Post-yoga energy balls

apricot and maca seed protein balls

Apricot and maca powder protein balls

Meet my new go-to post-Bikram energy booster: little balls of power that are quick and easy to make, taste great and are easy to digest after a 90-minute session in the studio.

Think lots of nuts for muscle-mending protein, maca powder for replenishing sapped energy reserves and dried apricots for a blood pressure-friendly potassium boost. Delicious, healthy and portable: pop a few in a pot and share them with your yoga buddies after your next Bikram practice.

To make a dozen or so small protein balls, blitz the following ingredients in a food processor then use your hands to squish the results into balls, roll in desiccated coconut (optional) and allow to harden a little in the fridge. The whole process should take about 15 minutes.

Ingredients:

Mixed handful of dried apricots and goji berries
1/4 cup of cashew nuts
1/4 cup of almonds
1/4 cup of pumpkin seeds
1/2 teaspoon of chia seeds
1.5 tablespoons of coconut oil
1/2 teaspoon of maca powder
1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon
a big pinch of ground salt flakes (after Bikram yoga you need to replenish the salt you have sweated out)
A couple of tablespoons of desiccated coconut

 

Enjoy!

Marmalade season comes early…

homemade marmalade on toast

Paddington, eat your heart out!

Paddington the movie: I haven’t enjoyed a movie so much since, oh, Interstellar just a couple of weeks ago. But in such a very different way.

The bear movie is pure delight – I laughed all the way through and even shed the odd tear (of joy) – so what more appropriate way to mark it than by knocking up a quick batch of homemade marmalade?

January is normally marmalade season in my house, when the local greengrocer has bitter Seville oranges on offer. But my 2014 batch ran out a few weeks ago (poor planning) so for the first time EVER I went off-piste with a new recipe. Risky, yes. Worth it? 100%.

Pink grapefruit and lemon glows with a pinky orange tinge and its bitterness zings on the tongue. Perfect on toast for breakfast alongside a cup of jasmine green tea.

Thanks for the inspiration, Paddington. Watch the Paddington trailers on YouTube here.

 

RideLondon 2014: conquering the weather

…because rain is temporary, quitting is forever.

RideLondon 2014

Piers and Nicola: we survived RideLondon-Surrey 2014

Imagine having constant buckets of water dumped on your head while you cycle in a bath with a high-pressure jet of filthy grit trained on your face. For five hours.

That was RideLondon-Surrey 2014.

On the plus side, it wasn’t raining when we started – so at least we weren’t standing around in wet clothing getting cold and miserable before we began. That would have been a potential deal-breaker. 
Conditions remained dry, in fact, until Canary Wharf (three miles down the road from the startline at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park) where my husband Piers and I hooked up from our separate start waves to cycle in convoy.
It was our second RideLondon; last year’s event was marked by a crash caused by a jaywalker which almost put paid to our ride and pushed our chip time to seven hours plus. [Read about our 2013 RideLondon experience hereThis year we were hoping to complete the 100-mile circuit in 6h15.
We knew from the start, however, that was not going to happen: organisers had responded to the forecast of atrocious weather conditions and shortened the course to 86 miles by cutting out the big Surrey climbs of Leith Hill and Box Hill. Disappointing but understandable, given that we would be cycling in the slipstream of Hurricane Bertha.
So whatever Bertha had to throw at us, at least we knew it would be over relatively quickly.
Cycling through Central London on closed roads is a joy, although there was less sightseeing this year as it was heads down to escape the lashing rain. We glanced up to admire the moat of poppies at the Tower of London, though, and I remember catching a glimpse of Harrods as we pedalled past.
Spectators were few and far between – there’s not much appeal to standing on a kerb in the rain at crack of dawn on a Sunday – and I did feel sorry for the poor marshalls. There was a lot less banter between cyclists too compared with 2013 as we all dug deep to keep going despite being soaked to the skin.
Curtailing the course meant that no one was going to get a 100-mile PB, so riding was generally very restrained and most participants were cycling defensively and sensibly. We witnessed little in the way of crashes, but numerous mechanicals. The roadsides were littered with cyclists fixing punctures in the pouring rain – I spoke to one poor guy who had used up both his spare inner tubes within the first couple of miles.
Heavy rain means the road carries more grit and debris, turning cycle tyres into puncture magnets. Piers had stocked up on spares but we were lucky enough not to need them.
From Canary Wharf onwards, the rain was heavy and constant so it was just moments before we were both soaked to the skin. At least we couldn’t get any wetter, and it was warm as long as we kept moving.
Determinedly stuck to Piers’ back wheel, for speed and shelter, I wasn’t too aware of the scenery. We were soon shooting through Richmond Park, across Kingston Bridge and towards Hampton Court, where the rain really started to hammer down. Torrential doesn’t do it justice: we were cycling into a wall of water, battered by enormous, brutal raindrops from above and at times almost knee-deep in floods.
Hurricane Bertha was living up to her name: gusts blasted us sideways as she continued to dump buckets of water on our heads. From Hampton Court all the way to Ripley (miles 25-40), the monsoon did not let up. Fed up? I was actually laughing. This felt more like a Tough Mudder than a cycle sportive .
Molesey, Walton-on-Thames, Brooklands, Weybridge, Pyrford, Byfleet: all a blur of wet road, wet shopfronts, wet corners and skid-scary roundabouts. I really had no idea where we were most of the time, despite these being familiar training routes. The rain was so heavy you could barely make out road signs or landmarks. By this point, we were so thoroughly sodden, that even Piers’ ‘weather-proof’ Garmin cycle computer had drowned. Kudos to those dogged spectators who were still roadside cheering us on.
Massive appreciation to Piers too for guiding us safely round so many hazards. He was riding for Macmillan in memory of his father who died suddenly of a brain tumour earlier this year. What better reason to keep pedalling?
As we progressed along the shortened route, keeping our speed down in a bid to stay upright, it became very obvious why organisers had cut out Leith and Box Hills: the descents would have been treacherous rivers. The climbs would have been littered with casualties.
Meanwhile, on the rolling flats of Surrey, we were already negotiating flooded lanes, with burst drains, overflowing gutters and impromptu waterfalls spewing onto the road. The amount of visible tarmac was frequently no more than a foot wide, with gigantic, spreading puddles at the margins. Staying alert to hazards distracted from muscle ache and the discomfort of squelchy cycling shoes and soggy chamois.
The funniest thing we saw all day: an enraged motorist so frustrated by the closed roads that he screeched his car into a U-turn to avoid a road-block, only to skid and crash noisily into a van. I bet that made him feel better…
Mid-ride stop

Our first and only hub stop: rain-battered but still cheery

At the top of breezy Newlands Corner – the day’s first and pretty much only climb – we paused to fill our water bottles at the food hub but set off sharpish to avoid getting cold. Then it was more or less homeward bound.
The rain was easing off a bit by the time we got to Esher, although many parts of road were still utterly submerged – in places every pedal stroke saw cycle shoes disappear beneath the water. Kingston was pretty benign, and it was clear skies by Wimbledon.

 

Lovely to stop for a few words and hugs from the children, Piers’ mum and sister at the foot of Wimbledon Hill – thanks so much to them for turning out in the face of abysmal weather – then full-speed ahead for the final nine miles to The Mall.

We cycled central London in bright sunshine, crossing the finish line largely dry but caked in filth. Especially my face, after a five-hour grit jet-wash facial from Piers’ back wheel.

Would we do it again? Try and stop us!
The lowdown:
Chip time: 5h 26min
Riding time: 4h 58min
Average riding speed: 17mph
Nutrition: three caffeine mule gels (coffee flavour), one High5 energy gel (citrus flavour), one and a half Bounce bars, one banana, a bite of CNP energy bar, half a bag of dried mango. Three and a bit bottles of water containing High5 electrolyte sports tabs. V impressed (like last year) with service and supplies provided at food stations.
Most jawdropping moment: being overtaken by a guy riding a BMX bike. Standing up on a bike for 86 miles? Rather you than me, mate.
Hairiest moment: losing the back end and skidding round the final corner out of Raynes Park. Without falling off, phew!
‘Doh, why did I open my big mouth?’ moment: cycling in the rain (natch) up Newlands Corner, to Piers, “well at least it’s not torrential at the moment”. At which point there was a crack of thunder and the hill turned into a river as torrents poured out of the sky and down the road beneath our wheels.
Biggest achievement? Surviving and completing what has got to go down in history as the rainiest ever RideLondon-Surrey.

Why cutting your sugar intake is about more than obesity

UK health experts want to see less sugar in the foods we eat, fruit juice and fizzy drinks banned from the dinner table, and possibly even a sugar tax.

In an instant, the current recommended sugar intake has been halved, so that an adult woman should now aim to consume no more than 25g of added sugar (5-6 teaspoons) per day; 35g (7-8 teaspoons) for a man.

About time too. If as a nation we don’t take action on improving our diets, there is no chance of beating the obesity crisis whereby in the UK, 67% of men and 57% of women are either overweight or obese, according to a recent Global Burden of Disease study. More than a quarter of children are also overweight or obese.

But cutting your sugar intake is about more than obesity. Being overweight increases your likelihood of suffering from a whole raft of unpleasant conditions, with type-2 diabetes sitting right there at the top of the danger list. That’s right, you won’t just be fat. You will also be seriously unwell.

One in three adults in the UK are at risk of developing type-2 diabetes, and sufferers are getting younger. What used to be a later life condition is turning onto a middle age problem – and younger. But despite these warning signs, new research from ShARP (the Simply Health Advisory Research Panel) reveals that more than 60% of us are unconcerned about it, and 40% admit to general ignorance about Type-2 diabetes.

Maybe it’s time to start getting worried: if you’re overweight, inactive and have a family history of diabetes, the bad news is: You Are Likely To Get Diabetes. Fact.

Which means …
1. You’re FIVE TIMES more likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke, because diabetes damages your vascular system.
2. Painful foot ulcers caused by nerve damage as a result of diabetes are likely to reduce your mobility.
3. You’re 20 TIMES more likely to require a foot or lower leg amputation.
4. You’ll suffer more infections, because diabetes means high sugar levels in your body – and bacteria and fungi thrive on sugar!
5. You’ll be low on energy and suffer from extreme tiredness.
6. You may suffer renal disease because of the damage caused by high blood sugar to the small blood vessels within your kidneys. Kidney disease kills one in 10 people with type-2 diabetes.
7. You’re at increased risk of glaucoma and cataracts, which occur 10-15 years earlier in people with diabetes.
8. You are also more at risk from blindness as a result of retinopathy, because fluctuating blood sugars – especially high blood sugar, as in diabetes – damage the blood vessels at the back of your eye.
9. People with diabetes are 10-20 times more likely to lose their sight than a person with normal blood sugar levels.
10. Getting diabetes in middle age increases your likelihood of a form of brain damage associated with dementia.
11. In fact, blood sugar problems can actually shrink your brain: diabetics have an average of 2.9% less brain volume than non-sufferers, scans at the world-famous Mayo Clinic have shown.
12. Your long- and short-term memory will deteriorate as a result of diabetes: a condition known as vascular dementia.
13. You are at high risk of suffering from depression.

Well, wouldn’t you be depressed on realising that you’ve contracted a preventable disease that entails serious life changes (ongoing medication to control your diabetes and related conditions, taking more exercise, avoiding foods that contain glucose – that’s sugar, folks) – for the rest of your life?

Go easy on the sugar and do your whole body a favour.

What is mindful eating?

Goji and blueberries

How many berries are too many?

Mindfulness is massive at the moment, but can you harness it to solve the specific problems of your relationship with food?

That’s what I wanted to discover during an Introduction to Mindful Eating seminar run by the London-based Mindfulness Project. So how does it work?

Think about the last time you scoffed a whole packet of doughnuts, or an entire baguette, or a family-sized bag of sweets. How did you feel afterwards: guilty? A bit sick? Disappointed in yourself? Maybe even worse than that.

The point about Mindful Eating is that it encourages you to be compassionate about your behaviour around food rather than beating yourself up over what you might think of as  your ‘naughty’ eating habits.

In Mindful Eating, there are no bad or good foods, no calorie counting or portion control. It focuses instead on teaching you to be aware of what you are eating, helping you learn to make choices, and embrace your food issues rather than turn away from them.

So you ate more biscuits than you feel you should have done? Explore how you felt while you were eating them, how you felt after eating them, and how you are going to approach a packet of biscuits next time you feel the urge.

In this way, you will begin to create your own unique relationship with food – and learn that you can be in control of what, when and how much you eat. Applying the principles of mindfulness to your eating habits is all about recognising and thus harnessing what course leader Dr Cinzia Pazzolesi calls ‘the automaticity of eating’.

‘The mind is like a puppy,’ she explains. ‘It is easily distracted.’ So the key to Mindful Eating is to train your mind to focus ‘above the chatter’ so you can jumpstart yourself out of automatic pilot mode whereby you hoover up every crisp in the packet, then wonder where they all went.

During the free one-hour seminar, we tried simple meditation techniques designed to help put us back in touch with the reasons why we eat, and learned how to become more aware of the smell, feel and taste of the food we choose to consume.

Recognising the mechanisms of your eating is a way to help you decide whether to have one cookie/piece of chocolate/strawberry or go for a second or third. And that is why Mindful Eating is an ongoing choice rather than a diet or eating plan that lasts for a finite period of time after which you need to re-train your normal eating habits. Mindful Eating itself can become your norm.

The Mindfulness Project runs four-week Mindful Eating Courses, teaching techniques to help end mindless/stress-related/emotional/binge eating as well as help you free yourself from being painfully judgmental about your attitude to food, eating and your weight.

Find out more about Mindful Eating and other Mindfulness courses at www.londonmindful.com 

Bravo! ‘mangerbouger’ France

While I was skiing in the French Alps last week, it caught my eye that ads for Coca Cola and Powerade carried a healthy living message – like we see on ads for alcohol in the UK to encourage drinking in moderation.

French Powerade ad

Power up with Powerade France

Intrigued, I did some research, and yep, forget France’s reputation for heart attack cuisine, it turns out the government is pushing nutrition and exercise as a means to improve the nation’s health. And rather than paying for all advertising themselves, they’re are making food and drinks manufacturers push the wellness message on their behalf.

Brilliant huh? As a result, all processed food and drinks products with added sugar, sweeteners or salt, have to display the prominent message ‘Pour votre santé, évitez de manger trop gras, trop sucré, trop salé.’  ‘For your health, avoid eating too many fats, sugar and salt.’ Plus a link to the website www.mangerbouger.fr

The programme for national health and nutrition (PNNS), which is behind the ongoing  campaign, has been in place since 2001 with the goal of improving health among the French population. And it’s scored some fine successes: a reduction in the number of overweight/obese children; a drop in the consumption of salt and sugar; and an increase in the amount of fruit eaten by adults.

But as its name suggests, the mangerbouger campaign doesn’t simply focus on nutrition. Physical activity is the second crucial message it promotes, recommending the equivalent of half an hour’s brisk walking daily for adults (an hour for children and teenagers).

French Coca Cola ad

Buvez, skiez! : Drink, ski!

So rather than attempting to ban or tax ‘unhealthy’ foodstuffs, the French Government is both spreading the message of mindful eating – be aware that this product may be higher in fat, salt or sugar than is necessarily good for you – and that combining exercise with consumption is the best way of improving your health. Plus they’ve roped in the multi-nationals to help pay for it.

Now that’s what I call a bonne idée.

Puppy hugging: good for the soul

Celia_puppyIs there anything you’d rather do than cuddle a puppy? I popped on down to the London Pet Show at Earls Court with the kids for exactly that reason today.

The place is packed with smiling, friendly animal lovers – as well as dogs, ducks, showjumping Swedish rabbits (apparently Scandi bunnies are the best jumpers. Yes, really!), cats, snakes, hamsters, guinea pigs, darling little miniature hedgehogs; I could go on. Basically, if you like stroking, holding and talking about pets, the annual London Pet Show is definitely the place to be.

Wellness – yes: everyone knows that puppy hugging is good for the psyche. Peace and tranquility – hmm, less so: all the way home, ‘Mummy, when can we have a puppy?’ Predictable, I guess.

A taste of heaven in Tooting

Cycling through Tooting yesterday, how could I not stop and load my backpack with a box of perfectly ripe Alphonso mangoes? Nestling in tissue paper, lightly scented and with not a bruise or blemish on them, the little beauties taunted me with their sweet scent all the way home. It was all I could do to stop myself ripping into them en route, allowing their rich orange nectar to dribble down my chin.

Alphonso mangoes

Tooting fruity

So if you’re anywhere near southwest London one day soon, head for Tooting Broadway’s street-side stalls, piled high with boxes of the heavenly Alphonso, and get your fill of this feelgood fruit while it’s in season – from now until the end of June/early July. A snip at £5 for a box of six. Heavenly.

Get a glow on

As a California ex-pat, there are few things I like more than being bronzed. Having a real tan would be ideal, of course, but after many an afternoon spent worshiping every last ray of sun in the local common only to come home more pale than when I left, I realised trying to get tanned naturally in London is a fruitless endeavor.

Nonetheless, it took me living here with the palest of skin for three years to try my first spray tan. Unsurprisingly, they’re not incredibly popular with the California set, and I worried I’d end up looking, feeling and – worst of all – smelling funny. But then I tried one, and I’ve never gone back. It was BeauBronz at Brown’s Hotel, and I left glowing, both on the inside and outside. Finally, I was back to my California hue, and I didn’t have to rush outside at the slightest whisper of sun. To think of all the extra time this would free up!

I’ve tried countless other spray tans since, but I always end up going back to my beloved BeauBronz. There are four different shades depending on how subtle or dark you want to go – I always choose a just-back-from-LA shade, natch. Plus, it’s made with all natural ingredients so it’s great for sensitive skin or anyone who isn’t so keen on breathing in and spraying tons of chemicals on their skin. Best of all, it doesn’t reek of biscuits. What more could you want?

Rovin’ in Fitzrovia

Reynolds cafe, Charlotte Street

Reynolds: small portions but perfectly formed

Food find of the day? Cute cafe Reynolds on Charlotte Street. An independent cafe that sells delicious homemade food in non-overwhelming portions.

It was the blackboard out front that lured me in, with its promise of fresh soup, quiches and salads. Throw in a cheerful birdies logo, and I was straight through that door.

And what a revelation! Wraps and mini quiches in just the right size NOT to over-fill. As Reynolds explains, ‘We don’t believe in three square meals a day. We like to eat little and often. That’s why you’ll find our foody items come in smaller portions.

What a refreshing attitude. And what more-ish food. Today’s soup option was tomato and basil (lip-smacking) while mozzarella and prosciutto focaccia slipped down a treat. A neighbourhood gem.