Last weekend I went on a yoga retreat. I’d never done anything like that before and really enjoyed it. This post is a bit longer than usual because I had such a great time and want to describe it in detail for anyone who’s interested in yoga and/or healthy food. Feel free to bail out at any point!
Many years ago, when I worked in marketing in a big office in Leeds, I had a colleague called Jenni. One day Jenni discovered yoga, decided she didn’t to be on the corporate hamster wheel any more and took herself off to India to become a yogi. To be honest, we mostly thought she was a bit mad at the time – giving up a good job and a nice life to leap into the unknown. But it paid off – Jenni became a fantastic yoga teacher and has worked all over the world, mostly recently at Kaliyoga retreats in France and Italy. At the moment she’s back in God’s Own County for a few weeks, so organised a weekend retreat for friends and family in the Dales.
I’ve had an on/off relationship with yoga for a few years. I do love it, and often attend the flow class at York Yoga Studio. I think the dynamic nature of flow yoga is a great complement to running, building core strength and flexibility – also good for those of us who are getting on a bit and want to stay mobile! But what normally happens is that I go for a couple of months, something happens to make me miss a class and then it seems to take me a few weeks to get started again. I really want to do yoga more often, so signed up for Jenni’s retreat because I thought it might kick-start me into doing just that. It also seemed like a great way to relax and recharge at the end my running season.
So, last Friday afternoon twelve of us (all women) arrived at the Healthy Home on Cononley Moor near Skipton. It’s a fairly remote but apparently quite well-known place – an eco home designed by Gina Lazenby that has even had a book written about it! It’s all totally Feng Shui-ed, with Buddhas and angels in every room. I’m not sure I believe in all that sort of thing, but it’s certainly a very spacious and beautiful place – my bedroom was enormous! We were promised a weekend of yoga, hiking and healthy, veggie food, which sounded perfect. We were also encouraged not to use our ‘devices’, but to cut ourselves off from the outside world as much as possible to gain the full benefit of the experience. Personally I was more concerned about going without coffee!
Following an afternoon tea with some delicious raw cake, we had our first yoga session. All the yoga took place in an enormous conservatory, and during daylight hours we had the most amazing views of the surrounding countryside as we practised. To ease us in we started with an hour of ‘restorative’ yoga, which was really relaxing, and a great way of letting go of our outside lives for the weekend. Afterwards we had a light supper of red lentil and coconut soup with buckwheat flour soda bread and a huge side salad featuring sprouted beans. Feeling very chilled out, we mostly retired to our rooms at around 9pm. Sleep was an important part of the break for some, especially those with small children!
I was slightly disturbed that our schedule for Saturday started with two hours of yoga from 8am, with no breakfast until 10am. I do love my brekkie and wasn’t sure I’d manage without food until that time! But Jenni assured me that once we started I wouldn’t think about food, and she was right. This morning session consisted of a guided meditation followed by some dynamic flow yoga, perfect for waking up the body, and slightly challenging in places. The two hours seemed to whizz by in no time. Our breakfast was worth waiting for: fruit salad, chia seed porridge with goji berries and bee pollen, plus two kinds of fresh juice – beetroot, carrot, orange and ginger, and kale, lemon, banana, hemp, chlorella, moringa, almond and coconut water. Both were amazing! I’d never had chia porridge before, but will certainly be having a go at making it myself.
After breakfast some of us went out for a walk. Luckily the heavy overnight rain had stopped, and it felt good both mentally and physically to be out in the fresh air. It was also a great bonding exercise. I really enjoyed chatting to all the amazing women there, including one who had cycled with her husband from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego – a journey that took four years! The only member of the group I knew before the weekend was Jenni herself, and I had been a bit worried that everyone else would be about 25 and super-bendy, but there were plenty of older women of varying abilities and Jenni was able to cater to us all yoga-wise.
A late lunch was our main meal of the day, and on Saturday it was vegan lasagne made with sheets of celeriac instead of pasta. I absolutely love celeriac, but had never thought of using it in this way before. This was accompanied by sweet potato wedges and another massive salad. Then there was pudding – an amazing confection called Caramel Swirl, which tasted just like cheesecake but apparently consisted mostly of cashews and dates. There’s a link to the recipe here and I’m definitely going to make it soon! In the afternoon I just chilled for a couple of hours, reading, looking at the scenery and watching the sun set. I literally can’t remember the last time I did this, so it was lovely. I had brought some running kit with me (in case you were wondering!) and was tempted to go out, but in the end thought I could run any time, so should focus on why I’d come on the retreat.
At 5pm it was time for yoga again – another restorative session with just a bit of flow in it. I think it lasted for about an hour and a half, but in truth I was so blissed out at the end I can hardly remember! Our supper afterwards was another fab soup – butternut squash, with oatcakes and homemade nut butter on the side. After supper a few people went straight off to bed, but a few of us stayed up to have a go with some Angel Cards. I’m a little sceptical about this sort of new age stuff, but the card I pulled out was the Archangel Michael, which is a coincidence as my birthday is 29th September – Michaelmas Day! Apparently he’s always watching over me, which is good news. I lay in bed later thinking how dark and quiet it was – although the moon was huge and bright and I did hear an owl hooting – then slept like a baby.
Sunday obviously began with yoga again! It was a beautiful day and the sun poured into the conservatory, flooding it with light. I realised it was the first time I’d ever done sun salutations actually looking at the sun, which was fantastic. The session lasted for two and a half hours, but never felt too long or boring. It was great to have so much time to dedicate to practice without having to rush or think about real world stuff. Breakfast today was raw buckwheat granola with yoghurt and fruit, plus another amazing drink: banana, almond, cacao, maca, mesquite, flax, chia and coconut milk – like a healthy chocolate milkshake! Later in the morning I had a fantastic Ayurvedic back massage from Jenni’s friend Maria, who had just undergone the training and wanted bodies to practice on – there were plenty of willing volunteers! Another super-relaxing experience. As our breakfast had been quite late we had a little play with inversion postures in the yoga space before our main meal. I even attempted a headstand – not very successfully, but something to work on I guess!
Our final meal together was a black bean stew with lots of lovely veggies in it, served with quinoa and kale. Jenni had also made us all some raw chocolate energy balls for the journey home, which basically tasted like gorgeous luxury truffles! I’m aware I’ve probably used the words ‘amazing’ and ‘fantastic’ far too much with regard to the food, but it really was. It was so tempting to take photos and Instagram everything, but using phones and social media were off the menu. It was all so tasty, and I felt like I was bursting with goodness by Sunday teatime. There was also fruit and a huge range of herbal teas available all the time.
I left feeling looser, calmer and more relaxed than I have done for a long time – if ever – but also strangely energised. I’m totally inspired to do yoga more often and eat far more raw and veggie food. This might not be easy, living with a dedicated carnivore, but I’m determined to try. I might just have to ask Santa for a Nutribullet! The whole weekend was totally worthwhile. Jenni is the most talented and generous teacher as well as a brilliant chef! I would love to ‘retreat’ on a regular basis, but suspect time and resources will mean it’s more like once a year. I really would recommend this type of thing to anyone, especially if you’re feeling stressed or burnt out.
For more information on Jenni and her work you can read her blog here.
A special Christmas edition of Foodies Festival, the UK’s Biggest Celebration of Food and Drink, is coming to Harrogate on the 11th-13th December, and the organisers have kindly given me two pairs of tickets to give away!
The big draw at this year’s event is Great British Bake Off winner Nadiya, who will be joined in the Chefs Theatre by acclaimed chefs from all over the UK, including local Masterchef finalist Sara Danesin Medio. They will be sharing their favourite recipes and top tips to help visitors create the perfect Christmas banquet.
Other highlights of the festival include:
It’s the perfect place to get in the mood for some festive food – there’s even a Champagne Ski Bar where parents can enjoy a chilled glass of bubbly as the kids take part in their own Elf Cookery School! I’m hoping to make it along there myself to pick up some festive treats. There’s more information on the show here.
To be in with a chance of winning a pair of tickets, just retweet any of the tweets mentioning the competition. A winner will be picked on the evening of Monday 23rd November.
Foodies Festival, the UK’s Biggest Celebration of Food and Drink, is coming to Harrogate on the 21st, 22nd and 23rd August, and I have two tickets to give away!
The festival celebrates Yorkshire produce and transforms Ripley Castle into a foodie heaven with a feast of Michelin-star and celebrity chefs, award winning artisan producers, food and drink masterclasses and more street food than you can shake a satay stick at! From experienced gourmands to amateur home cooks, there’s something to tantalise everyone’s taste buds.
Highlights of the festival include a Wine and Champagne Theatre, a Tasting Theatre, Street Food Avenue, Cake & Bake Theatre and an Artisan Producers Market.
The Aga Rangemaster Chefs Theatre will feature celebrity and regional chefs including Rosemary Schrager, Lionel Strub and Sara Danesin Medio, who will cook their favourite summer recipes. After a day of feasting and fun, foodies can relax with live music from the Entertainment Stage and perhaps a glass of bubbly or refreshing cocktail from the Giant Pimm’s Teapot or Captain Morgan Mojito Galleon.
To be in with a chance of winning the tickets, just leave a comment below telling me what is your favourite Yorkshire food or drink and why. I’ll choose the best on the evening of Wednesday 19th August.
I love breakfast. It might even be my favourite meal of the day. I love it so much I sometimes have two breakfasts when marathon training is at its peak! But I’m not a big fan of breakfast cereals, mainly because they generally aren’t very healthy. I like porridge and muesli (with Greek yoghurt), especially as you can always ‘pimp’ those to make them more nutritious, but most cereals are made from highly refined carbs and contain added sugar; sometimes, unbelievably, more than 30%. Not only does this give them a very high glycaemic index (GI), but they don’t keep you satisfied for very long. I once checked in my local supermarket to see which cereals didn’t have any added sugar, and it pretty much came down to Shredded Wheat. So when I was offered the chance to test a new breakfast cereal claiming to be much healthier than the norm I was very interested to try it. Apparently two years of research has gone into the development of new Keep Me Going from Freedom Cereals. Its aim is to be a wholegrain cereal with a low GI plus added health benefits that actually tastes good!
You certainly can’t argue with the health credentials of Keep Me Going. It’s composed mainly of whole grain barley, oat flour and rye, so is wheat-free (for those who are concerned about that sort of thing). It also has added vitamins and minerals, including chromium (which helps to balance blood sugar), magnesium and biotin. I was particularly pleased to see the magnesium content, as many people are deficient in this important mineral, which can cause fatigue. I usually take a magnesium supplement myself when I’m marathon training. Even the salt used in it is a special low-sodium sea salt. Yes, it does contain some sugar, but far less than most cereals, and this is probably offset to some extent by its low GI of 50 (compared, for example, to a GI of 82 for cornflakes). If a food has a low GI it releases its energy more slowly, so keeps you satisfied for longer. Out of interest, here’s how Keep Me Going compares nutritionally to some other popular cereals.
There’s lots more information here on the Keep Me Going website if you want to explore this further. Here’s what it looks like out of the pack.
But what does it taste like? Actually it’s surprisingly tasty in a malty sort of way. The texture is quite crunchy, but not too hard. I liked it. And does it really keep you going? I tested it by having it for breakfast on a morning when I knew I’d be really busy and probably wouldn’t get a chance to have elevenses, and it was probably about four hours before I began to feel peckish again. I wouldn’t say it kept me as full as, say, muesli and Greek yoghurt, but it certainly contains a lot less fat than that. If you’re trying to moderate your fat intake it’s probably a decent option for breakfast.
A lot of people seem to give their kids cereal for breakfast – probably because it’s quick and easy on a school morning – and the manufacturers of Keep Me Going have gone to some trouble to try and make the product appeal to children. Each pack contains some trading cards that can be used to play a Top Trumps type of game based on countries of the world, and you can go onto the Keep Me Going website to download a world map and mark the countries you’ve collected. There’s also a secret code cracking game to play.
I wouldn’t say Keep Me Going is a cereal children would choose for themselves, but if you’re the sort of family that already eats quite healthily I’d say they’d probably enjoy it. Weaning kids off the likes of Coco Pops or Frosties might be more of a challenge!
At the moment Keep Me Going is available via Ocado, priced at £2.65 for a 375g pack. Not cheap, but it is made with top quality ingredients. Apparently there’s a high protein version called Keep Me Strong in the pipeline, so it will be interesting to see how that turns out.
Does anyone else have any thoughts on breakfast cereals? What are your favourites and why? I’d be interested to know.
I have a friend who recently ran his first marathon in under four hours. As someone who’s been chasing the elusive sub 4 for a couple of years now I was a) very jealous and b) eager to know how he’d done it. What training plan did he follow? How did he hydrate and fuel for the race? His answer regarding fuelling surprised me somewhat – buttered malt loaf. “Malt loaf?” I thought. “Running at nine minute mile pace? Is he having a laugh? Did he take a flask of tea too?!” Now I’m not averse to a bit of malt loaf. My dear old Irish nana was a great fan of the stuff, so I was weaned on it as a nipper, and it’s still often my go-to afternoon tea snack of choice (unbuttered) instead of proper fatty cake. I love its squidgy fruitiness, which goes down a treat with a big mug of Yorkshire Tea. But I’d never considered eating it on the run – couldn’t imagine coping with anything other than gels during a marathon.
However, when I recently entered my first ultra I realised I was going to have to suck it up and find some real food I could eat en route, because your stomach can only take so many gels before it starts to rebel. Then by sheer coincidence the lovely people at Soreen sent me a hamper of their wares to test and review. It was a sign – a sign that I should go forth and fuel a long run with its fruity goodness.
The Soreen box of delights contained various types of loaf, as well as a Soreen pen and notebook, plus something that looked like a house brick on legs wearing pants, but which turned out to be a replica of the Soreen Loveable Loaf mascot. It feels a bit like a stress toy, so now I keep it on my computer and squeeze it very hard when I see people on social media running sub 4 marathons.
My husband, who like most cyclists, is a total cake monster, couldn’t get into the box quickly enough. We tested the Orange Fruit Loaf and Apple & Sultana Fruit Loaf, which were both really tasty and made a change from the classic Original. The orange one has a nice tang to it, and the Soreen website recommends having it toasted with chocolate spread. With my love of Nutella this was a must-try and turned out to be divine! The apple one is really nice and cinnamony, great with coffee. However, for my run I stuck to good old Original, wrapping a chunk in greaseproof paper and tucking it into the front of my Camelbak.
I had a long slow run of 18 miles to do, so thought that would be a good opportunity to test eating on the hoof. The Soreen actually went down really well and I had no digestive repercussions. I’ve since heard that quite a few ultra runners eat malt loaf because they find it gentler on the stomach than ordinary bread, and it gives slow release energy due to the dried fruit and fibre. A tenth of a loaf (a smallish slice) apparently contains about 15g of carbohydrate, so I guess a couple of slices an hour would be enough to keep someone of my size ticking over. Depending on what’s on offer at the Calderdale Way Ultra I’ll certainly consider taking some Soreen with me – possibly the lunchbox loaves, which are conveniently wrapped in small portions. I must say I’d never thought of Soreen as food for athletes before, but it seems to fit the bill nicely.
I would love to know what real foods other people eat on long runs, so please let me know if you have your favourites.
Eating and guilt seem to be permanently intertwined in our culture these days, and never more so than at Christmas. It starts in the autumn with Little Black Dress Diets (the winter version of the dreaded summer Bikini Diets), then in December it moves on to making people feel bad about eating festive food. The latest thing seems to be exercising like a maniac every time you have a mince pie in order to ‘work it off’. Enough already!
To remove the guilt from Christmas eating, let’s take it back to basics. In days of yore, when Christmas was more about Christ than consumerism, 25th December was still a feast; but it’s important to remember that back then most people didn’t pig out for the other 364 days of the year. There were no takeaways or ready meals. The folk of yesteryear ate natural, seasonal, unprocessed food, had the occasional sugary treat on high days or holidays and for the most part didn’t drink themselves stupid at regular intervals. And – importantly – they didn’t own cars so walked a lot. In other words, they deserved a feast once in a while! But these days some people feast all year round and go everywhere by car.
Now I’m not necessarily saying we should all adopt the diet or lifestyle our ancestors had hundreds of years ago (although it would probably do us no harm). The point I’m making is that it’s fine to have a bit of a blowout at Christmas if you’re pretty healthy the rest of the time, i.e. eating good, healthy food most days, exercising regularly and having the occasional treat. If you do that you won’t need to go on a diet to fit into your LBD and shouldn’t feel bad about having a bit of Christmas pudding. Eat and enjoy all those lovely festive foodie treats without guilt! A turkey dinner is actually a pretty healthy meal. Sure, you might put on a couple of pounds over the holidays, but it will soon come off in January when you return to your normal habits. And if healthy eating and exercise aren’t your normal habits, make them your new ones!
My mother-in-law makes the best pastry in the world, so there’s no way I’m going through Christmas without a few of her mince pies. I know her pastry is so fab because she uses lard, but IT’S ONLY ONCE A YEAR. I also buy a really good quality locally-made Voakes pork pie as a Christmas treat too. Yes, pork pie – so shoot me! However, I do also try to make a few gestures towards health to try and offset some of the overindulgence. You might like to take them on board too if you’re being made to feel guilty.
Keep exercising! There’s no reason not to, especially as you’ll probably have more free time than usual. You’ll feel loads better for a bit of fresh air after days of sitting in overheated rooms stuffing yourself like the proverbial turkey. I’ll keep running because I’m training for a half marathon in mid-January. This focuses the mind a bit when the After Eights come out.
Don’t buy those giant tubs of poor quality chocolates, they just lead to mindless chomping of empty calories. Someone will probably buy you some chocolates for Christmas anyway. I ask family members to give me dark chocolate, medjool dates (which I love as much as choccie) or Jelly Babies (i.e. running fuel) if they want to buy me edible treats.
Instead of a bucket of Quality Street, get some nuts and satsumas in and put them out on display to encourage healthy grazing. They’re traditionally Christmassy and offer some nutritional value amongst all the sugary rubbish.
You don’t have to get drunk every single night of the holidays. Step away from the Bailey’s and have a couple of days off at least to give your liver a break.
If you’re off to a party have something healthy to eat before you go. Buffet food is often just a sea of pastry, batter and bad meat – having a lining on your stomach will mean you eat less of it.
Most of all enjoy yourself without guilt. And remember that having a few treats doesn’t mean you have to give up on healthy eating completely for the whole of the Christmas holidays – it’s all about balance. Food is a great pleasure that’s always best when shared with family and friends and there’s no better time to do that than Christmas.
In my ongoing quest for ‘healthy’ cake I recently adapted an existing muffin recipe to use up some of the many windfall apples I get from my mum-in-law at this time of year. Knocking up a batch of these is a great thing to do on a gloomy autumn afternoon, and they’re so easy kids can have a go at them too!
To make 12 muffins you will need…
275g plain flour (wholemeal if you like)
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
150g golden caster sugar
225g chopped apple
75ml sunflower or rapeseed oil
175ml apple juice
2 medium eggs
Pre-heat your oven to 190ºC/gas 5.
Place 12 large paper cases in your muffin tin.
Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
Mix the wet ingredients together in a jug.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones.
Mix lightly until the flour has disappeared, but the mixture is still a bit lumpy.
Fold in the apple and raisins.
Divide the mixture between the paper cases.
Bake for 30 minutes, or until well-risen and a bit crusty.
Enjoy – these are perfect with coffee!
If there’s one area of nutrition that seems to cause more confusion than any other it’s fat. Questions people ask me about fat include:
It’s completely understandable. A while ago low-fat diets were quite the thing and weight loss was all about carbs. We were constantly being told that eating animal fats would give us all a heart attack, but olive oil was OK. Then Dr Atkins told us we should scoff meat, cream and butter and avoid carbs to lose weight – and look what happened to him! Is it any wonder people are so bewildered?
The truth is that it’s sugar, not fats, that is your main enemy in the healthy eating war; but we’ll park sugar to one side for now while I tell you a story. Years ago I had a friend (let’s call her Gladys) who went on the Rosemary Conley diet, which is very low in fat. Gladys was a bit chubby and had a new boyfriend she was keen to impress. She stuck to the diet religiously, and weight did indeed start to fall off. Unfortunately, after a couple of months, so did her skin. Gladys didn’t make the link between eating a virtually fat-free diet and her skin becoming all scaly and dry, but fortunately her doctor did. She began to eat healthily again and the problem went away.
The point I want to make here is that we need fats as part of a healthy diet – not just for our skin, but also our joints, our heart and many important bodily functions such as forming cell membranes, maintaining healthy cholesterol levels, supporting the immune system and enabling our bodies to absorb certain vitamins more efficiently. But which ones should we be eating? I’ll try to explain it as simply as possible.
You’ve probably heard talk of omega fats or fatty acids – and maybe been confused by those too. Basically omegas 3, 6 and 9 are the good guys, so we need to get all of those down us on a regular basis. Omega 3s are the ‘oily fish’ fats we hear so much about, found in fish such as sardines, mackerel and salmon. It’s good to have a couple of portions of these each week. Other sources are walnuts, seeds and fortified eggs – good news for veggies. Omega 6s mostly come from vegetable oils such as sunflower and corn oil, and to be honest it’s not difficult to get enough of these, especially as they’re used in many processed foods. Omega 9s are also in various oils, particularly olive and rapeseed, and also in avocadoes and nuts such as almond, pecans and macadamia. Of course you can take a supplement to get these nutrients, but I always think it’s better to get them from eating healthy foods. Worryingly, a recent study appeared to make a link between omega 3 supplements and prostate cancer, although the study didn’t analyse the subjects’ diets or whether they had actually taken any supplements.
Current thinking is that it’s fine to eat butter in moderation, and I must admit I usually do this with my Sunday breakfast of cinnamon and raisin toast! The most important fat rule is to steer well clear of the dreaded trans fats, which have been hydrogenated into sheer nastiness and raise your levels of bad cholesterol. Thankfully they are being used less and less these days, but do check labels if you’re buying manufactured products like biscuits, cakes and pies. It’s also best to avoid ‘low fat’ versions of higher fat products; you already know my views on dairy. The fat has usually been replaced by sugar or nasty fillers, so they’re actually worse for you than the originals. You’re better off with a delicious creamy Greek yoghurt and some fruit than a Muller Chemical Corner – check out the list of ingredients!
I always think an easy way to get some good fat into your system – especially at this time of year – is to knock up a really tasty salad dressing using a mixture of good oils plus either a wine or cider vinegar. I also put some mustard and mixed herbs in mine, but you could add chilli, garlic, lemon or whatever takes your fancy. Home-made dressing is also free of the emulsifiers and preservatives usually found in the shop-bought versions too. And if you aren’t mad about salad it does make it more of a pleasure to eat! You could grill some sardines to go with it, or make some houmous with a good olive oil.
And why not swap your usual afternoon biccies or chocolate bar for a small handful of mixed nuts? Every cell in your body will thank you for it.
So don’t fear the fat – good fat is your friend!
People are often surprised to learn that I use whole milk. Quite a few folk who’ve been round at my house recently have noticed this and commented on it, so I thought I’d mention it here and explain why. Reactions seem to take the form of either (or sometimes both) of two questions: 1) “Aren’t you supposed to be healthy?” and/or 2) “Isn’t that full of animal fat?!”. The answers to which are 1) yes and 2) not really.
I’m a big fan of consuming foods in a format as close to their natural state as possible. I like organic produce, not because I’m convinced it’s more nutritious, but because I don’t particularly like the idea of introducing second-hand pesticides, antibiotics etc into my system – and organic fruit and veg just taste better anyway. I can’t afford to have everything organic, but I do always buy organic milk because it’s one of the few foods that’s been proven to be more nutritious when it’s organic – and I eat quite a bit of porridge!
So why the whole milk? To address the ‘healthy’ question first; not only is organic milk more nutritious than non-organic milk, but whole milk is better for you than skimmed or semi-skimmed milk. This is because your body can’t properly absorb the nutrients in the milk without its fat – not only the calcium and protein, but the vitamins in it such as A and D are fat-soluble, therefore your body needs the fat to process and store them. So skimmed milk fortified with vitamins and minerals is pretty much a waste of time – and money! If you can find non-homogenised milk, so much the better, as that’s even more natural.
As for the fatty issue… well yes, of course milk contains animal fat – but it isn’t a high fat food. We’ve been indoctrinated for years into thinking that all animal fat should be avoided like the plague and we should switch to skimmed milk and low-fat dairy products. But in fact whole milk is only around 3.5% fat, which is actually pretty low in the grand scheme of things. A high fat food is classified as something that contains more than 20 grams of fat per 100 grams. So for the sake of the extra nutrients you get from whole milk it’s worth that little extra bit of fat – although obviously I’m not advocating that you drink gallons of the stuff!
Recent research has shown that animal fat isn’t the bad guy it was once made out to be. The real baddies in our diets are now processed fats and refined sugar. So enjoy dairy produce in moderation. I have butter on my Sunday cinnamon and raisin toast too, so there. You might enjoy a small piece of good quality cheese a couple of times a week. Milk is also a great post-exercise recovery drink. If I’ve had a long or hard run I have my super milkshake as soon as I get back; this is 250ml milk, a teaspoon of cocoa and a banana whizzed up in the blender – a fab combination of carbs and proteins to start the recovery process while I’m stretching and having a shower.
So don’t be afraid to enjoy full fat milk without feeling guilty, it’s a great natural source of nutrition.
Regular readers of this blog will already know that I love coffee. My lifestyle is, by and large, pretty healthy, but coffee is the one vice I haven’t completely given up. I’ve certainly cut down a lot – when I worked in an office I was pretty much a caffeine addict – but I still do enjoy one cup of good quality coffee every morning; and I do this without guilt because coffee does have alleged health benefits.
However, I also love tea too. I start each day with a cup of lemon and ginger tea to give the old digestion a bit of TLC, and in the afternoon I’ll often have apple and cinnamon or, if I need a bit of a lift, a cup of good old Yorkshire tea. If I’m feeling a bit under the weather or feel a cold coming on I always have some echinacea tea. But apart from these I haven’t been very adventurous in my tea drinking so far. So when the lovely people at LuLin Teas in York sent me two of their special Chinese varieties to try I was really looking forward to broadening my horizons a bit.
The teas are beautifully presented, and the packaging was coincidentally designed by a friend of mine, Owen Turner of United by Design. The brand has a really modern look rather than the traditional ‘dragons and Chinese characters’ look of most oriental teas. I must admit I rarely brew tea in a pot, and the one I usually use is made of metal, which is apparently a bad thing. So down from the shelf came the only ceramic tea pot I have – one shaped like a cottage that used to belong to my Nana. Now there was a woman who liked strong tea – preferably with a drop of Irish whiskey in it! The brewing instructions on the LuLin website said to use 3-4 grams of tea per pot, but as my kitchen scales only weigh in units of 20g I had to guess how much to use. It seemed to turn out OK though.
First up was Long Jing (or Dragon Well) Green Tea. Now I don’t normally like green tea, so this was interesting. I normally find it really bitter and can’t drink it without adding a bit of. Long Jing is from Hangzhou, the tea capital of China, and is apparently considered by many to be the best green tea there is. Like all green teas it has a high level of healthy antioxidants, but also contains Vitamin C and amino acids, and has the highest concentration of catechin antioxidants of any tea.
As you can see, the loose tea looks very much like pine needles. With both of the teas I was really struck by how much they swelled up on brewing too look like actual leaves off a bush. Sounds obvious, but you don’t get that with most teas! You could see that there was nothing else added to the tea leaves in the packet.
The brewed tea was a lovely pale green colour; it smelled sweet and fragrant but not flowery. The taste was very delicate and refreshing, and not at all bitter like other green teas I’ve tasted. I would certainly drink it again without having to add honey to it!
The second tea I tried was Fujian Oolong. The origin of this tea is delightful. It’s grown in a garden in the Wuyi Mountains that is surrounded by jasmine flowers, which naturally scent the tea, making it completely unique. Like the green tea, Fujian Oolong contains many antioxidants; it is also very good for the digestion and metabolism, and helps to repair the body. Apparently people use it as an aid to weight loss as it has an alleged effect on fat burning too!
To brew this tea you cover it with water for 30 seconds, then discard this initial infusion and brew it again with fresh water before drinking. The leaves are dark green and tightly curled, but open up massively on brewing. The infused tea is more golden in colour than the green tea, and the scent of the jasmine is immediately apparent – it smells amazing! The taste is also very flowery – a bit too much so for my personal taste – but I know a couple of people who really like jasmine tea and I’m sure they’d absolutely love this. I can see why it won two gold stars in last year’s Great Taste Awards.
Personally I preferred the green tea, which was quite a revelation to me. It just goes to show that buying tea and coffee is rather like buying wine; there are so many different types out there to discover, and it pays to buy good quality stuff. I think the green teas I’ve tried in the past were probably just too cheap to be nice!
If you love tea, or would like to find out more about it, I’d really recommend a visit to the LuLin website, which has a wealth of information about the many different types of Chinese tea they sell, including their origins, health benefits and how to brew them correctly. I’ve really enjoyed trying these two samples and look forward to exploring some of the other teas in the future.