23 January, 2014

Lentil Spinach Curry

Three months of diligent marathon training have come to an end and the big day is tomorrow. Here I am now, sitting and waiting for those last 24 hours to go by til the race starts.

My last run was on Tuesday. I have been carb loading a little for which I have temporarily reintroduced grains into my diet. I got a pedicure and my toe nails freshly painted yesterday. Not that anyone would see, but it's important. I got a great sports massage from a running friend after which I thought I could fly, or at least jump like a spring. No niggles, no tiredness, the right amount of nerves has kicked in. Now I just need to stay out of trouble.

At pick-up time in school I stay away from anyone who sneezes, coughs or has a red nose. I don't shake hands or give hugs. I didn't drink from other people's water bottles (during our last group run) after i lost mine. Germs, viruses, bacteria.......

I feel confident I'll make it unscathed til tomorrow, although one never knows whether the next little accident is waiting just around the corner. So it happened that a couple of days ago, I dropped a big glass bowl in the kitchen and ended up standing barefoot in the middle of a thousand glass pieces. Not cool. Last thing you need. I managed to come out of it without a scratch or a cut.

So what's the plan for tomorrow? I have trained for a 3:10:00 marathon. That's an average pace of 4:30 min/km. It's ambitious, as it would take another 8 minutes off my current marathon PB which stands at 3:18:11. I'll be happy with anything under 3:15. And I always race with a bucket list of people/friends/fellow runners that I want to beat. The list is long and also ambitious. The weather forecast predicts 15 degrees Celsius at the start. That is not too bad, although 12 would be better to start with as it does get warmer rather quickly. But hey, the weather is one of the few things you can do nothing about it. It will be the same for everyone.

My bag is packed, my clothes laid out. Nothing more to do than eat yet another few more carbs and hydrate well. And to somehow get those last 12 hours of waiting over and done with. Wish me luck. I'll keep you posted!

(Print Recipe)

200g/8oz brown lentils, dry
1 bay leaf

1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 red onion finely chopped

1 big tomato, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon coriander powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

3/4 cup water

2 cups fresh spinach leaves, chopped

Serves 2
Add brown lentils and bay leaf into a medium sized pan with slightly salted water and bring to a boil. Simmer over low heat until lentils are tender with a little bite, about 15 minutes. Drain, remove bay leaf and set aside.

In a skillet, heat coconut oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook until softened. Add finely chopped tomato and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Stir in spices, then add pre-cooked lentils and water. Simmer over low heat for another 8-10 minutes. Take off the heat and stir in spinach. Ready to serve when spinach is wilted.

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16 January, 2014

Roasted Cauliflower Soup with Toasted Hazelnuts

A few weeks back, I was invited to talk to young mothers about how to cook healthily for kids and how to hide nutritious ingredients in their foods. A mother approached me afterwards and asked for advice for her own diet and some weight loss tips.

After having lived in Dubai with its very multi-cultured expat community for almost 10 years, it's plain to see that there is not one-fits-all diet advice. Different lifestyles, different foods, different habits (good or bad) have to be taken into calculation. Dietary adjustments have to be made within realistic limits in order to become a long-term change towards the better.

I suggested to write a food diary for a few days to get a general idea of what foods and food groups were eaten on a regular basis. I also think that writing down what you eat makes you more aware THAT you eat and eventually may lead to eating more consciously.

I am not a certified nutritionist. In fact, I realized that I hardly know how much I eat myself in terms of calories and carb/protein/fat percentage. Relying completely on whole foods, I let my hunger and appetite take the lead and eat until I am full. I have never counted calories in my life although I have a rough idea of how much calories are in most foods.
I am currently reading a lot about carb requirements for endurance athletes and protein requirements for muscle building. As you know, I am training for my 5th marathon (in fact, it's only a week to go to race day - I am tapering and have lots of time on my hands to read up about things....).
I have also started core and upper body strength training in the gym a few months back and wondered how I can complement this by diet.
General guidelines for the dietary composition for endurance athletes is 60% carbs, 15% protein and 25% fat. The guidelines for strength athletes are 50% carbs, 30% protein, and 20% fat. The same composition is recommended for weight loss.

Out of curiosity, I started a food diary myself two days ago. With a mainly grain and sugar free diet, the composition of my diet is far from these recommendations. Obviously, the absence of starch influences the composition immensely. On my first day, my food intake added up to 42% carbs, 18% protein and 39% fat. On that day I went to the gym and did a slow 12k run in the evening. My pre-workout snacks made the carb percentage go up, as I had a banana and (grain-free) muffins. Yesterday, I had a rest day without any exercise. I ate 27% carbs, 23% protein and 50% fats. My snacks were various nuts. That obviously upped the fat intake and kept the carb intake low.

I seem to be doing well on a high fat/low carb diet despite all the running. Could I do better with more carbs? I wonder. My running started long before I omitted grains and sugar. My running has improved consistently. My training load has gone up slowly but steadily over the years as I got fitter and faster.

My body composition has changed since I stopped eating grains. Without actually losing more weight, I have become leaner. That in itself is an advantage in running. Body fat is dead weight that you have to carry around with you. The more you carry, the more it will make you fatigue earlier and subsequently slow you down in a race. 

I will continue my food diary for a week. And with my marathon scheduled for next week Friday, I will throw my grain restrictions overboard for 2-3 days and carb load. I believe it can't do much damage, and in the best case help me get through my marathon with a new PB time that I have been training for.

My carb loading plan usually last 2.5 days and stops after lunch the day before the marathon. For dinner I would only eat soup or a salad. Something really light and hydrating at the same time, that you won't carry around with you the next morning when you line up at the start.

You may have noticed that I have been slightly infatuated with cauliflower lately. Here is another recipe, a soup made of roasted cauliflower. The roasting brings out its sweet mild taste. It's seasoned with rosemary that adds an earthy note, and sprinkled over with toasted hazelnuts. Everything tastes better with toasted hazelnuts, did you know that?

(Print Recipe)

1 large head of cauliflower, cut into florets
1/2 teaspoon salt
olive oil

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
2 large potatoes, peeled and chopped
2 red onions, chopped

5-6 cups of chicken (non-vegetarian) or vegetable stock (for vegan version)

1/4 cup hazelnuts
1/2 cup arugula leaves or other green leaves (optional), roughly chopped

Serves 4
Preheat oven to 220C/425F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread out the cauliflower florets, season with salt and sprinkle with some olive oil. Roast in the preheated oven for about 15-20 minutes or until golden.

Meanwhile, 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 them roughly and set aside.

In a soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Fry the onions until softened. Add the chopped potatoes and rosemary and cook for another few minutes. Add roasted cauliflower and stock. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer over medium heat until potatoes are cooked. Remove from heat. Blend the soup until smooth.

Transfer soup into serving bowls, sprinkle with toasted chopped hazelnuts and arugula leaves. Serve immediately.
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01 January, 2014

Most Popular Recipes of 2013

A Happy New Year to all of you!
I have never been a big fan of New Year's Eve parties and New Year resolutions. I never understood what the craze was all about, as I never looked at my life in annual increments. There are phases that are longer or shorter than a year like university, a job, married life, family life, running, my racing season. To me, 31 Dec and 1 Jan have always been random days in the middle of these phases.
Therefore I went to bed at 11pm last night, glad that our partying neighbors were pretty civilized this year (I've seen different...) and got up after 8am this morning. No hangover, no sleep deprivation - both of which are pretty difficult to deal with once your age is beyond the middle 30s.
Nevertheless I would like to leave you with two quotes that I remember in situations, either good or bad:

“Dream no small dreams for they have no power to move the hearts of men.”  
 (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)

For the sake of this blog, I looked at the recipes that I posted in 2013. My blog year has become pretty blurry as the running has taken up much of my energy in the past 12 months. I don't post as often as I used to, and my posts are often about my training, running injuries and races. A little recipe retrospective would get a few forgotten recipes back to the surface.

Dream no small dreams for they have no power to move the hearts of men.

Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/j/johannwolf121252.html#7PKxEAihwPuVGTwx.99
Dream no small dreams for they have no power to move the hearts of men.

Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/j/johannwolf121252.html#7PKxEAihwPuVGTwx.99
Here is the Top 10 of the most popular recipes in alphabetical order:

Broccoli Pistachio Burgers: Who would have thought that the combination of broccoli and pistachios give a cheesy flavor - despite being completely vegan. These burgers are one great way to make broccoli taste good.
Chocolate Avocado Cake: this cake is grain free, sweetened with palm sugar and the fat replaced by mashed avocado. Healthier would only be - well, not eating it at all.
Chocolate Olive Oil Cake: this is my fool-proof and go-to chocolate cake whose ingredients list is so short and only consists of pantry staples. Whipped up in no time and always a success at parties, with both adults and children.
Crispy Quinoa Chocolate Cookies: I love my cookies crispy - and these ones come out just like that. They are vegan and nut free - so good to go into kids lunch boxes as a small treat
Herbed Cauliflower Carrot Falafels:I got somewhat infatuated with cauliflower last year. It's a nutritional powerhouse and there is so many ways to hide it in tasty dishes. Veggie burgers are one way of making boring or bland vegetables interesting.
Homemade Bounty Balls: it only takes four ingredients to make Bounty Bars at home. A great and healthy low-carb dessert that can easily keep up with the commercial version.
Overnight Oats with Chia Seeds: overnight oats are great if you have the discipline to prepare you breakfast the night before. It's completely raw - sweetened with mashed banana only and a spoonful of nut butter.
Thai Coconut Quinoa: Rich and aromatic, with zingy and earthy flavors and different textures, this dish is as good with quinoa as it is with brown rice. Whenever my running training load gets a lot, this carb dish helped me through my nutritional needs.
Vanilla Frozen Yogurt: Frozen yogurts take as little as three ingredients and can be kept raw without much effort: it takes not much more than yogurt, a sweetener (be it honey or raw sugar) and a flavor. There you go!
Vegan Coconut Oatmeal Cookies : these cookies are another lunchbox filler: nut free and vegan, although not gluten free as most of my recipes these days. Still very delicious. A great afternoon snack with lots of good ingredients. Did you know that cinnamon is very anti-inflammatory?
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