Monthly Archives: April 2008

Save on Running Shoes AND Support Your Favorite Charity

Mizuno Wave Alchemy 7 Mens Running Shoe 2007 from just £39.99 (20080429)-1.jpg



“Grrrrrrr… half the price.”

That was Tim’s response when I told him the lowest price on a pair of Mizuno Wave Alchemy Running Shoes according to ransacker.co.uk, “the running shoes comparison website that save you time, money and benefits charity.”

Ransacker’s lowest price was £39.99, half of what he spent in New Zealand in February at a running shop. True, did get his foot analyzed by a “pro”, but he didn’t get that nice warm feeling of knowing he got a good deal. In fact he emailed me later that he “felt sick” by the purchase. A happy consumer he was not!

If only he knew about Ransacker, recommended to us by Carl who runs the site. Racksacker makes runners happy by saving them money on shoes, but also makes the charities happy by donating 50% of its commission to the charity of the shoe-buyer’s choice. Tim and I both agree that this is very cool. We wish we thought of this idea! But we were too busy making chains and planning meetings. So thanks to Carl for building this site! I will use it when my current Salomon XA Pro trail running shoes lose their steam.

Do you have a website you’d like to recommend? Then click here to send us a link. If we like it, we’ll post it! And we usually do like it, so why not, eh?

ransacker.co.uk

Vegan BBQ Sauce

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What’s missing?



The year was 2007. The month, December. It was summer in New Zealand and a light drizzle had just started to fall as Tim’s dad fired up the grill. His spatula was on the steak, but my mind was on the kebabs. Something was missing.

Mushrooms? No. Peppers? No. Onions? I never forget an onion.

Rainy day bbqIn the end, no amount of salt and pepper could raise these sad skewers to their full potential. Only later in a fit of spontaneous tempeh sloppy joe making did it hit me: barbecue sauce!

It was way too late for the kebabs, but I wouldn’t let the tempeh down. I looked in the fridge and wasn’t at all surprised that we were out of bbq sauce. The Brits don’t really get bbq sauce. If you said the words “Open Pit” to a Londoner, they would probably assume you were taking about an unfortunately-placed flesh wound rather than something you’d want to slather on a steak.

But one thing the Brits do get is tomato ketchup, and like model citizens of London’s renowned food culture, we had a full bottle in our fridge (and like slaves to Whole Paycheck, the bottle’s contents were entirely organic). The ketchup, added to a bit of mustard, garlic, chili powder, sugar, and Liquid Smoke, made for a surprisingly tasty impromptu vegan bbq sauce that was perfect with the tempeh, and would have worked wonders for those blasted kebabs.

Tempeh Sloppy Joe (before things got sloppy)

Vegan BBQ Sauce


Adapted from this 5-star “Bobbie-Q Sauce” recipe on Recipaar.


  • 1/2 cup Heinz ketchup

  • 1/8 cup water (more or less for desired thickness)

  • 1 garlic clove, minced (or more ( I mean, why not?)

  • 1 tsp Liquid Smoke

  • 1 teaspoon chili powder

  • 1/4 cup sugar or honey

  • 1 teaspoon prepared yellow mustard



Combine ingredients, bring to a boil and simmer over low heat for 5 minutes.

This post was inspired by Veggie Chic’s latest post on Liquid Smoke. Mmmmmmm… smoky.

Flax oil or flax seeds?

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Omega-3 fatty acids are supposed to be the business, right? Since I don’t eat fish, I’ve been supplementing my diet with flax oil, the richest plant source of omega-3s. But after reading the World’s Healthiest Foods’ take on flax oil, I’m not sure that this is the way forward:


Flaxseed oil is a processed food product in which most of the whole, natural food has been eliminated. We treat flax oil like a dietary supplement, and we do not include it in the World’s Healthiest Foods like we do flaxseeds. You can buy high-quality flax oil that includes many of the nutrients contained in the seeds, including some of the fiber. But you cannot find any flax oil that contains the full nutritional value of flaxseeds.



The word “processed” always gets my attention. Michael Pollan of In Defense of Food would say that this is a classic case of “nutritionism”, our modern ideology that deals with food by breaking it down into its constituent parts and trying to decipher what’s important. True, I try to make a point to eat whole, natural foods wherever possible, making the occasional exception for spaghetti (Tim has mastered the arrabiatta sauce as of late). But I eat spaghetti because it tastes good, whereas I eat flax oil to get omega-3’s. Wouldn’t it make more sense to just eat whole flax seeds, and all of the great fiber and nutrients that come with it?

What do flax seeds have that the oil lacks?

Flax seed oil has omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E. That’s it. Whole flax seeds, however are full of nutrients, including high concentrations of manganese, fiber, magnesium, folate, copper, phosphorus and vitamin B6.

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Nutrient concentration per 100g of flax seeds and flax oil

Source: USDA food database



Then why am I not eating more flax seeds?

Honestly, they are a pain in the ass. As WHF agrees, “one problem with flaxseeds, however, involves their chewing and digestion. Flaxseeds are very small and can pass through the body without becoming digested and absorbed.” Basically, our bodies don’t have the enzymes to break through the hard fibrous outer shell of the flax seed. So away they go, nutrients all, literally right down the pooper.

How can I get the benefits of the whole seed?

Flax seeds can be ground or soaked overnight to improve their digestibility. WHF recommends using a coffee grinder; mine do just fine in a blender.

But what do I DO with flax seeds once I’ve ground or soaked them?

It’s true, flax seeds on their own are kind of bland. Here are a few suggestions from me and WHF:

  • Add soaked flaxseeds to bircher muesli

  • Add ground flaxseeds to cereal and oatmeal

  • Sprinkle ground flax seeds on salads

  • Add ground or soaked flaxseed to smoothies

  • To give cooked vegetables a nuttier flavor, sprinkle some ground flaxseeds on top of them.

  • Add flaxseeds to your homemade muffin, cookie or bread recipe.


  • I’m still new to this but I’m sure you guys have some more great ideas. Please share in the comments!

    What is the difference between flaxseed and flaxseed oil?



    Ways to Reuse Your Polycarbonate Bottles


    skitched-20080426-140918.jpgI recently posted about the recent BPA warnings around plastic water bottles. If you don’t want to risk drinking from these containers but also don’t want to add to the landfill, here are a few novel ideas from Trailspace:


    • The LightCap 200 Solar Powered Light fits onto any 2″ wide mouth water bottle and turns it into a solar-powered lantern.

    • Lifehacker posts how to make your own DIY First Aid Kit with a disused water bottle, complete with “all the necessities—home medications, band-aids for minor cuts and scrapes, latex gloves for protection, sunscreen, matches, hand sanitizer, and safety pins and bandannas for quick slings, in addition to other must-have items.”



    Trailspace readers have a few more novel suggestions:


    • Make a sleeping bag warmer by putting hot water into the bottle and tossing it in the sleeping bag. “Heaven!” according to one reader!

    • Pee bottle.

    • Christmas light covers: “Drill a 5/16in or 3/8in hole in the center of the lids, add a small string of white christmas lights and presto, the coolest deck lights on the block.”



    Ways to Reuse Your Old Polycarbonate Bottles

    DIY First Aid Kit

    Bento boxes to lose weight, save money, and eat like a king

    Aloo Gobi, Dhal, Roast Cauliflower, & Basmati Rice



    Just Bento is a blog dedicated to healthy, simple, bento lunches to suit the hungry grown-up.

    What’s a bento? A bento can be anything from a simple lunch box to an elaborately designed work of art; it is still common for Japanese homemakers to spend considerable time and energy producing artfully-packed bentos. But most bentos are simple containers divided into sections, usually with a convenient carrying device and the essential cutlery (or chopsticks).

    skitched-20080425-150022.jpgMaki, the author of Just Bento, has hundreds of wonderful recipe suggestions for healthy bento lunches. Her bentos are about 80% vegetarian, often use brown rice as the base, and always have a good mix of carbs, protein and vegetables. She also has a wealth of information on selecting the right bento box. All of this makes Just Bento an awesome resource for anyone who wants to pack their own lunches.

    Why go bento? With its nifty dividers, a bento box can help you keep food portions in control. The author herself lost 30+ pounds after going bento. She claims that bentos can keep your mind off of calories on what really matters: good food in appropriate portions.


    But more important than the calorie count is that the bentos focused my attention on variety and portion size. Assembling a meal that will fit tightly and attractively in a small box requires a higher level of attention than laying food out on open plates. It’s also rather fun, once you get used to it.



    On top of the health benefits, bento lunches are also cheaper than eating out, and way better for the environment than disposable stuff.

    Where can you get a bento? Bentos are already popular in Japan, and only starting to get some global attention thanks to the (in my opionion, highly overrated) Laptop Lunchbox.

    Amazon carries a stainless-steel Zojirushi Mr. Bento that gets get reviews from users. UK dwellers can buy bentos online from Japan Centre. For the largest selection, visit J-List, a Japanese shop that ships worldwide.



    How to Prepare Healthy Meals Faster Than You Can Order Takeout

    Saturday Roast DinnerThis afternoon I thought I’d whip together a quick lunch of the Guardian’s “fairly easy” tabbouleh salad with a few chickpeas. The plan seemed quick and painless: while I cooked my soaked chickpeas and soaked the bulgar wheat, I could let the food processor chop the parsley, and hand chop a tomato and some green onion. It should only take a few minutes (cooking time aside). But while I had chickpeas and the food processor going, I thought “why not make hummus“? This would require slicing veggies, which involved washing carrots, celery and cucumber. Tim added that we needed pita bread if we’re having hummus, so off he went to the store. Finally, after dirtying all the dishes in the house, I went to assemble the toubbuleh only to find that I had been soaking couscous, not bulgar wheat, all along. Disaster!

    Yesterday I said to Tim, “now that working from home, I don’t imagine lunch will be more involved than what I did for work” (typically a salad I made the night before or leftover dal re-heated in the microwave). It didn’t take me long for me to get trapped in the kitchen.

    Here’s the bottom line: I love cooking. Chopping vegetables relaxes me. I think it’s fun to think about different combinations of ingredients and spices. It’s almost an obsession (to which Tim would likely respond, “almost?”). The thing is, there isn’t always enough time in the day to cook elaborate gourmet meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner (and don’t forget about second breakfast). But I don’t have the money or the appetite for fast food or frozen pizza (though I do have a soft spot for the thin crust variety, but again, I can’t hold back from adding fresh-sliced onion and green pepper before putting the pizza into the oven).

    John at Pick the Brain probably didn’t have me in mind when he wrote his post How to Prepare Healthy Meals Faster Than You Can Order Takeout. But just like the anti-chef can learn how to cook, food-obsessed folks like me can also learn that it’s okay to NOT cook fancy meals all the time.

    For John, meat is a big part of his “slow carb” cooking regime; however, vegetarians can also just as easily learn from these three basic tenets:


    • Stock up on food, such as frozen and canned foods that aren’t nasty, like frozen peas and tinned beans

    • Prepare foods efficiently by learning a routine, cooking simple meals, and learning to multitask

    • Embrace the microwave for defrosting frozen food, heating up beans, and cooking vegetables



    Our freezer is a treasure trove of easy meals: I make big batches of dal and veggie chili and cornbread then freeze them in meal-sized portions.

    Another great formula for a quick and healthy meal is beans + grains + vegetables. We often do puy lentils, which take about 30 minutes and are delicious enough just cooked with veggie stock. While those boil away, whip up some rice, quinoa or boiled potatoes (~10 mins) and steam some greens (~10 minutes to chop, wash and steam).

    What are your quick and health cooking tips?

    Lentils, Rice and Curly Kale




    How to Prepare Healthy Meals Faster Than You Can Order Takeout

    Exercise changes structure and function of the heart

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    A recent Harvard study has found that 90 days of athletic training not only produces significant changes in the heart, but those changes vary with the type of exercise performed.

    Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) followed two groups of Harvard University athletes: one group of endurance athletes, and another group of strength athletes. They used ultrasound technology to study the athlete’s hearts before and after the 90-day period. Both groups showed significant increases in the size of their hearts, but the locations of the increase differed:


    • Endurance exercise expanded the left and right ventricles, the chambers that send blood into the aorta and to the lungs, respectively, and increased the relaxation of the heart muscle between beats.

    • Strength exercise thickened the heart muscle, primarily the left ventricle, and decreased the relaxation of the heart muscle between beats.



    Researchers were surprised by both the magnitude of changes over a short time period and by how great the differences were. It also raises questions about the long-term impact of exercise, especially for people with heart disease. Aaron Baggish, MD, lead author of the study, says:


    While this study looks at young athletes with healthy hearts, the information it provides may someday benefit heart disease patients. The take-home message is that, just as not all heart disease is equal, not all exercise prescriptions are equal. This should start us thinking about whether we should tailor the type of exercise patients should do to their specific type of heart disease.



    How Exercise Changes Structure And Function Of Heart

    Alternatives to Plastic Water Bottles

    C220BF76-63FA-4E63-AF82-9C0460C6E17F.jpg You’ve probably heard the news that the chemical bisphenol-A (BPA), used to make the plastic in baby bottles and water bottles might be bad for us humans. Now, Canada is about declare BPA “toxic”, causing a ripple affect across the once BPA-happy industry. Nalgene will stop making BPA-containing bottles, and REI is pulling them from their shelves.

    Add this news to plastic’s already soured reputation for being environmentally rubbish and you have whole new market on your hands. Aluminium Sigg bottles are already a hit here in the UK and Trailspace.com is featuring a whole article on aluminum, stainless steel and BPA-free plastic bottles.

    But while you’re considering plastic alternatives, consider NOT adding your Nalgene bottle to a landfill just yet. You might as well use it while you have it. This article in Spiked explains why the latest research into BPAs, mostly studied on animals, is not at all conclusive when it comes to humans.


    The [US government’s National Toxicology Program] report references several studies of low-dose BPA effects, but also notes that they have been less than definitive because of ‘insufficient replication by independent investigators, questions on the suitability of various experimental approaches, [and] relevance of the specific animal model used for evaluating potential human risks’. More crucially, many of the low-dose studies of BPA have failed to establish a clear link between the dose of BPA and an adverse health impact, a fact that clearly undermines the claim that low doses of BPA in animals have any relevance to humans.



    Furthermore, if you haven’t been putting boiling water in your bottle, then your BPA exposure may be relatively low. According to Trailspace:


    A recent study by University of Cincinnati scientists showed that liquid temperature, not a container’s age, has the most impact on how much BPA is released. When the same new and used polycarbonate drinking bottles were exposed to boiling hot water, BPA was released 55 times more rapidly than before exposure to hot water.



    But the news ain’t all bad. Scientists at the Missouri University of Science and Technology are constructing new breeds of biodegradable plastic using new polymers that incorporate renewable resources, such as polylactic acid, which is created by fermenting starch. Sound technical? It is.


    As polylactic acid degrades, the material reacts with water to decompose into small molecules, which are then mineralized into water and carbon dioxide.

    “In general, the main end products of polymer degradation are water and carbon dioxide,” Shahlari explains. “Polylatic acid has the potential of replacing the regular water bottles, and we anticipate that our research could be incorporated into that field too.



    Great idea, though I fear that biodegradable water bottles could just mean more bottles on the market. I mean, it’s still trash after all. Me, I’ll stick with the three year-old water bottle that came free with my bike.

    Left my water bottle out over night...



    A plastic ban for dummies, Spiked
    Building a Better Water Bottle: Aluminum, Steel, and No BPA, Trailspace.com
    Making Environmentally Friendly Plastics, ScienceDaily

    Indian Cucumber and Coconut Salad

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    I like my dals with something refreshing on the side. Lately, I’m all about this salad, adapted from Das Sreedharan’s “The New Taste of India”, a fantastic cookbook filled with delicious vegetarian recipes from Southern India.

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    The salad takes a bit of chopping, but it’s totally worth it, both for its flavor, and for the rave reviews it gets everytime I serve it.


    Indian Cucumber and Coconut Salad



    For the salad:
    1 cucumber, peeled and finely chopped
    2 Tbsp desiccated coconut (or more to taste)
    1 carrot, finely chopped
    1 tomato, finely chopped
    1 fresh green chilli, finely chopped
    a small bunch of fresh cilantro (i.e. coriander), finely chopped
    salt

    For the dressing:
    2 tsp olive oil
    1 teaspoon mustard seeds
    1 teaspoon cumin seeds
    1 dried red chilli, halved
    1/2 tsp asafoetida
    ~10 dried curry leaves
    juice from half a lemon


    1. Place all the salad ingredients in a bowl and set aside in the fridge.


    2. Put the oil in a large frying pan with the mustard seeds, cumin seeds, red chilli, asafoetida and curry leaves. Turn the heat up to medium and wait for the seeds to start sizzling and smelling delicious.


    3. When the mustard seeds begin to pop, pour the oil and seeds over the salad. Add the lemon juice and some salt to taste and mix thoroughly. If you can wait, cool in the fridge before serving.

    Latest vitamin research: a tough pill to swallow

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    Thanks to Crabby for enlightening me to the latest drama around vitamins. Guess what: they might do us more harm than good.

    The folks at Chochrane Systemic Review scrutinised 67 randomised trials but could “find no evidence to support taking antioxidant supplements to reduce the risk of dying earlier in healthy people or patients with various diseases.”

    No wonder all that vitamin C I’ve been taking to squash my spring sniffles seems to be doing no good.

    Says Chochran researcher, Goran Bjelakovic: ““The findings of our review show that if anything, people in trial groups given the antioxidants beta-carotene, vitamin A, and vitamin E showed increased rates of mortality. There was no indication that vitamin C and selenium may have positive or negative effects…The bottom line is that current evidence does not support the use of antioxidant supplements in the general healthy population or in patients with certain diseases.”

    The news has sparked the expected outrage from the supplement industry, but journalists, too, are raising an eyebrow. The Times was quick to point out that studying the effect of antioxidants is incredibly hard due to our ever-changing diet patterns and unreliability as witnesses.


    So what does this latest review mean for us? It certainly doesn’t mean that those of us taking multivitamins are going to suffer an early death – they were not covered in the review. For those of us who take supplements of individual antioxidants, the picture is still far from clear. What we can say is that if there are benefits in taking single antioxidant supplements, they are very small indeed.



    I agree with the Guardian’s Sarah Boseley:


    In the end, maybe the safest thing is just to eat a better diet.



    I’m not about to give up my daily multivitamin, but it does make me think twice about all the £££’s I’ve spent on vitamin C. Next time I’ll spend my money on cauliflower and oranges, which are far more pleasant to eat than nasty pills!

    No evidence that antioxidant supplements prolong life, News from the Cochrane Library
    The truth about Vitamins, The Times
    Hard to swallow, The Guardian