A bite of sunshine

Sometimes, things don’t quite work out the way you plan.

Take last Wednesday; I had a whole day off but I got myself out of bed at a reasonable time, got myself dressed in normal clothes rather than training gear, and got myself out the door right on time, and after an hour of travelling I arrived at the station I was meeting my friend at. I found a patch of sunshine sheltered from the wind, looked up where we were going for lunch and how to get there, and waited patiently… After half an hour, I decided to text her to see how she was getting on.

That’s when she pointed out to me that we had changed the date of our lunch to the following day. Oops.

My instinct said to just head straight into the gym, do my session earlier than planned, then go home to finish up my work. My heart said to head to our usual coffee shop and do my work there. My head (and Ben) said to go home and make up the lost time and money by staying put and getting on with work.

So I compromised; it was sunny, so I couldn’t stomach sitting at my desk (i.e. bed) and staring at a screen all afternoon. But part of the work I had on my to-do list was to come up with some sort of recipe involving a speciality mustard I was sent in order to take part in a culinary challenge… hardly a priority, but I felt it was definitely the best use of my time.

As soon as I ordered the Mustard with White Wine, Red Pepper and Garlic, I knew what I was going to make; some sort of filling to wrap up in strips of grilled aubergine. I just knew the meaty, salty, juicy qualities of the aubergine would compliment the tangy, fruity red pepper flavours.

I was right. The taste was fantastic!

Provencale aubergine rolls

Unfortunately, love is blind, and I love aubergine so much I had forgotten what a visually unappealing ingredient it can be. As one of the elements the participating bloggers are being judged on in this challenge is “Visual Appeal”, I had to accept that this was not a worthy submission.

Provencale aubergine rollsI tried every angle; I skewered and re-skewered, rolled and unrolled, tweaked and adjusted and wiped, but there was nothing to be done. They’re just not pretty. I’d still serve these on a platter to guests if I ever hosted an event where nibbles and canapés were required, but I won’t be making these again when close-up shots are required! My day was not going well…

So I drew on the positives. This dip. Silky and creamy and what I’d imagine a spiced soft cheese filling to be like with a touch of tanginess and a hint of fruitiness.

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Easy and quick to whip up; high in protein, low in carbohydrates, and full of health-promoting spices. Vibrant in colour and highly versatile.

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I’m going to call it Sunshine Dip, because it’s all about the sunshine. I’d have called it Silver Linings Dip if it had been less bright and more grey, which would have been a more fitting name but a less appetising dish, so I’m not complaining.

You’ll need:

200g firm tofu
50g (2 tbsp) Maille mustard with White Wine, Red Pepper and Garlic
30g (1 tbsp) tahini
2g (1/2 tsp) smoked paprika*
salt to taste**

Method:

  1. Add all ingredients except the salt to a food processor, blend until fully combined, pausing to scrape down the sides if necessary
  2. Taste and add salt if needed

*plain paprika will be fine if you can’t get hold of smoked
**I didn’t add any salt to the dip that was being used as a filling, but I’d recommend adding some if using as a crudité dip. Simply fill any vegetables first, straight from the food processor, then add salt, blend to combine, and transfer to a serving dish.

Optional add-ins: smoked Tabasco for a bit of a kick, nutritional yeast for some cheesy comfort, lightly toasted seeds for a crunch – this recipe is so easy, you might as well try all three!

I added a pinch of additional smoked paprika as well as a pinch of turmeric for a splash of colour when serving:Provencale dip

Now the irony of this post – all about how sometimes things don’t work out as planned – is that it is the last thing that was ever typed on my laptop. Halfway through this post, I shut my computer down, popped it in my bag, and got on with my day. On my way home that evening, I spilled some of the water from the flowers that were given us to cheer us up after our burglary. It dripped into my backpack and found its way to the back panel of my laptop, where it seeped in and wreaked havoc. Goodbye faithful computer, and goodbye additional recipe shots.

See, as well as enjoying this as a dip and rolled up in slices of grilled aubergine, I also stuffed some white cup mushrooms with it and roasted them. It was an entirely different experience; the juicy and meaty mushrooms stood in well for the aubergine’s qualities, whilst being entirely more aesthetically pleasing and offering none of the fear of unravelling. Plus, as the tofu cooked, the filling became firmer and slightly creamier.

Provençale Mushroom Bites

You’ll need:

about 15 white cup mushrooms of roughly 2-3 inches in diameter
1 tbsp (15ml) olive oil
1 tsp (5g) salt
1 recipe Sunshine Dip

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 180ºC
  2. Wash the mushrooms and remove the stems, then peel by pulling away at the loose skin ends from the gap left by the stem. This isn’t essential but will ensure you can fill the mushrooms fully.
  3. Transfer the mushrooms to a shallow roasting tin, add the olive oil and salt and toss to coat. Arrange all the mushrooms cap down, so that the holes are facing up.
  4. Scoop about a tablespoon of Sunshine Dip into each mushroom to fill the hole.
  5. Transfer to the oven and leave to cook until the mushrooms are sizzling at the tops of the filling are dry and slightly darkened.
  6. Remove and leave to cool before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature.

I would recommend serving this dip in its many incarnations as a colourful and healthy appetiser platter. Why not call it a Sunshine Platter? My platter would offer some aubergine rolls, Provençale Mushroom Bites, and Sunshine Dip 3 Ways – one with added smoked Tabasco, one with added nutritional yeast, and one with some toasted sunflower seeds – alongside red, yellow, and green pepper slices and carrot sticks. Slices of toasted pita bread would be a nice addition too!

If you do wish to make the aubergine rolls (do it!), here’s how.

You’ll need:

1 large aubergine, sliced into slices 1/4″ thick and 5″ long
olive oil for cooking
salt
1/2 recipe Sunshine Dip

Method:

  1. Heat a teaspoon of oil in a grill pan over high heat.
  2. Lay aubergine slices out so that they don’t overlap (you’ll need to cook these in batches), and sprinkle the tops with salt. Cook for about 5 minutes or until the slices begin to soften. Turn each slice over carefully with tongs, and cook for a further 3-4 minutes.
  3. Remove from pan, and repeat for remaining batches, adding a fresh teaspoon of oil each time.
  4. Once the aubergine has cooled slightly, dollop about a teaspoon of the Sunshine Dip onto one end. Roll up gently so as not to squeeze the mixture out, and secure with a cocktail stick.
  5. Serve warm or cooled to room temperature.

The dip is so quick to make that you could easily make a double batch, make the mushrooms, grill and roll the aubergine while the mushrooms are cooking, and then chop up some veggies. I reckon you could serve up a stunning and plentiful platter in 40-45 minutes. Full of various vitamins and minerals and fibre and protein, no grains and plenty of healthy fats – so everybody’s happy. Whether it’s raining or sunny outside.

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Sunday thoughts: 20th April 2014

Happy Easter all! I hope you have ben enjoying the weekend whether it is significant to you or not; whether it means a chance to catch up with friends and family, a long weekend, or just an excuse to eat chocolate!

Well, after last Sunday’s events, would you believe me if I told you it’s been a really good week? Would you still believe me if I told you that I spilled water on my laptop – the first time I have ever spilled anything on any electronic device since I was old enough to own one – and that it hasn’t woken up since then? And yet it has genuinely been a good week overall!

Indeed, it would be too easy to let one’s day/week/life be defined by its low points. I have decided to take all the unfortunate coincidences of the last few days as a chance to exercise my understanding that everything changes all the time, that everything moves constantly and randomly, and to practice remaining rational and peaceful. Surprisingly, it has been working!

New things I’ve learnt this week

  • We sat down with our friend Tom a couple of times this week and had a good chat. One of the main things we talked about that gave me real food for thought was carb backloading, which seems to be the latest hype at the moment. I’ll need to do some more thorough reading into it before I voice any definite opinions, but to me it doesn’t sound like anything particularly groundbreaking, and certainly not like a style of eating I would want to try or recommend to my clients. To be continued.

Not new to me in terms of the thoughts and opinions expressed, but I want to highlight a guest post on Fit, Feminist, and (almost) Fifty. Rhonda Martens talks about her experience with uterine prolapse, explaining how she got very fit but later found out that she didn’t really “know” her body – her comments on core activation and posture during weightlifting are particularly eloquent, and it’s so refreshing to read. The vast majority of my clients have to go through hours of bodyweight exercise focussed on hip stability, core strength, and posture, before graduating to light weights used primarily to “wake up” dormant muscles like rhomboids. I’m sure they find it tedious, but hopefully they have all seen how much it pays off both in everyday life and in the gym – I am committed to this style of training, but this is the first time I have read someone else put it into words on the internet. I highly recommend that everyone read this entertaining yet informative post!

New things I have eaten this week

  • I’ve tried a couple of new chocolates this week, from M&S; a 75% dark and an 85% dark. Both were surprisingly fruity – quite tart and tangy above the deepness of the cocoa. They were good, but I think I prefer dark chocolate with notes more reminiscent of coffee than berries. Is there a way to talk about dark chocolate without sounding so pretentious?!
  • I also finally went back to Banh Mi Bay in Holborn. Ben and I had popped in randomly on my birthday, six months ago, for a snack and a drink, when I spied the word “vegan” beside their vegetarian tofu banh mi. Too close to dinner, I opted for summer rolls (some of the best I’ve had, if I remember correctly) but vowed to return and, six months down the line, I got the perfect opportunity. It was my first banh mi so I can’t really give it a fair review, but I guess I’d have liked a little more tofu to bring a little more moistness. Otherwise, what’s not to like about a white baguette stuffed with pickles and vegetables and salty-sweet tofu, served in a basket?
  • As I’m taking part in a culinary challenge with Maille, I got to try their mustard with White Wine, Red Pepper and Garlic. I was expecting something almost sweet and voluptuous but it was really quite wine-and-garlic bitter, but I think I managed to incorporate it into a recipe that uses it effectively. Unfortunately, I lost a few of my photos to my dead laptop and the deadline for submissions is this week, and although I could re-shoot them that’s a lot of time out for quite an unexceptional recipe on a blog that isn’t a food blog. I’d rather spend the time verbally ripping fad diets apart, or something. Anyway, more on that mustard this week!
  • Ben has been baking up a storm this week! I had to start demanding healthier treats, so he made me a batch of oatmeal raisin cookies with low-calorie sweeteners, and then when I demanded grain-free treats (nothing against grains, but I was on a bit of a grain overload and feeling bloated) he created a batch of nutty bars made with coconut oil and agave, coated in dark chocolate; the former were so good I just couldn’t actually stop eating them, and the latter were so pleasingly textured and rich that I savoured just a couple, and enjoyed a couple for breakfast this morning. Remember guys, do as I say, not necessarily as I do.

Other highlights this week

  • The good thing about being burgled last week is that every day we didn’t get burgled this week (which was every day) was a highlight. Ha!
  • On a more serious note, everyone has been so utterly adorable to us this week and it has reminded us that we still have everything in our lives that is truly important. Our fellow personal trainers (and the osteopath) who work at the same studio as us bought us a beautiful bouquet of flowers – so unexpected and so lovely!
  • Now, the best bit about this story is that as I returned home from work, I spilled some of the water from the bouquet onto my backpack. That water got right in to my backpack, and into the back panel of my laptop – oh the irony!
  • However, there isn’t ever really a good time to have to fork out for a new laptop, so I’m not getting too down on myself. Now that the money is spent, I’m quite excited about getting a new one, and this one is going to be shelled-and-sleeved up to the max! Also, I can’t not be grateful for the fact that just last week I had backed all my files up on an external hard drive, for the first time in at least four years. Such a strange coincidence, eh?
  • In more standard highlights, my friend Mathilde was in London for the day on Thursday (after giving her first presentation at a law conference – how exciting!) and we went to Banh Mi Bay and had a good catch-up. It left me with a sore throat but a happy buzzing soul.
  • I met a new client and started working with her, but mainly I was so excited to see how much some of my clients have progressed in a short space of time. It genuinely makes my day to see them achieving things they wouldn’t have imagined even trying just a few weeks ago!

I guess the biggest bit of news this week which I am eager to share with you all is that we are moving house! It may be my fifth abode in less than four years living in London, but it will be my first one-bed flat shared with Ben, and I am so excited! It’s not perfect, but at our budget nothing will be, and as a one-bed with a separate lounge this is an absolute steal.

Mainly, I just want to be able to put things up on the walls and fill our fridge and freezer and kitchen cupboards with delicious healthy food, and create an ethical and eco-friendly household. We’ll be off the Underground network so no longer plagued by weekend line closures, only one bus away from work, and much closer to Ben’s family.

We’ll have a town centre within walking distance, I’ll be able to go to shows (or gigs, as people here call them) without worrying about train times, and the Healthy Cook Company will become my local brunch haunt. Basically, I’m excited, and I’m optimistic. What more could I want from life?

I hope you have all had a happy week and a relaxing weekend! Share the joy, what have your highlights been this week?

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Protein Munchies save the day

Protein shakes. Protein muffins. Protein ice cream. Protein is such a saint that it not only turns sinners (i.e. sugar) into gold, but it stops you getting fat and eradicates all other medical conditions.

Protein Munchies box Continue reading

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Happy Monday thoughts

Wow. What a week last week was! (and how many Ws was that?!)

Sincere apologies to everyone for not getting my Sunday thoughts done. I know many of you like reading them as a way to think about your own week as it wraps up and builds into a new week, and I was looking forward to putting them together. I was on a real learning spree last week and had some new eats and treats to share with you, but unfortunately this happened: Continue reading

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Don’t believe the hype

Although our bodies that have evolved over centuries, it seems that we need a new and groundbreakingly different fitness regime about once every few months.

I understand; variety is the spice of life and with physical fitness being a vital part of life, it makes sense to keep your training routine fun and varied. I’m as susceptible to new fitness kit as anyone – and I’m especially loving the new trend for bright, bold patterns – but I’m no fan of jumping from one workout format to another with no purpose or preparation. Continue reading

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Sunday thoughts: 6th April 2014

If there was a graph relating social media and online activity to real world social activity (there must already be one, surely!), then I imagine it would be a smooth bell curve; the more socially active you are in the real world, the more you tweet/facebook/instagram/blog… to a certain point. Beyond that point, it becomes irrelevant and inefficient to publicise your social exploits. Continue reading

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Do as I say…

not as I do!

Some of you may know that I ran in the Relay for Life in Luxembourg last weekend. Some of you may also know that I haven’t run at all since the same event last year. I may have run for buses and trains a couple of times, but I avoid doing even that because then if you miss it you feel like a complete tool, and also because I seem to think I walk faster than I run (factually incorrect).

Now, you might think not running for a year and then trying to run for an hour and a half would be a really bad idea. I covered about 17 or 18km, so it’s very nearly like running a half marathon off no training. So yes, you’d be right, it is a terrible idea. Continue reading

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