Saturday 30 September 2017

Carbohydrates - Reintroducing Lunch & Dressing Up Breakfast

   Well. I. Feel. Fabulous. I've been eating more - calories, carbs and diversity - and I'm feeling excellent. It's so amazing to be in a good mood without trying, and I'm noticing the people around me are in a better mood, too. It's so easy to create a negative atmosphere, and that atmosphere has far too much sway over people. I usually give into it when others are the source, but that was also probably because I was already a bit miserable. Now, however, I'm finding the energy to push past it and not let other people's bad moods affect me, and to lighten the atmosphere myself instead. And it seems to be working!
   But, honestly - and I know how silly this sounds - it's nice to be happy. To smile so easily, to wake up and roll out of bed with a spring (after a moment), I'm even sleeping better! My exercise has been going better, I don't dread it anywhere near as much (in fairness, this month's workout has been amazing fun), and my day to day concentration has improved. My writing is going amazingly, and I really feel like I've started this book on a really strong note.

   The past few weeks I've been continuing to force carbohydrates into my diet by targeting my meals. I started with lunch, because my lunch almost never contains carbs, it's literally 2 eggs, 30g salmon, a handful of baby carrots and various herbs and spices. Fortunately eggs are ridiculously versatile and even after a year and a half of lunches like this, I have yet to tire of either eggs or salmon. And while it's true that I've only made one change to it, it's a pretty significant one.
   Yes, I've added bread to my eggs and salmon on exercise days. Imagine that: bread for lunch.
   I chose bread for three reasons - first of all, it's a good source of carbs, calories and fibre. Secondly, because otherwise the only carbs I see post-workout is a small amount of fruit about 30 minutes after I've finished, around 11am, and then whatever I snack on at 3, assuming it's even carbs. And thirdly, because whenever we go to The Netherlands to see Seeg's family, bread is served every day, and as I never, ever eat it, my body doesn't seem to know what the hell to do with it. I don't have Coeliac's or a gluten intolerance, I just gain weight really easily from it, so I figured if I add bread into my lunch (like a normal person) I can add more carbs onto a meal that doesn't otherwise have any more than 6g, mostly from veg, and my body can get used to it.
   Bread is also quite versatile - I can dunk it into soft-boiled eggs, I can make eggy bread, I can make a sandwich, and I can also stick that sandwich in the oven for 10 minutes for a toasted, crispy, lovely warm egg and salmon sandwich. Um, yum.

   On non-exercise days, I leave the bread out because I don't want to eat it every day, and instead I try salads and soups. I usually try to avoid carbs completely after breakfast on rest days, which is ridiculous, so instead I've been branching out and trying some ready-to-eat brands I've seen in Women's Fitness and the like that I've been too afraid to try before because of carbs. This spices up lunch time and introduces me to new flavours, foods and combinations, and things that I might try to make from scratch myself, in time.
   This week I even turned to the Just Jhoom! cookbook for some carrot and ginger soup.

   Changing breakfast was a risk. I did it not long after changing my lunch - it was about five days in, in fact - and it's always been the one time of the day when I have eaten carbs. It's almost always porridge - warm and simple, and I've always quite liked it, and oats are a great source of slow-release carbs. But, more than just energy, breakfast can also be a huge mood-booster. It can shake away bad dreams and give your day a good start, which can reverberate on until lunch time.
   But, though it was a risk to do it so soon after changing up lunch, it's paid off, and I'm actually rather enjoying it. On exercise days, I've kept it simple and just added a bit of fruit to my oats - a handful of berries or a chopped up apricot - and it's absolutely gorgeous. It's not much, but I don't want to increase the size too much because it might hinder my exercise (take too long to digest), but porridge is mostly oats and milk, and is generally the only reliable source of carbs in my day.
   Non-exercise days are far more interesting. I usually have larger porridge bowls, but larger only really because they include a scoop of protein powder which increases the calories and the liquid content. But I've started adding fruit there, too, and nuts, and sometimes a sprinkling of granola. I've also dared a stack of blueberry and white chocolate protein pancakes, using Flapjacked's protein pancake mix (all natural, 200 cals per serving, 20g protein and 20g carbs with oat flour), and I successfully did not feel guilty for it at all. I try to make sure that all the ingredients are clean and healthy, and I can trust the pancake mix on that front, but I also try not to obsess over it. Chocolate is chocolate, after all, even if it is three pieces of Green & Black's, some of the cleanest chocolate there is.
   But breakfast is suddenly a very enjoyable time of the day. In fact, I'm becoming a bit of a breakfast enthusiast... So far, I've tried the following:
• Porridge oats with a handful of blueberries or a diced apricot
• Chocolate protein porridge with a sprinkling of granola & nuts
• Strawberry protein porridge with a diced apricot & a sprinkling of granola/blueberries & baobab
• Green & Black's white chocolate & blueberry protein pancakes with oat flour
• Strawberry & baobab-sprinkled protein mini muffins (same as the pancake mix but baked for 10 minutes, gas mark 4, in a mini muffin tray)
• Blueberry taiyaki (made with that same pancake mix - I was shocked to find that 1 serving made 3 taiyaki!)


   As for dinner, aside from the culinary adventure that dominated my recent staycation, I'm just not there yet. The idea of carbs when the day slows down puts me off big-time. So I've been sticking to the same boring repetitive recipes, but it's also the biggest meal of my day so if this takes the longest to adjust, that's not unreasonable. I've mentioned in the past that sometimes I feel guilty for eating dinner purely because I ate enough to satiate me, which I guess is a feeling I'm not used to when under-eating. Adding carbs into my dinner (mostly just meat and veg, otherwise) will take a little longer.
   Having said that, I have tried to shake things up once a week and using Just Jhoom's cookbook has helped, as has daring to try out Simply Cook. Both mean new recipes, but the latter also enforces more calories and carbs once a week, as well as an extremely interesting meal - I've tried to choose the most interesting, and the family is loving it, too.

Tuesday 26 September 2017

The Chia Co, Chia Pods Review

   Chia pudding. Over-night oats' competitor, with the advantage of the 'dessert' tag. It's really just chia seeds - high-protein, high-fibre, nutritious little powerhouses - soaked in water or milk with some fruit for flavouring. The trouble with both is that you need to plan ahead. There's no spontaneity involved. Of course, it does also mean that you get what you want without the nasties, as with all homemade dishes.
   Fortunately, some people have already considered all these details. 'Some people', in this case, referring to The Chia Co.

   This Australian company have created Chia Pods, little cups of chia pudding with absolutely no nasties, so that we can have our pudding right when we want it. Welcome back, spontaneity.

   They come in a range of wonderful flavours, but the first of the few downsides are that the range in Australia differs to that in the UK. But, fortunately, that doesn't mean there's a smaller choice. The UK has some flavours the Aussies don't, and they have some we don't. For example, the Apple Spice in Australia really appeals to me, but I can't get it - whereas the Blueberry I can get provides the same issue for the Aussies. I don't understand the reason behind the differing stock, but I'm happy to take the trade-off.
   Every pot is mild in flavour; nothing is too sweet, but you don't need to concentrate to detect the flavour, and neither is there any strange after-taste. Every flavour is as you'd expect. Personally, I don't actually like bananas, but I've discovered that I quite like banana-flavoured foods. Trek's banana bread flapjack is one of my first choices in a mixed box. But I am still dubious about any new banana foods, which is why the banana Chia Pod was the first I'd tried of the selection. I wasn't disappointed.
   The dark cacao was, simply, dark cacao; banana was soft and subtle; the vanilla bean was simple and delightful for it, and is particularly wonderful warm. The blueberry and mango flavours were sweeter than the rest, but not by much. All in all, the flavours are as they should be, and are subtly sweet enough for breakfast. Of all of them, vanilla bean was my favourite, though I would still like to get my hands on apple spice...

   If you've never had chia pudding before, the texture is something to get used to. It's not like porridge, it's more like a lumpy gel, and very slurpable. Chia seeds form a 'gel' because chia seeds are more hydrophilic (attracted to water) than any other seed - the micro-fibre layer on the outside of the seed stands on end in water and allows it to hold nine times its weight in fluids. So 'chia gel' is not actually a 'gel' at all, it's just trapped water, and as it's removed very slowly in digestion, the water helps to smooth the digestive process.
   Chia seeds also have no flavour of their own, and with their absorption abilities, readily take on the flavour of whatever they're paired with.

   But why bother? Well, unlike all these oat pouches and 'just add water' instant breakfasts, Chia Pods involve very few ingredients, and nothing artificial. Just chia 'gel', fruit puree and coconut milk. They pack 4g of protein and a hefty 7g of fibre, vitamins and minerals, and only sit at 150 calories. This gives your day a wonderful nutrition and brain-power boost!

   Chia Pods are a great high-protein, high-fibre, simple and wholesome snack pot, and when teamed with a piece of fruit and the spoon that comes inside the lid of each pot, perfect for breakfast on the go. They're also amazing hot or cold - pop them in the microwave for 45 seconds and they're perfect for autumn mornings.
   Find them in the chilled section of Tesco, Holland & Barrett, Planet Organic and on Ocado.

Disclaimer: I was sent this product to review by the brand itself. The quantity and precise products sent were their choice, not my own. All opinions and images are my own, and all appropriate research has been done by myself from a range of sources rather than relying entirely on the product's website, especially where health products are concerned. I do not accept a product to review if I do not believe it is safe or worth my own time, regardless of any kind of reimbursement. I trial the products for an appropriate amount of time before writing reviews to check for wear-and-tear on physical items and side effects from edible (be it supplements or food). If I have negative points to voice, I will voice them, and I never, ever accept product reviews or reimbursement on the promise of a positive review. My reviews are and will only ever be honest.

Saturday 23 September 2017

Holiday Eating - Japan From Home

   My blog has had a greater focus on food lately after my recent admission of an eating disorder, but I'm pleased to say that carbs have been finding their way onto my plate, and after last week's staycation, where my responsibilities as carer to my mum were put on hold while my dad took her on holiday, my diet took on another change, as it always does during such opportunities (since I no longer have to tailor family meals to what my mum can physically eat). Of course, the biggest and best part of this last staycation was that I successfully kept out of my own head and didn't over-exercise or feel massive guilt for eating something delicious, as detailed in my last post.

   But I wanted to take the time to talk about the amazing things I ate last week, because 1: they were awesome, 2: I want to keep a record to remind myself in the future that I can enjoyed amazing meals without the guilt, and 3: I genuinely believe you should try at least one of the recipes.
   Seeg and I love Japanese cuisine and culture, especially historical. So when I came across Just One Cookbook a few months ago, I found myself foaming at the mouth, wanting to try so many of the recipes. I didn't because I was hung up on the idea that rice and noodles (ie carbs) were deadly to me, and because my mum's disability meant that she could never eat it. But, despite my own neurosis, I bookmarked the website.
   After trying to make a change to my unhealthy relationship with food and eat more carbs, I looked it back up, and it ended up that Nami virtually catered our entire holiday.
   Almost every day last week we made something from her collection of recipes - some we'd made before, like Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, but for the vast majority, it was new.


Dinner: omurice and gyoza
   Tomato rice tucked into an omelette, oh my, it was amazing. But trying to make this alongside gyoza to be ready at the same time, without the filling soaking into the gyoza wrappers (ie, don't make them ahead of time and leave them uncooked), it was a challenge. So I enlisted Seeg's help to wrap the gyoza, which he did a better job on than I did. The gyoza freeze well, so I've set left overs aside. I'm sure my mum will be able to eat these, so I'm going to incorporate them into a meal when they get back.
   Otherwise, the whole thing was delicious, and I was chuffed with how well the omurice came out!


Lunch: nikuman;    Dinner: yaki udon with teriyaki chicken
   Nikuman, like dim sum, are steamed doughy pork-filled dumplings, and they are such a nuisance to wrap. But JOC provides great advice for wrapping and sealing both these and gyoza, and I am so proud of the outcome of these things! They also tasted amazing. And they, like the gyoza, freeze well, so I'll use these up when they get back, too.
   As for yaki udon and teriyaki chicken, yes, as you can see from the image, it turned out to be too much, but it was delicious. My only regret are the noodles; I wish I had bought dried and cooked them myself rather than using pre-cooked. Not a mistake I will make again. Also, this isn't the first time I've made teriyaki chicken. The first time, I made the sauce from scratch and it was to die for, but I got lazy after that and bought a bottle from Tesco. I've used it three times and each has been a disappointment. So, this time, I made the sauce from scratch again and it was as wonderful as I remembered. Lesson learned.


   Pancake (admittedly, I used whole meal flour for better nutrition), cabbage, bacon, yakisoba noodles, a fried egg, all stacked up with okonomiyaki sauce, spring onions and mirin here and there. I also added a few shiitake mushrooms. It's our favourite cheat meal. This is the fifth time I've made it, and I used to find it very stressful with all the flipping back and forth (you make one layer, then add another, flip it over on the griddle, add another and so on), but I realised it is just as good if you make one layer at a time, turn the oven on low and dish it up one layer at a time, keeping it warm as each layer cooks by itself. I've done it this way twice now, and only on these occasions has it been photographable.


Lunch: chawanmushi
   It's basically a bowl of meat and vegetables covered in a savoury egg mixture, steamed until cooked through. It was peculiar, but quite nice. Seeg doesn't like mushrooms, so I didn't give him any shiitake, but I did buy some narutomaki from Japan Centre, along with all the other very precise ingredients, and made something that, I think, looks quite presentable. And my goodness was its high protein content filling!


   Like onigiri, but not compacted into a ball. I actually used the recipe for bulgogi onigirazu but didn't have what I needed for the bulgogi marinade, so I just used soy sauce. Somehow, the marinade ingredients slipped my attention when ordering from Ocado and Japan Centre, but looking back over it, I think I'd have had to have gone elsewhere anyway.
   Essentially, it's a sandwich with rice rather than bread, wrapped in nori seaweed. It was delicious, but I do wish I'd had the beef marinade because, where beef is involved, I've always felt that the sauce or marinade makes the dish. Seeg liked it, but had the same complaint.


Dinner: niku udon
   Udon noodles in a dashi/soy broth, with caramelised beef, a boiled egg, scallions and narutomaki. It's a simple dish, really, but it was delicious, and while I admit I had trouble with chopsticks on these noodles, I refused to be beaten, and eventually came out victorious.


   This one, I actually made up myself. I took the basis of french toast but used miso paste with about 20ml of water instead of milk. I used a thick slice of shokupan bread from Japan Centre, sliced it in two, and soaked each for 2 minutes on each side before frying in a pan for 3 minutes on each side. The bread was still soft - it wasn't toasted, I think there was too much egg in a single slice and I was impatient, but it was not soggy at all. I topped it with some natto beans I also got from Japan Centre (the only word to describe them is 'slimy', but overlooking that detail I thought they were quite nice and mild), some low-fat Japanese mayonnaise, also from Japan Centre, and some picked cucumber. The whole thing was amazing, but if I'm honest, it was the bread I liked the most. I ended up scraping the beans off and eating them separately just so I could enjoy the bread. And the best part is, while natto have to be shipped chilled (meaning a £10 shipping fee I would never pay without buying lots of other chilled goods, as I did this time, and subsequently renders them a very rare purchase), all you need for the miso eggy bread is just that: miso, an egg, some bread! I've already posted the recipe!

   We did have a pizza for dinner on the Friday with a movie (Going In Style), and a burger on Wednesday, and a fine duck roast dinner on our date night, but otherwise Just One Cookbook supplied most of our recipes, and I can't thank her enough for it. Seeg is hard to please, and he loved it all, too. Especially the omurice. He pretty much inhaled it, and he kept on for gyoza throughout the week. Fortunately there were lots left!

   And I ate all of that without once starting spontaneous, guilt-driven Tabata, nor exercising with kettlebells for an hour and avoiding carbs for the entire following day. Truly, I am so proud of myself.
   And very well-fed.

Friday 22 September 2017


   Autumn is probably my favourite season. I always used to think it was winter - it's easier to warm up than it is to cool down, I prefer staying indoors anyway, workouts have the additional benefit of warming you up for free, and, of course, Christmas is right around the corner. But lately, I'm finding that my mind is changing. I think I prefer the comfortable run-up instead, when it's not too cold and you can still venture out of the house without gloves or a scarf, and when the trees start to change colour, drop their leaves and hibernate. The world feels like its slowing down, it feels so peaceful; all the mad rush and enjoyment of summer to try and get out and do things is replaced with a more considered approach, and snuggling down in a jumper with a book by the fire starts to move its way up people's to-do list.
   I also find that, while spring gets my concentration in order and often encourages me to step up my game with my writing, autumn tends to get me into a more organisational mode. Perhaps that's because of the impending Christmas rush in my Etsy shop, and because, despite my better judgement, I like to host a Christmas sock exchange and often try to revive my passion for photography, crafts and drawing at the same time. But I find myself tidying the house more often, taking note of inventory, stocking up on all the niggly bits I need for my shop and, specifically, Christmas packaging, and even giving my blog a clean.

   But despite what is basically the start of the hectic season, the idea of warm breakfasts, jumpers, warm and neutral colours everywhere gives me goosebumps. Or perhaps that's the wonderful chill.
   I already have some things planned in the kitchen, even a couple of days out. And I can't wait.

   What are your favourite things about autumn? Aside from pumpkin spice.

Trumpeter swans, WWT Slimbridge, autumn 2016 ♥

Thursday 21 September 2017

French Toast a la Japan; Natto Miso Toast

   French toast. I've never had it, to be honest, but I know the recipe, from the simplest version of milk and egg, to the more decadent with syrup and cinnamon. Well, this recipe isn't like that. It's extremely savoury, very healthy, and has a Japanese twist that you can achieve with ease.
   Miso - a seasoning paste made by fermenting soybeans with koji and salt for anywhere between 6 months and 3 years - has been consumed in Japan for at least 1,000 years and is as much a staple part of the Japanese diet now as it was in feudal times. It's praised for its flavour, which varies from region to region, its versatility, high protein content, probiotics and myriad of vitamins and minerals. It can be used in soups, stir fries, casseroles, pickling - anything, really, that involves fluid in the cooking process.
   And natto has also been consumed for hundreds of years, which are fermented soy beans packed with vitamin K, E and B2, as well as protein on similar levels to the same weight of beef. Then there's its namesake, an enzyme called nattokinase, which is proven to help prevent blood clotting and aid heart health, possibly reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke. But natto is kind of like Japan's marmite - you either love it or you hate it. But while it's marmite's flavour that can divide a nation, it's natto's texture. The only word to describe it is 'slimy'. I kid you not, it looks vile. Search any picture and you'll understand right away. It doesn't look appetising. But the thing is, it doesn't taste bad, the beans are firm, savoury and mild, and are usually served with a little seasoning and karashi mustard. Honestly, if you can get past the initial sliminess, they're really quite nice.

   The thing is, while miso has become quite easy to find in the west, natto is still reserved for Japanese food stores or home kitchens. Yes, you can make it yourself, but it's an endeavour I'm not keen to consider starting, at least for the moment. Fortunately, Japan Centre sell them, and they're my go-to for Japanese foods and ingredients. They don't have everything, but they have an awful lot, and is simply the best outlet for UK customers. However, due to natto's chilled storage, it can only be shipped with next day delivery, which costs about £10. While that's a bit painful, you can always throw in a dorayaki (filled pancakes), melon pan (cookie-wrapped dough), or even shokupan (bread) to make this very recipe a little more authentic. I bought all three, as well as narutomaki for some noodle dishes.
   Otherwise, boxes of miso paste sachets are easy to find both in supermarkets and online, perfect if you've never tried miso before (I recommend Clearspring, they come in boxes of 4x 10g sachets), and some supermarkets also stock much larger tubs of miso paste which will last a really long time, perfect if you use it frequently.
   I also added some Japanese mayo (light) and some crunchy pickled cucumber to mine. Japan Centre sell them both, but they're also very easy to make yourself - try JOC's easy recipe for pickled cucumber and her Japanese mayo hack.

   If I'm honest, though, as much as I love the crunchy cucumber, vaguely spicy mayo and mild natto beans, it was actually the miso eggy bread that was the best part of this simple dish, and that is a wonderful fact because, as I've said, miso is much easier to come by in the West than it used to be, which means it can grace your table as often as you want it to. I even ended up scraping the beans off of the toast about half way through and eating them alone, just so that I could enjoy the miso toast in full flavour.
   I probably soaked the bread far too long, but I really loved the soft texture, so I maintained this method all three times I've made it so far, and will continue to do so. Because so much egg had soaked into the bread, it was the egg that cooked rather than the bread, so it didn't get toasted and crunchy at all. It stayed soft, but not soggy, and it was absolutely gorgeous. But that also meant that I only got 2 slices out of it, which was perfect for a single serving for a light lunch or breakfast. If you prefer crispy bread, however, just don't soak it for anywhere near as long - 20-30 seconds on each side will do, and will yield more slices.

Natto & Eggy Miso Toast
serves 1:
2 slices of bread or shokupan
1 medium egg (EU; US large)
1 teaspoon/1 sachet miso paste
40ml water
optional natto beans
optional Japanese mayo
optional picked cucumber


1. Mix the miso paste with the water until combined, then add an egg and combine again.

2. Pour the miso-egg mixture into a wide, shallow dish, and set one slice of bread in it. Leave it for 1-2 minutes (or 20-30 seconds for more slices and crispy toast) before flipping and soaking the other side.

3. Meanwhile, heat a frying pan with a small drizzle of oil.

4. When the first slice is sufficiently soaked, transfer to the frying pan for 3 minutes. Then flip and cook the other side for 3 minutes, while you soak the second slice.

5. When the first slice is cooked (if soaked for 2 minutes it will still be very soft and floppy, but not wet or soggy), transfer to a plate and cook the second piece. If making more pieces, keep following this method. Otherwise, when you're done, pour whatever mixture remains over the final slice while cooking.

6. Transfer all slices to a plate.

Optional - if you're using natto, empty the beans into a dish and add the accompanying karashi mustard and seasoning and mix until frothy. Then spread them over the top slice.

Serve with a drizzle of Japanese mayo - I used Kewpie light - and some pickled cucumber slices.

Tuesday 19 September 2017

Eating on Staycation (and keeping out of my head)

   I've been a little quiet lately, but I've had good reason. My dad took my mum on holiday for a week, which meant that my responsibilities as her carer were waived for that time. And that doesn't just mean not having to get up at the break of dawn, not having my activities revolve around my mum's needs and subsequently being able to play video games all day every day (in this case, Destiny 2 and Legion 7.3). It also means that food becomes an adventure.
   So, with no need to worry about whether she can eat what I cook (some things she can't chew or swallow), Seeg and I have had a week of culinary freedom.

   I admit freely that, due to my currently dangerous relationship with food (ie an aversion to carbs and calories and subsequent under-eating) I've been extremely nervous about this. Every 'staycation', I always go completely out of control. It's one week, twice a year, and in my efforts to make the most of it, I go too far. I find that if I give myself a little bit of freedom, it results in an all-consuming guilt and a bout of over-exercising. But, this time, rather than see it as an opportunity to gorge and restock my levels of self-hate, I viewed it as an opportunity to truly take control and prove to myself that I can trust myself around food, to enjoy it, not over-do it, or to over-exercise just because I think I over-did it and reward myself with a migraine.
   I will also take a moment to state right here that holiday weight is a thing, and it's not the end of the world. 'Fresh' fat is lost quickly if you don't let it get comfortable when your holiday-mode comes to an end, and holidays are also supposed to be for enjoyment and relaxation. And food is a wonderful part of human life, eating for nutrition and for enjoyment, and can be even more enjoyable as a group. Or a couple. And so it's not just my enjoyment to consider, but Seeg's as well.

   I like to do a big shop from Ocado for a week like this, buying in all the ingredients for the recipes we've planned, and they're never actually unhealthy - the only exceptions are the two take-aways we get, pizza, and a burger or kebab (at opposite ends of the week, not all at once, obviously, I don't go that crazy), which are extremely rare otherwise throughout the course of the year.
   Instead, the recipes we choose are simply different and delicious, and it's probably just that enjoyment that makes me feel guilty, I think. And as it's usually Japanese cuisine (which means an additional shop at the Japan Centre for the more specific and far-flung ingredients), the breads, pizza bases, pasta, England's abundance of potatoes and so on are replaced with rice and noodles. They are still carbs, which my body isn't used to, and I expect even with the changes I've made this is still the case, but if they're eaten in appropriate portion sizes - as bread, potatoes, pasta and so on should also be - they're not actually a problem. And the Japanese eat rice with almost every course, every day. But, the fact remains that rice and noodles almost every day will still be more carbs than I'm used to, and that does make it likely that I will feel guilty concerns me, but I made three big changes this time around.
   The first big change: I bought no cupboard junk food. It all just sat out of sight and went uneaten, and was a waste of money (the food never went to waste, I ended up 'donating' it, as my dad puts it, so he or Seeg ate it). Instead, I bought myself a few different healthy things to try - Deliciously Ella, Soupologie, things like that. I did buy a couple of desserts, but they are not the kind of things you can pick at in the cupboard on a whim; it's prepare, serve, eat, gone. And I made damn certain that the products I bought would be delicious and top quality - then, at least, every bite would be worth it. You just can't beat Gu, and we've not had any for a few years.
   The second big change: I actively reminded myself that the recipes themselves were not unhealthy. They just included carbs, which I wasn't used to. So, with that in mind as well as making almost all of it from scratch, keeping a good balance of carbs, protein and fats, as well as a close eye on portion sizes, I could enjoy every meal with no reasonable need for guilt. I did make substitutions where I could, since it was all made from scratch, such as using wholemeal flour instead of plain for the okonomiyaki pancake, and lean beef instead of fatty for udon, and so on.
   The third big change: no ridiculous placebo purchases. Usually I take some stupid 'weight loss' products that don't actually work. For the past three holidays, it's been Grenade's Killa Ketones. They claim to increase fat burn outside of exercise, though they've never shown any results on me, a fact I've been aware of for a long time (I used them for a long while before reserving them for holiday guilt-fighting), but I continued to use them as a placebo. In hindsight, they never worked in that regard, either, because I still felt guilty and still over-exercised throughout the week, even running laps up and down the kitchen after dinner on the last staycation. In fact, I think they probably made matters worse, as I think they probably upset my digestion, which made me feel uncomfortable, bloated (and 'fatter'), full for longer and so on.
   So, this time I went the opposite direction. I've been drinking homemade kefir milk for a month now, and I decided that, instead of taking ridiculous nonsense with little to no real scientific support, and especially no personal results, which only upset my digestion, I would help my digestion instead. So, I bought some bottled kefir from Ocado, a brand with no added sugar and no nonsense. I decided it was a good opportunity to try some of the store-bought stuff and compare to homemade, and, if anything, it would help my digestion. So, I started my day with 100ml of homemade kefir every morning, and ended my day with 100ml store-bought kefir every night before bed. I liked it, but if I'm honest, I found right away that I love my own kefir much, much more. This was more like a thin yogurt; I like it fizzy, this was very, very smooth. But it was good enough, and I did enjoy it, and would probably buy it again.

   As for my holiday exercise, I did increase the frequency, but I was smart about it. Rather than get in my head and try to do HIIT every single morning and then extremely neurotic Tabata every night, I selected sustainable workouts, things I could keep at for 5 days straight, and I did them before breakfast. This month's workout was Just Jhoom! which itself is not high-intensity interval training, it is dance cardio, and that meant that it was easy to pair up with other things. Which I did. Monday, Wednesday and Friday I used Barre Amped for 20-25 minutes, which is extremely low-impact (perfect for having gotten up only 30 minutes before), isolated resistance moves, which I followed with Just Jhoom! for 20 minutes; Tuesday and Thursday, I did Jillian Michaels' Yoga Meltdown for 25 minutes, and I followed all with a high protein but suitably carb-fuelled breakfast. That was all.
   I moved every day which kept my mind calm, and while I successfully stuck with this month's allocated workout, the supplementary resistance were workouts I hadn't used for a very long time, which meant that it felt fresher. I would usually have taken Tuesday and Thursday as rest days, exercising Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, but because I went for 5 days straight, I gave myself Saturday off as well as my usual Sunday.

   I write this post now at the end of the week, and I have to say that I think it's probably the best week off in a very long time. The food was all delicious - I'm going to write another post about that soon - my exercise was smart, and I actively told myself that everything was okay. I have a kettlebell workout lined up for the next week or so alongside Jhoom to eradicate my holiday weight, and my diet will become a little leaner during, but I have no intentions of starving myself to 'compensate'.
   I feel that this week has truly been a huge success, and I feel pretty good in myself, physically and mentally, for it. I'm proud of myself for having successfully taken control of myself, eaten in moderation and enjoyed every bite and, most of all, not succumbed to guilt. The first two days I did feel a bit bad, but I didn't descend to spontaneous Tabata, and from the third day onwards, I was calm.
   I bought lots of healthy ingredients from Ocado ready for a 'reset' week of healthier eating to make me feel better, but I made a point of ensuring carbs stayed on the menu.
   Only time will tell, however, whether or not I start to slip. I'd been doing well even on the run-up to this holiday, and I've done well during, but it's still possible that I'll revert to old habits in an attempt to 'fix' these past seven days. I'm hoping that, because I kept out of my own head for so long, it won't be that bad.

Monday 18 September 2017

Christmas Sock Exchange 2017

 [2017 sign-up now closed]

   I know, I know, it's only September and I'm sure many of you are already boggled by the fact that Christmas crackers and artificial trees are making their way into garden centres and similar. But me, I love it, and as far as my Christmas sock exchange is concerned, sign-ups are usually open for about a month, and by the time anyone starts putting their package together for their assigned recipient, it's November already. So by the time it's in full swing, Christmas really is just around the corner!
   I decided to open sign-ups a little earlier than usual this year. It's usually October 1st to the 24th, but this year I'm going for 5 weeks instead of 3, so sign ups begin today, instead!

   Wondering what this is all about?
   I love all the little exchanges between strangers, and I wanted to host my own. I liked the idea of Christmas socks - everyone claims they hate them - so I thought it would be nice to use a pair of socks as Christmas stockings (though only one is filled). So, in 2015, I held my first Christmas sock exchange. It was a success, so I held another in 2016. And this year I'm holding another!
   The rules, detailed below, are all the same as before, and it is open internationally - of course, whether you receive an international partner or not is up to you. You can opt out of international in the sign-up form. If, however, an imbalanced number opt out, a few will be asked to reconsider, though they will be free to decline and continue as a national participant instead.
   Sign-ups are open until October 24th.

   As I said above, just think of this as sending a miniature stocking. First, buy a nice, festive pair of socks (day-to-day socks, slipper socks, it's up to you), fill one sock with Christmas goodies to the value of £10/$15, roll up the second sock and stuff it in the top of the filled one, and then post it, with a Christmas card, off to your assigned recipient.
   People will not be paired, they will be assigned. Person 1 gets person 2, person 2 gets person 3, person 3 gets person 4 and so on. I will, of course, also be participating myself as an international.
   On October 24th, sign-ups will close, and I will begin pairing people up. During this time, people will be able to opt out if they decide for one reason or another that they don't want to participate. Then, on October 31st, the opt-out window will close and assigned recipients will be emailed out.
   There will then be 3 weeks, between November 1st to November 21st, for packages to be put together and mailed out. Pretty up your packages, inside and out - get festive! And if you're sending overseas, tick 'gift' on the customs form.

• To participate, fill in the below form and email it to me by October 24th.
• There will be an opt-out window between October 24th and October 31st if you change your mind.
• As of November 1st, anyone who hasn't dropped out is obligated to participate; this is also the date when you will be emailed your partner's information.
• You must ship your package no later than November 21st.
• Please obtain proof of postage from the post office, if you can - it's free, just ask at the counter.
• You must buy new socks, unworn and adult size. You can choose to just buy patterned day socks or you could choose to buy more expensive rubber-bottomed or fluffy slipper socks instead. The choice is yours, but be aware that you may not receive the same generosity. But don't think about what you'll receive, think instead about what you will give! It's Christmas!
• The cost of the socks' contents can exceed £10/$15, but, again, don't expect the same generosity. £10/$15 is the average.
• You don't need to fill both socks! Fill one sock, roll up the other and use it to 'cork' the filled sock.

Required Information (email by October 24th):
Full Name:
Email address:
Full address, including country:
Sending preference: National/Europe/International*
Allergies (food colouring, Coeliac's, sensitive skin, etc):
Blog or social media (if you have any):

*Delete all unappropriate options. If you select 'national' but you are the only person within your country participating, you will be contacted on October 24th. You can either change your mind and switch to an alternative option, or you can choose to back out.

Contents suggestions:
• Stationery
• Jewellery
• Decorations & Christmassy stuff!
• Sweets/chocolates
• Toiletries
• Christmas novelties
• Tiny toys/games

All participants must submit the above details by October 24th 2017. There will then be a 1-week window in which to drop out. As of November 1st, anyone who hasn't dropped out is obligated to participate properly. All packages must be shipped to the recipients by November 21st to ensure delivery in time for Christmas. Anyone who signs up must be willing to participate fully.
All participants must also be willing to pay full shipping fees.
Be sure to mark the package as 'gift' on any customs forms.
   I cannot be held responsible for missing packages or uncooperative partners. If you sign up, please play properly, and play nice. If your package doesn't arrive before Christmas, don't jump to conclusions; with the Christmas rush clogging up the postal system, it's inevitable that it may get slowed down and delayed. Be patient and try not to think about it!

Just Jhoom! - 2 Weeks Later

   I've been using Just Jhoom! for two weeks now, and it's not been what I expected. I'm always dubious over indie workouts - but I always use them because they are always so fresh and much more interesting than triple-A titles. But because they're not triple-A, there's more room for poor instruction. Fortunately, I've only come across one indie workout so far that lived up to that expectation, and Just Jhoom! is not it.
   Just Jhoom! is a fabulous workout as far as dance cardio goes. It's different, it's fun, and unlike a lot of 'Bollywood' dance workouts I've seen, isn't belly dancing. They are routines taken straight from some of the top Bollywood films, and are so much fun because of it.

   So far, it's been harder than I'd expected - the moves are unfamiliar, unlike anything I've done before, but the control over them is also a challenge. I find my core engaging far more often than in other dance workouts, and there are a few moves in particular that tilt your upper body. To move in and out of that in time with the beat, you really have to engage  your abs and obliques. It's surprisingly tough.
   But it's also a lot more fun because of it, and it's great knowing that your body is doing more in the workout than you think it is. Dance in general is quite disciplined, but it's always nice when you get a dance workout that really highlights that fact. Irish and Scottish dance are other examples.

   I've also been using the Just Jhoom! cookbook, which my family has been loving because I don't often make Indian food, or anything like it. But I have been trying to make more world dishes - my best so far are Japanese okonomiyaki and South African bobotie. But Cook to Jhoom! provides surprisingly easy - and healthy - recipes with Indian influence. I've made a few mains and sides so far, with the lean lamb kebabs being a particular hit.

   I'm quite looking forward to another two weeks of Just Jhoom!, but I admit that I am a little disappointed that there are only four routines. I'd love to see a second DVD - though, in fairness, the same goes with Kukuwa and with Kelta Fit. It seems that, while most indie fitness programs do a great job on their product, expanding their range is often overlooked. I presume, however, that this is because they're small-scale and are busy teaching classes. Which sucks for people like me who have obligations keeping them in the house all day. There are loads of classes I'd love to attend, but time out of the house is impossible.
   Which makes it much worse when indie fitness programs limit their programs to live classes and don't produce DVDs of online videos at all!

   *Ahem* Anyway, next update in 2 weeks!

Sunday 17 September 2017

Workout Playlists - Each To Their Own

   Working out without music is like making omelettes without eggs. It just doesn't happen. In fact, sometimes it's the music alone that convinces me to use a certain DVD - I had the opening track to Hard Body level 1 stuck in my head one Friday night a few weeks ago, and the following morning used that very 45-minute workout because of it. I'd associated that track with the feeling of strength and power, and remembered that rather than the struggle. It was only once I started that I remembered how hard it was, but thinking back now, all I remember is music and power. I find the same from Gaiam's Kickbox Core Cross Train DVD. Music is, in itself, a powerful tool when it comes to setting a mood, and not just in movies or games, but in workouts and general day-to-day living, too. Who can't relax when they hear a shakuhachi?

   Anyway, that's all well and good for DVDs and streaming workout videos, but what about those Darebee workouts, or magazine classes, or when you're travelling? Some people can practise yoga in silence, but that's as far as it goes, and even that isn't for everyone.
   It's true that there are lots of workout mixes out there - Ministry of Sound have a few, Jillian Michaels has at least ten soundtracks on Amazon - but, if I'm honest, none of them do it for me. At all. I'm not a fan of pounding club music, I never have been, and while I'm certain its energy can power an amazing workout, I wouldn't voluntarily choose it.

   Now, it's no secret that I am a raging nerd. I'm a fantasy writer, I have to be a little bit off balance, right? My entire life revolves around things that aren't real. In fact my workout is the only time my brain is centred on the present - both time and place. But even then, if I'm left to my own devices, such as the above soundless workouts, I have my own go-to soundtracks.
   Generally, I only buy special/collector's editions of games if they come with a soundtrack, or I seriously love the franchise. And if they don't come with a soundtrack, I hunt it down. And so it is that my CD collection consists mostly of game soundtracks, with a few Lindsey Stirling and Duplessy & the Violins of the World albums, and, best of all, Two Steps From Hell. Who, I can guarantee, every single one of you reading this has heard. Most movie trailers use Two Steps From Hell as the backing music. Top Gear have used them countless times. Even the Reed UK job seeker's ads have used them - specifically Heart of Courage.
   My absolute favourites are The Witcher 3 soundtrack, the atmospheric disc from the Skyrim soundtrack (for quiet yoga or stretching), and, above all, Two Steps From Hell, absolutely any title. Because I like to pretend I am training in a fantasy world to fight whatever villain may threaten my people.

   And so it is that a good set of headphones or speakers (if you work out at home like I do) are just as important as a good pair of trainers, which especially goes when you absorb yourself in epic, atmospheric tracks like I do, where your imagination can run riot. I love Panasonic wireless speakers because the sound quality is some of the best and they can follow you wherever you go. If it's a nice morning - a rarety in this part of the country - I must do yoga in the back garden, and I don't actually have a smart phone or mp3 player (yes, I am still very behind the times) so my neighbours are subjected to my soundtracks. And just because it's yoga doesn't mean that it's always slow-paced. I actually quite like to use Witcher combat music while doing yoga. Each to their own.
   And sometimes it's worse for my neighbours, because when I'm obsessed with a game, that soundtrack becomes a temporary favourite (ie played to death). At the moment that's Destiny 2, which is quite orchestral, but there were also a few weeks of The Legend of Zelda, The Wind Waker, which...isn't so orchestral. But it's cheerful, at least!

   These kinds of soundtracks may not be everyone's cup of tea, but the epic orchestrals and fast-paced game soundtracks always do it for me. My imagination is freed (and actually leads to better writing later in the day) but my concentration isn't compromised, and I put a lot more effort in. Sometimes, if I'm just not feeling it, I'll mute whatever DVD I'm using, assuming I know it well enough, and play my own music over the top.

   What are your go-to workout soundtracks? Are they conventional? Or do you have a guilty pleasure? If it makes you run faster, lift stronger, jump higher and punch harder, it's worthy of a mention.

Saturday 9 September 2017

The Battle of the Carbs - Snacks

   Overcoming any neurosis is a slow process, and recognising when you're giving in to it is one of the first steps. Two weeks ago, I acknowledged that I had been under-eating for a year or so, and with the recognition, I made the decision to take control of it. The thing about the mind is that, while others can probably tell you what is wrong, only you can correct it. There are, after all, no casts or splints for your brain.
   But trying to eat bigger meals - eating more at three large points of the day - was too big a jump to make. It would result in massive guilt and over-compensating, and I would end up eating even less.
   So, I decided that the best place to start was with the little things - snacks. Make the smallest a little bigger, and begin to make the adjustment in my mind. Then, once I'm comfortable with eating more carbs in small amounts - alongside the usual fats and proteins - I can start to broaden breakfasts, lunches and dinners. I would like to be able to enjoy a full unicorn pancake, without having to cut corners and avoid nutritional additions just to keep the calories down. Calories and macronutrients are not the same.

   Now, I don't buy unhealthy snacks very often at all - a small chocolate bar that catches my eye once a month or so, which will then go into a cupboard, out of sight through guilt for having bought it, and will remain uneaten for another month until I inevitably forfeit it and give it to Seeg instead.
   Unhealthy snacks are always a greater concern than carb or calorie count, so I know that I can trust that what I buy and already have on hand is full of goodness. That is what I'm trying to focus on. But it's still a challenge not to look at the labels at home or in the store and start comparing two or three different products, looking exclusively at and obsessing over a difference of 7g of carbs or 35 calories. Instead I'm trying to consider the products themselves - mostly fruit or oats means mostly fibre and carbs, and mostly nuts means mostly proteins and fats. A combination is always best, but I always used to opt for the latter. So I'm trying to force more of the fruit, and more oats.
   And, to actually eat that chocolate bar once in a while.

   I've also started drinking kefir, 100ml a morning, first thing. That gets me about 50 calories or so extra every day, and also puts me into a better frame of mind because it's a good, clean, healthy start, especially since I've been making the kefir myself with live grains from Symbiome. It's also full-fat milk, so it's not been messed around with and also means my grains are the healthiest they can be, and the milk is also the most nutritious.

   I've also made a change to my food journaling habits - instead of counting calories as I go, adding them up throughout the day and deciding what size snack I can have - 100, 150 or 200 calories, regardless of nutrients - I'm paying a little less attention. As well as not buying unhealthy snacks very often, I don't buy high-calorie products at all. If it's over 200 calories, I won't buy it. In the end, being anal about 25 to 50 calories is needless and ridiculous. I'm trying to shrug it off.
   But I do still note the calories, as well as what I eat and when, so that I can keep track of whether I am actually succeeding in eating more, or if I've just managed to trick myself. And while I do still add them up, I don't do that until the end of the following day so that I don't slip into the trap of 'compensating' - starving myself of carbs and calories one day because I went 'over' what I thought I should have (which was 1350 calories) by 100, again regardless of nutrition. Carbs are higher in calories than fat or protein simply because of the energy-giving nature that defines a carbohydrate, and calories are simply the unit of measurement for dietary energy.
   So far, I am eating more. Not much more, but I'm getting there. It used to be normal to add up to 1400 in a day, and sometimes as low as 1250, but over the past two weeks I've been no lower than 1400, but no higher than 1500. Knowing that, on one hand I'm pleased that I'm making some kind of progress, but on the other I'm getting back into my head about eating too much.
   I'm trying very hard to silence that voice, and though it's a struggle, my food journal proves that I am making headway and I'm pleased for it. I just have to keep going.

   So, these are the kind of snacks I've had over the past two weeks:
• Eat Natural bars
• Aduna bars, a selection of all three, cacao, baobab and moringa
• Nakd bars, which I've always loved but honestly rarely eat
• Trek bars, fruit and flapjacks
• Two 'naughty' Graze punnets - the speculoos dipper, and banana bread.
• Pulsin brownies
• Bounce balls
   All of these are carb-heavy when compared to the greek yogurt, peanut butter, jerky and so on I would usually choose, or low-carb graze punnets of nuts, corns and edamame beans. Most on the list contain fruit, those that don't contain oats, and as for the graze punnets, they're the closest things to 'sweets' you can get without feeling guilty, and that's due to the quality and choice of ingredients, and the portion sizes. Portion sizes are so important when it comes to enjoying carbohydrates while keeping guilt at bay.

   After these two weeks of improving my snacks, I have noticed a drop in fatigue and guilt, but I do still suffer from both a few times every day. But, I think I'll be able to start addressing meals soon - or at least lunch. It's the one meal of my day that never involves carbs, so it's an easy place to start improvising. And, now I think about it, would probably have been a better place to start than snacks, but there we go.

Friday 8 September 2017

Friday Favourites

This week has been pretty good. I've been eating more and been in a better mood for it - food, who knew?
Seeg and I have also been rewatching Firefly and complaining at the end of each episode about how lame it is that they stopped after one season because it wasn't well-received. It only got the credit it deserved once it got cancelled fourteen years ago. I hate cowboys, but I love space, and while I hate the idea of the two combined, Firefly nailed it. If you haven't seen it, do so. They made a film to tie off the series after it was cancelled, so there's no unsatisfying or abrupt end.
I'm also doing my usual bit of dribbling over new activewear - sometimes I'm sure that's the only reason I'm too so dedicated to working out. This time I landed on Lyst's variety of activewear and I'm being introduced to things outside of my tunnel-Fabletics-Reebok-vision.
I've also been loving making my own kefir. It's so easy, and cheap! A new healthy habit that doesn't break the bank. Once you've got your grains, it'll only cost you a pint or two of milk a week.

Reading pin badges by The Picsees   ♥   homemade kefir milk

Wednesday 6 September 2017

Symbiome Milk Kefir Starter Set

   Recently, I wrote about the probiotic marvel that is kefir. Powerful, easily made at home and unadulturated by chemicals, all you need is a jar, a sieve, milk and kefir 'grains', and from that you will have a never-ending supply and a highly inexpensive healthy habit.
   But finding good quality kefir grains - namely fresh, live grains that have not been dehydrated, but have been actively cultivated through the very act of making kefir - can be tricky. The general advice is to find someone nearby - friend, family, neighbour - who make kefir themselves and obtain grains from them. This is because you can't buy them in stores, even health food shops (except ready-bottled kefir milk, laden with added sugars to make them more palatable).
   But if you can't find a local source, you're not stuck. Some people do sell their abundance of kefir grains online, shipped quickly, safely, and in a small amount of milk so that the grains don't slow down, dry out or die in transit. And don't panic about the idea of day-old milk arriving in the post. As I said in my 'everything you need to know about kefir' post, the bacteria in the kefir actually stops the milk from spoiling, and they will instead arrive nice and healthily.

   I obtained my kefir grains through Symbiome, a fresh, Cardiff-based, small-scale company. They provide both water kefir grains and milk kefir grains, at £5.50 per 5g (which will make 250ml of kefir milk every 24 hours), which is ideal if you already have a plastic sieve and a plastic or glass jar (as stated in the previous post, metal reacts quickly to the acidic kefir), or if you used to make kefir and want to pick it back up again.
   They also offer a kefir starter set which includes the basics: a 1 litre glass jar, a plastic sieve, easy to follow instructions and 5g of kefir grains in enough milk to feed them through transit and a day or two after delivery. I opted for this, at £17.99. Shipping is also fast and free!

   Note: It's advisable not to risk leaving them to weaken and grow sluggish in the milk they arrived in, so get started the day it arrives. It is shipped quickly, so I would recommend buying a litre of whole (full-fat) milk (from cow or goat) the day after you purchase the grains or the package.

   It seems like a daunting prospect, the idea of cultivating a living thing, but it's actually quite straight-forward. I was nervous when I made my first batch, doubting all the while if it would even work (I'm very hit-and-miss in the kitchen, even when I follow instructions to the letter), but the following morning, when my milk had a distinctly different appearance, leaving me no doubt that the grains had done something, and I strained and tasted it, I was relatively sure (by evening, with no upset tummy) that I had succeeded. Thereby rendering the whole venture thoroughly pleasant and quite unintimidating.

   Making kefir, as I detailed in my last post, is very straight-forward, but I will go over it again here:
1. Empty the kefir grains from the innermost pouch into the sieve and rinse with your chosen milk.
2. Empty the grains from the sieve into a jar and pour more milk on top of the grains - 250ml for every 5g of kefir grains. I used a 500ml jar I had on hand with the intent on storing the finished kefir in the 1 litre jar.
3. Gently stir the milk with wooden/plastic utensils, then loosely set the lid on top so that the gas can escape during the fermentation process.
4. Place the jar out of the way and at room temperature, out of direct sunlight. Leave undisturbed for 24-48 hours.
5. When it's done - and you'll know because there will be pockets of clearer liquid at the bottom - stir it and strain it through the plastic sieve into another jar. At this stage the milk is ready to drink; you can either go right ahead, or screw the lid on and store it in the fridge to keep for 2-3 weeks.
   Then, either set the grains in another jar with 120ml of milk in the fridge for a week to keep them alive and slow their metabolism, or make another batch and pour it into the refrigerated jar to build up a supply.

   I've been using Symbiome's kefir grains for 2 weeks (including a 5-day rest) and made 1.5 litres of drinkable kefir, of which I drink 100ml first thing every morning. It's been one of the small daily efforts I've made to add more carbs and calories into my diet, following my recent admission of under-eating, and doing my body even more good with the probiotics. My hope is that they will help my digestion cope with larger meals, as well as put myself in the right, healthy, nourishing state of mind that has escaped me for so long. So far, I'm feeling pretty good!

Disclaimer: I was sent this product to review by the brand itself. The quantity and precise products sent were their choice, not my own. All opinions and images are my own, and all appropriate research has been done by myself from a range of sources rather than relying entirely on the product's website, especially where health products are concerned. I do not accept a product to review if I do not believe it is safe or worth my own time, regardless of any kind of reimbursement. I trial the products for an appropriate amount of time before writing reviews to check for wear-and-tear on physical items and side effects from edible (be it supplements or food). If I have negative points to voice, I will voice them, and I never, ever accept product reviews or reimbursement on the promise of a positive review. My reviews are and will only ever be honest.