Monday, September 22, 2008

Crunchy Granola

I think I've just made the perfect granola. Sprinkle it over yoghurt and fresh fruits for a quick and easy breakfast, or just snack on it whenever you feel inclined. It takes minutes to make, it keeps for ages and it is light, healthy and sustaining! And it really is one of those things that tastes so much better than the sweet, sickly packet stuff.
I had this this morning before a quick 4 mile run. It didn't take long to digest and kept me going perfectly.
Crunchy Granola

200g unrefined porridge oats
250g mixed nuts – I like flaked almonds, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, walnuts and pistachios. Pecans and hazelnuts are nice too
100g mixed dried fruit – raisins, crystalised ginger, dried apricots, figs and/or dates, chopped (optional)
2 tbsp honey or maple syrup
2 tbsp water
2 tbsp sunflower oil or melted butter
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger


  1. Heat the oven to 180°C.
  2. Mix together the oats and nuts with the spices and the honey, oil and water.
  3. Spread the mixture evenly onto a large baking sheet.
  4. Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown, turning the mixture around every 10 minutes or so for it to brown evenly.
  5. Leave to cool and crisp up and add the dried fruit if using.
  6. Store in an airtight container.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Run for Recovery - 20th Reebok Bristol Half Marathon

After a combination of grey skies and drizzle here in Bristol for the whole of the summer, you can imagine my surprise when the morning of 14th September welcomed me with streams of sunlight pouring into the room.

I knew then that it was going to be a good one. I downed my pint of water, made my normal pre-race breakfast of porridge topped with walnuts, blueberries and greek honey – good slow-burning, low- G.I. unrefined carbohydrate, vitamins, minerals and bit of glucose - and sorted out my race number.

The start of the Reebok Bristol Half Marathon is only ½ mile away from my home which made for an unusually leisurely race morning experience, and gave me lots of time to pop a batch of white chocolate chip brownies into the oven for the post-half recovery lunch.

Of course, running past you own house twice during a race demands a certain willpower, especially when you know that the fridge is packed with cold beers and there is a casserole bubbling away in the oven!

Hats off to the race organizers of this year’s Reebok Bristol Half Marathon. They really excelled themselves. I have run the Bristol ½ for the past few years and I my enjoyment of it has always been marred by the sheer number of people running. The start, especially in 2007, was chaotic and busy, unpleasantly so, in fact. Crammed into the start pen like a sheep, I remember thinking “What am I doing. This is hell. I could do the same course tomorrow in peace without all these crowds”. There was hardly any space to run for the first few miles and it didn’t really open up for the whole race.

This year, however, was a totally different story. From start to finish everything appeared well-organised. The start was split into two waves according to predicted times with two different assembly areas. The atmosphere was calm, friendly, less congested and really rather pleasant. We easily met up with our friends, we easily found a good place to stand in the pen 100 metres from the start just behind the pack of elite runners, and we easily set off at a fast sub 8 minute mile pace. My husband, Mark, and I decided to run together for the first time ever. Mark is usually faster than me, but neither of us had trained properly so we decided to just enjoy the race together. This would have been nigh on impossible in the throng of runners last year but this year there was no question of losing each other - we had tons of space.

The finish was well-funneled and the goodie bag was perfect, containing just what a girl needs after running 13.1 miles – a Double Decker chocolate bar and a lucozade.

The run past Bristol’s major sites is very picturesque- the harbourside, the SS Great Britain, the Clifton Suspension Bridge, the Avon Gorge - but what I find most inspiring is seeing the elite runners running back in towards the city when you are on mile 4 or 5. Everyone claps and cheers and your mind is taken off-focus for a bit as you gaze in awe at them sprinting past. After mile 9 the race suddenly becomes a bit trickier and there are a few nasties to deal with – too many corners to weave around, horrible medieval cobbles around mile 10 and then, just to finish you off, a nasty little hill at mile 11+….all character-building stuff.

Mark and I came in together at a not-particularly-respectable 1:46 and after a few very sweaty hugs (why do men always seem to kiss you on both cheeks after sprinting though the finish line!) we did a quick power-walk home to prepare for the post-half lunch.
No time to sit down and recover for us - after a quick shower I was warming up the two casseroles I had made the day before and preparing the couscous and salad while Mark sorted the drinks situation – plenty of cold beers and wine, J2Os for the kids and fizzy water.
A short while later I was sitting down with my guests, sipping a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and eating a tagine of spiced lamb with flageolet beans, green garlic sauce, couscous with roasted almonds and a lovely crisp green salad. It seemed to hit the spot with everyone. Pudding was a choice of tarts - date and cardamom and chocolate pecan or walnut and white chocolate brownies with cinnamon cream. Good puds full of high GI glucose to get straight to those tired muscles. I have never seen a tray of brownies disappear so rapidly.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Count-down to the Half Marathon...Time to Carbo-Load!

I have most certainly not done enough training for the Bristol Half Marathon to beat my PB and get a fast time (for me), so I have decided to 'enjoy' it rather than go all out for the kill. The Bristol Half is nice for a provincial girl like me because I know the route and so many of the spectators are friends, family or acquaintances. It makes such a difference and boosts the morale so much more than complete strangers cheering you on.

I have been drinking lots this week to keep my hydration levels up, in the anticipation that we will get a hot sunny day, but in fact the weather forecast is for perfect running weather - cloudy with light showers and 16 degrees. At this stage we should be eating about 60-70% carbohydrate so I have been testing out some new carboloading recipes. So far this week we have had:

griddled tuna steak on a bed of spiced, cranberry couscous, with mango and avocado salsa

salmon with basil oil with local baby new potatoes, and

slow-cooked lamb with green flageolet beans and spaetzle.

Friday night will be tagliatelle with spinach, bacon and green garlic sauce and Saturday night will be my good old pre-race vrey high carb. staple - spaghetti with fresh basil, parmesan and toasted pine nuts....and of course I will start Sunday morning with a bowl of Go Faster Porridge, with blueberries, honey and walnuts.

My favourite this week has been the griddled tuna on spiced cranberry couscous- it just oozes flavour, it is fantastic for training and it's packed with goodness. The salsa contains a wide variety of vitamins and the couscous is a good low fat, medium GI carbohydrate. It goes without saying that fresh tuna is one of the better sources of omega 3 fatty acids – good for you heart and good for your brain.
And it takes moments to make:

Ingredients for 4:
4 fresh tuna steaks
For the Salsa:
1 mango (not too ripe), cut into small cubes
1 avocado (not too ripe), cut into small cubes
Handful of firm cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters
1 shallot (very finely chopped)
Bunch of mint, roughly chopped
Bunch of coriander, roughly chopped
1/2 tsp ground cumin

pinch of chilli powder
1/2 tsp coriander seed, crushed in pestle and mortar
Juice of one lime
1/2 tbsp Extra virgin olive oil
For the Couscous:
250g couscous
Small pack dried cranberries
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander

1. Prepare the salsa: combine all the ingredients, season and refrigerate.
2. Turn on the griddle and leave it to get really hot.
3. Prepare the couscous: add a drop of olive oil and about 150ml stock (check pack for exact amount - an approx. measure is an equal volume of liquid to couscous), stir and leave for 5 minutes. In a separate dish, pour boiling water on the cranberries and leave for a few minutes to soften. Strain and stir into the couscous when it is ready, fluffing it up gently with a fork. Season couscous according to taste.
4. When the griddle is smoking hot, season the tuna steaks with salt and black pepper and then place on the griddle for about 2 minutes each side, less if they are not very thick. They need to be pink in the middle or they will be tough.
5. Give the steaks a squeeze of lemon or lime juice, season with more salt and pepper and serve on individual plates with the couscous and the salsa.