Travels with Paris’ Best Tour Guide

Mardi Michels and Monica Shaw in Paris on

One of my big “achievements” of 2014 was #monthofbirthday. Most of us, including myself until last year, very humbly choose to celebrate our birthdays on one particular day, and if we’re feeling extravagant, maybe for a weekend. But I decided that I would make July all about doing as much as possible to celebrate being alive. And what better place for feeling alive than Paris? And who better to help me make the most of it than my dear friend Mardi Michels of eat. live. travel. write.

I know Mardi through our Gascony connections, and when I found out she’d be in Paris for the summer, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to pay a visit and experience Paris through the life of someone who’s a total expert on the city. Through Mardi I was able to experience Paris as the locals do, from the regular life stuff of food shopping and cooking in tiny kitchens, to indulgences at some of the best foodie haunts in the city.

You can read more about it in my guest post on Mardi’s blog. Get yourself over there pronto!

Blé Sucré pastries  in Paris on

Grilled Leeks with Mustard Vinaigrette

Grilled Leeks with Vinaigrette, Served on Quinoa and wild Rice

The secret to tasty BBQ leeks is to blanch the leeks first so that they’re pretty much cooked before they go on the BBQ, then dress them in a tangy vinaigrette that compliments the sweetness of the leek. Almost any mustardy vinaigrette will do – I keep it basic with olive oil, white wine vinegar and dijon, then add fresh herbs like parsley, chervil or oregano to vary the recipes.

Serve the leeks over some whole grains like barley, quinoa or wild rice and you have a substantial side dish that’s perfect for a BBQ. You can also add other grilled vegetables – courgettes and asparagus work especially well. Too cold for an outside BBQ? Stay inside and cook this on a griddle pan.

Griddled leeks with quinoa, wild rice and mustard dressing. Nice recipe via the @riverford box.

BBQ Leeks with Mustard Vinaigrette

Inspired by Riverford’s Griddled Leeks with Wild Rice, Quinoa and Chervil.


  • 3 leeks, cut into 5cm lengths
  • a handful of fresh herbs like parsley, chervil or oregano, chopped
  • salad leaves and/or cooked grains to serve
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper

For the vinaigrette

  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp dijon mustard


  1. Boil the leeks for about 8 minutes, until tender. Remove from the boiling water and run under cold water until cool. Slice each piece in half lengthwise.
  2. Meanwhile, make the vinaigrette by whisking all of the vinaigrette ingredients together in a bowl.
  3. Drizzle olive oil over the leeks and use your hand to slather the oil all over the leeks. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Heat up the BBQ (or griddle pan) on a high heat. Grill the leeks on each side to make ridge marks.
  5. Toss the salad leaves or grains with some of the vinaigrette and most of the fresh herbs. Arrange on a plate and top with the grilled leeks. Drizzle the rest of the vinaigrette over the leeks and sprinkle with the remaining herbs.

Also seen on Great British Chefs.

16 Great Garnishes for Smoothies

Smoothie Bowl

One of the reasons I like smoothies is for their garnish potential! Garnish also helps turn a smoothie from a snack into a complete meal. And I always keep extra smoothie garnishes handy so that I can garnish as I go. Come on, you know your kitchen table has totally been missing a garnish station.

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

My favorite smoothie garnishes are as follows – what would you add to the list?

  1. Pumpkin Seeds – Let’s face it, pumpkin seeds are a great garnish for everything.
  2. Coconut Flakes – What’s not to love? They are crispy tasty fantastic. For some reason most grocery stores don’t seem to stock this (don’t try to substitute with desiccated coconut) but Amazon has quite a few options and it’s not very expensive.
  3. Sea Salt – Salt actually brings out the flavour and sweetness of the ingredients used in the smoothie. You could even get fancy and rim your smoothie glass with salt!
  4. Jumbo Oats – Classic, also good blended INTO the smoothie itself.
  5. Swiss Muesli – A little fancier than straight up oats and usually brings with it other tasty garnishes like seeds and dried fruit. Don’t spend lots of money buying this stuff; make your own custom Homemade Muesli Blend.
  6. Goji Berries – The most overhyped dried fruit in the universe, but they’re pretty and look so nice on green smoothies! Hefty tip: soak the goji berries ahead of time; they can be discouragingly chewy. Goji berries are sold all over the place now, alas, for a hefty price tag; if it’s only the color your after, dried cranberries make a nice substitute.
  7. Bee Pollen – Little crunchy morsels of honey sweetness. I’ve been a little obsessed with this stuff since I discovered it in France last year. I try to stock up whenever I go back, but for those of you who aren’t France-bounce, you CAN buy bee pollen elsewhere (after all it’s not like bees are a strictly French thing!) – there are lots of options on Amazon.
  8. Acai Powder – Allegedly increases energy and “vitality”; I just like it for its bitter berry tastiness. I use Naturya Organic  Acai Powder.
  9. Maca Powder – Malty sweet goodness originating from a tuberous root grown in the highlands of Peru. I’ve been using Naturya Organic Maca however I’ve recently cut back my usage when the company (very responsibly) informed me of unethical business practices and biopiracy which have made maca a bit taboo and difficult (i.e. expensive) to source. Use your best judgement here!
  10. Spirulina – Most people blend this happy protein into their smoothie but I have actually developed quite a taste for the stuff and prefer it as a garnish so that I really know it’s there! I use this stuff a LOT and have been getting my Organic Spirulina in bulk from
  11. Cacao Nibs – I like these in banana-based smoothies, or in a mint chocolate chip blend. I use Naturya Organic Cocoa Nibs.
  12. Grated beetroot – I use a  Kuhn Rikon Grater & Julienne Mandoline to make cool little beetroot matchsticks (see the picture below, made with golden beetroot).
  13. Puffed Grains – Rice, millet, amaranth, quinoa… I’ve been enjoying Biona Organic Amaranth Pops lately.
  14. Freeze-Dried Raspberries – I discovered these little morsels of crispy tart goodness at Waitrose; they’re kind of expensive, but they look so pretty! You can also buy them on Amazon.
  15. Granola – Try Mardi’s Maple Walnut Granola or go crazy with savory granola.
  16. Fresh fruit – Especially raspberries and blueberries.

Today's #smoothiebowl.


How to Make Sauerkraut

Homemade Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut, and fermented foods in general, are experiencing a revival in recent years, with a great amount of thanks to Sandor Katz who helped bring fermentation to the mainstream with his book Wild Fermentation. But there’s sound reason for sauerkraut’s new hipster status: it’s awesomely good for you, and it’s really tasty (albeit an acquired taste for some).

Sauerkraut (directly translated from German as “sour cabbage”) is made by lactic acid fermentation, a process by which glucose and other sugars are converted into cellular energy and lactic acid by naturally occurring bacteria found on cabbage leaves. One of those bacteria is lactobacillus which you’ve probably seen on your containers of “bio-live” yogurt.

This happy bacteria is the crux of why sauerkraut is so good for you. Good bacteria is the stuff that happy intestinal flora is made of, and sauerkraut contains a whole lot more of it than live yogurt. And lets not forget cabbage itself, which contain natural compounds known to have cancer-fighting properties. In fact, studies have indicated that short-cooked and raw cabbage are the only types of cabbage to show such cancer-preventative benefits, upping the ante for sauerkraut (and coleslaw for that matter!).

Note that all of the above health benefits apply only to naturally fermented sauerkraut; most of the stuff you buy in the shops will have been pasteurised, thus killing any beneficial bacteria that may have once been present in the kraut. There are some brands such as Raw Health that now sell “raw sauerkraut” but you’ll be spending over £3 for a tiny jar; it’s far better to pick up a 99p cabbage and make your own. Making sauerkraut is inexpensive, easy, and you can adapt the sauerkraut to suit your tastes (by adding spices like caraway or Juniper berries, or mixing it up with purple cabbage, carrots and more!).

Homemade Sauerkraut

How to Make Sauerkraut
What you will need:

  • Cabbage (green, red or a mix; use at least one head of cabbage to make this worthwhile)
  • Salt
  • A container such as a wide-mouthed mason jar, an old-fashioned purpose-built ceramic “crock”, or a large food-grade plastic container (that’s what I use)
  • A plate or other flat object that will fit inside of the container above (I used the lid from another food-grade plastic container)
  • Something heavy like a scrubbed and boiled rock or a large jug filled with water (or other liquid – see my contraptions here and here)
  • A cloth cover – a tea towel will do the trick

First, weigh your cabbage. For every 2kg of cabbage you’ll need about 3 tablespoons of salt.

Slice up your cabbage. I used a food processor fitted with a fine blade, but you could also use a mandolin or a knife.

Making Sauerkraut
Put the cabbage in a big bowl and toss with the salt. It won’t be long before you notice water being expelled from the cabbage thanks to the magic of osmosis!

Making Sauerkraut

Pack the cabbage into your container, pushing it down into the container as you go. You want the cabbage packed super tight – this helps force water out of the cabbage.

Put your plate or lid on top of the cabbage, then put your clean heavy thing on top. The weight will continue to force water out of the cabbage. Always cover it with a cloth when left unattended.

Making Sauerkraut

The goal now is to expel enough water from the cabbage so that the cabbage is totally submerged in brine. So every few hours, visit your kraut and push down on the weight. If after 24 hours the cabbage isn’t submerged, add some salt water to just above the level of your plate (about 1 tablespoon of salt to 250ml water).

Leave the cabbage to ferment. Check it every day or two, then start tasting. There’s no minimum or maximum fermentation time – I let mine go for about a week. After a few days it will start tasting sour, but you can leave it to keep fermenting for a stronger sour taste. (Sauerkraut is safe to eat throughout the process, so you’re not risking anything by trying it!) When the sauerkraut tastes good to you, pack it up into a smaller jar and store it in the fridge.

The sauerkraut will keep for at least two months.

Homemade Sauerkraut

Favourite Uses for Sauerkraut

I must say, one of my fond memories from my pre-vegetarian days is Reuben Sandwiches. In light of that, I make a killer Reuben-esque omelette with sautéed mushrooms, onions, sauerkraut, caraway and swiss cheese (or avocado). Or more simply, sauerkraut mixed in with scrambled eggs is fantastic. I’ve also been mixing sauerkraut into salads; it goes especially well with beetroot. Going back to my German and Polish roots, I have a soft spot for sauerkraut pierogi and sauerkraut soup (hold the kielbasa), both of which really make me miss home!

Recommended reading:

It’s worth picking up one of Sandor Katz’s book (I have Wild Fermentation but he put out an extended version The Art of Fermentation in 2012 that gets great reviews). The book also offers suggestions for add-ins to your sauerkraut, including onions, garlic, seaweed, turnips, beetroot, caraway, dill and even apples. Also keep an eye on Charlotte Pike who is releasing a book on fermentation this year.

Further reading:

Recipe Review: Chia Pudding

Earl Grey Chia Pudding with Marmalade

Today my good friend Emily of is guest-posting on the chia pudding food craze. On Emily’s last visit (Imbolc 2015!), I gave her some top quality chia seeds from Naturya and sent her on a mission to experiment with chia pudding and report back on her results. Is it really worth all the hype?  

Monica and I are fashionably late to the chia party. Chia has been “so hot right now” for awhile actually, and Pinterest has long been trying to convince me of its virtues. When and why did our chia ambitions begin? My memory is fuzzy on this point (too much sloe gin?), but I think we started talking about chia as an option for smoothie enhancements. We both have a smoothie every day, and we both need more protein in our diet. So, why not? Chia ho! This is a short account of my early chia experiments:

1. Vanilla Chia Pudding

Vanilla Blueberry Chia Pudding

For my first chia pudding I looked to Choosing Raw for a basic recipe and used her 3 tbsp chia : 1 cup liquid as my pudding standard. For me this made enough for breakfast and an afternoon snack. Chia pudding is filling!

I found the basic chia, almond milk, vanilla, and honey pretty boring, even with blueberries on top. The texture is like tapioca pudding, which is not my favorite thing…but eventually I convinced myself they’re like the world’s smallest tea bubbles. That helped, but…onward!

2. Earl Grey Tea Chia Pudding

Earl Grey Chia Pudding with Marmalade

Pudding! Earl Grey! Cold! If you can use any liquid for chia pudding, why wouldn’t you use Earl Grey tea? This one went through a few test batches, and the ratio of milk to tea is a matter of taste, but here’s what I came up with:

Just mix it all up in a glass or jar and let it set for about 3 hours or overnight. I really squeezed the tea bag into my glass – and then used it again for tea! Sadly, while pretty, the orange marmalade garnish was too overwhelming a flavor.

3. Chia: Smoothie Ingredient

Strawberry Kiwi Beetroot Carrot Smoothie

As Monica has pointed out in her ingenious smoothie book (which I use all the time, seriously, she isn’t making me say this), bananas are a great smoothie thickener but also kind of a sugar bomb. Most of my daily smoothies still have a smidge of banana, but for a week I tried replacing it with chia. It definitely does the trick, especially if you let the smoothie sit for a few minutes. This is probably how I will use chia most often. More protein, calcium, and fiber for me!

4. Chia Smoothie Pudding

Peanut Butter Banana Oatmeal Chia Smoothie

I know I’m not the first to think of it, but making a chia pudding using a smoothie as your liquid is pretty great. It completely replaced the simple pudding of my affections. You still get the tapioca texture from the chia, but with lots of healthy fruit and veg – and no additional sweeteners.

That said, it also has dessert potential. I made a Peanut Butter and Jelly Chia Pudding from a peanut butter, banana, oatmeal, and almond milk smoothie. Chill for a few hours and swirl some strawberry jam through. A nice dessert version of the sandwich classic.

Verdict: I’ll certainly keep adding chia to my morning smoothies for the nutrition boost and possibly explore some other chia desserts.

Monica’s Notes on Nutrition: I felt compelled to add some commentary on the nutritional value of Chia Pudding. As an example, a chia pudding made with 3 Tbsp chia, 1 cup of unsweetened almond milk, 2 tsp honey and 1/2 cup of blueberries has 333 Calories, 19g fat, 18g fiber, 42g carbs and 11g Protein. Compare this to, say, 50g of porridge with the same amount of almond milk, honey and blueberries: 308 Calories, 7.5g fat, 8g fiber, 58g carbs, 7.8g Protein. Those who are fat-phobic might scoff at the chia pudding, where ~50% of the calories come from fat. Chia has been praised as being a concentrated source of omega-3 fatty acids, but research shows that the body isn’t very good at converting these types of plant-based omega-3s into something the body can be used. Still, they are a source of fibre, protein, vitamins and minerals so they’re not going to do you any harm. I like how Katie Trant (nutritionist and author of the Muffin Myth blog) puts it in her well-researched article Chia Seeds: Healthy or Hype? – “Chia seeds are without question very healthy, but they’re not a miracle.” And probably not even life-changing.

Follow Emily’s chia antics – among other things – on Instagram, Twitter and her blog. And look out for more chia experiments to come: chia trifles, chia parfaits, chia jam… what else? Share your chia inspiration in the comments!

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: