Recipe: Leek and Mushroom Cream Pasta with Tarragon

Delicious
Delicious

Standby for a yummy pasta dish that will make you feel warm and fuzzy inside! This is a quick and simple recipe that combines the meaty mushroom flavour with cashew cream, whilst the aniseed flavour of the tarragon works brilliantly and explodes in your mouth.

Ingredients

  • 300 grams pasta – I used penne but pick your favourite
  • 300 grams mushrooms, any variety you prefer
  • A leek
  • 1 tsp garlic, minced
  • 150 grams cashews, soaked in boiling water
  • 200 ml vegetable stock
  • Splash of soya milk
  • Handful of fresh tarragon, dried will do if that’s all you have
  • Salt and pepper

Method

  • Pre boil a pan of salted water
  • In a hot skillet add olive oil and fry the mushrooms. They will sizzle as their water content boils off
  • Whilst the mushrooms cook, quarter the leek down the length and the chop roughly. Add to the pan along with the garlic and then season to your taste, turn the heat down to simmer for five minutes
  • Add your pasta to the water and cook al dente – don’t do the British thing where the pasta is distended and floppy! Drain and let stand dry, DON’T let it stand in the water
  • Drain your cashews, add a good glug of soya milk and blend to a cream
  • Add the cream to the skillet and mix through thoroughly, cook gently for two minutes
  • Gradually add your stock, mixing as you go
  • Once the sauce is mixed completely, add the pasta and make sure it is evenly mixed and coated.

The sauce when fully mixed:

The sauce when fully mixed

The tarragon ready to mix

Yummy anise flavour

The finished article:

Grief

I have more experience of grief than most people in my age group. I do not believe this makes me an authority on the subject. I simply wish to share my learning on the matter because I think that grief is so poorly handled and understood that it is actually quite the problem. This post was inspired by an article about Martyn’s Law. I have to start out with my opinion on this story, and this is a genuinely, strongly held conviction of mine:

Never pass laws named after dead people, and especially never pass laws named after dead children

Now, to be clear here, I wish not to trivialise anyone’s loss. Bereavement is hell and the loss of a child is something I would not wish on anyone. The issue is thus; that a grieving person feels entitled, and nobody wishes to say ‘no’ to the demands of that person. The problem is that someone recently bereaved is precisely the last person who ought to be advising anybody about anything, let alone laws that will be almost impossible to repeal. Inevitably Martyn’s Law, which is going to turn accessing a concert venue into the same, pointlessly miserable process as boarding an aeroplane, is the result of a campaign by a bereaved mother.

Martyn’s Law is a bad law, but even if it were a good one the motives for passing it are toxic. It is the manifestation of ego, of selfishness masquerading as dignity. Just as the flowers that are left at a car crash site are not eternal, so it ought to be with all acts of commemoration. Life goes on, and passing laws that memorialise the dead do nothing other than vex the lives of others and stop the bereaved from looking inwardly and dealing with their loss. It becomes a trophy of indulgent behaviour, a focal point for bad reasons to avoid confronting the agony of death and tragic loss.

My mother passed in sudden, tragic circumstances around a decade and a half ago. This was an episode in my life which became the subject of a successful lawsuit and a fitness to practice hearing against her GP. If you really want to know death first hand then getting a call at around 2pm to say that your mum is sick, only for her to be dead by 9pm will do the trick. I do not wish to indulge my grief, that is private. What is teachable is how differently people react. It may surprise you to learn that, where my father and sister went after the doctor with a vicious and vengeful fervour, hoping to have him convicted of negligence, dismissed and potentially imprisoned, I felt no such bitter, savage emotions. I absolutely believe(d) both then and now that it was right to hold him accountable for his actions, and I understand the anger of someone who has been wronged but I do not feel angry about him and I did not wish to destroy him. Why? Because I do not believe that my bereavement, grief and loss entitle me to anything. Not a damned thing.

The doctor got it wrong. It is as simple as that. He was censured and we received a settlement. Am I furious? No. By god I wish he had come to see my mum when she was first taken ill. The conclusion was that the delay in consulting her symptoms cost her life. I am not bitter, however. He did not mean to harm her, he just made the wrong call. The problem is that such calls have consequences that are out of all proportion relative to the size of the error. He made a mistake. That is all. His ruination would mean that fewer people would practice medicine and those who do would be a little more scared to make brave diagnostic calls and prescribing decisions. Call me crazy if you like but if I am potentially fatally ill then I want a doctor with the balls to make the call, not a timid mouse who fears the lawsuit he or she might face. It sucks that my mum paid the price and I lost her when she was only fifty four years of ago but it’s going to happen sometimes, and the dumbest thing you could do to a superb physician who has bettered thousands of lives would be to ruin him purely as an act of indulgence. What would be the point of retribution? Do I think he sleeps soundly despite his error? Maybe. I hope he does, not just for his patients’ sake but also because the pain I feel at the loss of a life that should have had thirty or so more years in length is mine to bear. Subcontracting it to him in order to make him feel as bad is pointless. Life will bring him his own loss and grief. I have no business insisting that he suffer mine also. He already cost a patient her life and I do not for a second believe that he ever wanted to practice medicine for reasons that were ignoble. All that aside, how weak it is to demand that others also suffer purely so they know your misery. How do I enrich the world if I behave in such a way?

My father, in his grief, has succumbed to anger and bitterness. It has twisted his soul and destroyed his family and his old age. Of course, losing the retirement of which you dreamed is horrible and I understand, but what are we to do with that? I remember after mum passed, he would rage at anyone and everyone. He once spotted a parking space when going to the supermarket and when another person parked in it – my dad was nowhere near it – he followed the driver and assaulted him. His justification began with ‘after what I have been through’. He believed that his loss entitled him to something from the world, and he is now so bitter, twisted and malevolently narcissistic that I do not believe that he can be helped. The GP error cost him his retirement with his wife, but his bitterness has cost him far more, and which is more, he did it to himself. He has allowed grief and bitterness to twist and gnarl his spirit to the limit where what good there was is long gone. Now he rages bitterly at a world that owes him nothing.

For a man to handle grief well, and by that I do not mean it will be easy, he must decouple his ego from his loss. Death is a fact of life. It happens to all, some more than others, but it is something to be assimilated and handled with dignity. It is hard to pick up one’s cross at the best of times, even more so when bereaved, but there is a wrong way to do it. The right way is deeply personal and thus difficult to describe as it varies from person to person. The wrong way is simple. Indulge your ego and entitlement in your grief. That is how to grieve badly. Do so and you will never heal. Go ahead and allow existential rage to consume you. You might feel good temporarily but in the end it is still you who is consumed.

The truth is that when grieving you must forgive yourself. All of the missed opportunities and wasted years are gone. When my time comes I will not be angry at my children for the time they did not spend with me. What would upset me most is the notion that they might stand at my grave and weep for the loss of that which will be gone forever. So forgive yourself. Chances are your lost loved one already has and if they haven’t then they are not worthy of your consideration.

My father grieves like a clenched fist. If he softened and opened up then there is so much still to take from the world and so much life can give to him, but as long as he is clenched like that fist all he can do is cling to what he has – bitterness, hatred, resentment and anger.

My final thoughts are these: we all deserve the time to grieve when we endure loss. We deserve compassion, empathy and understanding and the truth is that if you use that loss to gain something you do not merit, such as a law that will impact others negatively, or you simply believe that the world owes you a favour, then, quite simply, you are a predator. Grief is the camouflage for your predatorial nature. Worst of all, in the end you will only destroy yourself. It is hard to forgive your enemies, perceived or otherwise, and it is hard to let go of pain and anger when nobody would blame you for feeling that way. Even harder still is to summon the courage to look in the mirror and accept that the world does not owe you anything for what you lost. A better way would be to think that you owe it to the world to fill the gap left by whomever has left it and for whom your grieve. What can you do to ensure that their loss will produce something of value? My mum is dead. It is unjust, unfair and unfinished, but she is dead. It serves no good purpose for me to inflict that upon the world. However, what I can do is use the memory of the pain to soothe that of another, to empathise and show compassion to someone else. This is surely a better way.

Torpedo Mode: Engaged

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. Back Doing all of the Swims

Back Doing all of the Swims

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.

Strava Data

Strava Data
Strava Data

For whatever it’s worth, this is what Strava made of my swimming based upon data from my Garmin Vivoactive watch.

Better, Faster, Stronger – Bonus: Now with Strava!

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.

Garmin Data

Time, Distance and Calorie Burn
Time, Distance and Calorie Burn
Garmin Data for Speed and Elevation
Garmin Data for Speed and Elevation
Garmin Data Breakdown
Garmin Data Breakdown

Strava Segments

Strava Segments - Climbs and Blasts
Strava Segments – Climbs and Blasts

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.

Recipe: Tropical Crunch Smoothie

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.

Delicious Tropical Crunch Smoothie
Delicious Tropical Crunch Smoothie

Ingredients

  • 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.

Delicious Tropical Crunch Smoothie
Delicious Tropical Crunch Smoothie

I’m so Ashamed

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.

Today’s Run
Today’s Run

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.

Week in Review

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 further expand my nutritional horizons. 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.

Today’s Cycle
Today’s Cycle

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.

Recipe: Breakfast Pancakes with Spicy Turmeric Potato and Yoghurt Filling

Delicious brunch pancakes

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.

Savoury pancakes with a delicious Indian potato filling
Savoury pancakes with a delicious Indian potato filling

Ingredients

Pancakes

  • 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

Filling

  • 6-8 old potatoes, cubed
  • 1 tbsp turmeric powder
  • 1 white onion, chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, chopped
  • 1 tbsp smoked paprika

Yoghurt Sauce

  • 6-8 tbsp soy yoghurt
  • Handful of fresh coriander, roughly chopped
  • Lime juice

Method

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.

Breakfast of champions!
Breakfast of champions!

Nature and Mental Health

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.

Mountains in Abisko. The blue hue was a beautiful optical effect

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.

Frozen Lake in Abisko
Frozen Lake in Abisko

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 Forest on Pirin Mountain
The Forest on Pirin Mountain
The Forest on Pirin Mountain

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.

Janet’s Foss in Malham, Yorkshire
Janet’s Foss in Malham, Yorkshire

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.

Double Rainbow by Pen Y Ghent
Double Rainbow by Pen Y Ghent

Hiking is free you know! It is also access to priceless sights and experiences.

Hawdraw Force

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.

The View from the Ascent of Ingleborough
The View from the Ascent of Ingleborough
The View from the Descent of Ingleborough
The View from the Descent of Ingleborough
The View From Pen Y Ghent
The View From Pen Y Ghent
The Whernside Viaduct
The Whernside Viaduct

So get outside and see the true beauty of the natural world.

Recipe: The Comfort Food of Champions!

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:

  • Filling
  • Savoury/umami
  • Tasty and/or hearty

So here is one of my favourite dishes that is all three: socca flatbread with a cheesy dip sauce.

Socca and Cheesy Dip Sauce
Socca and 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.

Ingredients

Socca

  • Two cups of water
  • Two cups of gram flour (chickpea flour)
  • 3 tbsp oil
  • Salt to taste
  • Fresh rosemary for garnish

Cheese sauce

  • 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
  • Soy milk
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1-2 tsp Chilli flakes
  • Salt to taste
Served at the Dinning Table: Socca and Cheesy Dip Sauce
Served at the Dinning Table: Socca and Cheesy Dip Sauce

Method

Socca

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.

Cheese Sauce

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.

The Best Comfort Food in the World: Socca and Cheesy Dip Sauce
The Best Comfort Food in the World: Socca and Cheesy Dip Sauce

That is how you eat comfort food that hits the spot without hitting your waistline.