Thursday, March 31, 2011

April Exercise Goals

I spoke here about how I want to vary my exercise routine, to make it more exciting and challenging. I've spent the last 2 days considering how best to do this, after coming up with a reasonably long list of possible activities / changes to try.

Here's what I've decided!

Goals for April

1. Cycle to the gym three days per week. Currently, I ride to one of my work places once a week. That work place is the same location as my gym. One other day I drive into the gym at 6am and then stay on to start work early. The other three weekdays I drive to the gym and back, and then make my way to my other workplace after getting showered and changed at home.

It dawned on me that if I cycled to and from the gym on those 3 days, I could get some of my cardio work done as a form of transport. The ride isn't particularly challenging, but of the 40 minutes it would take in total (there and back), 10 to 15 minutes would push my muscles. The drive there and back takes around 30 minutes, so the transport time wouldn't increase by much - and I would have more time at the gym to focus on weights / core strength work / stretching, because some of my usual cardio would be out of the way. I'd spend less time at the gym overall, but would effectively get more activity done.

2. Signing up for races / running events. This is probably crucial if my running is to improve. There's a 14km fundraiser race at the end of May that I would like to do, and whilst I may not be fit enough for that (my previous longest race is 12km, and previous longest run 13km - and neither distance would be possible for me right now!), I will commit to finding another option if that one seems too soon.

3. Doing one different activity each month. This could be a casual game of tennis, going indoor rock climbing, making it to a group fitness class, or any other active endeavour that I don't currently do.

I'm really excited about making these work. I'll reflect at the end of April on how they go!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Product review: Falafel bites

[My exercise goals are coming!]

Bite Me Vegetarian Falafel Bites

I saw these vegetarian falafel bites in the supermarket a week or so ago, and thought they looked worthy of purchase. They're vegan, stand up nutritionally, and can be cooked in 2 minutes (or eaten cold).

Product summary: The bites come six to a packet, with a recommended serving of two bites per person. They're dairy free, egg free and gluten free; are 80% chickpeas; and provide a modest serve of protein.

Ingredients: Chickpeas (80%), rice flour, spring onion, coriander spices, garlic, salt, bicarbonated 202, vegetable oil added.

Nutritional information:

The verdict: We had these for dinner with wholemeal burrito wraps and salad, served in a make-your-own format:

Without sauce (I added tomato, and my partner added thousand island), the bites were a little bland. However, with sauce, and when combined with the bread and salad, they worked well. The texture was nice and they provided a good base ingredient for use in the wraps.

Clearly an equivalent could be made at home (a la Oh She Glows, for example), and I have made similar products at home in the past. An at-home product would probably provide a greater flavour punch.

Sometimes, though, I want something for dinner that can be put together within 20 minutes of walking in the door.

With these bites, last night's dinner was put together in 5 minutes :) Who needs take away when that's possible?

Where to buy: We bought these at our nearest Woolworths supermarket. I've forgotten the price, but remember thinking they were reasonably priced. 

Overall rating: 7 / 10.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Exercise mix up

I have been thinking that my exercise routine is getting a little, well, stale. It's not exciting! I don't wake up and want to go to the gym, and when I leave, I don't feel overly invigorated. After my weekend runs, I feel good - but not great.

So I thought it might be time to set some goals.

Coincidentally, Leah at Simply Fabulous posted just this week on the importance of mixing exercise up. Not mixing exercise up is my biggest flaw, without doubt.

My usual routine?

Weekdays, I go to the gym from around 6am - 7am.

Four days a week, I spend about 45 minutes on cardio, rotating between three or four  machines (the cross-trainer, rower, bike, and treadmill). I do some weights (not many), and stretch.

On the fifth day I reduce the cardio to about 30 minutes and spend longer on weights.

Saturdays, I run outdoors, and try to vary my route and the mix of speed / hills / duration. At one stage, this run was between 50 and 70 minutes (10 - 12km), but I'm currently averaging about half of that after a few injuries and not enough motivation to work on re-increasing mileage :-/

Sundays, I do a shorter walk / run route that incorporates our local bakery to pick up bread. This is effectively my rest day.

As discussed here, I also ride to work one day a week, and I do less gym-based cardio and more weights on that day.

I get other incidental activity through walks and casual basketball games (very casual, because I'm very bad!) with my partner. These rarely increase my heart rate and are really just part of day-to-day life, so I don't consider them formal exercise.

What would I like to change?

Clearly I am quite active, and I'm also fairly happy with the basic structure of my week. The main thing I would like to do is add variation. And excitement and challenge if at all possible!

There are a few things I have been thinking about doing for a while:
  • Playing casual tennis. This is the only ball sport I remember liking, most likely because the raquet is so much larger than the ball, and there is thus a margin for error in hitting the ball!
  • Swimming. I have a quiet dream of doing a triatholon one day, but I rarely get in the water. I enjoyed swimming as a child so this could be an option.
  • Adult gymnastics!! I spend years wishing this was available, after doing gymnastics for 4 years as a child and loving it. I then found a class near me - and haven't yet gone. The class is on a Thursday evening and I've never been able to get organised and out the door for it.
  • Signing up for races / running events that will help me keep focused on goals and improvements.
Other ideas that I could consider are:
  • Scheduling a pilates-type session into my week. I have tried BodyBalance before and enjoyed it, and that class is available at my gym, so I could even plan to attend that once a week.
  • Scheduling a more structured weights session on one of my gym days.
  • Using short interval training to increase the effectiveness of my gym cardio.
  • Attending a BodyPump or BodyCombat class once a week. I have tried these in the past though, and didn't enjoy them (hint: lack of coordination).
Quite the list really! I think I will reflect on the options and do a separate post with some official goals.

Monday, March 28, 2011

A busy weekend

You would imagine that weekends would be quieter than weekdays - and usually you would be correct. However, I'm not entirely sure how it got from last Friday to today. Between standard weekend errands and jobs (cleaning, food shopping, washing, ironing, general shopping...) and some extra things thrown in (brunch with friends, a visit to my parents, a longer-than-average walk with my partner, holiday planning...), the two days flew by.

Luckily I enjoyed most of the activities in question (with the possible exception of ironing) and I like my weekday work enough to avoid Mondayitis :)

I thought I'd share one aspect of the weekend on here: the outcome of a new recipe.

I made this recipe for apple and sultana scrolls, to take to the aforementioned brunch with friends (which was at someone's house, rather than a cafe). Unusually, I made the recipe with almost no adaptations. The only real change was that I added a small amount of apple sauce (apple puree) to the dough before spreading out the apple and sultana filling. And used soy milk instead of regular.

Unfortunately, although the finished product looked fine, it seemed to lack something. Adding extra apple sauce rectified things, but I would have liked the scrolls to stand alone.

I think if I made these again, and I probably will because they're fairly easy and don't involve many ingredients or much preparation time, I would make the following adaptations:

  • Reduce the cooking time by 5 to 10 minutes. I would have liked the scrolls to be slightly softer.
  • Roll the dough out thinner, to allow for a higher filling-to-dough ratio in each bite.
  • Use more apple puree on the dough before adding the filling.

I think those changes might just take the taste from average to great!

Incidentally, my friends did seem to enjoy the scrolls, so the original recipe did hold up. But I am convinced they could be better :D

Friday, March 25, 2011

Homemade ramekin pies

My partner and I have been watching Jamie Oliver's 30 minute meals lately, and some of his creations have looked worthy of being tried and/or modified. One such example was his chicken and mushroom filo pies, made in ramekins so that only the top was filo. My partner thought they looked nice, and I thought they would be a fun entry to pastry-related cooking.

Unfortunately, by the time I got around to thinking about making them, the recipe was no longer available on his website. My best googling efforts also failed to turn up a written recipe.

Fortunately, I'm not one to let minor hurdles get in the way! provided a similar recipe for chicken and corn filo pies, and this provided my base for modification.

I had two goals in my modifications: to turn the chicken and corn pie into a chicken and potato pie, and to create a vegetarian variety centering on pumpkin. I also accidentally bought puff pastry at the supermarket, instead of filo, so needed to modify plans to incorporate that :-/

 What I came up with is as follows:

Chicken and potato pie for one 
  • 1 skinless chicken breast (~150g)
  • 1/2 onion
  • ~1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 medium potato, peeled and cubed
  • 1/2 carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1 cup stock (I used chicken-style vegetarian stock)
  • ~1tsp milk
  • ~1tbspn plain flour
  • Seasoning (I used dried oregano and pepper)
  • Puff pastry, ~1/4 sheet

Vegetable / pumpkin pie for one
  • 1 cup pumpkin, cubed
  • 1/2 onion
  • 1/2 carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1/4 cup mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 cup stock (I used chicken-style vegetarian stock)
  • ~1tspn plain flour
  • Seasoning (I used dried oregano and pepper)
  • Puff pastry, ~1/4 sheet

1. Preheat oven to 200'C and remove one sheet of puff pastry from the freezer

2. Chicken version: Add potato and carrot to boiling water and simmer until cooked through.                                                                  Vegetable version: Add pumpkin and carrot to a steamer and steam until cooked through. Add mushrooms towards the end.
Vegetables pre-cooking                

3. Chicken version: While the potato is cooking, heat oil in a non-stick pan and add the onion. Cook until just golden (~2 minutes). Add the chicken and cook until just brown (~10 minutes).

4. Chicken version: Add the potato and carrot mix to the chicken and onion mix. Add the stock, milk and flour. Reduce heat and simmer for ~10 minutes, stirring frequently.

Vegetable version: In a non-stick pan, cook the onion in 1/4 cup stock, until just golden (~2 minutes). Add the pumpkin, carrot and mushroom mix, the other 1/4 cup stock, and the flour. Reduce heat and simmer ~5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Take care not to over cook or your pie filling will start to resemble pumpkin soup!

5. Transfer pie fillings to individual ramekins. Cut puff pastry sheet into quarters and lay one quarter on each ramekin.

6. Cook in the oven for ~30 minutes.

A bonus tart appeared!

I used the left over puff pastry sheet to make an impromptu tart: strawberry jam, diced apple, and a sprinking of brown sugar.

The verdict?

We both loved our pies! I was surprised at how flavorsome mine was, given I didn't add much spice or many vegetable varieties. In the future I'd add some green beans or peas, to mix up the textures and colours, but it tasted great as it was. 

All in all this, took me about 90 minutes, start to finish. However, 30 minutes of that was the oven cooking, and I think that if I made them again, I could shave 30 minutes off the total time. Not having a proper recipe and making them for the first time, I wasted a bit of time getting organised and stopping and starting different things.

So thanks to Jamie Oliver, and thanks to Pampas for providing reduced fat, ready to go, vegan puff pastry :)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Work transport

I feel incredibly lucky that both of my current workplaces are close to home. One of them, where I'm based two days a week, is a 10 minute easy walk, door to door, including any waiting time for crossing roads. I suspect I'll never have such a good set up again!

My other workplace is a 10 - 15 minute drive, or perhaps twice that in peak hour traffic. It's also a 20 minute (ish) cycle ride. On one of the three days I'm there, I try to cycle. Which means that on my way home, instead of a view like the following:

I get scenery like this:


The question, really, is why I don't do it on more days. I really feel incredibly lucky whenever I make the ride, particularly in the morning when it's calm, quiet, the temperature is cool (it's been summer here after all...) and incredibly beautiful.

One of the reasons I don't cycle on all three of the days in question is that sometimes I need a car to go to meetings off site. This is usually just once per week though. I think the other reasons are almost laziness - the challenges of squeezing clothes, towel, lunch, and work requirements into a backpack. I usually cycle in early, consistent with my normal morning routine of heading to the gym from 6am - 7am (the gym, incidentally, is at the workplace in question, which is a university).

Instead of getting to the gym at 6am, I leave home on my bike at 6am, and then do a shorter and more weights-focused workout. I'm at my desk by about 7.45am.

I think I might set myself a challenge of cycling twice a week some weeks - perhaps just once a month at first. There are lots of pros, and not too many cons. And given that before long we'll be into winter, and I'll be put off by the rain and/or cold instead of the heat, now is the time to start!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A desire for toast

I'm always a little surprised, and often pleased, when I crave normal foods. 'Normal' as in day-to-day, basic, non-processed foods: a bowl of oats or weetbix, a tuna sandwich, rice, stir fried vegetables. Or vegemite on toast, as per this morning.

I'm not usually much of a toast (or bread) person. I like it, but my day-to-day eating doesn't usually feature it. I prefer a combination of fruit, cereal and yoghurt for breakfast, and if I have a sandwich-type product for lunch, it would more often be a wrap.

This morning, however, I wanted vegemite on toast. Why? I don't know. As far as I'm aware, the scientific jury is still out on whether food cravings are linked to nutritional needs - the question is complicated by the psychological cravings that can be triggered by trying to restrict or avoid foods, being tired, feeling sad, and so on. Cravings for sugar usually fall into this second category, as most of us probably know...

However, part of me likes to believe that at least some cravings signal dietary needs. It would make so much sense!

When I do crave routine foods, I often think back to a family holiday when I was 14. In photos from that age, I am all arms and legs, tall and lanky, having grown in height and not yet in weight. On the holiday in question, I also caught the flu in the first week, and ate less than usual for some days. After I recovered, I ordered a ham and cheese croissant for lunch each day for the rest of the trip.

This wasn't a usual favourite, in fact I disliked cheese (usually) even back then, but I now realise it would have been the highest fat and calorie option available to me. I'm sure my body knew that's what it needed.

I don't know why I needed, or wanted, vegemite toast this morning - but I had it. One piece, with a small serve of blueberries and yoghurt, because I wasn't quite prepared to give up my usual breakfast items :)

And a cup of Earl Grey tea, made when I got to work. No coffee today (yet!).

Monday, March 21, 2011


I don't usually mind Mondays, or at least not in my current job, but today started with a general sense of doom. Or if not doom (that may be a touch melodramatic), a reluctance to get up and face the week.

Fortunately, there are two things that are guaranteed to at least partially lift my spirits: exercise and coffee. The former is a fairly core part of my morning routine, with weekdays seeing me hit the gym at 6am. What I do once I'm there varies, and is often not as challenging as it could be (i.e., I do the same thing I always do, and don't push myself to go harder, faster or further!), but it does help with boosting my mood and providing morning energy.
Coffee is a reliable method of doing the same, although I've undertaken a strange dance with the drink in 2011. Strangely, I started feeling nauseus after drinking instant coffee. I appreciate this isn't the highest quality substance in existence, but it has never prompted nausea before. Purchased coffee (with milk) didn't have the same effect, but I was reluctant to buy a coffee everyday. It seemed akin to drinking close to $20 per week. I also started thinking about the fact I really relied on coffee to get going, which bothered me. And so I decided to cut back, and drink it on half of the days of the week.

This seemed to work well, and increasing my tea intake meant the change wasn't overly challenging. At least at first. Last week, however, I fell asleep on the sofa at 8.30pm on two occasions. I have felt my concentration drifting at work on several other occasions, and felt listless and flat more often than I would have liked. Lack of coffee or something else? Who knows, but I discovered through chance that instant coffee no longer (or at least currently) induces nausea, providing I mix enough milk in. So I suspect that my once per day coffee may be back on.

This morning, at least, my takeaway coffee really hit the spot!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Vegan vs. Vegetarian vs. ... Not

The idea of switching to veganism or proper vegetarianism (as opposed to my current version - more on this below) has been on my mind for a while now. This stems from my reading of other food blogs, my own interest in health and healthy eating, growing concerns over the environment and our deteriorating planet...and the niggles that I experience when thinking about the reality of eating meat, keeping chickens in sub-optimal conditions (even for 'free range' eggs), and drinking the milk of another animal when no other creature does this.

How do I currently eat? I'm often considered vegetarian by friends, by virtue of not eating red meat (by which I mean beef, lamb, veal, pork / ham / bacon...), which I haven't eaten for approximately 10 years. But I do eat chicken and turkey, at a frequency of 3 to 4 times per month, and fish and seafood, at a frequency of 1 to 2 times per week. So clearly I'm not vegetarian.

I could imagine dropping chicken and turkey, and indeed would quite like to (my main consumption is through Subway, and chicken salads). As I enjoy fish hugely, and think of tuna as an easy protein source, I'm less sure about seafood. But it would be possible.

What about the switch to vegan? I dislike cheese, so that wouldn't present a problem. I would have to adapt to using egg replacers in baking, and might miss the very occasional poached egg I enjoy, but could cope with that. I don't drink much milk (having been lactose intolerant as a child, I've never regained the taste), and could easily transition to soy or other non-dairy alternatives for hot drinks and cereal. The sticking point for veganism is yoghurt.

I love yoghurt. It is one of my favourite foods. I also love frozen yoghurt, especially soft serve. I enjoy non-dairy versions too, like frozen banana-based soft serve, but really like the yoghurt varieties as well. So I would miss yoghurt, at lot. Although soy versions are available, I've only been able to locate 2 brands where I live - and neither has many flavour or fat versions available (they're all full fat and all fruit flavoured; I like to alternate between flavoured and natural).

Other possible challenges? Other people's cooking - which would apply to anyone making the transition. I have to admit, probably also chocolate. For baking, cocoa and non-dairy chocolate would work fine. But my preferred chocolate is dark, and I haven't yet found a vegan / dairy free dark chocolate where I live.

My current thinking is to try to transition to a more vegan like approach: reduce or eliminate the chicken and turkey, reduce dairy in 'non-essential' (to me) forms, and keep the things I can't quite conceive of giving up yet.

I will keep you updated on my progress...

Friday, March 11, 2011

Jumping into blogging


This is my third blog. I have high hopes for it lasting more than 6 months. That may sound unduly optimistic (two failed attempts in the past does not, perhaps, bode well). However, I believe I have found the trick to continued blogging. It seems rather simple: writing about what one wants to write about.

I'm not sure what illusions I was harbouring under previously, but I recall wanting to match my entries to what potential, imaginary readers might want to read. No more! I'm looking forward to writing about what I feel like writing about, when I feel like writing.

So expect a mix of topics, most commonly related to food, cooking, health and exercise - what I intend to blog about - but varying into the random at semi-regular intervals.

We'll see how it goes!