Monthly Archives: April 2009

Foods to Eat When You’re Sick


I don’t normally like Gatorade. Ok, I’m lying – I love the stuff, and most other types of flat, fake-orange beverages. But usually I have the will to resist. Not when I’m sick.

We all have our own food cravings when we’re under the weather. Bob at Slashfood has a likes ginger ale and pizza, while his commenters are big fans of whiskey, ramen noodles and saltines.

Aside from the gatorade, my cravings tend to lean towards the salty/spicy end of the flavor spectrum. Soup, broth, marmite, toast. Here are my picks:

  1. Tea. Especially lemon and honey. Or if I want something salty, plain veggie stock in a mug works.
  2. Soup. Classic comfort food.
  3. Hot pepper. And spicy food in general. I love the stuff, and capsaicin, found in garlic and hot peppers, even helps reduce sinus and nasal congestion.
  4. Bread. Or crackers. Sometime dry and salty.
  5. Orange Soda. I’m not proud of this, but I really like cold, flat orange-flavoured drinks like Gatorade when I’m sick.
  6. Garlic. Garlic is delicious, and it supposedly prevents the common cold.

Sure enough, today’s food log has pretty much featured all of these.

Life Log for April 26, 2009


Bircher muesli with bananas and lemon honey tea

Bircher Muesli with Lemon Tea and a New Read


Short stroll through Abney Park Cemetery

Abney Park Cemetery

I decided it would do me some good to get some fresh air and paracetamol, so I took a slow walk to the grocery store via the lush Abney Park Cemetery. Given the way I’m feeling as I write this now, I have no idea how I had the energy. But I’m glad I did, because it was nice and I even got a few photos in.

Abney Park Cemetery


Yellow split pea soup with garlic-braised spinach and toast

Split Pea Soup with Braised Spinach and Sourdough Bread

Recipe: Yellow Split Pea Soup


Butter beans and pasta with super-garliccy tomato sauce, toast and salad

Pasta and Butter Beans with Tomato Sauce and Salad

Yellow Split Pea Soup for the Soul

Split Pea Soup with Braised Spinach and Sourdough Bread

I haven’t had a flu in a long time. It’s the strangest sensation. I have no symptoms of a cold, such as runny nose or cough, and I don’t have a fever. But my entire body feels like it’s been pummeled. My back aches and I’m so lethargic I can barely move. I’ve never slept so much in my life. I equate this to the way I felt after I had my wisdom teeth removed, passed out and exhausted in the bed. Only this time I’m not bleeding all over my pillow, or pumped full of codeine.

Now that I have sufficiently ruined your appetites, perhaps I could bring it back with a comforting bowl of yellow split pea soup? This really cheered me up this afternoon, right before I collapsed back into bed for another two hours of sleep. This is another hit from Mark Bittman, who makes a very valid point about vegetarian split pea soup in his book, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian:

Meat-eaters automatically associate split peas with ham bones, so many vegetarian versions of split pea soup add a smoky taste through smoked chiles like dried chipotle or ancho. Tossing a piece of toasted seaweed into the pot is another way to add a “meaty” dimension. The truth is you don’t need either. Why muddle that distinctive pea flavor?

I couldn’t agree more. Once again, vegetarian food doesn’t have to mimic meat to be delicious. The proof: Bittman’s Yellow Split Pea Soup with Pantry Vegetables. The surprise is in the pumpkin, which dissolves beautifully into the soup, adding an extra dimension of creaminess and subtle sweetness. Apparently, this is the way they do it in the Caribbean.

Yellow Split Pea Soup

This soup is high in flavor, fiber and protein!

2 Tbsp olive or vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
salt and pepper
2 cups yellow split peas
6 cups vegetable stock or water
2 cups peeled and chopped sweet potato, yam, plantains, pumpkin, taro root or any combination of the above
cayenne pepper (optional)
lime (optional)
  1. Heat up the oil in a soup pot over medium-high heat. When hot, add the vegetables and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  2. Add the split peas and stock to the pot. Cook for about 20 minutes.
  3. Add the potato, pumpkin, or whichever root vegetable you are using. Continue cooking until all the vegetables and peas are soft, about 25-40 minutes.
  4. Taste and adjust the seasoning. You can leave the soup chunk or blend some if it if you like.
  5. Serve with a sprinkle of cayenne pepper and a squeeze of lime.

Makes 6 servings. Per serving (using sweet potato): 336 Calories; 18g Protein; 5.4g Total Fat; 56g Total Carbohydrates; 0mg Cholesterol; 51mg Sodium; 19.6g Fiber.

Three Minute Spelt Bread

Quick Spelt Bread

If you like Irish Soda Bread, you’ll like this hearty, seedy quick bread made with whole spelt flour.

I found this recipe on my pack of Gilchesters Organics “Stoneground Organic 100% Whole Spelt”, a “nutritionally rich, flavoursome flour.” The resulting loaf was not pretty. The crust was a bit tough and the dough didn’t rise as much as I expected. And yet, I really liked it. The bread was dense without being brick-like. It demands to be accompanied with something salty, such as butter or avocado and salt. I really liked it with a bit of cannellini bean pate (one of my tricks from Rachel Demuth).

Cannelini Bean Pate on Spelt BreadThe best part of this bread is that it really takes only 3 minutes to prepare. Although it requires yeast, there’s no kneading required. It’s a good starting point if you’re experimenting with wholemeal spelt flour. For a more sandwich-style bread, check out the wholemeal spelt bread I posted a few weeks ago.

Three Minute Spelt Bread

You can use whatever seeds or nuts you have on hand to make this recipe. I used almonds, pumpkin and flax seeds.

500g Spelt Flour
10g fast-acting dried yeast
1/2 tsp sea salt
50g sunflower seeds
50g sesame seeds
50g linseeds
500ml warm water

Preheat oven to 200 C / 390 F. Combine all the ingredients, adding the water last. Mix well and turn the dough into a greased loaf tin. Put straight into the oven and bake for an hour. Remove the loaf, turn it out of the tin and then return it to the oven without the tin for another 5-10 minutes.

What’s Wrong With the Food We Eat

Mark Bittman seems to come up a lot lately on this blog, largely due to my recent acquisition of How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, quickly becoming my favorite cookbook of all time! But this post isn’t about cooking; however, it is about Food.

Mark Bittman gave a TED talk last year that’s well worth watching (you can view it up top). It’s a Pollan-esque polemic on the state of the food industry, and yeah, most of us have heard this before already. However, Bittman’s marked wit and unabashed use of the word “fart” makes the argument well worth another listen.

In this fiery and funny talk, New York Times food writer Mark Bittman weighs in on what’s wrong with the way we eat now (too much meat, too few plants; too much fast food, too little home cooking), and why it’s putting the entire planet at risk.

Mark Bittman on what’s wrong with what we eat

Life Logging: Attempting the Impossible

skitched-20090415-075319.jpgToday I learned that sometimes it’s good to attempt the impossible.

Today I embarked on my latest workout inspired by the Monkey Bar Gym. I’m using their 60 day challenge workouts as a template, which are updated every day and is designed for “people who prefer to workout without the use of weights and get in great shape with nothing more than their bodyweight and Fitness Cables.” That’s me!

Today’s workout introduced me to two exercises I had never done before: V-Ups and Lateral Jumps. I was supposed to alternate these exercises for 40 seconds on, 20 seconds off, and repeat for a total of 12 minutes.

Starting with Lateral Jumps, I used my YogaToes as a divider and attempted 40 seconds of jumping over the Toes from side to side. What a shock. With every jump I sent the Toes flying. My body teetered from side to side, landing randomly in zig-zagged patterns around the Toes, knocking them around the mat. No matter how hard I concentrated I couldn’t do it. And I was knackered after 10 seconds. How would I ever manage 40?

I eventually settled for jumping in place, which was hard in itself but actually quite fun when I found the right music (Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl” works well, as does The Clash’s “I Fought the Law”).

Something similar happened with the V-Ups and I ended up settling for more of a V Crunch. Even so, the jumping and the crunching was exhausting, and I can’t remember the last time I felt so challenged.

But it was good. It reminded me that I have a long way to go, especially as far as “functional fitness” goes. But more than that, it reminded me how much more interesting exercise is when I mix up the routine and keep challenging myself. I think this must be one of the reasons I haven’t written about the “fitter” side of SmarterFitter lately – I’ve been sticking to the same ol’ swimming/walking/cycling routine for months. I’m probably bored!

But now I’m energized. I want to start jumping rope.

Diary for Tuesday, April 14 2009


Great swim this morning. 7am. Lane to myself. Swam 2000 meteres. First 1000, I alternated free style and backstroke every 25m. Then I did freestyle interval “sprints” for the next 750m. Finally, 50m of nice and easy freestyle for the cool down.


Bircher Muesli with Bananas and the Boss

RooiBOS(S), that is. I wasn’t really feeling breakfast this morning. I seemed to be instantly full. But I’m loving my book. Empire of the Sun by J.G. Ballard.

Bircher Muesli with Bananas and Rooibos


Dal with Basmati Rice and Raw Veggies


Recipe: Red Lentil Dal with Panch Phoran (using swiss chard instead of cauliflower)

I made a double batch of this stuff last week and froze handy portions of it in the freezer. Dal is the perfect food to cook in bulk and freeze for easy meals. This is a 10 minute lunch, shorter if you have a microwave and the rice is ready to go. What’s also nice about dal is that it goes well with so many vegetables, so a basic dal recipe can be nicely augmented with greens, cauliflower, carrots, peas, or in this case, swiss chard.


Dark Chocolate and Tea

Dark Chocolate and Tea

Getting Hard

I have a long way to go.

40 seconds on, 20 seconds off, repeat for a total of 12 minutes alternating between:

1. Burpees
2. Cable Full Extensions

Rest as needed, then repeat same format as above alternating between:

1. Jumping in place
2. V Crunches


Rye Berry Gratin with Lentils and Purple Sprouting Broccoli

Rye Berry Bliss

Recipe: Rye Berry Gratin with Leeks and Tomatoes

Weighing In On Weighing In

MizFit has sparked an interesting discussion about scales on her blog.

Should you weigh yourself everyday? Every week? Not at all?

I weigh myself every morning. My weight doesn’t change much, and usually I don’t remember what the scale says five minutes after I’ve looked at it. I don’t know why I still do it. Force of habit I guess. I sort of see it as a way to keep myself in check. And sometimes it’s even a source of reassurance, like when I have dessert one night and discover I haven’t gained any weight the next day, I think “hey cool, I can still enjoy chocolate cake once in a while and it won’t make me a lard ass.”

But these are my irrational fears of gaining 50lbs overnight and turning into an instant blob talking. The rational side of my brain agrees with MizFit:

I believe, in our heart of hearts, we know if we’ve gained or lost before we step upon that self-esteem demolishing numbers providing machine….

Talk about a mindfuck game. If our goal is to be kind to ourselves and set ourselves up for success this surely is not the path.

That last bit really struck a nerve for me.

By weighing myself every day, am I setting myself up for failure?

At the moment I’m in a situation I never thought I would be in: I’m actually trying to gain weight. That is, I want to put on some muscle so I’ve added some resistance training and interval swimming to my workouts. The problem is, I’ve still got those irrational fears of the scale holding me back. The result?

  • I haven’t put on an ounce of weight (i.e. muscle) in the three weeks I’ve been strength training.
  • I’m constantly hungry, but nervous about upping my food intake due to my aforementioned irrational fears.
  • I’m thinking about food constantly. I also seem to be very distracted and headache-prone lately. Think that hunger might have something to do with all this?

So what have I learned? I need to eat more, yes. And I need to stop holding on to the reassuring static state of the scale.

Could it be that the only way welcome weight gain is to take my eyes off the numbers and let my inner “light” guide me. If I’m hungry, I should eat, even if it’s more than I ate the day before. If my jeans start to feel tight in the thights, then maybe I should worry (or not… maybe instead I should thank my squats for doing their job).

This is all in the name of HEALTH, after all. And since when did “weight” and “health” become synonymous? Perhaps it was when the scale became a staple appliance of the modern day household…

The Power of the Scale [MizFit]

Image courtesy of Talia Sara

Life Logging: Working out without equipment

I’m trying to get back into strength training. So far, I haven’t been working with a set “plan”, per se. My only plan is to do some strength training three times per week. Now, I’d really love to have a set routine, but right now I’m working with minimal equipment and a bit of cluelessness about how to go about getting strong without weights or the gym. So I’m learning, one exercise at a time, and hobbling together “workouts” hoping that I’ll eventually have a good base of exercises I can form a real routine from. We’ll see.

In any event, I had a really nice floor workout Sunday morning, doing simple stuff like push-ups and single-leg squats. I must have done something right because I was pretty sore this morning (in a good way). Overall, I’m encouraged. I’ve only been at it a few weeks but I think the exercises are helping my swimming and my shin splints (the whole reason I started this was to strengthen my legs, ass and core so that I don’t put too much strain on my knees). I’m also having fun learning new exercises like burpees and toe taps.

Exercise – fun? And free? How cool is that?

Life Log for Sunday, April 5, 2009


Bircher muesli with bananas and yogurt

Bircher Muesli and Rooibos Earl Grey

Stretching and Strengthening


Two turns around Clissold Park with Tim.


Flageolet bean “pate” with sundried tomatoes, sprouts and salad

Sundried Tomato and Flageolet Bean "Pate"


Veggie pizza on a spelt crust with salad

And a glass (or two) of fairly average red wine (and yet still more than drinkable).

Pizza and Salad

Quick Fit Tip: Walk up a hill

Walking down from Beacon Hill Staying fit is all about making activity a daily part of living life. At least that’s my philosophy, and I had an opportunity to put this to work last week before my cooking class at Rachel Demuth’s.

My train got into just after 8a.m. and class didn’t start til 9:50. Looking at the map to Rachel’s (which makes a point of noting that the walk from the train station is about 30 minutes uphill), I noticed a landmark beyond my destination called “Beacon Hill”. What can I say – when I see a landmark with “hill” in the name, I just can’t resist (same goes for “falls”, “canyon”, “cove” and pretty much any word that sounds like an adventure). I also thought it’d be nice to do a little exercise before embarking on a day of food tasting.

The view from Beacon HillNeither the map nor Rachel’s directions were lying – the trip to her kitchen was steep as is, but it got even steeper as I headed up the stairway to the top of Beacon Hill. My thighs were burning, but at the summit I reaped my reward: a magnificent view of Bath and the countryside beyond. This is the kind of stuff that makes me love England.

So my quick tip for you is: Got a hill and some time to kill? Then get walking. The rewards are manyfold:

  • Great exercise. Walking up hills is not only great for your cardiovascular health, but it also gives your thighs and calves and killer workout.
  • Conquering the vista. Nothing beats the sense of accomplishment you feel after walking up a hill.
  • The view. Whether you’re in a city or the countryside, a hill generally affords an amazing overlook of the surrounding landscape. And even if the view is dismal (shopping malls and garbage dumps probably look much more appealing from ground level), at least you get a new perspective on the world we live in.
  • Stress relief. There’s plenty of research out there to support that direct contact with nature leads to increased mental health. I can’t say the same for the gym.
  • It’s free. We like free!

I’m not the only one who loves hill walking. The old geezers and their dogs up on Beacon Hill were a testament to that. So is Cari Corbet-Owen, who recently extolled the virtues of a good hill in her excellent guest post on Cranky Fitness:

I want being active to just be a natural part of my day. So, I’d rather have a workout walking up the steep hill to the shops with my backpack on. I’m killing a couple birds with one stone…. fitting in my shopping, fitting in some sunshine, smiling at a few people on the way, doing my affirmations, taking a break from work AND striding out.

Once again, good old-fashioned LIVING conquers the gym. It can be done!

I’d love to buy a house on a hill, but somehow I don’t think I could afford this view (or the flowers to go with it):


Of Soup, Spelt, Swimming and Sunshine

Trying to get back into the swing of things with my food/fitness diary posts. There’s no time to start like the present, eh?

Diary for Saturday, April 4, 2009


I have a cold, but guess what: the chlorine is great for clearing the sinuses. I went for a gentle 1500m swim and felt great by the end of it.


Bircher Muesli with Bananas

And a new book: Sarah Macdonald’s Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure
(recommended by MizFit!).

Bircher and a Book


Leftover Indian chickpeas with steamed spinach and bread

Chickpeas and Spinach


A turn around the park with Tim. It was a beautiful day in London, which some may argue is the worst time to go to the park. The place was packed. But we enjoyed our walk all the same. Fresh air and sunshine are good for the soul.


Wintertime Tomato Soup with Salad and Spelt Bread

The soup is another winner from Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. The bread was made earlier in the day using this recipe for wholemeal spelt bread. I added some cooked flageolet beans to the salad to round out the meal. The whole thing rocked my world, especially the soup. You can find the recipe for Wintertime Tomato Soup at The New York Times (planet green also has a nice write-up – I second their suggestion for adding croutons).

Wintertime Tomato Soup

Mixed Green Salad

Spelt Success!

Wholemeal Spelt Bread


Spelt Success!


One of the dishes we made at Rachel Demuth’s “Fast and Delicious” vegetarian cooking course was a spelt Irish soda bread. Before this, I always thought spelt was one of those grains that only gluten-intolerant people would appreciate (which just goes to show how much I knew at the time – spelt contains gluten; it’s a little different from wheat gluten, but it’s gluten all the same).

Gluten aside, it turns out spelt is pretty tasty, even to wheat-fiends like myself. It has a nutty flavor and tastes somewhat sweeter than wheat (at least I think so). Besides, I’ve been looking for alternatives to wheat in my diet – variety is the spice of life, right? The spelt loaf inspired me.

After this revelation, I went home bought a bag of Sharpham Park wholemeal spelt flour and set out to make some bread. There’s a surprising dearth of wholemeal spelt bread recipes out there (plenty of them call for white spelt flour, but few are made with the wholemeal stuff, and my earlier attempt to bake a wholemeal loaf using a white loaf recipe was a miserable failure). I finally found this recipe for wholemeal spelt bread buried deep in Fresh Loaf’s forum. This one’s definitely a keeper.

Word of caution: this is not a fast recipe, but it sure is delicious. This bread involves making an overnight “sponge”, then mixing more flour and yeast with the sponge, then letting the dough rise several times, kneading between rises, then baking, then finally waiting impatiently for the loaf to cool before diving in with a bread. But this is bread baking, after all – a task for the patient and a labor of love. And it was totally worth it.

The resulting spelt bread was light, fluffy and flavorful, both on its own and smeared with a bit of butter (but let’s face it, there aren’t many foods you could ruin with a smear of butter). It was especially good with this evening’s roasted tomato soup (another keeper from Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian). Tomorrow, the spelt bread will make great sandwiches. Sandwich filling: TBD.

Wholemeal Spelt Bread

You can make this bread vegan by subbing the honey for agave nectar or sugar!

Spelt Success!


    • 100g Wholemeal spelt flour


  • 100g Water



  • 4g Active Yeast


Mix the yeast and flour in a bowl and add water to dry ingredients. Stir into a dough and leave covered in a cool and draft-free place for about 10hrs.


    • 275g Wholemeal spelt flour


  • 175g Water



  • 4g Active Yeast



  • 5g Salt



  • 15g Honey



  • 15g Oil



  • All of the above sponge



Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl. In a separate bowl, mix the water, honey and sponge, making sure the sponge is broken into small pieces.

Add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture, mix into a rough dough, add the oil and squidge it with your fingers. Cover and let dough rest for 10mins.

Turn the dough out onto a clean, oiled surface and knead for 15 seconds then return dough back into a clean and oiled bowl. Let rest for 10mins.
Repeat this twice for a total of 3 x 15 second kneads at 10mins intervals. Let dough rest for 15mins after the third knead.

Turn the dough out onto an oiled surface, press dough out into a rectangle and fold the top edge 1/3 inwards and the bottom edge over the top. Rotate the dough 90 degrees and repeat the 1/3 folds then return dough to bowl covered for 1 hour.

After the hour, repeat the above 1/3 folds and return dough back to bowl and cover for another hour.

After the dough has rested a second hour, make a quick slit into dough to check for a series of bubbles. If you see the bubbles, the dough can be shaped. If not, repeat the folds and check back after 1/2 hour.

When dough is ready to shape, oil an 8×4 inch baking pan and dust with rice flour. On an oiled surface, press dough gently into a rectangle and roll it like a tight jelly-roll. Tuck the ends in and place it seam-side down into the pan. Cover for another 1 hour or until, when lightly pressed, it leaves an indentation without springing back (use a wet finger to test this).

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 425F (220C) with a tray of water at the bottom. Bake for 10mins then reduce the temperature to 375F (190C) and bake till the dough lifts off the side of the pan and sounds hollow when tapped on the underside, about 30 minutes. Use a foil to cover the top if its getting too dark before the loaf is ready.