, back in Germany, my family that I am staying with cooks for me. I can sit down at set tables for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Today's recipe is therefore something that I have made and enjoyed when we were still in Dubai: coffee-flavored marzipan. Perfect marathon fuel, if you don't want to call it a dessert which implies that it might be unhealthy. I hope you enjoy as much as I did.

And to be honest, after almost three weeks of holidays, I am slowly looking forward to my homemade goodies again.

1 cup almond flour
1/2 egg white (about 11/2 tablespoons)
3/4 cup powdered demerara sugar
1 tablespoon instant coffee granules, finely ground
100g/4oz dark chocolate (70% cocoa)

Yields about 25
Combine ground almonds, sugar and coffee in a food processor (using a steel blade) and process, adding just enough egg white to bind sugar, coffee and almonds together. Form balls of the size of a cherry out of the marzipan mixture.

Chop the chocolate and melt in a double boiler. Drop one ball of the marzipan mixture at a time into the melted chocolate so that it's completely covered. Use a fork to lift it out and gently shake off the excess chocolate. Place on waxed paper and chill to set. Store in refrigerator for at least one hour before serving.
Continue Reading>>

30 July, 2013

Overnight Oats with Chia Seeds

A last quick recipe before I hop on the plane for my annual summer holidays in Germany and Portugal tomorrow morning. I can't wait to get out of the Dubai summer heat. I can't wait to continue my marathon training outdoors at decent temperatures for a whole month.

My running gear was the first thing I packed. Running shoes are in separate bags to ensure that I will not be without them, in case a bag gets lost. My Garmin is in the hand luggage, and my running clothes take about as much space in the suitcase as the rest of my clothes. From the four of our family, my stuff contributes the most volume to our luggage. I am taking a few spare GU gels along (you never know if you get them in the Portuguese country), my one and only pink running water bottle, my Garmin is packed with charger and everything it needs. And of course, running clothes for all kind of weathers.

The only thing I am dreading now is the airplane food. I bought some extra packs of nuts, seeds and raisins to get me through the 6-hour flight. I hope I can get myself to eat something in the morning at home before we leave for the airport.

I mentioned in one of my recent posts that I have included more grains back into my diet, now that I am marathon training. That means that porridge is back on the menu. While I love my porridge especially before a long run, it's still a hot meal and not quite compatible with the Dubai summer at the moment.

Overnight oats are the way to go when the temperatures rise. Today's recipe is adapted from Rosewater & Thyme. It has pretty much the same ingredients as my traditional porridge, with the addition of chia seeds and a spoonful of nut butter. A great-tasting, satisfying and filling breakfast with only good ingredients. My new favorite for hot summer days that are filled with lots of running. I hope you enjoy.
adapted from Rosewater & Thyme

(Print Recipe)

⅓ cup old-fashioned oats
2 tablespoons chia seeds
3/4 cup milk

1 small ripe banana, mashed
1 tablespoon peanut or almond butter
fresh berries

Serves 1
Mix oats, chia seeds and milk until well combined. Place in a sealed or covered container overnight in the refrigerator.
In the morning, stir in mashed banana and nut butter and top with fresh berries or other fruit. Serve cold.
Continue Reading>>

23 July, 2013

Thai Coconut Quinoa

The third week of my marathon training is just completed and everything is going according to plan. Last week I ran a total mileage of 78k/48mi with just one rest day. That was the most I have ever run in a week. What's even better is the fact, that I seem to be coping well. I found a good balance between hard workout and easy days. I think I eat and eat sufficiently now to ensure speedy recovery between my runs. I feel fresh and am ready to take on the fourth week with a total mileage of 85k/53mi. It includes a 29k/18mi long run.

If I get this done, my reward will be a "rest" week with just 65k/40mi next week. It's fitting in well, as I'll be spending two days on aeroplanes. On Wednesday, we'll be flying to Hamburg, and on Saturday move on to Lisbon. I look forward to Europe. It's my home, it's where I feel I belong culturally. I look forward to real green trees, street cafes and restaurants where you can sit and watch people walking by. All things that are rare or non-existent in Dubai.

It's about time to escape the scorching summer heat. It's almost impossible to spend anytime outside during the day, unless you are inside a cooled swimming pool. I do most of my runs on an air-conditioned indoor track which is only 650m long. It seems crazy to run in such short circles, but it's the only chance I have to get a 20+k run in without dying. I manage easy 10k runs outside at early morning hours or after sunset. Anything beyond that would be irresponsible. My 29k run will be around 45 laps on this indoor track. I gotta rely on my Garmin for the distance, as I can assure you that I will loose count  after about four or five laps.

As in previous years, I have deviated a little from my usual nutritional restrictions. In order to meet my carb needs, I have included some grains back into my diet. They fill me up when my stomach feels like a bucket with a hole, they help me recover and they get me ready for my next run.

Today's recipe is as good with quinoa as it is with brown rice. Rich and aromatic, with zingy and earthy flavors and different textures. Good on its own or as a side dish. I hope you enjoy.


(Print Recipe)

3/4 cup uncooked quinoa

1 1/2 cups boiling water (divided)
1/4 cup desiccated coconut

1 green chili (optional)
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, tightly packed
1 2cm/1-inch piece fresh ginger
1 garlic clove

1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 red onion, finely sliced
1/4 cup cashew nuts, halved
1 7cm/3inch piece cinnamon
3 whole cloves
6 whole peppercorns

1/4 cup frozen or thawed green peas
3/4 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon lime juice
2 tablespoons cilantro leaves, finely chopped
cilantro leaves to garnish

Serves 2 as main, 4 as side dish
Pour 3/4 cup of boiling water over the desiccated coconut and let stand for a few minutes.
Place coconut mixture, cilantro, ginger, garlic and chili in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Set aside.
In a medium pan heat the oil over medium heat. Add cinnamon, cloves, peppercorns and cashew halves and fry for 1-2 minutes, until fragrant. Add sliced onions and fry until softened and golden, about 8 minutes. Stir in quinoa and cook for another couple of minutes. Add coconut mixture and cook for another few minutes.
Now add peas, salt and remaining 3/4 cup boiling water. Stir gently, bring to a simmer, then cover and cook on low heat until all liquid has absorbed and quinoa is al dente, about 15-20 minutes.

Remove the piece of cinnamon. Sprinkle over the lime juice. Stir in chopped cilantro leaves. Gently fork through the quinoa. Garnish with whole cilantro leaves. Serve immediately.
Continue Reading>>

15 July, 2013

Peanut Soba Noodle Salad

Ten days since my last post, and by now I am two weeks into my marathon training.
I am saying this because it's the main reason why it took me so long for the next post. The marathon training has taken over my life. Every single minute of it. 24/7. My weekly mileages are crazy. I run six times a week. My sleeping and eating pattern have not quite adapted yet. I don't sleep enough to ensure proper recovery, I don't eat enough to make up for the energy spent. This needs to be fixed as soon as possible, or I will not be able to run the same distances and intensities for much longer. You see, this marathon training is on my mind non-stop. I don't care much about anything else, as I want to get it right. With all this on my mind, an attempt of writing an intelligent blog post will naturally end in disaster. Bear with me as I bore you with my marathon training thoughts.

I am aware that a more relaxed approach towards the whole training might help me. It's no point to deny that marathon training is hard. It's supposed to prepare you for a 42k race. Race that is, not run. It will be my 4th marathon. I've done it all before. From my experience I know that the training is the hard part. It's tough on the body and the mind. And on the people close around you. Anyone willing to listen to your moans and complaints of your tough life, will get the full story. At every single occasion. I gladly share my moans and complaints with you.

The good news is that it's part of the training too. It prepares you mentally. A marathon is not a walk in the park. You will be sore, you gotta deal with pain. You got to learn how to deal with things not going quite according to plan. Everything that can happen during the race, should have at least one practice run during training, e.g. not being able to run the pace that you wanted to, not being able to run as far as you wanted to because your legs are tired. Part of the training is to learn how to pick yourself up or when to change plans.

Ten more weeks of marathon training before the race itself. I will be escaping the grueling Dubai summer soon for a month and continue my training in Germany and Portugal. A change of scenery will surely help. In fact, I can't wait to run in Portugal at the coast of the Atlantic. The view alone should be motivating enough to get the mileage in that I need.

I hope I will be able to talk about something else than marathons before that. As I need to eat more, I  surely spend a lot of time in the kitchen cooking meals that fulfill my dietary needs. As I force my marathon stories on you, you shall have the right to see what I am cooking too. Here we go.

(Print Recipe)

100g/4oz soba noodles

1 carrot, peeled and cut into thin matchsticks
1 cucumber, deseeded and cut into thin matchsticks
1 red bell pepper, deseeded and cut into thin matchsticks

1 tablespoon white sesame seeds
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds
1/4 cup fresh coriander leaves for garnish

4 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
2 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1/4 teaspoon chili flakes (or to taste)
2-3 tablespoon hot water

Serves 2
In a bowl, combine all ingredients (except the warm water). Whisk vigorously until well combined. Add warm water by the tablespoon and keep whisking until you reach desired consistency. The dressing should not be too firm or too runny. Set aside.

Cook the soba noodles in boiling water for 4-5 minutes. Drain and transfer to a bowl. Stir in the peanut butter dressing. Add the pre-cut vegetables. Sprinkle coriander and sesame seeds over the top. Serve cold or at room temperature.
Continue Reading>>

04 July, 2013

Homemade Bounty Balls

I warned you last week: energy-dense recipes are on their way! Which means my marathon training is on the way. I am slightly exaggerating at this point, as today will only be Day Three of the first week. But I am going out to run my first long run later today. 21k to start with! From previous marathon trainings I know that I will need to eat more, especially after the long runs. Marathon training leaves its mark on the hunger scale. In my case, I need normal-sized portions and snacks more often for one or two days after a hard or long workout, rather than increasing portion sizes of the three big meals. And better have good things ready, or otherwise you'll tuck into the first best junk or processed food that crosses your path. So here is calorie-dense recipe number one: Homemade Bounty Balls.

Ever since I figured out the right proportions, these little treats were gone as soon as I made them. For several weeks I didn't get a chance to take pictures. My kids love them too. Nothing makes me more happy than when my kids favor my treats to store-bought junk. And thank God, my husband doesn't like coconut. So more for us.
While this recipe may fall into the low-carb category, it's still a treat, but a very good one! With just four ingredients, you can make your own Bounty Bars or Balls, and it's as easy as can be. Enjoy!

(Print Recipe)

2 cups desiccated coconut
3 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
3 tablespoons honey

100g/4oz dark chocolate (70% cocoa)

Yields ca. 25
In a food processor, blend coconut, coconut oil and honey. Process until mixture is starting to stick together. Form balls of the size of a cherry out of the coconut mixture. If the mixture is too crumbly to work with, you may want to press it into the bottom of a loaf tin and then refrigerate. After 1-2 hours, the hardened mixture can be cut into preferred shapes.

Chop the chocolate and melt it in a double boiler. Drop one ball of the coconut mixture at a time into the melted chocolate so that it's completely covered. Use a fork to lift it out and gently shake off the excess chocolate. Place on waxed paper and chill to set. Store in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour before serving.
Continue Reading>>

28 June, 2013

Chocolate Avocado Cake with Chocolate Ganache Drizzle

Did I tell you that I am running the Berlin marathon in September this year? Well, training starts next week. And I can't wait. The marathon is on 29 September. And apart from running it, I will be away from my family, on my own, for four full days, for the first time ever since my kids were born. They are 5 and 7. I think I deserve that.

After the Dubai running season, which is over the winter months between October and March, I had three months that I dedicated to relaxing, re-energizing, slow, low heart rate base training. At the same time I tried to keep my weekly mileage up, so the shock to the system will not be too massive. I am feeling so ready for the training and the marathon. Bring on the mileage, the intervals, the LSDs.

Looking back at the last running season, I believe that my marathon was my weakest performance.
I ran the Dubai Marathon in January is 3:26. I had trained for a 3:20 marathon, but that didn't happen. I never really believed it could happen either. Perhaps it was due a little injury and a bout of flu during the training. The height of my running fitness came on about a month AFTER the Dubai marathon when I smashed my half marathon and 10k PB times.

So the expectations for Berlin are big. I think I have improved a lot in the past 6 months. And the last three months of base training set the right tone for what's coming now.
The plan for the Berlin marathon is to train for a 3:10 finish time. On race day, I will be happy with anything under 3:15. The Berlin marathon course is flat, so it will be similar to Dubai. I will have to do weekly mileages between 60-85k during my 12 weeks of training.

Why am I telling you all this? It's basically a warning that a lot of calorie-dense recipes will come up in the next 3 months, as this what I will be eating while running my 60-85k every week. What would be a better start than another chocolate cake? It's a wholesome one, but it's still chocolate cake. I replaced the fat/oil with mashed avocado. It's otherwise a very simple recipe with very little ingredients. I hope you enjoy!

(Print Recipe)

2 cups almond meal
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup/1oz unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup boiling water

2 eggs
1 cup/8oz palm sugar or grated Jaggery
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 ripe avocados, mashed (ca. 2/3 cup)

Chocolate Ganache
100g/4oz chocolate (70% cocoa), chopped
1/4 cup heavy cream

Serves 10-12
Preheat oven to 175C/350F. Line and grease medium sized spring form.

Pour boiling water over cocoa powder and stir until dissolved and smooth. Set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, combine almond meal and baking soda Set aside.
In a medium bowl, cream eggs and sugar with an electric mixer. Add vanilla, avocado and cocoa mixture and blend until well combined.
Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and blend until just combined. Pour mixture into prepared spring form. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool completely.

Chocolate Ganache
Melt chocolate together with the heavy cream in the double boiler or a bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water.  Stir until melted and smooth.

Drizzle the mixture over the cooled cake. Let stand until ganache has hardened. Ready to serve.
Continue Reading>>

20 June, 2013

Moroccan Quinoa Salad

How many and what kind of childhood injuries did you have? I am talking about stitched-up lacerations, arms or legs in casts, scars, etc? 
I had my wrist broken when I was 11-12 years old, and a laceration just under the lower lip after a bad fall during athletics training that was stitched up. That must have been around the same age. And if I am not mistaken, I also had chicken pox then. That didn't leave any scars though.

My kids are only 5 and 7 years old, and not doing too bad either when it comes to injuries and accidents. My son got stitches and a scar on his forehead before he turned 3. My daughter got stitched up on her chin just a couple of months back. She was playing horsie with her older brother. She was the horsie and it collapsed under the weight. 
Yesterday, my son had a bad fall while playing football in the park. He overbent and cracked his collarbone and now has his left arm in a sling. It seems to be terribly painful.

The amazing thing is that children heal so fast. The doctors would not give us a clue as for how long he would be in pain, or how long he must wear the sling. After some research I found out it can be something between one and a few weeks. But I can already see improvement since yesterday.

My own diet usually takes a back seat when my kids are sick. I seem to have an increased need for red wine and chocolates after long days of cuddling, holding hands, fulfilling requests for food & drinks, blankets, entertainment, and sleepless nights. And as I always do whenever my kids are sick, or in this case injured: I pay extra attention to their diet. Lots of raw fruit and veggies and as little inflammatory foods a possible that support the healing process.

This quinoa salad would fulfil all the requirements for speedy bone healing: lots of plant-based protein from the quinoa and almonds, combined with anti-inflammatory cinnamon, ginger, chili and cumin. 
This salad can be made in advance and eaten warm or at room temperature. Leftovers are good for lunchboxes the next day. Enjoy!

(Print Recipe)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup quinoa
1 1/4 cups water
2 cups carrots, coarsely grated

1/4 cup blanched slivered almonds (plus more for garnish)
1/4 cup raisins

Serves 4
In a small bowl, combine all spices and salt. Stir until well combined. Set aside.

Heat oil over medium heat in a medium sized pot (that can be covered later). Add chopped onion and cook, stirring regularly, until it is soft, about 5 minutes.
Add spice mix and cook for another minute. Stir in quinoa and grated carrots. Pour over with water and stir in raisins and almonds. Cover and cook on very low heat  for about 12-15 minutes. Take off the heat and let sit for another 10 minutes. Transfer to serving bowl. Garnish with more slivered almonds. Serve immediately.
Continue Reading>>

13 June, 2013

Chocolate Quinoa Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

It's about time I posted another proper dessert here on the blog, don't you think? Looking at the blog archives, I haven't treated you with something nice and sweet for more than a month. I don't want to leave the impression that I don't cook, bake or eat sweet things anymore. Quite the opposite actually.

While I try to fix my sweet cravings with fruit (or in more persistent cases: dried fruit), I don't mind the occasional (and at times quite regular) sweet treat. While I can say that I am off store-bought or restaurant desserts, I do love my own "healthified" versions. Not just for myself, but especially for my children. My kids are no different to other kids - they love sweets and chocolate too.

Same applies to grains. While I try to keep my diet as grain-free as possible, I don't mind the occasional pasta dish or a piece of cake made with whole wheat flour. Again, I would not eat those those shop-bought or restaurant versions, but I do enjoy the occasional grainy meal at home.

Finding the balance between what's good for you and what's not and when and with what amounts is not easy. People are influenced by their upbringing, their cultures and their environments. That shows in their diet too. Once medical conditions come to into the equation, it gets even more complicated.

I am not saying that today's Chocolate Quinoa Cake is a healthy and guilt-free cake. Unless you have adverse reactions to any of the ingredients (particularly dairy or the glutenous whole wheat flour), an occasional piece of it will not do any damage to your health.



(Print Recipe)

3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teapsoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 cup coconut/palm sugar or grated jaggery
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup cooked quinoa

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
1 cup raw powdered sugar
1/2 teapoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon butter, softened
1 1/2 tablespoons milk

Serves 8-10
Preheat oven to 175C/350F. Grease small bundt cake form or medium loaf tin.

In a bowl, sift together flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
I another bowl, blend sugar with olive, yogurt and vanilla. Mix wet and dry ingredients until just combined. Then gently fold cooked quinoa into the batter.

Transfer to prepared cake tin. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until cake tester comes out clean. Let cool in tin for a few minutes, then turn out and let cool completely on wire rack.

Buttercream Frosting
Mix all ingredients and stir vigorously until smooth. Drizzle or spread over cake. Let stand for a few minutes to let it harden.

Continue Reading>>

06 June, 2013

Mango Sorbet

June is the official start of summer in Dubai for me. It's the squelching season: you'll be hot and sweaty, no matter what time of the day. The temperatures even at night will not drop below 30C/86F. During the day expect anything between 38C/100F and 48C/118F. From August onwards, combine these temperatures with high humidity. Then carrying your grocery bags into the house from the car that's parked right in front of it, makes you want to have a shower right away.

I gotta start training for the Berlin Marathon in July. The Dubai summer makes it very difficult. You have to be extra careful not to overheat or dehydrate. Dehydration may be the smaller problem and can be controled much better. Overheating is the bigger issue: if the core temperature rises above a certain point, your body will just shut down and you'll have a heat stroke.

Training through the summer means that you might just give up on certain days as the heat will not let you do what your marathon program prescribes. The good news is that there will be an air-conditioned indoor running track of 650m that will be open to the public from 20 June until 20 August. I see myself doing quite a few laps on this one - my first long run in the first week will be 21k/13miles. That's 32 laps. Sounds scary, doesn't it!?

I thought I would train for a 3:10 marathon and be happy with anything under 3:15 on race day. My weekly mileage will be between 60 and 85k (that's 37 and 52 miles).

Despite the heat and the upcoming grueling marathon training, I feel ready for it. The official big racing season in Dubai closes by March/April. I had a few months of relaxation now with lots of slow runs. I feel very ready for another challenge. In fact, I can't wait! My weekly mileage has been quite steady and not too low. I think I can ease into the training without much difficulty. Just the heat will be the critical factor.

My ice cream maker is doing over hours these days. I have posted several sorbet recipes here on the blog before (check the extremely delicious kiwi sorbet, the refreshing raspberry sorbet or my luscious lemon sorbet). They are all made in the same way: puree raw fruit, add some honey and lime/lemon and put it in your ice cream maker. Today's mango sorbet is not exception. It's raw refreshing goodness. It's as close as it gets to eating raw fresh fruit. Enjoy.

3 cups ripe mango, peeled and cubed
3-4 tablespoons honey (or agave syrup for a vegan version)
2 tablespoons lime juice, freshly squeezed

Serves 6-8
Place mango cubes, honey and lime juice in a food processor and blend until smooth. Transfer mixture to ice cream maker, and follow instructions of the ice cream maker.

Alternatively, transfer mixture to a shallow dish and freeze for 45-60 minutes, or until almost solid. Take out of the freezer, and thoroughly stir with a fork. Put back into freezer and freeze until solid.
Scoop out the frozen mixture and place into a food processor. Pulse until smooth. Transfer sorbet to airtight container and return to freezer until ready to serve. If necessary, pulse again in a food processor just before serving.
Continue Reading>>

29 May, 2013

Spicy Roasted Cauliflower Tomato Salad with Raisins

If I could only pick one "health food" to have available for the rest of my life, it would be turmeric. Turmeric is the most powerful spice to me. I'll try and sprinkle it into anything I can.

I first got aware of the health benefits of turmeric when anti-inflammatory foods caught my eye. It made sense to me that many lifestyle-related health issues would have their root in long-term inflammation of the body.

Inflammation is the body's totally healthy response to injury and infection, a way of defending ourselves by sending immune cells and key nutrients to the areas that need them most. Long-term inflammation, however, can be quite dangerous. When inflammation as an immune response is never "shut off," so to speak, the constant production of immune cells can do permanent damage, leading to cancer, heart disease, arthritis and Alzheimer's among other health concerns.

Chronic inflammation can be caused by a sedentary lifestyle, lack of sleep,  or the foods that we choose to eat or not to eat. It will not come as a surprise that sugar, refined grains, vegetable oils, dairy, processed and red meats, food additives, and alcohol are highly inflammatory foods.

Now which are the most powerful anti-inflammatory foods? With regards to herbs and spices, it's definitely turmeric, but also parsley and ginger. For fruit, try blueberries and papaya. And for the vegetables, try and incorporate as much seaweed, broccoli, green leafy vegetables and some sweet potato into your diet. Have some walnuts or almonds as your snack between meals.

Today's salad is one of my summer staples this year: full of anti-inflammatory ingredients. It consists of a lot of well spiced veggies, that roast peacefully and without much work in the oven. The salad keeps well in the fridge, so it's worth making double or triple portions. It's hearty, satisfying, yet light and full of flavor. Perfect for the approaching summer and healthwise good for you all year round. I hope you enjoy!

(Print Recipe)

1 medium head of cauliflower
1 1/2 cups of cherry tomatoes, halved
2 red onions, cut into wedges
3 bay leaves

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 tablespoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon chili powder

1/2 cup cooked chickpeas
2-3 tablespoons raisins
3 tablespoons chopped parsley

Serves 4
Preheat oven to 200C/400F.

In a small bowl, combine spices with olive oil and stir until well blended.

Cut the cauliflower into bite-sized florets. Pour the spice mixture over the cauliflower and stir until cauliflower is well coated. gently add in the tomato halves, onion wedges and bay leaves. Spread out the vegetables in a single layer on a baking sheet.
Roast for 20-25 minutes, or until cauliflower is starting to caramelize.

Transfer roasted vegetables to serving dish. Add cooked chickpeas and raisins. Sprinkle with chopped parsley for garnish. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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22 May, 2013

Vegan Cheezy Rosemary Roasted Chickpeas

I recently read an interesting article about the paleo diet hype. It pointed out that it is being marketed way overboard as to what the original meaning of the caveman's diet was supposed to be; simple foods, minimally processed with short cooking times or even eaten raw.

These days, you can find a vast amount of food blogs and cookbooks focusing on paleo recipes, or even more specifically, paleo desserts. The point of the article was that many of these blogs and cookbooks miss the point. While their ingredients are OK for a caveman's diet, the amount that is being used is beyond healthy. Think of cups full of coconut oils, nut meals, nut butters and honey that go into those sold-as-healthy paleo recipes. The sheer amount of these ingredients makes them very calorie-dense dishes that makes overeating almost unavoidable.

This is not really breaking news if you think about. But have you thought about it? It's actually quite easy and tempting to be lured into those hypes that make you believe you are doing something good to yourself . Along the way, you may loose touch with reality.

Moderation is the key. That's probably not new to you either. If you cook your dishes from scratch, you may have an idea how much nuts go into nut butter. If you look at the oil in your measuring cup, imagine having a few spoonfuls. Same with the honey or other sweetener. How appealing would these foods be when eaten separately and unprocessed. You would surely eat less than when they all combined and baked into some delicious cake or brownies.

This applies to my recipe today, roasted chickpeas, a delicious and healthy snack. While all ingredients - chickpeas, nutritional yeast, sea salt, rosemary and a little olive oil - are surely not unhealthy when eaten in moderation, it is quite easy to snack away on these and finish a whole can of chickpeas without even realizing. And that is not a full meal, it's still just a snack.

Do you get my point? You can still overeat or have health problems, or have problems to loose weight, when you follow one of these healthy diet hypes - be it vegan, paleo, gluten-free, etc. Common sense, listening to your body's signals and moderation shall help keep your health and weight under control.

(Print Recipe)

2 1/2  cups chickpeas, cooked and drained

4 tablespoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped
4 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons olive oil

Serves 8
Preheat oven to 180C/375F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients and stir until chickpeas are evenly coated. Spread the chickpeas in one layer on a baking sheet. Better results are being achieved if the chickpeas are not too crowded. Roast in preheated oven for 60 to 75 minutes ( or even longer), depending on size of the chickpeas. They are ready when they are crunchy, and not chewy anymore.

If the chickpeas loose the crispness after a day or too, roast them again at 165C/350F for 10-15 minutes and leave them in the warm/switched-off oven for another 15-20minutes.
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16 May, 2013

Chakalaka - Spicy Tomato Pepper Relish

Chakalaka is a South African tomato-based relish that has its origins in the townships of Johannesburg. 10 years ago, I was living in Johannesburg for a year and stayed at a vegetarian bachelor's house. The fridge was always empty, apart from a few lonely vegetables. But there was always chakalaka in the house. The  jarred version, but never mind. My vegetarian bachelor's friend was not much of a cook.

For dinner we'd cook some of those lonely vegetables and then drown them in chakalaka sauce. As far as I can remember, we didn't even have any grains or the otherwise very typical South African pap with it. We ate it more like a vegetable stew.
It is an awesome sauce, very versatile as you could use it as a dip with cracker, as a relish over grilled meat (not in that vegetarian bachelor's house though) or over pap. I got to taste many versions of it at various BBQs, which the South African claim they are world champions in.

There are versions with beans in it which makes it more a stand-alone meal. I prefer the simpler version with lots of green peppers: they give an otherwise regular tomato sauce (let's be honest, that's what it is) a refreshing summer kick. Then spice it up with as much chili as you like. A simple but incredibly delicious relish. Enjoy!

(Print Recipe)

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 green peppers, deseeded and cut into 1-inch sticks
6 tomatoes, finely chopped

2-3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon mixed dried herbs
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt (or to taste)
1/2 teaspoon chili powder (or to taste)

Serves 6
In a medium pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Fry onions for a few minutes, until softened. Add garlic and peppers and fry for another few minutes. Stir in chopped tomatoes and tomato paste. Season with herbs, curry powder, chili and sea salt.
Cover with lid and simmer over low heat for 15-20 minutes. Stir occasionally.

Serve hot or cold as a dip with crackers, or as a sauce over grilled meat or pap or polenta.
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08 May, 2013

Broccoli Cauliflower Pancakes with Tahini Raita

Not long ago, I very proudly announced 1.000 Likes of the Anja's Food 4 Thought Facebook page. To be exact, that was in November 2012. By then, I had blogged for more than three years.

Today, only 6 months later, I have reached 2.000 Likes. That is just amazing. Thank you!

I am especially proud of this number because I never forced anyone to "like" me on FB by participating in competitions or give-aways. In fact, I only had one give-away ever on my blog. Some of you may remember it: it was a one-print cookbook with recipes of mine. Someone in America won it. I sent it off with registered mail, but sadly it never arrived.

These 2.000 Likes are as organic as can be.
Regular readers may have noticed, I am pretty unsocial when it comes to social media. I hardly ever have more to say than the announcement of a new recipe on the blog. My twitter tweets are automated too. I actually never go onto twitter. Because I can't deal with so much useless information. I sometimes struggle to wade through my emails, many of them of no use or real or personalized information either. I also don't have a smartphone.

I see people on their phones all the time. I see couples in restaurants and cafe. They don't talk to each other, as each one is busy with their phone. I always wonder what they are checking. It cannot seriously be life-or-death information that's coming in on a constant stream. Or is it?

Why on earth would you be rather checking your FB page or your emails than talking to your partner or friend that you are meeting for lunch? Call me old-fashioned, but I don't get it.

Therefore, and perhaps this is even why some of you like my blog and FB page, I will keep my information output on Anja's Food 4 Thought and my FB page for real and relevant information. This is a recipe blog after all. I will not post on my blog if I don't have a recipe. I will not post on FB just to ask how you are today or what you are having for lunch. Imagine all 2.000 of you would reply.... I'd probably realize that I don't really want to know.

Perhaps I should have had a chocolate cake recipe to celebrate the 2.000 Likes. Instead I am presenting to you a real successful paleo pancake recipe. It's filled with cauliflower and broccoli. It's holding together beautifully with a mixture of eggs and coconut flour. It is very satisfying and light at the same time. It's very quick and easy to make. It can be extra refreshing with a yogurt dip and a salad on the side. 
These pancakes will surely be one of my lunchtime staples over the summer. Enjoy!


(Print Recipe)

1 1 /2 cups cauliflower florets
1 1/2 cups broccoli florets

4 eggs
2 tablespoons coconut flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon  ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes

olive oil

Tahini Raita (non-paleo)
1 cup yogurt
2 tablespoons tahini
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup cucumber, finely chopped

Yields 4-6/Serves 2
In a food processor, rice the cauliflower and the broccoli. Set aside.
Beat the eggs. Stir in salt, cumin and chili flakes. Then whisk in the coconut flour until mixture is lump free. Stir in the riced broccoli and cauliflower.

Lightly coat a frying pan with olive oil and heat over medium heat. Spoon about 1/2 cup of pancake mixture into the pan and spread out to the size of a CD and 1/4 inch thickness. Fry on each side until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Repeat until all batter is used up.

Serve immediately with some Tahini Raita and a fresh salad.

Tahini Raita
Stir tahini and salt into yogurt until well combined. Add chopped cucumbers. Serve cold from the fridge for extra freshness.
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