Category Archives: Healthy

Tomato and Balsamic Vinegar Sauce

As much as I revere convenience in all its forms, I don’t understand shop bought tomato pasta sauces. I will admit to having lived off these for years, but when I started creating my own, the jars became such an unbearable let down. Expensive, dull and packed full of salt.

The sheer simplicity of tomato sauce creation is not beyond anyone – it is practically impossible to get wrong.

(Apart from that time I fancied myself quite the Michelin chef and, in a seasoning fervour, over-oreganoed to the point of inedible – the beans on toast that night were particularly sour in my mouth.)

I serve this with garlic bread, homemade, with real butter – the pasty, soggy rolls from the supermarket don’t even come close.

Ingredients (serves 2)

1 tin chopped tomatoes with basil
1 large red onion
3 cloves garlic
1 or 2 red chilli
2 dessert spoons tomato purée
2 or 3 dessert spoons balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons pepper
Salt to taste

Garlic bread
3 cloves garlic
100g butter
Bread rolls

Fresh pasta (much better than dried)
Cheese

Steps to deliciousness

1) Chop the red onion finely and fry gently in real butter until soft. (Or, if making vegan, use olive oil)

2) Add all the other ingredients. See, I told you this was simple.

3) Bring to boil, and turn down heat to low. Let this cook away until the sauce has reduced by a third.

4) While it’s simmering, mash about 100g butter with the 3 other cloves of garlic, chopped really finely, and spread this generously onto the bread rolls. (Again, if cooking vegan, use olive oil)

5) Wrap in little packets of tin foil, and put into the oven at 200 degrees. They’ll take about 20 minutes. Open the packet and let the edges crisp up for a few minutes.

6) This is when my favourite part happens – taste your sauce. Think about the flavours, now that they’ve intensified, and how you can improve them. Generally, I add a little more balsamic and pepper. There’s no point in following a recipe word for word when everyone’s palate is different. I love black pepper – it makes up about a quarter of every dish I make – and I drink balsamic vinegar from the bottle at any given opportunity. You may love chilli or salt – I don’t know, I am not you – but be flexible and adapt the recipe to your needs.

7) Dump the cooked pasta into the pan, mix, and serve with cheese.

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Vegetarian Jalfrezi

When I want my entire apartment to smell mouth-wateringly good, I cook Indian food. Or, more specifically, jalfrezi. The time spent making this dish is so worth it, as it has a gorgeous balance between the spices, chilli and citrus.

You can cook this with chicken – replace the vegetable stock with chicken stock, and the chickpeas with 400g of chicken – but it tastes much better without it.

Ingredients (serves 4)

625g chickpeas (Big tin and a little tin)
Vegetable oil

6 cardamom pods (ground with mortar and pestle)
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon medium curry powder
1 teaspoon turmeric

3 large peppers
1.5 large onions
2 large chilli
4 garlic cloves (mashed)
1 tin chopped tomatoes (400g)
1 small tin tomato purée
6cm ginger (grated)
1/2 vegetable stock cubes

1 lime
Half a lemon

Naan/rice/cous cous

Steps to deliciousness

1. Toss the chickpeas in a little vegetable oil and bake at 200 degrees for a half hour/40 minutes, until they’re crunchy.

2. Heat the spices in six dessert spoons of vegetable oil, but don’t let them burn.

3. Chop the onions and peppers into large pieces, and add the onion to the spices to soften.

4. Add the peppers, garlic and chilli, and cook for 5 minutes on a low heat.

5. Add the chickpeas, tomatoes, tomato purée and ginger, with a tin of hot water and a stock cube – taste for saltiness. Generally, I use 1.5 stock cubes.

6. Simmer for about a half hour, until the peppers are soft and the sauce has thickened. You may need to add another half tin of water if it gets too thick and the peppers aren’t soft.

7. Remove from the heat and add the juice of a lime and half a lemon.

8. Serve with something nice – Tesco finest garlic and coriander naans are fantastic.

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How I lost the weight (Page 2)

Page 2: Exercise More

Welcome back to my diatribe against unfit Jean!

Today I would like to bring you on the journey from gasping as I walked up stairs, through finding my legs still worked, and out the other side to jumping at any opportunity to go for a walk.

One day, I walked to the DART station from work, leather shoes slapping against my heels, huffing and puffing through the fifteen minute walk.

I was delighted.

The next day, I got the bus, but the day after, I walked again… And the day after that… and the day after that. I remember calling my parents to boast; it was the first voluntary activity I had completed since school.

I continued walking the fifteen minutes until, a couple of weeks later, I walked home; Thirty minutes. My thighs and calves ached the next day, but I had done it. I had progressed, I had improved and the walk to the DART didn’t even lose my breath any more.

This is how I started. I didn’t try to run a marathon, or take up a team sport, or hike a mountain.

I walked fifteen minutes.

I integrated it into my daily routine because when I get in the door, I find myself overwhelmed by the unusually strong gravity pull of the couch and, with that, I’m lost for the evening.

There came a day, months down the line, where walking just wasn’t cutting it any more. I didn’t feel as good about it, and this gave me the push I needed to resist the couch for short amounts of time to begin Couch to 5k. There are many words I can use for this program; inspired, rewarding, brilliant… and a frustrating, heart wrenching hell. It is a great beginners running program, with short jogs (starting at one minute in Week 1), interspersed with walking breaks. I choose the GetRunning app to assist me. It comes with a female Scottish voiceover who promises you that “You’re doing GREAT, and to just keep GOING!”

I wanted to find this woman, and slap the chirpy enthusiasm right out of her voice. Did she not realise that I was, figuratively, dying? I couldn’t breathe, my legs felt like lead, the elderly on walking frames were zooming by me, and she was taunting me with, “FanTASTIC, you’re half way there!”

Then eight weeks in, the day I jogged twenty whole minutes in a row, I felt a sense of reward that eclipsed any amount of satisfaction I had ever gotten from food.

So, if you are thinking about moving more, start slow and small. I was not able to walk for long distances when I started, let along go for a jog. Had I tried, I would have failed and been so discouraged that only mountains of food would have made me feel better.

Use apps and logging websites. Nothing compares to the superior, elite feeling you get as you look back over the past month and see how many miles you’ve walked or cycled, weights you’ve lifted or how your pace has improved.

Don’t try to conquer the exercise mountain in one day. It is simply not going to happen. It takes time for your body to crave movement as much as it craves food.

Integrate moving into your daily life. If you’re starting off, don’t promise yourself that you’re going to go for a ten mile walk or go to the gym for an hour. Making a big deal of exercise will put you off. You don’t need to be in a certain place, or wearing specific clothes; Use the stairs, walk to the shop, get off the bus a stop early, walk home, offer to carry heavy bags; Most of all, walk everywhere with purpose, arms swinging, pushing yourself, the attractive faint sheen of sweat on your forehead (Oh, nobody cares anyway – no one’s looking.)

If you do decide to try jogging:

Proper runners. Proper runners. Proper runners. These are not just Dunnes fifteen euro “sports shoes”.
These are correctly designed, supportive proper runners that cushion every pounding step. Mine are called “The Beast”.

Enough said.

Learn how to warm down properly. Seriously. Youtube it, ask a physiotherapist, ask your sporty friends, but just do it

Don’t let one bad day bring you down. It’s very easy to curse the world, give up, and eat the entire contents of the fridge. But why would you do that? You didn’t lose anything, you weren’t competing with anyone; you just couldn’t jog properly one day. The next day will be better… and maybe get a take away as a reward for trying anyway.

Day on, day off, but never two. Take days off from running to recover, but don’t take off more than a few days in a row. I physically start to sink back into the “Sure, why would I do exercise?” mentality and each additional day makes it tougher to get back in runners. Do not let this happen.

Do not let your body tell your brain what to do. Your body doesn’t know what’s good for it and your brain does. If you let your brain make excuses for your body, you are only fooling yourself.

Be responsible for you and, as before, hold yourself accountable. You will not fail.

Get Running App is perfect for the Couch to 5k, lets you listen to your own music, and despite her highly irritating levels of happiness, the coach and her reminders are definitely motivational.

Run Keeper connects straight into an app that records distance, pace, calories, and has tiny map so you can watch when your GPS suddenly decides you’re somewhere on mainland Europe and have run in the region of 1000mph.

Fitocracy is a great idea, mixing a social side with exercise – but only 350 points for 100 burpees? Ludicrous.

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How I lost the weight (Page 1)

I was a little over seventeen stone at my heaviest. I lost four.

Jean at 17 stoneJean today

It’s a running joke that if I wrote a book on weight loss, it would be two pages.

Page 1: Eat Less.
Page 2: Exercise more.

Perhaps three, if I decided to put in a page about how I managed to get to where I was.

Page 3: Food.

I have always adored food. This adoration did not quite extend into actual appreciation. I ate too much of it, all at choking speed. Pairing this with my natural propensity for laziness was a recipe for an extremely unfit Jean.

I was not unhappy and I didn’t simply ‘decide’ one day to change my lifestyle. My weight did not make me sad, I could not have cared less about my BMI – I still don’t. My happiness, my friendships, my self worth, my successes and failures are not dependent on my weight. My health, however, is a different story.

I’ll never know what the original spark was that started the slow burn but, over months, there was a progression, a change in my attitude towards exercise, food and therefore my health.

My changing attitude did not make it in any way easy so I can expand, ever so slightly, on the first two pages of my weight loss book over the next couple of blog posts.

Page 1: Eat Less

I love Burger King’s XL bacon double cheese burgers. I would happily eat one for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They taste insanely good, are cheap, fantastic after a few beers, and close to one thousand calories a pop.

Each burger equals a ten mile walk – two and a half hours of plodding one foot in front of the other.

Like I have the time – I have TV to watch, and a couch to lie on.

Sleeping
(Attributed to Pyry)

The slow change in lifestyle included considering calories – a small amount – but thinking about them nonetheless; In my mind is always the question, “Is this worth the calories?”

Before, I didn’t think. I didn’t taste, I didn’t appreciate. I ate all foods, at all times, equally. When I started questioning, I realised that some things are worth every single last calorie – cheese, bacon, a take away on the weekend – these are essential, integral to my happiness. A bag of midget gems, coke every day, sausage rolls for breakfast, the entire tub of rice with my Friday night korma? Nope.

The breakneck inhalation of food, mostly, stopped. I started to listen to my stomach, pause during eating, pile my plate with vegetables, and quickly realised I had never actually needed as much food as I was taking in. My portion size shrank dramatically – from a baking tray of pasta, smothered in melted cheese with a roll of garlic bread, to half a plate of pasta (with a similar amount of cheese, to be honest), and a couple of pieces of garlic bread.

The quality of my food increased equally as dramatically – I started to cook again, as opposed to always falling back on quick, greasy meals. I remembered how good home cooked meals were and the smug sense of satisfaction I got from being able to provide for myself, like a proper adult.

I was hungry. My stomach rumbled a lot for the first couple of weeks. My body was used to vast quantities of fuel; sausages with butter and ketchup on a roll for breakfast, a full dinner for lunch, and then a second in the evening – and now I was feeding it normal amounts of food. It took time to adapt. Then, it had to adapt again when I started jogging. Learn from me – I didn’t increase my intake, even though I was burning extra, and ended up faint and tired for weeks. I wasn’t able to push myself on my jogs and had no energy. Not a good feeling or situation, but easily remedied by raspberry and yoghurt smoothies, and handfuls of nuts on my jogging days when I realised the correlation.

So, if you are thinking about changing your lifestyle to get fitter or lose weight, start slow, and keep eating almost everything in moderation. If I denied myself foods, I would crave them, and my willpower is already all used up with getting myself off the couch and into runners.

Think of it as a lifestyle change, not a diet. Diet implies an end point, a specific date, or goal. I do not have an end point; I will be fitter and healthier and attempting to increase both as time goes on.

Start cooking, learning your favourite restaurant dishes, and get in the kitchen. Once you know the recipes, you can adapt the serving size and ingredients to suit your needs. Few things are as satisfying as that first mouthful of a new dish, and realising it will become a dinner on the regular rotation.

Spend a little time looking into the calories of your everyday foods. I automatically compare treat foods to the length of a walk that it would take to burn them off. This helps me decide whether it’s worth it or not.

Branch out. In an attempt to eat healthier meals, I started selecting different dishes in restaurants, and discovered a world of foods I had never eaten, never gotten to enjoy because I’d asked for steak and chips every time previous.

Know what you are taking in. Use your new found knowledge of calories to keep an estimate of your intake in your head, or you’re going at the thing blind. What goes into the mouth is more important than how much exercise is taken.

Eat three meals daily, eat properly. If you’re increasing exercise, increase calories – what’s the point of getting fitter if you feel terrible? If you’re losing more than two pounds a week, you are pushing too hard.

It has to come from you. You have to want to change, you have to hold yourself accountable, and you will not fail.

Stay tuned for Page 2 from the best-selling book, “Sure why would I go for a walk?” by your fearless food blogger.

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