Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Fragrant Tom Yam Goong with Noodles

Fragrant Thai Hot and Sour Prawn Soup (Tom Yam Goong) with Noodles

Tom Yam Goong is a wonderfully chilli-hot soup which combines the sweet, sour, salty and hot characteristics of Thai cooking perfectly. I make a higher carb. ‘runner’s version’ of this soup by adding rice or buckwheat noodles. The asian stock I made from my two duck carcasses (see yesterday's post ) was just perfect for this soup...and there is some left over for another time. I ate a version of this soup almost every lunchtime when I was in Thailand - it is refreshing and surprisingly easy to digest. It is quick to make yet exotic in taste, the noodles are high in low slow-burning carbohydrate, and the broth is full of antioxidants. If you have had a sweaty, hot workout, you will find this soup a good option as the broth will replace lost salts. The prawns are en excellent source of protein and minerals such as selenium, iron, zinc and magnesium. You can add extra vegetables such as peppers or mange tout if you like. I used haricots verts, fennel and mushrooms last night.

Serves 4
500g raw, unpeeled prawns (pack of raw frozen prawns is a good alternative)
1 ½ litres stock - chicken, duck.
2 stalks lemongrass, outer layers removed, inner parts bashed with a rolling pin to release the flavour
2 cm piece of fresh ginger or galangal, sliced very finely
6 kaffir lime leaves
2-3 tbs Thai fish sauce
6 spring onions, sliced diagonally
150g finely sliced mushrooms
1 tomato chopped (optional)
2 tsp palm sugar or brown sugar
1 tsp chilli paste
2-4 red chillis, chopped finely, seeds removed if very hot
3 tbs freshly squeezed lime juice
large bunch fresh coriander, roughly chopped
250g noodles (such as Thai rice noodles, soba or buckwheat noodles)

  1. Peel the prawns, remove the dark vein and set aside. Place the shells and heads in a pan with the stock. Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Strain the stock and discard the shells. (If you used peeled frozen prawns you will have to omit this stage)
  2. Bring the stock to the boil again and add the lime leaves, ginger and lemon grass. Boil rapidly for several minutes and then turn down to a low heat.
  3. Add the mushrooms, tomato, spring onions and chilli paste and chillis.
  4. Cook the noodles according to the pack instructions in a separate pan and drain.
  5. Add the prawns to the stock pan, then the lime juice, sugar and fish sauce and simmer for a couple of minutes until the prawns turn pink. Adjust the flavour with more chilli sauce, fish sauce, sugar or lime juice if necessary. Remove the lemon grass, as this is not nice to eat, and then add the noodles.
  6. Stir in the fresh coriander and serve. You could serve some extra chillis on the side for the brave…

Monday, May 19, 2008

It's worth the effort - Ashton Court, Bristol

I have just handed in my notice at our local David Lloyd Centre as I have come to realise that I use the gym so rarely that the vast sums of money taken out of my account each month could be spent much more usefully elsewhere. And really, what's the point of going to the gym if you can get your exercise outside in the fresh air. Running in Bristol's Ashton Park (just above the David Lloyd gym) sometimes gives you that added feel-good factor that you really cannot get from staring at a TV screen on a step machine. This is the reward that you get once you have climbed the gruelling zig-zag and then come back down towards Bristol. Fields of wild flowers, a view of the city and it's downhill all the way home.And these photos (taken by my husband Mark, who's much better than me at that sort of thing...and also a fantastic runner, swimmer, cyclist) were taken on a grotty day.

I am feeling a bit guilty about this weekend - it has been slightly decadent. It was Mark's birthday on Saturday and I drank far too much champagne (very nice, but not good for hill training the next day) and on Sunday we had the family around for a big roast dinner (roast duck, roast potatoes, fresh organic local veg, apple sauce from apples in my garden...) and lots of delicious red wine. I suppose it was good poison, but running it out of the system was hard work. Also the weekend has not seen very many carbs (the kids demolished the roast potatoes before I got to them!), so tonight I am going to make a hot and sour soup with noodles - ginger in a soup always makes me feel better. At this moment in time, I have the duck carcasses bubbling away on the stove to make a delicious asian stock, with onion, celery, bay, ginger, star anis, kaffir lime leaves, coriander root and lemon grass. The house smells lovely!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Mad Mave

Things have been very busy this week. I have not had much time to run since Tuesday, and I had to cut short yesterday's run because the weather was so awful and I needed to get back to work. My mother-in-law's best buddy Mavis Patterson, or Mad Mave, as we call her, is off on Sunday to cycle across Canada - at the age of 70!

Mavis is the most wonderful person and is a truly remarkable lady. She has outstanding strength and determination and is incredibly brave. She is also great fun and makes delicious scotch pancakes
. I have spent time cycling with her while she was cycling the whole of the UK Sustrans route a few years ago and I have to say that she has a god-like status in my eyes! She has done tons of things for charity, including cyling across Uganda, climbing Kilimanjaro; she's cycled from Sydney to Cairns, she's abseiled off enormous cliffs in Scotland. I remember having to coax her to jump off a building in Cardiff, down which we were abseiling for charity. When she finally did jump, she abseiled down, squealing with delight and talking about the gin and tonic she was going to enjoy afterward! Anyway, her website is http://www.grannymave.co.uk/ - take a look at it and sponsor her if you like.

I made some fruity fingers last night - a cross between malt loaf and a fruit cake, so I'll pop down the recipe next posting.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Hill training

According to Runners World - http://www.runnersworld.co.uk/news/article.asp?uan=159 - hill training is good for you. Yes, I know that, and I suppose if I am going to survive my Brecon Beacons run I must show some willpower and hit the hills. I have found the ideal place to train near my home - Leigh Woods and Ashton Court in Bristol. There are lots of ups and downs, some steady and some steep, and the area is generally shady. Running has been pretty hot this week, so shade is one of my priorities in this beautiful weather.

I have done 2 sessions so far this week - one with my 32-year old ex-army PT trainer marathon buddy, which of course involved some very strenuous hill reps - a number of them starting at 80% effort, increasing to 95% and then tapering down again. I think it must have worked, because my run up the same hill today was quite manageable. Either that or it seemed easier because I was on my own!

Anyway, back to the important things in life - food. Last night was a simple supper of barbecued cumberland sausages (decent ones, not those ones in the packets that seem to taste unbelievably salty to me) and a very fresh-tasting 'green' couscous salad. I bought the most enormous bunch of parsley and some delicious tender courgettes from Reg the Veg. I sliced the courgettes lengthways, chargrilled them and added them to some couscous which I had soaked in chicken stock. I threw in tons of chopped parsley, the juice and zest of a lemon, some olive oil and some black pepper. A fresh, delicious and healthy accompaniment for the sausages and put together in a flash!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Hill Training and Smoothies

I have started to train for the Brecon Beacons challenge. I have been lucky enough that my blog has been spotted by the marketing guys from Salomon and I have been given the opportunity to test out their XT Wings trail shoes, run the Brecon Beacons challenge and write about them in the blog - more about this later, as they are in the post... We went walking in the Brecon Beacons this weekend, and I was fairly horrified at how steep it is - I really need to do some serious hill training for this (yuk), as the run is 14 miles of steep up and down. I did my first very hilly run this morning - 6.5 miles. It was hot and hard, but a good feeling at the end when I poured ice cold water over me and made a delicious fresh Sunny Strawberry Shaker juice!
Juices and Smoothies:
I have to admit that I usually end up eating the fruit before it gets anywhere near the blender, but when I have the patience and fancy a little indulgence, it can be worth the wait and the hassle to make up a fresh juice or smoothie. I have been experimenting with various different combinations and these are my favourites. You will notice that these smoothies do not have banana in them - I really do not like the 'thick' texture of banana in a smoothie and I prefer to eat them whole!

Remember that smoothies are really packed with goodness, so treat yourself to one at breakfast time, or to hydrate yourself pre- or post-run. Simply chill and prepare the fruit, and whiz in a blender until smooth. Serve in chilled glasses with a sprig of mint or basil. These recipes make about two glasses:

Ginger- melon rescue remedy
Melon has a higher G.I. than most fruit, it has high water content and it is particularly refreshing. Athletes will often eat melon straight after a long work-out for this reason. Ginger is known for its anti-inflammatory qualities, so make up this juice in advance and enjoy it as soon as you get back from your hot and sweaty 17-mile training run…
1 melon, skinned and seeded (gala, charentais, honeydew – works well with any type except watermelon)
small piece of fresh ginger (1/2-1 cm cube), peeled and chopped
4 crushed ice cubes

Sunny Strawberry Shaker
punnet of strawberries (about 200-250g)
200ml apple juice
3 crushed ice cubes
3 mint leaves, plus a sprig to decorate

Tomato-chilli zinger
The vegetables in this juice contain a lot of water. This juice is packed with vitamins and is great to drink if you fancy a savoury juice with a higher salt content.
250ml tomato juice
½ red pepper, seeded
¼ small red chilli, deseeded and chopped
¼ (2 inch piece) cucumber, peeled
½ stick of celery, stringy bits removed
salt and pepper
squeeze of lemon
Tabasco and Worcester sauce to taste
4 crushed ice cubes
basil leaves and celery stick to decorate

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Running in the heat

Your fluid intake does not just have to come from the tap. It’s a hot, sultry, sunny day. Your body is crying out for liquid. What could be more refreshing than a sweet, succulent slice of watermelon made up of 97% water or a melon and ginger zinger smoothie?

Summer's here at last. We no longer battle our way through howling gales and driving rain. The days are longer. It’s not so hard to prise ourselves out of bed for those early morning runs. Training can be a real joy. Anyone who has trained for an autumn race will agree that running during the summer months can be a truly wonderful experience.

But there is a fine line between that perfect sunny day and a sun so hot that your run becomes a sweaty nightmare. The heat increases, your core body temperature rises and you start to sweat profusely. What is more, this triggers a rapid dispersion of blood into the capillaries of your skin and the amount of fluid available to the muscles is reduced. Your muscles are being pushed to capacity but they are receiving fewer nutrients. You start to slow down. I have mixed memories of my 18 and 20-mile training runs on holiday in the Spanish Pyrenees. We would start running before sunrise, stunned into silence by the beautiful scenery around us, the temperature very comfortable, hardly believing that we were able to run in such an amazing place. We would finish in a state of near exhaustion with the sun beating down on us as the heat of the day began to kick in.

Have you ever felt so exhausted that you have had to stop running? Do you sometimes feel dizzy or disorientated during a long run? Have you ever been overcome by cramp at mile 20? These are all signs of dehydration rearing its ugly head. Running in hot weather can have adverse effects on your body and ignoring symptoms can both inhibit your performance and lead to serious consequences. Even the most well-conditioned athlete has to be careful when running in hot conditions. When my very best running buddy collapsed at the finish line of the Flora London Marathon in April, it struck me more than ever that if we are pushing the boundaries of our physical and mental endurance we really need to be serious about our diet and drinking strategy - not just to help us run more effectively, but also to prevent injury, exhaustion…..or even worse. After 30 minutes in the medical tent, my buddy was fully recovered, if a little shaken, having been given a “magic drink” and some very welcome massage. Digging a little deeper into why this should have happened to a fit, well-trained athlete who had eaten a good pre-marathon diet, I discovered that in fact he had taken in very little fluid - not only during the race, but also during the week running up to the race. He had been so set on beating his PB (which he missed by 8 seconds) that he had only taken the odd sip of water at the drinks stations, plus a gel at mile 6! Had he taken the time to grab a sports drink or an orange segment or two, perhaps he would have made up those vital seconds…

Avoid the worst effects of running in the heat:
Time your runs carefully and think ahead
Choose your route carefully, take enough fluid with you, schedule your runs so that you do not run in the heat of the day and wear the light clothing. Set off before sunrise. If that is just too early for you then try to get out before the sun has had time to heat up the ground. In the evening you will often find that by the time it has cooled down it is so late that you have lost the will to run. Choose a route with trees to shade you and, if possible, avoid tarmac which really soaks up the heat.

If you are not accustomed to running in the heat, you need to get your body acclimatized before you attempt anything too adventurous. Start your runs slowly, don’t run too far and let your body get used to the heat. If you are planning to race in a hot country get in some training in similar conditions.

Take hydration seriously
Each person has an individual requirement for fluid - body weight, gender, climate, running speed, terrain and sweat rate are just a few variables. As runners, we have to learn to recognize the early warning signals of the detrimental effects that running in the heat can have, both on our bodies and on our running. The basic aim is to avoid either dehydration (fluid loss from under-drinking) or hyponatremia (low blood salt level due to abnormal fluid retention from overdrinking).

We need to try to keep our fluid levels topped up all day, not just during our workouts. A basic rule is that the heavier you are or the faster you run the more fluid you will lose. The British Dietetic Association guidelines state that the average person should drink 2.5 litres of water and that this intake should be increased during hot weather or during and after physical activity. But it is really important to remember that water alone is not enough when it comes to replacing fluid lost through sweat. Just taste your skin after a long sweaty run – it is incredibly salty. Your sweat is made up of electrolytes which are vital for your body to function properly, such as sodium, potassium, chloride and magnesium. When you sweat, you lose approximately 2.g to 3.4g of sodium per litre of sweat and you can actually lose up to 1 litre of sweat per hour during a race. For this reason, it is recommended that you drink a sports drink with sodium and electrolytes in it, rather than simple water, when running for more than an hour.

Water intoxication (hyponatremia) is occurring more frequently as greater numbers of recreational sports enthusiasts take part in long-distance events. When the 22-year-old fitness trainer tragically died after completing the London Marathon in April 2007, the condition became more widely known. Hyponatremia is caused by drinking so much water that the sodium concentration in the blood becomes diluted to the extent that vital body functions are jeopardised. During long runs and endurance races a sports drink with sodium and electrolytes will help prevent this happening. When it is really hot make sure that you keep up your salt intake with salty foods or salt tablets to minimize the risk of diluting your blood too much with pure water.

Unfortunately the symptoms of dehydration and hyponatremia are very similar. The tell-tale sign of dehydration is dark urine but other indications are very similar - muscle cramps, disorientation, dizziness, nausea, weakness and extreme fatigue. Stick to a basic rule of drinking before or when you are thirsty and keeping up your salt intake and you should be able to avoid any serious consequences.

I have only ever had one experience of real dehydration and it is one that I never wish to repeat. Traveling in a little-known area on the coast of Columbia as a student, I had been sitting on a bus in the sweltering heat for many, many hours. We had recently flown in from London and I was acclimatised neither to the heat, nor the humidity. Toward the end of the journey I started to feel increasingly nauseous, weak and dizzy. It was only when I climbed down from the bus that I realized that my clothes were soaked through. You could actually wring them out. Too dizzy to walk, I could hardly move. My very sensible friend (later to become my husband!) bought me a litre of water which I immediately downed in one. I then continued to gulp down two further litres. However, it was only after a few mouthfuls of salty chicken broth an hour or so later that I started to feel slightly more alert. If the chicken’s claw had not been protruding out of the bowl, I might have been able to stomach a little more!

Don’t just stick to water; fill your diet with interesting hydrating foods…
“Water is boring and sports drinks are expensive and sickly!” This is a comment I hear all-too-frequently from my running friends. The fact is, however, that you can get your water from many sources other than the tap - on a hot sultry sunny day when your body is crying out for liquid, what could be more refreshing than a sweet, succulent slice of watermelon made up of 97% water? Fruit juices are a great alternative for athletes, because they contain extra calories and vital minerals and vitamins. Raw fruit and vegetables all have a high water content – melon, strawberries, apples, citrus fruits, red fruits, pineapple, kiwis, tomatoes, broccoli, carrots, peppers, spinach, cabbage, radishes...the list is endless. Even some relatively ‘dry’ foods contain a high percentage of water, such as beans, grains like couscous and rice and pasta (foods which expand with water). In hot weather you can very easily base your everyday training diet on foods that include higher levels of water, while still providing your body with the correct level of carbohydrate, protein, vitamins and minerals.

It is good to try to replace some of the nutrients lost after a sweaty run with foods which are high in sodium and potassium. A sports drink is always a good alternative, but these are expensive and sometimes I just really can’t face the sweetness of even the more palatable ones. I often run with a homemade version – ribena with a spoonful of salt, or a few dextrose tablets dissolved in some water, with orange juice and salt (play around with the quantities to suit your taste). Fresh juice, a fruit salad or a piece of fruit straight after a run will rehydrate you, give you carbohydrate to replenish your glycogen stores and will often boost your sodium and potassium levels, along with other essential minerals such as iron, copper, iodine and magnesium and anti-oxidants such as vitamin C, A and E.

If you neither have the time nor the energy to make your own juice, just buy the fruit and eat it. I often chop up whatever fruit is in the house for a fruit salad. I keep it in the fridge and use it at breakfast, for dessert and for snacks. Snacking on fruit and vegetables during hot weather will hydrate you, give you a few extra calories and offer you a welcome alternative to water. Each time you go to the shops, buy yourself a different selection. Frozen forest fruits, raspberries and blueberries are really good for juicing and a cheap alternative to fresh.

See my next post on hydrating recipes for the summer....

Friday, May 2, 2008

Eat Well, Run Well

I am pleased to say that Running Fitness have published a nice 4 page spread about me and my recipes in their May edition.

The article is about nutrition, the sort of foods to include in your training diet and how to replenish your energy levels - buy the magazine or click here for my .p
df file - Eat well, Run Well

They've picked out a few of my recipes for the article - click here for the blog links - conchiglioni with roasted tomato sauce, Couscous with chicken tagine, green olives and preserved lemons, and spaghetti with spinach and pancetta.

What is really great is that they've asked me to write another article for the summer edition - on hydration and running in the heat. I've included some great summery recipes which I'll put on the blog.

Many thanks to Up and Running in Bristol for providing me with such great kit for the photos...and also to photographer Sara Martineau for taking such good foodie shots.

A new challenge...A new training schedule

After a week or so of enforced rest, I have started running again. I have been so busy sorting out 'stuff' that I had 'put on hold' during the run up to London that I haven't really been able to get out for a proper run until today. I did five or six miles in the beautiful sunshine with a lovely group of friends who had all recently done a very exciting, fun-sounding marathon - the Las Vegas Marathon

I am looking at my next challenge and I think it just has to be the Brecon Beacons three peak challenge on 21st June - a 14 mile trail run. I had originally been very keen on doing the June Biel 100km in Switzerland with an experienced trail running buddy, Andy Shelling, but have thought the better of it. I just think it is too soon after a marathon for me and possibly a little too much of a challenge at this stage, when I am trying to get my book, Go Faster Food, off the ground etc (I have three publishers who are giving positive vibes...so I'm keeping my fingers crossed).

The Brecon Beacons run is nearer home, I have friends who are walking it, and I may be able to persuade some friends to run it with me too. It will also be my first attempt at a trail running race...Very exciting, but also a bit daunting! So, lots and lots of hill training from now until June, as I rather avoided hills in my training for the London Marathon.