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The Candy(wo)man

ImageThese were last week’s carrot cake muffins, as I have not baked any cakes at all this week.  I am slowly coming to the painful realisation that I am a sugar addict, even if I never actually add the stuff to my own cup of tea.  Sugar is hidden in all sorts of comestibles, cheeky or otherwise and much wiser and better informed people than me have written reams about the dangers of excessive sugar in our diets.  As I come into possession of more knowledge about this issue, I am cutting down the amount of sugar I consume, although not without difficulty.  The first difficulty is to do with energy levels and being honest about them.  I tend to eat healthily until about mid afternoon onwards then stuff my face with whatever sweet things I can get my hands on (often in secret), eat a decent evening meal then repeat the face-stuffing later on.  It is just dawning on me that perhaps I’m using sugar when actually what I need is a 20 minute nap – or a good night’s sleep.  When I’ve practised yoga, I am better at avoiding the sweet stuff for more of the day, but rarely pass a sweet-free 24 hours.  After a particularly amazing yoga class with Simi at Hot Bikram Yoga Balham on Wednesday I managed this particular miracle since all was well with the world.  It was so good that I found another part of my being, so light and refined, that I’d only ever dreamed of.

This leads me to the second difficulty.  When something is good, I want to repeat the experience, be it the taste of chocolate, the feel-good factor of yoga or the second cup of uber-strong coffee.  So, on Thursday, off I trotted to Paul’s class at the aforementioned yoga studios, full of too much caffeine and expectation of brilliance.  It was hot, I was tired, heart pounding from the extra coffee and the class took it right out of me.  Back home I consoled myself with a bar of Lidl’s finest milk chocolate and lo and behold along came a sugar roller-coaster rush of epic proportions after my nearly 48 hour choco-abstention.  Sugar gives me mood swings, and I’d never noticed before to what extent I used those mood swings to gain momentum during the low-energy parts of the day.

So, my difficulties hinge around dealing with my physical addiction to the energy burst and emotional buzz I get from sugar.  Ok, now I know this there is something to get traction against.  High on my list of priorities, being time-rich right now, are practising midday naps and plenty of yoga in between writing (blog and job applications), eating lots of leafy green vegetables.  Hopefully I can set myself and my family up for a healthier way of being one day at a time.  And perhaps in the near future I can get back in touch with that light, refined part of my self that I met in savasana the other day, you know, the one who may just be able to make and enjoy a cake in moderation.

Yummy vegan salad – mmm green!

{Ms. Buena Vida}

Presenting! An incredible vegan lunch for one. It’s a chunky, filling salad with a flavor punch, Ka-Pow! It’s ridiculously gooood!!

Salad-

1 avocado, chopped in chunks

1/2 C. tomatoes, diced (or grape tomatoes quartered)

1/2 C. greens (kale, arugula or spinach), chopped

1/2 C. cooked garbanzo beans

S&P to taste

Dressing-

1/2 clove fresh garlic, optional

2 T. raw apple cider vinegar (or any wine vinegar)

1/2 T. dijon mustard

1/2 T. agave nectar

1 T. olive oil

1/2 C. fresh basil

Make it-

In a mini food processor, run the garlic through. Except for the basil, pulse the remaining dressing ingredients until emulsified (kinda creamy looking). Now, add the basil and pulse a few times leaving the basil a little chunky. Like this…

In a medium bowl, lightly toss the the veggies in your delicious dressing, salt and pepper and enjoy!

I have a giveaway going on now! Check it out here.

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Toughie

When I first began practising Bikram yoga, it was a magical part of my day or week.  I went to each session full of enthusiasm for whatever would be thrown up by the class.  Gradually, as my physical strength and flexibility increased, the progress I was making in each posture became more fascinating until I could accomplish most of them.  After a time, when my stamina and focus became more developed I joined the front row.  I loved it there, and appreciated the feedback from the teachers, whom I’d got to know quite well at the Bikram Yoga Leicester studio http://www.bikramyogaleicester.co.uk/.  As my body and mind stopped wobbling, I felt a great sense of achievement and well-being from joining the yoga community.

My efforts in the sweat-pit helped me to plan, undertake and enjoy a 6 month sabbatical to India with my husband and kids, including some pretty adventurous stuff.  I even kept up the practice in the Himalayas, via the Bikram audio mp3 on my phone, until it got far too cold!  Then in Goa, some vinyasa flow and traditional hatha yoga kept me going.

Now back in the UK, I first felt relieved to be living near enough to a Hot Bikram Yoga http://hotbikramyoga.co.uk/ studio to make regular classes feasible (no accident, actually…), then felt frustrated when a month of ill-health prevented me from dashing back into 3 or 4 classes a week.  This was probably no bad thing at all as in the meanwhile we have been bringing all our belongings out of storage, setting up a new home in a new area and getting into the rhythm of our life here in London.  Managing the yoga too may just have been too much!  Now the dust is beginning to settle, I’ve made it back to class.

In my absence from the hot room, something has changed.  The part of me that used to crave the recognition and encouragement of the teacher seems to have moved into a back seat and is not even trying to drive.  And what was once a magical time in the studio for me seems to be blending into my daily life, so that life outside the Bikram studio and the yoga I practise within it are increasingly becoming one and the same thing.  Bizarrely too, my attitude towards my “performance” during a class is more equanimous – even if each day presents a new challenge – and I feel no desperate rush to become a gregarious member of this studio’s community.

So, the “toughie” of today’s title isn’t actually the class I attended (even if I fell out of postures, sat out others, flopped through a few more and scratched during savasana).  The toughie is recognizing that the performance is not the point, the community is not the point, even if both bring satisfaction and support.  The point is that having put so much work into this yoga, it is now working on me at an unsought-for level and I sense that this work must continue.

What’s on the table?

The kids went back to school today, along with much of the UK’s child population, I guess.  For us as a family however, this is more momentous than usual, as we are not long returned from 6 months travel in India, where mainstream schooling took a back seat to more important things like trekking and rafting in the Himalaya.  For us as parents, we got a chance today to have a prolonged conversation about where we are at and where our values are – fortunately we are both in a very similar place right now on both counts.  More on all of this to follow, surely.

What is on the table for me today is how to make a living in a manner consistent with what is important to me, which brings me on to vegetarianism.  I have been an imperfect vegetarian for years now, with rare vegan patches, served up with fish and the occasional covert chicken wing.  Luckily my overall health is great, and according to the ayurvedic doctor I consulted with in Goa, my constitution is robust enough to manage on a general healthy diet.  So, here, now, I’m committing to staying vegetarian, for reasons of health, sustainability and mostly because I like it more than meat and fish now.  I don’t know if this is the result my rate of yoga practice in the last couple of years.

Perhaps this is not a terribly exciting post, but if you are coming here for food reasons, you will only find vegetarian content!

Link

“The science of baking”

“The science of baking”

My friend’s mum’s cake

Lately my thoughts are returning to cake, especially after being absent from the oven for 6 months.  This one bridges the gap nicely between wintery nutty warmth and summery fruity delight, and if served warm is delicious with good vanilla ice cream, for a cakey dessert.  Many thanks to Rubi’s mum, Binda, for sharing the original recipe, which I’ve adapted slightly for my own tastes.

175g self-raising flour

1 teaspoon of baking powder

160g golden caster sugar (for preference, stored with a vanilla pod)

175g margarine / unsalted butter (at room temperature), in smallish chunks

1 teaspoon good quality vanilla essence (optional)

a handful of porridge oats

2 eggs, beaten

half cup of soured milk (just squeeze in some fresh lemon juice and leave it to work for 10 mins)

a good handful of macadamia nuts, roughly chopped, or cashews if you prefer

100g white chocolate, broken into chunks

100g fresh raspberries, washed

Method:  preheat the oven to 200C/Gas 5 (adjust down slightly for fan ovens), and grease a traybake tin.  As this recipe contains fresh fruit, I find it helpful to also line the base of the tin with baking parchment or greaseproof paper.

Sift the flour and baking powder into a large bowl, add the sugar, butter, eggs and soured milk.  Beat together – I find I get best results and less arm ache if I use a hand mixer.  Add the porridge oats, nuts (vanilla essence if used) and white chocolate.  Beat in lightly.

Now, pour half the mixture into the traybake tin, and level conscientiously.  Sprinkle in the raspberries so that they are evenly distributed throughout the cake, and gently cover with the remaining cake mix.  You will have to be delicate and determined with this part so that the raspberries don’t get a pasting here – unless you like them bruised! 

Place in the oven, and reduce the temperature to 180C/gas 4.  Bake until golden on top and springy to the touch, about 30 -35 minutes.  Serve the same day.

 

From time to time I change the combination of nuts / fruit / chocolate, depending on the season and the contents of the cupboards.  Tried and tested combinations are: flaked almonds / grated apple / dark chocolate with cinnamon instead of vanilla; the recipe above with dark chocolate instead of white; cashew / blueberry / milk chocolate.

 

Merry Christmas, Mrs Cousin!

I am off to buy (non-compulsively) a new digital camera tomorrow.  I look forward to sharing some new pictures with everyone in the new decade.

Happy New Year!