I’m back in the pool! I always feel as though I glide with ease through the water like a torpedo, even though I only started with ￼a 500 metre swim.
I hope that swimming will once again strengthen my back muscles. I will also be doing my incremental growth curve where I push up the distance swam and the number of laps per set. It is amazing how quickly you can push into high distance swimming this way, and how fit you can become in a short space of time.
For whatever it’s worth, this is what Strava made of my swimming based upon data from my Garmin Vivoactive watch.
Below is the dazzling array of data that Garmin Connect very kindly compiled from today’s ride. I have also linked my Strava account to Garmin Connect so I now get segments detailing climbs, speeds and so forth. This is fascinating stuff. I have long known that the way to increase the overall speed of my cycling, and to also get fitter and do it quickly is to put lots of effort into climbs. This yields results at a high rate of change.
The human body is a remarkable thing. Being back on the saddle has brought forth some sort of muscle memory that blows my mind. I can literally feel myself getting better, faster, stronger and it is not taking me long to do so at all. I have only been recording this stuff for a week but already I feel ten times the man I was over Christmas. From last summer where I had a horrendous, sedentary time looking after my son, who had it even worse the poor little fella, suddenly everything is changing. As the kids grow older I find I have more time to myself so I can push harder than I ever did before.
What Strava refers to as blasts are segments of flat or downhill cycling. Due to speed limits and traffic picking up speed on these segments is largely impossible, hence the climbing is so important. It’s also useful in the long term because it is resistance exercise. The hills in Lancashire are steep and they are everywhere. There is a reason that Bradley Wiggins trained in the Trough of Bowland – it’s as hard as it gets to ride on a bicycle. Having ridden two 101 mile sportive races through the Trough I can attest that it is just about the biggest challenge ever. If you want to raise your base metabolic rate and build muscle then this is perfect. I don’t mean muscle like weightlifting, I mean muscle mass that does not change your body shape. It is hard to think of a type of exercise that works the whole body better, so if you want to have a powerful core, sinewy, strong upper body and also powerful legs then cycle hilly routes. We all know those ridiculous guys at the gym with torsos like Greek gods and chicken legs ￼- cycling doesn’t do that. life on two wheels will take care of everything below the waste for you.
There is no resistance work like cycling, so get moving on your bicycle.
I love a yummy smoothie every now and then. It’s great fun to aexperiment with flavours to see what I can come up with. This recipe is a simple, two minute affair.
2 papayas, peeled and chopped
Handful of pomegranate seeds
Optional depending on taste, either maple syrup for sweetness or lime juice for a bit of twang
Put everything in a blender and pulverise it all in the mixture for thirty seconds. This will leave the pomegranate and papaya seeds slightly intact, hence the crunch. Sweeten or sour it as you prefer, or not if you just like the fruity tastes. Delicious.
Today I ran for the first time in over a year. In the past I have put some impressive distances on my personal scoreboard but right now I am pretty much beginning from square one. To be fair, I have never been a keen runner, or a good one for that matter. I like trails but generally tolerate running the roads at best. Lugging my large frame around on a run is probably the only time I envy skinny little guys who are nine stones wet through.
I posted a one mile run at 10:34. Which is crap, but it is better than not running. I have maxed out at fifteen miles at my strongest. Right now I feel as though that would be impossible, which is obviously the best reason to push on and beat that record.
Last week I picked up my schedule for the first time in 2020 after a pretty awful 2019. I got Twitter and Instagram accounts, and in addition to easing back into the outdoors I started to furtherexpand my nutritionalhorizons. I love cooking and it’s a great way to express one’s creativity. I remain on a 16/8 intermittent fasting schedule and I am more than ever committed to a vegan diet that contains little to no sugar and is not processed wherever possible.
I cycled twice but only over short distances. I don’t pay too much attention to statistics and data for rides under five miles as cycling in Lancashire is so roly-poly, hilly and stop-start that it is difficult to build up a decent cadence and pick up a good cruising speed for any meaningful length of time. I was hoping to post some swimming data but I have been held up by the supplier of a replacement strap for my Garmin Vivoactive watch, which has yet to arrive and is now six days late. Thanks useless eBay parts supplier.
I have cycled today already, again just a short town ride on an errand, the virtue of which I extolled last week. My focus this week is to begin to add swimming to my cycling again. I hope to strengthen my lower back after hurting it quite badly last year, such was the sedentary nature of caring for my crocked little boy.
Small beginnings yield massive outcomes. Let’s destroy 2020.
One of the best things about cooking for oneself is how cheap it is. It is even more efficient when you can make use of old food or leftovers. This recipe is an absolutely delicious way to use up the spuds that are left at the end of the week, and it is filling and hearty. If you aren’t used to eating savoury or spicy for breakfast then it may seem weird at first, but I love it. When I visited India I noticed that it was perfectly normal to do so out there, and for someone like me with a savoury palate it’s great. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth so this sort of food suits me down to the ground.
200 grams of gram flour
200 ml soy milk
1 flax egg (1 tbsp flax meal soaked in water for ten minutes)
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp cumin powder
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp chilli flakes
1 clove of garlic
6-8 old potatoes, cubed
1 tbsp turmeric powder
1 white onion, chopped
1 clove of garlic, chopped
1 tbsp smoked paprika
6-8 tbsp soy yoghurt
Handful of fresh coriander, roughly chopped
In a hot, dry frying pan add the cumin powder and mustard seeds. Dry fry for thirty seconds. Then add the chopped garlic and chilli flakes and fry for another minute. Splash in a little oil, mix and then set aside. Time to cook the filling.
Heat some oil in a pan on medium. Add the chopped onion and turmeric. Fry together, mixing in the colour of the turmeric well. Add the potatoes, mix thoroughly and then add the garlic and paprika. Stir in and leave to fry for ￼twenty minutes, stirring every so often to avoid burning the potatoes on one side. Now you finish your pancake batter.
Blend together the flour, milk, seasoning and flax egg until smooth. Then add the dry fried ingredients, mix well until smooth – add more milk if necessary.
Heat your pan hot, then turn to a low-medium heat. Add some oil for frying. Taking the pan to the batter mixture, ladle in enough to coat the base, swirling it evenly. Be sure to stir the mixture before each ladle. Return the pan to the heat and let it cook. It will separate from the pan eventually and that is when it is ready to toss. Once you have cooked both sides repeat until the mixture is used up.
Now make your cooling yoghurt mixture simply by thoroughly mixing the yoghurt, coriander and lime juice.
Once your potatoes are tender you are ready to serve. Just roll up the filling with some yoghurt in a pancake and you are good to go. Delicious breakfast or brunch, cheap as chips, healthy and filling with plenty to go around. Scrumptious.
Being outside is great for your mental health. The evidence is growing, despite the fact that, to me at least, it seems intuitively so. Some of the best times of my life came. when I was most at peace were in Sweden, and specifically during the winter in Abisko National Park.
Natural beauty seems to have a profoundly restorative effect on the mental health and wellness of human beings. To commit to spending a good portion of one’s life outdoors is a transformative habit in which to engage oneself.
The whole world has stunning locations that are cheap and easy to reach. Below is Pirin Mountain, Bulgaria, where I hiked up to meet my friend snowboarding from the top. This trip cost me less than £200.
The beauty of the natural world is that it is everywhere, however. There is no need to travel far. One the the great things about living in England is how well preserved our countryside has been down the years.
In Lancashire where I live natural surroundings are a fifteen minute walk in any direction, the Yorkshire Dales a 45 minute drive away, and Cumbria around 90 minutes. It’s everywhere, all you have to do is look for it.
Hiking is free you know! It is also access to priceless sights and experiences.
The most satisfying part of the hiking experience for me is when I arrive home and the kids and the dog fall asleep almost immediately and then do not stir all night! The last hiking season we did we used to take our hound and she would literally not move for two days after expeditions – such a great feeling. Obviously the whole day spent outdoors is fantastic and the feel good factor of having walked miles or climbed a mountain is great, as is the endorphin hit. It also feels like a day well spent and I can tell you now that no workout in the world that you will ever do can compare to the resistance exercise obtained climbing and scrambling over rocky fells and mountains. God that is seriously hard work, and your muscles will thank you for years.
So get outside and see the true beauty of the natural world.
Comfort food. We all eat it and need it from time to time, some more than others. For me comfort food done well is filling, hearty and it makes me feel better when I’m either unwell or I need to console myself, lick my wounds or similar. Usually comfort food is garbage nutritionally speaking. It is typically high in salt, high in sugar, high in bad fats and loaded with simple carbohydrates. I am here to tell you that it need not be so. If you want good comfort food then usually it has to be:
Tasty and/or hearty
So here is one of my favourite dishes that is all three: socca flatbread with a cheesy dip sauce.
This is a dish that will fill you and satisfy your comfort hunger, but will not leave you bloated and tired with a food hangover, and it relies on my favourite staple, the mighty cashew cream. The flatbread, socca, is gluten￼-free and low on carbohydrates. So below is how you make it.
Two cups of water
Two cups of gram flour (chickpea flour)
3 tbsp oil
Salt to taste
Fresh rosemary for garnish
150 grams cashews, soaked in boiling water for at least 10 minutes
1 cup of nutritional yeast
1-2 cloves of garlic
1 tbsp smoked paprika
1 tbsp turmeric
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1-2 tsp Chilli flakes
Salt to taste
Mix the ingredients together until you have something similar to pancake batter. If it is watery add a little more flour, or water if too thick. Socca needs to be crispy at the edges with a creamy tasting centre, so once your batter is smoothly mixed you must let it rest for half an hour. This will give the dense gram flour time to hydrate thoroughly.
To cook it spread some oil around a frying pan and keep the heat at medium. Coat the pan with batter, and let it cook slowly. It will bubble up, this is normal. You do not flip it, hence why a medium heat is important. Allow it to cook through. It is ready when you can lift it from the pan without it falling apart. If you lift it too soon it will flop and split. Patience is key here as it will take a little longer than a regular pancake to cook through, and the first one will be a little more difficult than the others to cook properly. Garnish with rosemary and sprinkle with a pinch of salt.
Once done you can do anything with it. You could spread with garlic butter, use it as a pizza base, top with a Mediterranean salad, maybe a tabbouleh, or tomato sauce. The possibilities are limitless. For this dish however slice it into six with a pizza cutter.
Drain the cashews and put them in a blender. Start it spinning on a low speed and slowly add milk. Keep this up until you have a smooth cream. It can take a couple of minutes to completely pulverise the nuts so there is no need to rush. Once done, add the chopped pepper and blend again.
Once you have the cream add the nutritional yeast, and add a little more milk if necessary to keep the smooth consistency. Once that is blended add the paprika, garlic, turmeric and chilli flakes. Blend thoroughly. Now you will have a cheesy, creamy sauce.
Unplug the blender and taste. Depending on your preference, add salt slowly and blend, unplugging and tasting as you go. Once you are happy the sauce is ready. I serve it in a bowl that I have warmed in hot water to keep the sauce warm like a fondue. Now it’s your choice! Either spread the sauce on the socca, or dip and munch. Whatever floats your boat. You now have a dish full of good fats, protein, no gluten and very little carbohydrate. Best of all, it is absolutely delicious.
That is how you eat comfort food that hits the spot without hitting your waistline.
The dumbest thing anyone ever does to be healthy is one hour of workout and then sit around all day. National Geographic some time ago commissioned a study that became a book called Blue Zones. Essentially they studied the places on Earth where the greatest concentration of people live the longest lives and experience the least chronic illness. I recommend the book and the YouTube talks about it. One of the things that was found is that these people never worked out. They had no gyms, they were usually poor and they did not attempt to live long, healthy, happy lives. Of the many factors that were pertinent, one thing they did do is move constantly. This means that their metabolisms never dropped as low as a sedentary westerner. They lived de- convenienced lives. I have been living this way for years. Now that I am once again cycling even though it is a bitterly cold January here in England I am again combining lifestyle and exercise.
I do not work out. I live.
In the spirit of minimalism and frugal living I often take my clothes to the seamstress – a lady I have known since primary school incidentally – to be adjusted or fitted rather than simply throwing them away. Conventionally a person in a UK town would drive there, drop them off and then drive home. I did not. Since I needed to go I cycled. I did not allot an hour in my day to workout. I simply lived. I think that the Blue Zone way is a better one and we all ought to embrace it. Instead of constantly rushing to save time – not that you can put time in the bank – it is surely better to live in such a way that one is never in a rush, to whatever extent one can live in such a way.
Urban cycling is not fast unfortunately. Too many turns, short hills, too much traffic and so forth. You just can’t pick up much speed in the urban north of England as there are few straight stretches of road in an old mill town like mine. However, with a lot of short, steep hills my body got what it needs and loves, which is plenty of resistance and out of breath pedalling, raised heart rate, delicious endorphins and I got outside in the greenery and fresh air, even if it was cold enough to crack a ball bearing.
Just look at it. Is this not the most appetising thing you have ever seen? If you would like to eat it then read on.
Chickpea curry with lime and coriander rice
This dish is very healthy and hearty. The brown rice is much more flavoursome than white and takes longer to digest. The chickpeas are full of good fats and thus filling and satisfying. The longer you leave it in the slow cooker, the more tasty it will be as the ingredients marinate and infuse. This recipe is intended to serve four adults but I find that it goes further as it is so satisfying. The rice is a refreshing variation on lemon rice. The meaty umami flavours of chickpeas and brown rice get your nose and the flavour populates your mouth.
Turmeric is a natural anti inflammatory and I put it in everything.
300 grams of long grain brown rice
Zest and juice of a lime
A vegetable stock cube
Fresh coriander, chopped
Salt and pepper
Two cups of dried chickpeas, hydrated and boiled for twenty minutes
1 can of coconut milk
1 tbsp turmeric powder
1 clove of garlic
1 tsp dried chillis
4 spring onions, chopped
1 tsp ground ginger
Fresh coriander, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
To cook the curry it is very simple. Throw all the ingredients into the slow cooker, give it a good stir to mix it all, and then cook for four hours minimum. If you go longer and it dries out a little then just add some stock.
To prepare the rice:
Boil in water and the stock cube for thirty minutes.
Drain and hot water
Heat a frying pan with a splash of oil
Turn off the heat and add the rice, stirring well to coat it all in the oil
Stir in the lime juice, zest and coriander
Season to your taste preference
Serve as either half a bowl each as above or make a bed from the rice with the curry on top.