Sunday, 26 June 2016

Weekend in Instagram

Phil went away on Friday afternoon so I've had the place to myself this weekend. I still kind of hate it when he goes away (not much has changed in the last year), but I've actually had a pretty nice time!

Friday was a long day, so I treated myself to a bottle of wine and a quiet night in. Whenever Phil goes away I buy a block of tofu because I'm determined to find a recipe I like before I subject him to it. And this time it finally happened! Oh She Glows' crispy breaded tofu strips are the BOMB! I also borrowed season 2 of Girls from my best friend, Eve, which is funny because in my post last year I talked about watching Season 1 while Phil was away, so it's taken me over a year to start it again!
With Phil away I couldn't make it to our usual parkrun, so I headed on the bus (free bus travel is one of the perks of working for the bus company!) to our old parkrun, or as we nickname it, parkswim. Phil hates going to South Manchester parkrun because the first 1/2 mile (and last 1/2 mile) is almost entirely ankle-deep puddles on a bad day. Yesterday wasn't too bad - the bog of doom is ever-present but the rest of the puddles weren't too bad - and I managed a course PB!
Post-parkrun brunch is one of my all-time favourite meals, but I couldn't decide what I wanted. I made some breakfast potatoes and then remembered I had a block of halloumi in the fridge, so I made this weird combo breakfast bowl of overcooked kale, potatoes, halloumi and portobello mushroom.
My friend Riven was coming for dinner, so after a quick trip to Aldi, I started my preparations. I made mushroom and walnut pate from Veganomicon for a starter and slutty brownies for dessert. I also cleaned the flat, and wrote a couple of blog posts (one of which is Lessons from 3 years of running that I posted yesterday) while watching football. 

My little dinner party went well! I served the pate with (not homemade) crackers, and followed it with Aine Carlin's pea and mint risotto, although I accidentally added way too much mint-infused oil! We rounded the dinner off with brownies and a brew!
Today began with my first Sunday "long-ish" run in absolutely weeks. It was so good to get back out with a podcast on a Sunday morning for an hour or so. I ran 6 miles but realised when I didn't hear my watch bleep after a mile that I'd forgotten to turn it on, so my watch is a mile short!
At lunchtime I met up with cousin for lunch and a catch up. We went to Cafe North in Shudehill, which I hadn't been to before (I'm obsessed with trying new places in Manchester and try to avoid going somewhere I've been to before unless I really love it!), and I had avocado on toast with poached eggs and smoked salmon. It was as delicious as it sounds, and the little touches really made it - half a lime, a handful of coriander and the waiter brought me over a small dish of red chilli which complemented the dish perfectly. 
After a mooch round the shops and a stop in Sugar Junction for a pot of tea and a slice of cake, I headed back home to veg out in front of the football for the afternoon! I wrote another blog post (I am on a roll this weekend!) and made a batch of red cabbage in the slow cooker. 

Then I made one of the best dinners I've made in ages. I really could not be bothered. After making a three course meal yesterday the last thing I wanted to do was make a recipe that involved a dozen ingredients. I forced myself not to make another batch of breaded tofu strips by reminding myself I'd already bought all the ingredients and didn't want to end up finding mouldy green beans in the bottom of the fridge in a fortnight. I vaguely followed Anna Jones' recipe for Buddha Bowls with a few changes - I didn't make my own massaman paste, but used some I'd bought from the Chinese supermarket, I used cashews in place of peanuts, pressed, sliced and baked my tofu, and used my homemade red cabbage in place of the carrot pickle. It was absolutely divine. I'm so glad I have loads of leftovers to enjoy! It also came together much more quickly than I expected and I reckon could even be do-able midweek. I basically wrote this entire blog post just so I could talk about it and post HOW PRETTY IT IS.
I plan to spend the rest of my evening watching (even more) football, doing my nails, reading my book (I'm reading It at the moment and cannot.put.it.down) and going to bed before 9.30pm.

Hope your weekend has been lovely, too!

Charlotte x

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Lessons from three years of running

I don't know exactly when I started running, probably because it took three attempts of Couch to 5K before it finally stuck, but I know it was around this time in 2013.
Three years is a strange length of time to have been doing something. In a lot of ways, you're still quite new. But it's also a significant amount of time - it's strange, for example, to think that I started running before I even met Phil. And I've done a lot in those three years - two half marathons, a full marathon, seven 10Ks and over 60 parkruns. 

When I posted the picture above on Instagram this week, I had a follower tell me she loved reading about my journey because I've always been honest about my struggles, and that is definitely true! Sometimes running is the actual worst. This journey hasn't been straightforward - there have been ups and downs, injuries, frustrations, triumphs, and tears. But I'm always learning. I've learned so much. So, so much. Some stuff seems laughable now - why did I think I needed a lucozade for a 5 mile run? - and some lessons I'm learning - for example how to not go insane when injured.

So while I have a long way to go, and a lot more to learn, here's what I've learned so far...

It doesn't matter what you look like
Seriously. It doesn't matter if you have cellulite, or haven't shaved your legs, or if your hair is a mess or if you're unrecognisable without makeup. This has been a wonderful lesson for me - the girl who wouldn't even walk to the shops without makeup on. This realisation has been so freeing. Do you want to be the girl (or boy!) who is worried about her hair while she's running, or the one who is sprinting those last 20 metres with only the finish on her mind?

Runners probably don't look like how you expect, and you probably won't lose weight
There's a stereotype that runners are all tall and lean and long-limbed but this really isn't true! I've sprinted past my fair share of these long-limbed beauties just as often as I've been overtaken by people who "don't look like runners." Also, running won't necessarily mean you'll lose weight. Sorry. I roll my eyes when I hear people tell me how they "can see the muscles growing in their legs more" or "my stomach is already flatter!" after a few weeks of running. If this is the case, can you tell my body cause mine has barely changed at all after 3 years! 

When you first start, you'll have no idea how anyone could run for a whole mile
I can't emphasise enough that when I first started running I could barely run for the 2 minutes Couch to 5K wanted me to do in week 1. Seriously. When you first start you'll have no idea how running for 5 minutes will be possible. But trust the process. You'll get there, I promise.

Distance is more important than time
When you first start running, you'll probably be disappointed that you're slower than you thought you might be (I'll talk about the myth of the 10 minute mile later, and maybe in another post), but that's okay! I remember when I did my first 20 minute run, I was running so slowly I felt I could have walked more quickly! But when you're attempting a new distance you have to run slowly. I found this so hard during marathon training, but a new distance is hard for your body, and you have to give it time.

You will get faster, eventually
But you will get faster. Eventually. I think it took me about a year to regularly run faster than a 12 minute mile. I almost feel like there was a barrier to push through that first year (I don't think it helped that I started training for a half marathon only a few weeks after I started running) and since then I've been getting faster, bit by bit, week by week. It's also worth testing yourself to see how fast you can really run - I consider my weekly parkrun to be my "fit test" and always try to push my hardest.

Training runs need to be slower
In the same vein, you don't need to bust a gut every time you go out for a run. This is another thing I learned throughout marathon training. Your goal time can feel a million years away when you're running 90 seconds slower than your goal pace, but your body needs those long slow runs (look, science!).

Sometimes you really won't want to
I cannot emphasis this enough. I probably have a run I JUST REALLY DON'T WANT TO GO ON at least once a fortnight. This never goes away.

The first 10 minutes always suck
I cannot explain my relief when I found out this is an actual thing. There are few things worse than going out on a 14+ mile run and finding that you want to die after half a mile. But don't worry, it's normal.  Sometimes I find it takes me three of four miles to hit my stride, and that's okay.

Your next goal will never be enough
For the first year or two of my running life, I had three goals - to run a half marathon, to run a 5K in under 30 minutes and to run a 10K in under 60 minutes. I hadn't even considered life after these goals, especially because for the first nearly two years, they seemed so far away (I have a post swirling around my head about the "myth" of the 10 minute mile being a reasonable pace for a beginner running). I honestly, naively, thought that once I hit those goals I'd be satisfied. Of course I wasn't! After I ran my first 5K in under 30 minutes, my first thought was, how can I beat that? After my first 10K in under an hour I thought, well, I've achieve that, what on earth could I do now? And, well, I'll be honest it took me a long time after my first half marathon to want to do it again, but a year later I was chomping at the bit to run another, and then to run a marathon. And yep, even after a marathon I'm thinking about my next one and how much faster I could do it.

Carbs are not the devil, and you have to eat enough
Carbs are fuel. Eat them. They're awesome. And I'm not a nutritionist, but unless you're trying to lose weight, try to eat back those running calories. Running on empty is not ideal.

Injuries happen and they are the worst
You will get injured. And it will be the worst. And then you'll get through it. And you'll get injured again. This will happen. It sucks and I'm sorry but it never, ever gets better. Try to never take a run for granted.

You get used to being told how bad running is for you
*eye roll*

We tend to be obsessive types
Okay, this isn't true of all runners - I know plenty of people who are happy to just "go for a run" (I mean, they don't even take their GPS watch. How do they know how far they ran? How do they know their pace? If they don't record their run did it even happen?!) but a lot of runners are not like this. If you have any kind of obsessive tendency, and you start running, prepare to become a running bore.

You'll become a running bore (maybe)
I know, I know, talking about running is great. But to non-runners it's like when my Mum talks me through every single shot she played at golf (snoooooore). Your ears will prick up when you hear someone else talking about running and you'll find there is an infinite amount of things to say about running. But save it for your fellow runners!

You'll feel camaraderie with strangers
I can't explain the swelling in my heart every Saturday morning at 9am when I find myself part of the parkrun community. You just know you'll all in it together. Running brings people together. Oh and always say "hi" to fellow runners, or at least give them a nod. I hate it when fellow runners don't say hello to me!

Running will make you mentally stronger
As I mentioned before, running is hard sometimes. There will be times when you really won't want to go, times when you want to stop. You have to get through this, and you will. Running is about commitment. And that dedication makes you stronger.

Your priorities will change
Okay, some of this might be to do with the fact that I'm 26 now and it's finally acceptable for me to be the boring homebody I know I've always been, but if you end up being one of those obsessive types, your priorities will change. You'll swap your Friday night drinks after work for an early night for parkrun, and swap your Sunday lie-ins for a weekly long run. And you'll be okay with that.

Race day will always feel different
This morning I ran parkrun at a respectable 9:03 minute mile pace, and I was absolutely bloody knackered (I did get a course PB though!). At the end I thought to myself, how the bloody hell did I run 10K a month ago at an 8:44 pace?! When you're training for a race, especially one when you've got a challenging time goal, you'll often wonder how you'll ever be able to maintain your goal pace on the day. But race day is always different. There's the tapering, the adrenaline, the fuelling. Of course, not every race is going to be a personal best, but if you've trained hard, trust the plan.

You will never not be nervous at the start line
I've run about a dozen races now, and even though I've ran a marathon and two half marathons, I still get nervous at the start line of a 10K. This is good! That's the adrenaline that gets you through.

Listen to your body, and be true to yourself
Tired? Take a rest day. Starting with a cold? Take a rest day. Got a lot going on at work? Take a rest day. If you're committed and you don't take days off willy-nilly, you have to have the strength and intuitiveness to take time off if you need to. This takes time and practice, and there will be a hell of of a lot of guilt, but you'll learn when you're just being lazy and when you actually need a break. Edited to add: You will get this wrong sometimes. I ran parkrun a fews weeks ago with the start of a cold and ended up being ill afterwards for a week. So, you know, I'm still learning...

Try to ignore other people
Everyone has a friend who never trains and always beats you. Everyone knows someone who got the same medal as you but walked the whole thing. Try to focus on you. You are only ever in competition with yourself.

People won't believe you when you tell them you used to hate running too
I used to always say "I only run when I'm being chased" and I cannot express how much I used to hate running. I never, ever thought I'd be where I am now. But with a bit of commitment and dedication, I think anyone can run. So I always just smile and nod when people tell me they "could never be a runner".

Sometimes you won't believe how far you've come
Sometimes I can't believe the sentences that have come out of my mouth. "Ooh only 14 miles this weekend", or "an easy 8 miles before work" or "the first 19 miles were absolutely fine, but the last 7 were pretty hard." I sometimes can't believe that I ran 26.2 miles. Sometimes I can't believe I ran 13.1 miles! You have to give yourself credit for all those victories, big and small.

If you're new to running, just go
It doesn't matter when your start. I didn't even have proper running shoes when I started. I ran with a bottle of water and held my phone in my hand. I wore a cotton tshirt and warm black leggings. But I ran. Don't dive in with a GPS watch and two pairs of trainers and a hydration belt and a pocket full of gels. Don't wait until you're thinner/stronger/fitter, or until it's warmer/drier/colder. Just go, just run, just do it.


Saturday, 18 June 2016

Cookbook review: Minimalist Baker Everyday Cooking

To justify my addiction to buying recipe books I've started to review my collection. You can read a bit more about my project, and a review of Keep it Vegan, over in this post.

Another vegan recipe book!
As I mentioned in my review of Keep it Vegan, I love buying vegan recipe books despite being a non-vegan as there are always some really creative ideas in them, and I often find when I buy "regular" recipe books I have to write off around half the recipes that contain meat (however, I will be reviewing some non-vegetarian/vegan recipe books). I like to be able to flick through a recipe book and know I can eat everything in it!

I've been a fan of the Minimalist Baker blog for a long time, and was really excited when I heard they were releasing a real-life book, however it took me a while to bite the bullet and order Everyday Cooking. 
With the book being American, I found Amazon had really disproportionately marked it up, and I really couldn't justify spending £25 on a recipe book. There was a point where I almost ordered it from Amazon US as even with £7 postage it would work out cheaper with the exchange rate.
Eventually, however, I managed to pre-order the book when it was out of stock and down to £17, guessing that it might go back up when it came back in stock. I was right, and thankfully got it for £17 before it went back up to £25.

One of the reasons I finally caved and purchased it, however, was because someone on the Post Punk Kitchen forum kindly posted a list of all the recipes in the book and I knew straight away it would be a book I would use a lot.

I was right.

First Impressions


First up, this is a beautiful book. There is a picture for every single recipe, which I love, and it's just a lovely book to flick through. I've mentioned before that I like to "read" recipe books like novels, and this is one that has accompanied me on the sofa dozens of times since I bought it!

The first thing I do when I get a new recipe book is go through with a post-it note writing down all the recipes I want to make. In Minimalist Baker Everyday Cooking I had 39 (you can tell by my list I'm not too bothered about desserts!).

One thing that struck me right away was that this is a very "midweek" recipe book, which is exactly what I need. While I do sometimes like to spend a bit more time on dinner on a Saturday or Sunday evening, most of the time I need quick midweek meals I can get on the table within an hour of getting home from work. With my new job and my new commute I get home about 45 minutes later than I used to, so easy cooking is exactly what I need. All of the recipes in this book are either under 10 ingredients, one bowl recipes or take less than 3o minutes.

I also love the fact that there are a lot of main meals. I'm not interested in desserts or drinks, and rarely interested in side dishes or breakfasts, so I'm glad the bulk of the book is dedicated to actual suppers.

Compared to a lot of other vegan recipe books I own (some of which I hope to review soon!) there didn't seem to be many "weird" ingredients, beyond things like nutritional yeast and tofu, which most veggies are well acquainted with (I'm ridiculously lucky to live around the corner from an amazing veggie supermarket, 8th Day Cafe, but I'm confident most people will be able to get nearly everything they need for this book in a big supermarket, with perhaps an online order or two needed). However there were some easy substitutions that could be made, for example, sugar instead of the recommended coconut sugar or maple syrup.

Speaking of sugar, one initial concern was there seems to be added sugar in a lot of the main dishes I wanted to make - even things like curries and pasta sauce.

There is also the argument that a lot of the recipes in this book aren't that original-sounding - three bean chilli, chickpea curry, bean burgers etc - but that doesn't put me off in the slightest. I actually enjoy finding new variations of classic dishes.

Oh it's also worth mentioning that none of the recipes in this book are repeats of recipes on the blog, which was great to find out. I buy a lot of recipe books from bloggers and often find a good chunk of the recipes can be found on their blog. So this was a nice surprise.

On to the recipes...

Masala Chickpea curry

I make a lot of chickpea curry. I probably make chickpea curry at least once a fortnight. It's easy, it's quick, I always have the ingredients in, and it's an excuse to eat extreme volumes of mango chutney.
This recipe had a different method than I'm used to, with the sauce being made separately and chickpeas added in later, and the sauce involved little spice and was thickened with blended carrots.
It was absolutely delicious. I've written in my notes "amazing flavour and lovely thick sauce." I actually had a friend over for dinner the evening I made this and was thrilled at how delicious it was! I'll definitely be making this again soon (maybe with some kale or spinach for some greenery) and it's a real storecupboard dinner I can see myself making over and over again. Oh and I have the add, the sweetness from the added maple syrup worked a treat.

The best vegan enchiladas
Apologies for the blurry photo! This image nowhere near gives them justice

Enchiladas without cheese? I've done this before and Phil sheepishly asked after 5 minutes, "can I put some feta on top?" so I thought this would be another alright-but-not-as-good-as-cheesy-enchiladas situation. I try to avoid adding cheese to vegan recipes because I think the proof of a good vegan recipe is that it doesn't need anything added to taste good.
There weren't a lot of ingredients to these enchiladas, which I was quite surprised by, and I felt canned refried beans were a bit indulgent (I would normally make my own, and because we shop in Aldi a special trip to the overwhelming huge Tesco near us was necessary to pick some up). I also felt like buying canned refried beans was cheating? 
Anyway, this was surprisingly easy and quick with a few substitutions - chipotle paste rather than canned chipotles, green pepper over pablano - and a delicious enchilada sauce.
And the result? Phil said they were "some of the best enchiladas he'd ever had". What a review! They were absolutely delicious, and worth splashing out on refried beans for! We didn't even miss the cheese!

Super-thick three bean chilli
It's basically a rule that every vegetarian/vegan recipe book has to have a chilli recipe. I've spent a long time trying different vegetarian chillis (my favourite being Cookie and Kate's sweet potato chilli which I make in the slow cooker). I love veggie chilli.
This one had a few unexpected ingredients in the form of courgettes and carrot, but I had issues with the instruction to add "partially drained beans" and as a result mine ended up a bit watery (how drained is partially drained?!), so it wasn't as "super thick" as the title might have suggested. However it was still a pretty good chilli, and one I'll undoubtedly make again!

Carrot, potato and chickpea red curry
Phil told me a few weeks ago that adding potato to a recipe made it an instant winner for him, so I thought this would be perfect. It was a pretty standard red curry. Pretty quick and easy, tasty and Phil-approved. Not the most exciting meal in the world, but a good mid-week option.

Tofu stir fry
I've committed a lot of time and effort into trying to like tofu. It bothers me that I don't like it. Because I really, really want to. I can eat it, don't get me wrong, but I just can't get excited about it and I just haven't found a recipe that has made me really enjoy it.
Phil was away last weekend so I decided to buy some tofu to try this stir fry. I pressed the tofu for half an hour and marinated it for 2 hours. I ended up making way too much (my fault!) but it was still... blah. The tofu was very flavourful from the marinating time, but the texture still didn't work for me (the recipe did suggest an extra step of baking the tofu, but I ran out of time for that) and the marinade was okay, but not exciting enough for me to want to make again. The only recipe so far I wouldn't make again.

Tofu tostadas
After Sunday's uninspiring tofu, I wasn't particularly excited to be using the rest of the block. This time instead of being in chunks, it was crumbled like a tofu scramble, and cooked in spices and salsa. I was a bit dubious after adding water as it seemed very liquidy so I cooked it with the lid off to ensure it boiled off. Rather than tostadas, we had it as part of burrito bowls with brown coriander and lime rice, guacamole and lettuce. Phil still thought the texture was "weird" but I thought it was delicious! We didn't even need cheese on our burrito bowls. I'm still not a big tofu fan, so I'd be tempted to try this technique with beans or chickpeas instead.

Breakfast burritos
I love breakfast burritos, but normally make them with eggs and cheese. This version involved coriander and lime rice (I made extra when we had burrito bowls), breakfast potatoes, avocado cabbage slaw and black beans. All the different elements sounded complicated, but it all came together relatively quickly. We had my friend, Eve, over for dinner again so I made a bit of a self-assembly burrito bar with lettuce, salsa and avocado, and it went down an absolute treat. This was really delicious and I would definitely make these again (although probably not for breakfast!).

Lentil tomato ragu
Another vegetarian recipe book classic is the "bolognese" made with lentils, but I wanted something easy and quick to throw together and this sounded like a good option. I'm not a big pasta eater at all (I tend to keep it quiet that I don't really like pasta as a vegetarian!) so I had mine over courgette noodles and Phil had spaghetti. This was another quick, easy recipe with lentils making it feel really "meaty" and hearty. We both really enjoyed this and will definitely make it again.

Pizza burgers

It's hard to resist something called "pizza burgers" - especially when they're on the cover of the book, but the truth is I am terrible at making veggie burgers. I'm always too impatient to let them cook properly before I flip them, so they always, always fall apart and I end up trying to smush them back together. But I decided to give these a go.
Because of my usually disastrous burger making, I saved these for Saturday night (we've literally just finished eating them), but they were actually quick enough for midweek. You have to make "vegan parmesan" first (a mix of cashews, nutritional yeast, garlic powder and salt) and then it's pretty quick going from there - fry onions and garlic, mash cashews, add everything to a bowl and stir. I especially loved the game-changing suggestion to fill a measuring cup with cling film, then scoop in the mixture and flatten it out - another reason I hate making veggies burgers is that I hate getting my hands dirty so this meant I didn't have to shape them with my hands. I was planning to make my own marinara sauce, but I was worried the suggestion of tomato sauce with some seasoning might be too thin and sloppy, so I used a jar of tomato and mushroom pasta sauce I had in the cupboard, and I splashed out on the suggested ciabatta rolls.
The result? To quote Phil, "the best veggie burger I've ever had." What a result! I have to admit, as a person who has probably eaten a hundred times as many veggie burgers as Phil, it wasn't quite the best I've ever had (there was a suggestion to bake them to firm them up and I think that would have helped as they were quite soft), I think I'd definitely make them again.

Conclusion

If you can't tell, I love this book. With the exception of the tofu stir fry (which I'm sure would be lovely if you like tofu - for me, my search for the perfect tofu dish continues), I'd make everything again. Everything is easy to make, relatively quick (and if it isn't, that's clear in the recipe which includes cooking and prep time) and gives clear instructions (I hate recipe books that say "cook the onions" with no suggestion of how hot your pan needs to be). I couldn't recommend this book more to veggies and vegans (I have dozens of vegan recipe books and I think this is my favourite) and I think it's a great introduction to vegan food for curious meat-eaters, who I think would also appreciate that it's "non-preachy" and actually refers to itself as "plant-based" rather than vegan.

I still have loads of recipes I want to make from this - maybe there will be a part 2!