Thursday, 4 October 2012

My Fitness Diary 3: Due to circumstances beyond our control....

Sometimes clouds can block the sun but it always comes back out eventually...
Well I promised I would share the lows as well as the highs about my fitness journey, and the last few days have been pretty low for me, so here goes:
On Sunday night I started to come down with a really nasty cold, and I even had to take Tuesday off work it was so bad. Now I feel better but I have a bad cough and this has meant no running for 4 days now as physical effort has me choking and gagging :( I feel so frustrated, as I was just starting to get into the zone with running a mile a day and feeling really good about it. Now when I start running again (maybe tomorrow?) I know I will have a struggle to get back to where I was last week.
But really there's no sense in bemoaning things you can't change, is there? And despite my best efforts at hand-washing etc. I did eventually catch the germs that are going around my work at the moment. 
I've been thinking about the causes of our sufferings great and small in life and what the Vedic philosophy says about it. Over the years I've looked into various philosophies and I have found that none address the issue of suffering as completely as the Vedas. Basically, the sources of misery in the material world are threefold: 1: Those pertaining to the body and mind (eg: depression, disabilities etc.) 2: Those imposed on us by other living entities 3: Those inflicted by natural disturbances such as earthquakes, storms etc.

Srimad Bhagavatam  7.13.31:
adhyatmikadibhir duhkhair
avimuktasya karhicit
martyasya krcchropanatair
arthaih kamaih kriyeta ki
Materialistic activities are always mixed with three kinds of miserable conditions . Therefore, even if one achieves some success by performing such activities, what is the benefit of this success? One is still subjected to birth, death, old age, disease and the reactions of his fruitive activities (karma).

Naturally, everyone is trying to free themselves from these forms of suffering- look at the effort made by both societies and individuals to alleviate  their distress. But just as one disease gets eradicated, another  appears... The threefold miseries will never be stamped out, as they are an intrinsic part of the construction of the material world. Only spiritual, rather than material, activities can be free from the three sources of suffering. (And as for why we suffer exactly what we suffer, the Vedas have the answer to this too.)
Now that kind of puts things in perspective, doesn't it? I think I'll quit whingeing and go and do something constructive instead...

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Plum and Almond Clafoutis- vegan, gluten free

Plum and almond clafoutis to celebrate Autumn's bounty!
Our damson tree

This is the perfect time of year to be using fresh plums; just as the early Autumn sun ripens them on the trees. Last weekend's sunshine felt like it had been borrowed from Summer, then filtered through the golden leaves to give a beautiful soft light all its own: despite the shorter days and chilly evenings this time of year can be glorious, and these sunny Autumn days hold precious last glimpses of favourite flowers and fruits. There is nothing quite like the sight of a plum tree proudly laden with purple, red or yellow fruits which hang there  glistening like great big jewels amongst the yellowing leaves- I just had to pay tribute to this with a dessert!
I chose clafoutis (pronounced "cla-foo-tee") to showcase some lovely English red plums I found in a local greengrocer's. This dessert comes from the Limousin region of central France, where it is traditionally made with black cherries. The word "clafoutis" comes from the old Occitan verb "clafir" meaning to fill, so I suppose the name means a fruit-filled batter.  The French batter is of course made with wheat flour and eggs so I have swapped these for chickpea flour (aka gram or baisen) and added almonds for extra richness making it vegan and gluten free, so everyone can tuck in...
Please note that I have only made this the one time, and we were really happy with the result, which is why I went ahead and posted it. However, next time I will make a couple of small changes which you might want to take into consideration: I will add more fruit and make the recipe to serve 8-10 rather than 6-8, or I will reduce the amount of batter proportionally so that the ratio of fruit to batter is more balanced. (Although my husband kindly pronounced it perfect, I thought it would be better with a little more fruit, as the batter rose more than I anticipated and covered up the fruit somewhat- or am I just being picky?!.)

6 plums, stoned and halved (any will do, but red or purple make the best colour contrast with the batter)
demerara sugar for sprinkling
flaked or crushed almonds for sprinkling
300g gram flour
100g ground almonds
400ml rice milk (I find this lighter in baking than soya milk)
200g demerara sugar
4tsps baking powder

  • Wash and prepare the plums. Set aside.
  • Make the batter with a balloon whisk, rice milk last.
  • Pour into an ovenproof dish then arrange the plum halves.
  • Sprinkle with flaked or crushed almonds.
  • Bake for about 25 mins in a preheated oven set to 180C. After the first 15 minutes, cover with foil (pierced in the centre to allow steam to escape) to prevent the top from overbrowning while the inside is cooking through. Test with a skewer to ensure the inside is done; it should only be slightly moist where the fruit is.
  • Sprinkle with a little demerara sugar just before serving.

Serve it warm. It doesn't actually need anything else with it. It should be slightly crispy on the outside and soft, almost cake-like inside with creamier pockets of moist fruit. You could also try this with blackberries.
For 3 more plum recipes, click here .

Monday, 1 October 2012

Ingredient of the month 13: Ginger- its uses and health benefits

Fresh ginger root

This month, as the weather in the Northern hemisphere heads into Autumn, I though I'd feature this well-known spice for its warming properties. Ginger needs no introduction as it's used so widely, but did you know how healthy as well as tasty it is?
Ginger is also known by its funky-sounding botanical name, Zingiber officinale ("officinale" means it's used by herbalists as a medicine). It is a native of tropical climes, but has been imported and used worldwide for many centuries. The uses of ginger are many and varied; as fresh root, it can be used in curries and to make teas and soft drinks. Crystallised or candied, it is eaten as a sweet and as powder it is used in baking cakes and cookies. In Ayurveda, ginger is recommended to be chewed just before eating a meal to stimulate the appetite and to enhance digestion by strengthening the agni, or digestive fire.
Ginger is a low-calorie food and rich in vitamins B5 and B6. It also contains vitamin C. In terms of minerals, ginger is a source of potassium, manganese, copper and magnesium.
Health benefits and medicinal uses:
The potassium in ginger can help to control heart rate and blood pressure. Ginger is also anti-inflammatory. It is great for the digestion, and can kill certain microbes too. (Remember the old remedy of drinking a tea of lemon, honey and ginger when you have a cold?)
Ginger contains several essential oils which benefit health, among them gingerol, which can relieve the nausea caused by motion or morning sickness (I can vouch for this!) Gingerols can even alleviate pain, soothe the nerves and bring down a fever. Eaten in the early stages, ginger's essential oils can also relieve a migraine. Another essential oil in ginger, zingerone, can cure the diarrhea brought on by E coli.
Gingery recipes from this blog:
Click here, here , here, here, here and here.... and have a good look around- there's more :)