Recipe Review: The Really Hungry Burger by Anna Jones

Anna Jones' Really Hungry Burger

I have a love-hate relationship with veggie burgers (see this post from 2008: Wanted: A Veggie Burger That Isn’t a Mush Burger). The best veggie burger I’ve ever had was the beetroot burger from Mildred’s in London. I’ve since tried many veggie burger recipes, but most fail on various merits: too mushy, no texture, boring flavour, crumbly, and most commonly, made with so many breadcrumbs as to totally negate the need or desire for a bun.

I’ve even gone so far as creating a website entirely devoted to my search for the Ultimate Veggie Burger. But after so many experiments I was starting to think that veggie burgers were a total misnomer and that it was impossible to recreate the visceral joy of eating a tasty burger (with your hands, please, none of this British knife-and-fork stuff) without going back to the basic meaty principles.

It’s been a while since I’ve ventured back into veggie burger territory but I was inspired by my friend, CrossFit buddy, and fellow veggie burger enthusiast Jane to give them another go. Anna Jones’ recipe for The Really Hungry Burger caught both of our eyes. It helps that the picture of the burger looks awesome, but the ingredients sound really interesting too: mushrooms, dates, tahini… this burger was speaking my language. And Anna Jones’ own notes address some of my core concerns about veggie burgers:

Please be assured that this is not the breaded sweetcorn and mushroom mush excuse that usually shows up between two white buns. This is a hearty health-packed wonder that makes no apology to anyone…I’ve played around with a lot of recipes before settling on this one, some full of bright herb freshness and grated veg, some packed with protein-rich tofu, and all were good, but what I look for in a burger is a deep moreish flavour, savoury and complex, so this is the one.

Anna Jones' Really Hungry Burger

Jane and I made these burgers two ways: one with cannellini beans, the other with black beans. Both were awesome. The burgers hold their shape exceptionally well and they have great texture from the brown rice. The flavour really IS savoury and complex – I probably wouldn’t guess dates and tahini from the burger alone, but they combine perfectly with the rest of the ingredients to make a really tasty burger that’s totally worthy of being called “The Really Hungry Burger”.

As to toppings, Jane and I both liked Anna’s suggestion to serve the burgers with avocado and a quick cucumber pickle. We also felt that the burger benefited from a good dose of cheesy goodness. And of course, everything is better with giardiniera.

So maybe my quest for the Ultimate Veggie Burger is not fruitless after all. I will definitely be coming back to this recipe again, which means I can turn my attention to solving other problems, like what is the ultimate drink pairing to go with a veggie burger? To this end I had some help from Sir Neil of the France wine experience, whose top pick was a white Rhone. I got hold of a Jean-Luc Colombo La Redonne, which I swear I didn’t pick just for the name. This was way more fruity than the white wines I usually go for (NZ Sauvingon Blanc is my usual default, which probably says a lot about my knowledge of wine!), but I really enjoyed something new and I thought the wine’s peachiness stood up well to the hearty burger, and the total flavour explosion that came from all the wild toppings!

Finally, it should be noted that Jane fed the leftovers to a couple of meat-loving dudes who thought the veggie burgers were outstanding. The recipe features in Anna’s new book A Modern Way To Eat, probably worth picking up if you’re looking for satisfying vegetarian recipes designed to please ALL lovers of good food, veggies and omnivores alike.

Get the recipe: The Really Hungry Burger []

Vegetarian Hot & Sour Soup

Vegetarian Hot & Sour Soup

Thursday, 19 February marks the beginning of The Chinese New Year, a celebration that lasts from the new moon to the Lantern Festival 15 days later.

Much of what I know about Chinese New Year I learned from chatting with Sachiko Saeki, a chef who was Hugh’s sushi tutor on River Cottage, and who frequently hosts regular cooking courses at Demuths Cookery School in Bath.

“To me Chinese New Year is similar to Christmas. It’s a time for family and friends to come together. Cleaning is involved and lots of it – the home, your past, in relationships, debts, to face the New Year anew mentally and spiritually.”

In this spirit of renewal and cleansing, I like to mark the Chinese New Year by making this Vegetarian Hot & Sour Soup, a bowl of comfort that keeps the body and soul warm during these last days of winter, but also harkens of the coming spring with its fresh flavours and colourful vegetables.

This soup isn’t just for Chinese New Year, it’s really for any time of year when you need a nourishing pick-me-up. It’s a very easy soup to make and can be adapted to suit whatever vegetables you have to hand. I especially like mine with lots of carrots and broccoli.

Vegetarian Hot & Sour Soup

Serves 2

  • 140g dried wholewheat noodles (or vegetable noodles for a low-carb affair)
  • rapeseed oil (or other neutral oil)
  • 2 tbsp grated ginger
  • 1 medium red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp Shaohsing rice wine
  • 700ml vegetable stock
  • 1 tsp dark soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1 handful beansprouts
  • 2 spring onions, sliced
  • 200g firm tofu, sliced into strips
  • vegetables: carrots, courgettes, broccoli, seaweed, mushrooms, whatever you have!


  1. Cook the noodles according to the packet’s instructions. When finished, rinse under cold running water and drizzle a little oil over them to keep them from sticking together. Divide between two big bowls.
  2. In a soup pot, combine the ginger, red chilli, Shaohsing rice wine, vegetable stock, soy sauce and rice vinegar. Bring to a simmer.
  3. While the soup simmers, prepare your vegetables. I like to julienne my carrots and courgettes, but feel free to cut them to your preferred daze and shape.
  4. Add the vegetables to the pot and let it come back to the simmer. Cook until the vegetables are tender (any quick-cooking vegetables, especially greens, should be added at the very end so they don’t over cook).
  5. Stir in the bean sprouts, most of the spring onions and the tofu.
  6. Ladle the soup over the noodles. Serve garnished with spring onions.

Vegetarian Hot & Sour Soup


Also seen on Great British Chefs.

How to Become A Morning Person

Auckland sunrise

I became a morning person when I moved to Austin, Texas; it was the only way to run without boiling in the hot Texas sun. It took a while – I even used to go as far as sleeping in my running clothes! – but eventually those early mornings became habit, and now I swear by the them. I feel incomplete if I don’t do some form of physical activity first thing. I like starting the day with a feeling of accomplishment. And I like doing it at a time when most of the world is asleep, giving me a sense that I have the whole universe to myself. 

David Long, the owner and head coach at CrossFit Cirencester, recently wrote about this topic on Facebook, and has graciously allowed me to share his tips here on my blog. I like his focus on GOALS. How badly do you want to reach them? 

Training early in the morning causing you problems?

Nearly everyone I talk to says that training in the morning is the best way to ensure that it gets done.

But of course, the problem is that most of us are faced with busy mornings. If you are a parent, you are dealing with getting children up and ready to get out the door to school. Getting yourself ready. Preparing lunches. Making breakfasts, walking the dogs. So many things are going on in the morning, and finding the time to train just doesn’t happen for a lot of people.

So, how are you to make a morning workout happen? You get up even EARLIER than you’re already getting up. And you are thinking that is not going to happen, and this is the moment that I lose half of you because you think getting up even earlier is just crazy.

I personally love training in the morning. When most of the country is still snoozing away. I wake up at 4:00 am almost every morning so that I can reach my goals, and I wanted to share my tips with you so that you can begin reaching your health and fitness goals. Waking up early is not always something that has come easy for me. I have always had to train early in the morning and didn’t used to be a morning person. This didn’t just come naturally to me. But, like everything else, after about a month of practice and work, I was able to say that 4-4:30 am was my new morning wake-up time. I have now been setting my alarm for 3:50 am for about a year now and couldn’t be happier about the few extra hours I get every morning just to train by myself.

Here are the tips I use in order to get up early in order to reach my goals. You can use these same tips to wake up early to work out.

1. Visualise Your Morning:

Before falling asleep, think about what your morning is going to look like. You’re going to wake right up when your alarm goes off. You’re going to put your CrossFit Cirencester training kit on, wash your face, brush your teeth, and then you’re going to do your mobility and your extra Met-Con for the day or get down to the box for your class. Obviously, this is just an example. You’ll have to use your own training plan and make it fit exactly to your schedule, but the point is that you want to actually visualise what your morning is going to look like from the moment your alarm goes off. This preps your mind for what is to come. I even visualise the time on the clock.

2. Think of a Consequence:

What is the consequence if you don’t train first thing in the morning. You’re going to be angry with yourself. You’re going to continue to live less active than you would prefer. You’re possibly going to go another day/week/month of not fitting comfortably in your clothes, if that is your goal. Or you could even go one step further and make it a physical consequence to yourself. You pay a pound into a jar that goes toward something that won’t benefit you at all if you don’t work out in the morning. Like CFC athlete Luke Cameron and his Good Deed Diary.

3. Be 100% Prepared:

Make sure everything is set up and ready. The last thing you want to be doing in the early hours is fumbling for your training kit, tooth brush, socks, or shoes. Have it all ready. All in one spot. I even prepare my breakfast the night before.

4. Put Your Alarm Across the Room

I know you’ve heard this one before. But it’s absolutely true. As annoying as it is to hear your alarm go off and know you have to actually get up and out of bed in order to shut it up, it’s probably one of the best pieces of advice I can give you for getting up and out if your nice warm comfortable bed to meet your training goals. Ask yourself what would Rich Froning do?

5. Drink Water Straight Away:

Put a glass of water right near your phone/alarm. As soon as you turn off your phone, drink the water. It will wake your body up. It’s going to make you get up and get moving.

It is simple. I know it’s a lot easier said than done. It’s all a matter of you just following through with the steps and turning it into a habit over time. But, it can be done. This is what it comes down to it. How badly do you want to reach your goals? Either you want it or you don’t. Prove it to yourself by getting up and making it happen. For me, I want to make a difference with CrossFit Cirencester and for it to thrive. There is no other option. I take my job as a role model for you all very seriously. So waking up at 4:00 am is a part of me getting to work on time. That is how I have to think about it. Getting to work on time so that I can reach my goals and help you reach yours. The consequence is that if I fail, we all fail.

Good luck everyone, 2015 is your year to start making a difference too!

Thanks David for letting me share your awesome tips with my readers. Readers, do give the CrossFit Cirencester Facebook Page a like – it’s full of motivation, whether you do CrossFit or not. And if you’re in the Cirencester area, do pop into CrossFit Cirencester for a session sometime. It’s super friendly, non-judgy, challenging in a fun way, and totally adaptable to ALL fitness levels. And David is THE best personal trainer / coach a person could ask for, definitely in an influence in helping me achieve my goals over the last year. 


Upping the game: Seeing a nutritionist

Quite good high protein #vegetarian lunch. Recipe from @BlueberryNutrit.

Healthy eating is a hugely popular topic, and there are loads of people out there who are praised for taking healthy eating to the mainstream. No doubt these people are doing great things by raising the awareness and the demand for “real food”. Most of us recognize that many of the nation’s health problems come down to eating processed junk and copious amounts of sugar.

I don’t eat processed junk or copious amounts of sugar. As much as I lament about my “blow outs” (fuelled largely by wine, cheese and more wine), for the most part I eat totally natural food that I make myself. And even when I’m having a “blow out”, the food is generally pretty healthy (just excessive). I also exercise every day, usually twice (once first thing in the morning and again in the afternoon), and walk as much as I can. I should be the pillar of athleticism. And yet…

Troubling symptoms

Symptom #1: In the last year my weight has increased steadily. Much of this is “good weight” – I’ve put on about 5lb of lean muscle mass (thank you CrossFit). But I’ve put on about the same amount of fat. The end result is that my favorite hiking trousers don’t fit comfortably, I don’t like what I see in the mirror and I feel constantly frustrated. I tried going back to basic principles, things that have worked in the past. As loathsome as it is, calorie counting has always been a helpful process. And so it was here, where I learned that my diet consisted of over 40% fat. Not ideal. Yeah, all that trendy healthy stuff that people think are so awesome – avocado, nuts, seeds, cold pressed oils, cacao nibs, and so on – had taken the place of loathsome carbs, resulting in an imbalanced diet and some ho hum results.

Symptom #2: Muscle fatigue. Cardio-wise I’m fine, “superb” in fact (according to my last VO2 Max test). But when it comes to anything that requires power and strength, my muscles tire very quickly. It also seems to take a while for me to recover (even after a weekend’s rest, I often find on Monday I’m still sore from the week before).

Knowing the problem ≠ Knowing the solution

Ok, I get it: I eat too many avocados, nuts, seeds and oils, and not enough complex carbohydrates. I’ve been trying to fix this for the last year, but I’ve gotten nowhere. It took me a while to realise that even though I know the problem, I don’t really know how to fix it. “Eat less fat”. But how much? And what should I eat instead? Carbs? Protein? When? How?

So I’ve decided to hire a nutritionist, which really seems like a no-brainer in retrospect. I may know a lot about “healthy food”, but I am far from a nutritionist. I also don’t know how nutrition should play into my training schedule. It seems silly now that I’ve been trying to wing it on my own, when there are qualified people just waiting to help people like me!

Hiring a Nutritionist

For the last week and a half I’ve been working with Ben Crook, the lead nutritionist at Blueberry Nutrition, who I was referred to by CrossFit Cirencester. Ben has worked with a lot of athletes, something which appealed to me. Even though I’m not competitive, I do consider myself a fairly active person and wanted a nutritionist who would take this into account. I also like Ben’s focus on science.


Ben has been working with me to create a food plan designed to achieve the following two simple objectives:

  • Gain muscle and lose fat (the holy grail of fitness!)
  • Increase my energy, especially during workouts

According to Ben:

The first thing to work out with any nutrition plan is – how many calories your body needs to remain at the weight you currently are. Once that has been elucidated the next step is to work out your macro-nutrient intake – Your Protein, Carbohydrate and Fat intake. It is crucial to work out your macro split in order to optimise your time in the gym. A good place to start is

  • 50% Carbs
  • 25% Protein
  • 25% Fat

This ratio – and the number of calories I consume – will be adjusted over time to ideally stimulate healthy weight loss while increasing my energy and improving my performance at the same time.

Ben’s theory is that my lowish carb / high-fat diet means that I don’t have ideal glycogen stores, hence why I get super tired when I’m working out.

How it works

Here’s how the basic process has worked:

  • I filled out a basic survey with my body weight / height stats, fitness goals, dietary requirements and foods I like / don’t like / can’t live without (Ben can tailor the plan to include things like avocado, smoothies, and even wine!)
  • I had a long chat with Ben on the phone to talk more about my goals and what I’d like from my nutrition plan
  • After Ben sent me the first food plan, we had another chat to talk it over and discuss any tweaks I wanted to make.
  • Ben has just sent me my second week food plan, which we’re again going to tweak a little. Ben has been really amazing with his communication and response to all of my incessant queries!

Smoothie bowl in context. (With green tea and top-up garnish.) I would like to open a smoothie bowl cafe with an all-you-can-eat garnish bar. Free refills on tea. Perhaps next door to our Paris jiggly shop, @grumblybean?

A few random thoughts so far

  • For the most part, each meal on the food plan consists of a list of food (e.g. “Edamame beans 200g, Watercress 20g, Beetroot 40g, Pumpking Seeds 16g”), so it takes some creativity to figure out what to do sometimes. A few of the meals include pre-defined recipes, which so far have been pretty tasty (see the recipe for the pistachio orange salmon below which I totally love)
  • The plan involves a lot of snacks, which I’m learning to love, particularly Nairns Oat Cakes!
  • There have been occasional meals where I feel like I’m “eating nutrients” rather than a cohesive meal. Those were a downer.
  • I’ve had to change up my smoothies, which has been a revelation – instead of avocado, I’ve been using oats and Naturya chia seeds (it doesn’t take much) to thicken my smoothies. It’s pretty great!
  • I’ve been enjoying savoury breakfasts again – on alternate days, I have scrambled eggs, which are particularly good with homemade sauerkraut!
  • I’m eating a lot of fish.
  • I’ve been getting through a lot of barley.
  • The plan calls for post-workout protein shakes. Until now I’ve shirked the idea of taking “supplements”, but I’m willing to give this a go, if only as an experiment. I haven’t started this yet as I’m still waiting for my protein powder order to arrive (I’m using the Impact Whey Protein Isolate from which I’ve used in the past and consider pretty good as far as protein powder goes). I’ve tried hemp and pea protein but found them intolerable unless mixed with juice, not ideal as I’m trying to keep the post-workout shake purely protein. Any tips are welcome!

How do I feel?

There are some recipes that I really miss – my favourite dal and red lentil soup come to mind. But I know it’s not forever. This is a learning process – I have to learn what “balance” really means! And contrary to popular media, “balanced” doesn’t necessarily mean putting cold pressed olive oil and pistachios and avocado and cacao nibs on all of the things!

It’s early days and it’s really too soon to say whether this nutrition plan is working. There have been days when I’ve felt totally shattered, but then again, this has been a very mentally taxing week so I’m sure that’s played a role.

In general, I actually feel pretty good. I’m definitely more motivated to push myself a little harder and see what I can do, which probably has less to do with my diet change and more to do with the mental boost that all of us get when we do something good for ourselves. In fact, when you put it that way, the nutrition plan has already proved successful. This is a state of mind I have to work at; it’s all too easy to be impatient and disappointed. I think it’s time to redefine “success”. Success isn’t about reaching an objective (that’s a “goal”). Taking action is success, and any one of us who are taking steps to reach our goals are already inherently successful. Go us!

More to come as the nutrition plan experiment progresses. In the meantime, here’s that awesome salmon recipe I mentioned…

Fav @BlueberryNutrit meal so far. Orange pistachio salmon. Barley. @Stevesleaves. Perfect lunch for post #crossfit.

Pistachio Salmon Fillets

Serves 4


  • 4 salmon fillets
  • ½ Cup of Shelled pistachios – crushed
  • 4 Tsps. Dijon mustard
  • 1Tbsp. Orange juice
  • 2 tsp. Orange zest
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. Pepper
  • ½ Cup chopped spring onions


  1. Put crushed pistachios into a shallow dish
  2. Mix mustard, orange zest, orange juice, salt and pepper into a bowl
  3. Brush the mixture onto each of the flesh of each salmon fillets.
  4. Press salmon into pistahios
  5. Place fillets onto baking tray and bake at 180°C for around 10-20 mins, until cooked through
  6. Place onions onto baking tray and drizzle with oil.
  7. Grill onions for a couple of minutes until they start to wilt
  8. Serve onions with salmon fillets

Per serving: 370 Kcal | 15g Fat | 9g Carbs | 39g Protein

Related links:

My 2015 CrossFit Goals

Victory! Finally did a proper box jump (20"). When I started #crossfit in April I could barely jump on a curb. Progress! And a happy achievement for 2014. Goal for 2015: to actually take on box jumps in the WODs.

It’s already February and here I am still thinking about “goals” for the not-so-new-anymore year. I’ve already outlined my 2015 adventure goals, but I need some things to keep me going in the interim. I’m liking CrossFit as a way to benchmark my fitness through clear-cut non-weight-related goals that are actually a measure of functional strength, the stuff that will actually get me through those adventures. At the beginning of the year we brainstormed our CrossFit goals. Here are mine:

  • 10 Double Unders
  • Strict Pullup
  • Box jumps on a 20″ box, for real (I’ve done one, but I’m far from being able to do them in a workout)
  • Ring Dip (CHECK – did that this week!)
  • 6kg Wall Balls
  • Handstand walks – OK this won’t help me walk the Pennine Way but it’s fun and would be a great party trick!

New 2015 goal to add to this list, inspired by today's @crossfitcirencester WOD: freakin 6kg wall balls. Come on! Also inspiring: seeing all the challenges that others have set for themselves. This year - our fittest year yet! Let's do this thing!

So far I feel encouraged. I’m not really in the mood to practice double unders (it feels like a summer activity to me!) but I’ve made progress towards pullups with completing kipping pullups in two recent WODs (Workout of the Day).

A video posted by Monica Shaw (@monicashaw) on

I also achieved a bonus goal that I hadn’t even thought of: toes to bar! 

A video posted by Monica Shaw (@monicashaw) on

This April I’ll be writing up a longer “year in review” of CrossFit, which was new to me last year and a total game changer fitness wise. Stay tuned!

See also:

12 Things To Bring Back From Your Road Trip To Gascony


There’s more than Armangac and Agen Prunes to be found in Gascony. Check out my guest post on Finding The Universe that highlights my top 12 Things To Bring Back From Your Road Trip To Gascony.

With thanks to Kate Hill of Kitchen-at-Camont, Mardi Michels of Eat Live Travel Write and Mardi’s husband Neil who provided some great insider tips and top tours of Nérac market, mecca of purple garlic, cassoulet and bee pollen. Also thanks to Brittany Ferries which carried me and my trusty Ford Fiesta across the Channel so that this road trip could happen. Finally, thanks to Laurence for featuring my post! Please go read it:

12 Things To Bring Back From Your Road Trip To Gascony []

Lemon Barley Water

Lemon barley water. Oh my god. This is going to be on my table all of the time from now on.

By request, here is my lemon barley water recipe. This was a Spring Equinox 2014 discovery that rocked our world. The ultimate version is made with bergamot lemons (I get my from The Organic Farm Shop in Cirencester when they’re available) and good Sicilian honey. But really any ol’ unwaxed lemons will do, and you can vary the honey to suit your tastes (or omit it completely which I sometimes do).

Making lemon barley water with @theorganicfarmshop Bergamots. #best

I usually boil the lemon rind with the barley but you can wait until after the barley’s cooked to add the rind to the hot water; just let it sit for a few hours to infuse. This way you get plain barley leftover that may be a bit more versatile for cooking.

Lemon Barley Water

Makes 6 cups.

  • 3/4 cups pearl barley
  • 6 cups water
  • 2 lemons
  • honey to taste (or other sweetener)


  1. Put the water in a saucepan. Peel the zest from the lemon and add to the water. Bring the water to a boil, then add the barley. Turn down the heat and let the barley simmer for 45 minutes until tender.
  2. Strain the water from the barley, reserving the water.
  3. Juice the lemons and add the juice to the barley water. Add honey to taste (I find 2 Tablespoons is pretty sufficient but add more or less to suit your tastes).
  4. Drink hot or cold. Use the leftover barley to make an awesome salad or soup.

Lemon barley water compleat. :)

How to Make Awesome Smoothies in ANY Blender

Making berry smoothies

These are the days of Blentec, Vitamix, Nutribullet and now Froothie entering the fray. It seems like everyone’s all about their super power blenders, myself included – my Optimum 9400 blender cost more than my first car! (Granted, it was a pretty crappy car.) And while I have never once regretted my blender, I totally get that others may feel their money is better spent elsewhere (paying the rent, taking a cruise, going to SpoonFest…).

For folks with more economically-priced blenders, it might be really frustrating to go searching for smoothie recipes only to find that they’re all made with super gadgets – what can they do with their humble machine?

Well, a lot, actually. For example, my friend Emily has been making some terrific smoothies from my book Smarter Fitter Smoothies and getting great results with her soooo nifty Kenwood Smoothie 2GO. It retails at £29.99 and does a very fine job of blending carrots, pecans and other tough ingredients, making it a very worthy competitor to the Nutribullet. It’s not terribly useful for soups, and it won’t grind rocks, but for its purpose it’s pretty good, so why not?

Smoothie  Making

For folks like Emily, and other people who have more conventional blenders, I’ve put together a list of ways to make an awesome smoothie in ANY blender, and I’m psyched to be sharing that list over on Mardi’s blog today. If you’ve been struggling to create smoothies that qualify as “awesome”, do check it out!

How to make an awesome smoothie in any blender []

Chicago-Style Hot Giardiniera

Homemade giardiniera

Giardiniera is a spicy mixed vegetable pickle flavored with garlic and oregano that’s popular in my home town of Chicago where it is often served on Italian beef sandwiches. The name comes from the Italian word for “from the garden”, and you can see why:

Jarring the giard

I wish I could remember my giardiniera origin story, but I’ve loved this stuff for so long that I can’t remember where the love affair began. In my family, giardiniera is one of those “good with everything” foods that sits alongside ketchup and mustard and other condiments to always keep on hand. We love it on pizza and sandwiches, and I’ve recently discovered that it’s stellar with hummus. My love for giardiniera took on new heights when my sister and I learned to make it ourselves several years ago.

It had been a while since I made giardiniera, but a “relish platter” of epic proportions at last December’s Camont Christmas party reignighted my fervor. Granted, it wasn’t just the giardiniera, but the context of the situation: a happy day hallmarked by lots of cooking, good vibes, great friends and, the surprise element, an unlikely wine pairing that took the giardiniera to new levels of pickle heaven.

Wine revelation of the evening

The wine, chosen by my friend and wine enthusiast Neil, was a vin jaune, a sherry-like white wine made in the Jura region in eastern France. Unlike sherry, vin jaune is not fortified, but like sherry, it’s quite beautiful, especially with the right food.

Neil posited that his chosen vin jaune, a 2008 Domaine Macle, “would have the strength to battle pickled items and hold its own”. It totally did. Neil described the flavor of the wine as having “deep gold with notes of almond, bread dough and a lingering sweetness…dry, with a creamy mouthfeel while still remaining somewhat light”.

Cotes du Jura + Relish Platter = Unforgettable

I got the almond, and the sweetness, and the creamy mouthfeel (I aspire to have a pallet refined enough to pick up “bread dough” in my wine). All agreed it was a total treat and worked with the giardiniera amazingly well. For me, it took the giardiniera out of the bowl and turned it into an unforgettable story. They should write children’s books about these moments (just think of the illustration opportunities).

I enjoyed the experience so much I brought a bottle of vin jaune back with me which I’m saving for another yet to be determined giardiniera moment (pickle-themed dinner party, maybe?).

Cotes du Jura

Since Christmas I’ve been making a big jar of ‘giard’ every couple of weeks – one of these jars was polished off between Mehrunissa and I in a single evening (for the record, we felt amazing the next day!).  Giadiniera is very easy to make and once you get into the rhythm of it, you can knock up a jar in no time, tweaking the ratio of vegetables to suit your fancy (I like LOTS of cauliflower and carrots). You can also play around with the herbs. I like to keep it simple with oregano, but you could also add celery seed, chilli flakes, whatever inspires you. In France, Kate and I replaced some of the vinegar with pickle juice and rice wine vinegar (because it’s what we had to work with, such is the way we cook in Gascony!) which added a fun twist.

Christmas Giardiniera

You do need to brine the vegetables overnight and ideally let it sit for a few days to marinade. To be honest, there hasn’t been a single instance this year when I’ve been able to wait those three days to eat it.

Things I like with giardiniera include:

  • Omelettes (especially onion, mushroom and sauerkraut omelettes served with avocado)
  • Hummus (use giardiniera as a garnish)
  • Pizza topping
  • Mufaletta sandwiches
  • Veggie hot dogs (not that we should ever feel guilty about food, but this is totally a guilty pleasure)
  • Fried egg sandwich with mushrooms and avocado
  • On its own as a snack!

Hot Giardiniera

Feel free to adjust the quantity of vegetables to suit your liking. Once you’ve chopped everything and mixed it in a bowl, you can look at the mix and decide if you want to up the quantity of anything – I almost always add a bit more carrot and cauliflower. The red chilli flakes are optional – if your jalapeños aren’t very spicy, you might want to add them to up the heat factor a bit. As to chopping the vegetables, the size is up to you – sometimes life calls for a finely chopped giardiniera (great for putting on sandwiches, hot dogs, etc) but chunky giardiniera is best for the relish platter. 

  • 2 green bell peppers, diced
  • 2 red bell peppers, diced
  • 8 fresh jalapeno peppers, sliced
  • 1 celery stalk, diced
  • 1 medium carrot, diced
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh cauliflower florets
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • water to cover
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper (optional)
  • 1 (5 ounce) jar green olives, sliced (optional, omit if you don’t like olives)
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 1 cup olive oil


  1. Place into a bowl the green and red peppers, jalapenos, celery, carrots, onion, and cauliflower. Stir in salt, and fill with enough cold water to cover. Place plastic wrap or aluminum foil over the bowl, and refrigerate overnight.
  2. The next day, drain salty water, and rinse vegetables. In a bowl, mix together garlic, oregano, red pepper flakes, black pepper, and olives. Pour in vinegar and olive oil, and mix well. Combine with vegetable mixture – if the liquid doesn’t cover the vegetables, add some more olive oil and vinegar in equal proportions until the veg is totally submerged.
  3. Cover, and refrigerate for 2 days before using (if you can wait this long!).

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Imbolc: A celebration of Spring and sheep milk!

Imbolc Chalkboard

Last weekend marked the halfway point between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox , a festival called “Imbolc” in the parlance of the “Wheel of the Year”.

Have I lost you already? What is this Wheel?

The Wheel of the Year, in a nutshell, is an annual cycle of seasonal festivals observed by many modern Pagans (Wikipedia). Don’t panic – I’ve not gone all Wiccan on you, despite my fixation with stone circles and wearing capes. In fact, I find the whole God and Goddess aspect of the wheel – and the spells and chants – a little uncomfortable. However there is much to the Wheel that I have latched on to, which comes down to what I always latch on to: science!


The Wheel of the Year is based on the actual movement of the sun and how it effects the seasons. Festivals occur on the solstices (longest and shortest days of the year), equinoxes (days when the day and night hours are equal) and the four midpoints in-between.  Why not use this cycle to hallmark our own lives? It seems all the more important in this day and age when, surrounded by all these marvels of technology and modern society, it is easy to become divorced from nature. And yet, the seasons impact everything around us and thus our feelings throughout the year (anyone who gets a bad case of SAD every winter knows this well).

elderbud Elderbud – a small sign of spring! Picture by Emily.

I like the Wheel because it helps me connect with what’s going on in the world around me, and offers structure by giving me “checkpoints”  through which I can track my own projects and my progress towards my goals.

I’ve been following along with the Wheel since Summer Solstice 2013 with my friend Emily (see this post which I like because at the time I wrote it, I don’t think we realised that we’d become total Wheel converts, but the “buds” of the Wheel are there!).

Back to Imbolc.

Imbolc celebrates the first, barely discernible, beginnings of spring, the first stirring of buds and the gradual lengthening of days. It is the glimmer of hope for brighter days ahead! It’s a time to clear out old habits (hello spring cleaning) and get ready for the new season. It’s time to set into motion – slowly – all of those projects and intentions we set ourself over winter.

#Imbolc miracle: these bad boys bloomed over the weekend, symbolically calling me to action. Time for my own projects to stir out of their winter slumber!

The etymology of the word “Imbolc” is a little unclear, but most scholarly people agree it has something to do with ewe’s milk, thus making sheepy things a common symbol of this festival. What a great excuse to discover alternative dairy products to the usual moo cow!

I celebrated Imbolc last weekend with Emily and a few other good friends. Going into the weekend, I wasn’t sure what Imbolc “meant to me”, aside from a good excuse to practice a new seasonal cocktail (at some point I’ll reveal the “Prosecco Plus”), eat sheep cheese, create awesome kale salads with sheep yogurt dressing, and make marmalade. But by the end of the weekend, with the help of my friends, I think I’ve worked out a few things (not the least of which were a few new cocktail recipes)…


Last winter I picked four big projects that I would focus on this year, loosely termed Outdoor Adventure, Smarter Fitter, Financial Freedom and Fittest Self Ever. I’m an impatient person, so coming around to Imbolc I felt a little ho-hum about my progress with any of these items (except for perhaps the Ridgeway). (This was paired with an ongoing distraction I’ve felt ever since the holidays due to both workload and “figuring life shit out” type stuff.)

Imbolc was a reminder that winter is not the time to go all gung ho on productivity and personal development. I liked Rachel Demuth’s post on winter comfort food which sums this up in the context of “detoxing:

“It always baffles me that January is considered the month for “detoxing” or eating lightly. Yes, many of us probably indulged a bit over the holiday season, but this definitely isn’t the time for a supper of six raisins and lettuce leaf!”.

Winter is a time for hunkering, hibernating and nourishing the body so that we’re ready to take on the world when the sun and Spring finally come around.

Marmalade hijinks at @rachel_demuth's. @grumblybean rocking the ginger.

But now the days are getting longer and new buds are just starting to appear on the trees and in the hedgerows. Imbolc, for me, means it’s time to wake up from winter hibernation and start making steps to setting my own projects into motion. Again, the dark days of winter are still very much in evidence, so let’s not rush anything. But let’s bust out the broom and get things ready to rock this spring.

My Imbolc to Equinox plans include

  • Spring cleaning – I want to declutter the things you can’t see (closets, cabinets, drawers)
  • I have hired a nutritionist to help me get my diet sorted for Fittest Year Ever – more on that later
  • I have already taken steps on the Ridgeway which I’d love to complete in the next few months. I also need to set dates for Pembrokshire and France Cycle Touring this summer.
  • I have a list of things I want to write about on SmarterFitter that I will now turn into an actually “content” plan with dates and deadlines.
  • I’ve put a date in the calendar for budget day, which fills me with dread but it has to be done. I want a solid savings plan in place by Equinox (March 20). Financial Freedom or Bust.
  • Another cringer: I need to redo my website to reflect my new business focus on web analytics (i.e. Financial Freedom). This is totally outsourcable, and I’ve even found someone to do it, but I still need to manage the project – can I outsource that, too?
  • Getting to the bottom of gelatization
  • The Weekly Wheel!

The Weekly Wheel
Another thing to come out of Imbolc is a project that’s been stewing for a while: The Weekly Wheel is a secular website and newsletter that’s all about how to use the cycle of the seasons to hallmark your own life. Subscribe now!

Stay tuned for some further reflections on Imbolc discoveries, including breakfast martinis, smoothie bowls, Old Bay salad dressing and chia pudding. 

Breakfast of #Imbolc champions. Chia pudding smoothie bowls. All of the garnishes. And tea. #froothie #jumpstart15

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