Picture post from my walk the other morning.

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Health update

Thought I might give a bit of an update since I promised to post about our vegan experiment and I basically haven’t.

I’m not very good at this regular blogging thing… I think I might have to set aside one day a week to always do a post…. Anyway, here’s what I wanted to say.

I feel amazing. With the exception of a desperate act when I required coffee at work to get through an afternoon and I had forgotten to bing some soy milk, this has been great. (And let’s just say my stomach was quite unhappy with my desperate choice).

I do not miss meat at all, and I’ve had no cravings for it. I’ve struggled a little with no dairy purely because that means no dairy at all – including small amounts of milk products in sweets. Which is probably a good thing because it automatically cuts out the amount of junk I can eat.

I feel better for not having meat, and the bad reaction I’ve had to even the smallest amount of dairy has reminded me of why I want to cut it out. As for eggs, well I’m still on the fence. I’m currently not eating them for the purpose of the month long vegan experiment, but I honestly believe that keeping our own chickens and allowing then to roam the yard is not an ethical issue. Chickens in the wild do no roam for kilometers, and they feel safer when they have an enclosed space to roost in. If they naturally produce eggs that I can eat then I don’t really see the ethical issue. If they didn’t produce eggs I would still like to have then because I think chooks are wonderful. Plus they help in an organic garden, turning scraps into fertilizer and keeping the pest population down.

In terms of my general health I’ve noted a few things.

1) I can see the muscles in my thighs more. I don’t know if they are growing, or my body fat is reducing, or both. But I can see and feel the difference.

2) this morning I easily ran 3.8kms. I felt I could have made 5 except for the desperate need for a toilet break. Still, I felt pretty awesome and my new garmin GPS watch (which I spent far too much money on but I love it) shows that I ran each km faster than the last.

3) my upper body and core is still pitifully weak, but I noticed on our Mt Buffalo trip at the start of March that its gotten stronger. Scrambling over, under, and through boulders and caves I used my whole body and felt a lot stronger than I did this time last year.

4) my buoyancy has changed. Doing Aqua Boot Camp I have struggled at times during activities, whereas I used to float effortlessly. It’s not that I get close to drowning, I just have to work harder to keep myself in the right position. That’s probably a good thing though.

5) I have lost a total of 11 kgs. It’s been slow, but its going and it’s staying off. Saying I’ve lost it isn’t quite right since I know exactly where I’ve left it. I’m also fascinated by how much a person’s weigh can change throughout the day according to food, water, and exercise.

6) I feel physically lighter after cutting out animal products. Some days I’ve been hungry but its just a matter or making sure I have a good mix of carbs, proteins and fats from plant based sources. It’s not really hard to eat vegan, you just need to vary what you eat and think outside the box a little sometimes.

It’s been interesting the comments I am getting from people. My family seem to have accepted my choice fine. Some workmates seem to show a fascination with the leftovers I’m bring in. I’ve received some encouragement and a lot of “but you need to eat meat…. Don’t you?”

I’ve had questions about cutting out dairy because “where do you get your calcium?” And questions about “didn’t cavemen eat meat, and therefore humans are meant to eat meat?” And also “what do you eat then?”

Now I’m a little frustrated with that last one, given that meat is always one small part of most meals….. What else do people have on their plates? I know there’s more to it than that, but when people say that I kinda feel sorry for them because to me that indicates a lack of thought or a lack of imagination when it comes to food.

These are all the usual questions people get when they chose to eat plant based foods, I guess. Most people have been happy with my explanation that we have been doing a lot of research and we are trying it out to see what the healthiest route to take is. I haven’t even entered into the ethical debate with most people.

I think that’s a discussion for further down the track!

Just to balance things out, here’s a photo I screenshot’d then promptly forgot where I found it. If anyone knows, let me know.

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Two soups, both alike.

The title of my post sprung to mind in some ill fated attempt to sound poetic enough to do these recipes justice.

I have recently been desiring soup, which is maybe a result of the cooler weather anyhow I’ve made two delicious things lately that I wanted to share. They are both simple, made with good wholesome food, and absolutely delicious.

Roasted pumpkin soup with roasted pumpkin seeds

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over the years my pumpkin soup has expanded and expanded, including carrots, potato, sometimes sweet potato, and others all blended up. It became something that was no longer pumpkin soup, it was more a yummy mix of orange veggies all boiled together and then smooshed up.

This time I took it back to basics.

Oh my gosh.

I’ve never made roasted pumpkin soup before and it was amazing.

ingredients
1 butternut pumpkin (you could probably use other varieties too)
1 onion
A few cloves of garlic
Olive oil
Stock (I use a chicken flavored vegan stock powder)
Cayenne pepper (for the seeds)
Nutmeg (for the soup)
Salt and pepper.

cayenne pepper could be replaced by whatever you want to roast the seeds with. And for a different flavor, you could go paprika or cayenne in the soup

method
Heat oven to approx 180 degrees. That’s what it’s probably supposed to be. I put mine on 200 cos I’m a rebel.

Chop the pumpkin in half lengthways. I had to chop mine into halves across first so I ended up with quarters. If yours is small you won’t need to do this

Scoop out the seed section with a spoon. Don’t discard.

Brush the cut sides with olive oil and place cut side down on a tray or in a roasting pan and throw it in the oven.

Meanwhile chop your onions and garlic. It doesn’t have to be exact because it will all be blended or whizzed later anyway.

Seperate the seeds from the membrane and wash them. Boil them in strongly salted water for 10 minutes then drain and dry thoroughly. This step makes the outer shell more edible.

Let the pumpkin bake until it is tender through (metal skewers are so handy in my kitchen!!) remove from oven and let cool till you can handle it. Turn the oven down to 180 if you had it up high before like I did.

Meanwhile take your washed and dried seeds, coat lightly in a little olive oil, and season with salt, pepper, and cayenne. Spread them out in a single layer on a tray and roast them in the oven. They shouldn’t take long, maybe 15 minutes. Check then regularly. If they start popping and jumping all over your oven, they’re done and need to be removed from the oven.

Scoop the pumpkin flesh out of the skin.

Sautéed the onion and garlic until it starts to caramelise then dump the pumpkin flesh in. Top with enough stock to allow it to blend (I used my stick mixer, but a blender would work too. Or just smoosh it with a spoon and have chunky soup.

Season with some salt and pepper, add some nutmeg to taste, and serve topped with the toasted seeds.

Tell me that’s not amazing.

And now for my next trick….

potato, butter bean, and sweet corn soup

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This was inspired by the corn we harvested from the garden. Our first ears off the current crop…. I don’t think I’ve ever tasted corn so delicious! It was juicy and sweet and oh so good we started eating it raw and it nearly didn’t make it to the kitchen. Delicious fresh corn like that shouldn’t be boiled for too long, so I threw it in for the last minute or so just to heat through. If you have older corn (from a supermarket) or a can of corn you can let it cook longer.

ingredients

Potatoes
3 ears of corn (or is it cobs? Are those words interchangeable for corn?)
OR 1-2 cans of corn kernels.
Chili peppers, fresh or dried, to taste
Olive oil
Spring Onion
Garlic
Celery
Stock – I used chicken flavored vegan stock again.
A can of butter beans.
Salt and pepper
Fresh parsley

optional extras
I also threw in some chopped runner beans that were ready in the garden – anything that is solid like carrots or even capsicum could also be thrown in. I would do this at the onion/garlic stage. The beans went in later because I wanted them to be crunchy. Be creative!!!

method
Chop spring onion and garlic, and slice the celery.

Prepare potatoes by cutting them into 1cm ish cubes. I usually leave the skins on my potatoes jf they are clean enough but you can peel them if you want.

Also get 3-4 cups of stock ready

Throw the spring onions, garlic, chopped chili and celery into a pot with some olive oil and cook until translucent. Add the potatoes and sweat for a minute or so. Add the stock to cover, and allow to boil until the potatoes are tender.

Meanwhile, if using fresh cobs/ears/whatever, use a knife to slice the kernels off. Collect them in a bowl and save until the last few minutes.

This is the point where I threw in the green beans and the butter beans (drained)

When everything is nearly ready, throw in the corn kernels and some chopped parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper. If you want to go wild, throw in a splash of soy sauce – but definitely be careful you don’t overdo it.

Serve with some nice crusty bread and enjoy.

Speaking of delicious bread, I’m pretty sure this has some sort of addictive drug in it.

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It’s a pumpkin sourdough, made from my new best friend’s bakery. I say best friend because of this bread. It has a nice thick crust, but its light and soft inside. There’s pepitas through it, and its made old school style with no sugars or additives. The pumpkin gives it a slight sweetness and the sourdough taste underlines all of that awesomeness. We went through two loaves in two days. I’ve had to force myself not to go back yet because if I did I would eat this all day every day.

it is just that good.

the balancing acts of healthy eating.

I have just been to the doctor’s to get some test results. I went at the start of the month for a routine visit and ended up realising I actually had a few questions about the increase in heart palpitations I’d been having. I used to have them very rarely- maybe once every couple of months – but over the pervious week I’d had them daily and sometimes a few times daily. So my GP ordered blood tests and a 24 hour Holtor Monitor test to check out my heart. She said that sometimes increased palpitations can indicate thyroid issues and it would help to narrow down the possible causes. Of course, after experiencing them for a week then speaking to the GP about it, they settled down again and I didn’t have one while the monitor was on. I’ve only had a few since then too.

I got the results today – everything is ok. The monitor test showed some minor fluctuations but nothing to be concerned about.

The blood tests were good. As seems to be normal for me, my Haemoglobin is is the lower end, but still within healthy range. There were no concerns about liver or kidney function.

She did, however, ask me about how much water I drink as my sodium levels are a bit low. Not low enough to say I have a deficiency, but clearly it was low enough for her to point it out, and it’s something I apparently need to keep an eye on. So I’m either not taking in enough salt or drinking too much water. Either way it’s another balancing act.

However, as I cook most food from scratch with mostly fresh whole food and never used to add salt to my cooking or my food, maybe I need to increase my intake. So I’m looking at finding out what foods contain a bit more natural salts and using those more, as I don’t want to just throw more salt into my meals and think everything will be fine.

Anyway, back to the palpitations. Having ruled out any issues with my thyroid or blood, and having the monitor test showing nothing concerning, it was concluded that they may have been brought on by either caffine, energy drinks, or stress. Since I rarely drink coffee (once a week or so) and never drink energy drinks, it was most likely caused by stress. I asked if it may have been caused by cutting out dairy and meat, and she said it was possible, but unlikely.

She suggested to me that if it comes back again, and it is causing problems AND I can’t manage with them, she can give me medication. I’m reluctant to take medication for something that is not a danger to me, and does not cause pain but only temporary uncomfortableness. So for the time being I’m going to keep focussing on being healthy and as suggested by my GP, noting down when I get palpitations and what might have changed during the day to trigger them.

What all this brings me to is the complicated thinking that can go into eating healthy. At it’s core it’s pretty easy – eat wholesome fresh foods and eat a variety and you’ll be fine. But when you get into the nitty gritty, it can easily be overthought. Drinking water is recommended, decreasing salt is also recommended because a lot of our processed foods are quite high in salt. But then you end up like me, with a Doctor questioning why your salt levels are low.

I’ve also been struggling for a bit with the different requirements for Gary and myself. Me, I am reducing my weight to get back down to a healthy weight (And I’ve dropped 10kgs so I’m on my way!). Gary has lost a fair bit without trying and is actually wanting to put it back on. So how do you balance out a meal for two people with completely different metabolisms and different intake requirements? Thats when it comes to portion sizes.

It’s easy to get caught up in diets, as well. I refuse to “go on a diet”, just like I’m cautious of any health product with the word “miracle” in the tagline, and I’m wary of fitness routines that promise results within a week with “just 10 minutes a day”. (I’m a bit cynical at times, aren’t I?). What I am doing is ensuring I shift everything for the long term. I’m not interested in dropping 20 kgs then going back to the way I used to eat. I’m interested in being healthy 20 years from now (and 20 after that, and so on).

I believe health is not just about balancing your intake of food for optimal nutrition. It’s about balancing everything – food, exercise, work, play, sleep, companionship, family. After all, the healthiest diet in the world is no good to someone who is so stressed they can’t sleep.

I have rambled on for long enough. I’m hoping to post a few recipes later so stay tuned!

Vegan deliciousness.

I’ve found our options a little limited this weekend, with three meals being eaten out with friends and/or family. On Saturday we had my sister’s birthday lunch, and pretty much our only choice on the menu was felafel wraps minus the tzatziki (is that how you spell it?).

Saturday night my brother Scott and my sister in law Lotta came round and we wandered down to the Wodonga Carnivale to see what there was to see. Needless to say pretty much all the foot stalls were sausages… Or pizzas… Or some variation of meat and cheese. So we headed down to the Thai restaurant where you can order a vegan version of most things. Pad Thai with ended up being the go for the night.

Sunday lunch was the biggest challenge, with the only vegetarian meal at the place we went being a very cheesy premade veggie lasagne. So we asked for a plate of veggies and some chips, and that got is by.

I think there’s a pretty good range of vegetarian around, but not so much vegan. There’s a place near our house that has some great meals you can veganise though so I think it’s a matter of picking where we eat. Thai and Indian also offer a great selection.

Anyhow, at lunch Sunday some of the guys has chocolate mousse, which i instantly had a craving for. So I took up the challenge and googled a few recipes. I made my own version from a compilation of a few, so here’s what I ended up with. It’s a base to work off. Gary loved it, but I want to try a few variations next time, maybe with a pinch of chili powder as I love chili and chocolate. I also think I should have put a touch if salt in it.

Delicious vegan dark chocolate avocado mousse

ingredients
2 ripe avocados
200 gms dark non-dairy chocolate
2 Tbsp coconut oil
4 Tbsp sweetener of choice (I used agave syrup)
1tsp vanilla extract.

method

In a microwave or double boiler, melt chocolate, coconut oil, sweetener, and vanilla.

Scoop avocado flesh into a blender or food processor (if its still a bit firm maybe mash it a little before putting it in the blender)

Pour in melted chocolate mix and blend or process till smooth.

It can be served immediately or chilled first.

I topped mine with crushed walnuts. Gary reckons its the best ever mousse, but I want to do a bit of experimenting. I think this would go well with the afore mentioned chilli. Other options might be cinnamon or nutmeg, or berries mixed through. Anything you’d do with normal mousse really.

If anyone has suggestions, let me know!

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edit, because people need to know this.

I had some leftover in the fridge the day after it was made. It’s so good fresh, even better chilled. When chilled it gets firmer, and the faint avocado taste is nearly gone. The second time round I dished up a few spoonfuls with some fresh raspberries and some organic cacao nibs. Tasty!!

Camping on Mount Buffalo

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This is a panorama photo from our Mount Buffalo trip. I’m hoping it uploads correctly from my phone…..

Anyway, this is the view down towards the lookout from the Chalet. If you head down past the lookout, you come to the hang gliding ramp.

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I once pushed my dad off this. He used to fly hang gliders. I remember trips up to Buffalo as a child, and also with school, but its been a while since I was last there.

We camped out with a few of Gary’s friends. We had a great site at the lake Catani campground. Our site had a fire pit. Not all of them have one, so whether that was planned or luck I’m not sure.

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I accidentally forgot my waterproof and shockproof camera (stupid me) so I only had my phone with me. Which meant two things: 1) it went flat and I missed getting photos of the second day there, and 2) I couldn’t take my phone into the underground river with me.

So you’ll have to imagine us in the caves in really cold water, which at one point we had to swim through. It must be noted that we had safety gear (helmets, lights, rope and extra lights) and we were going in with someone who had been in before.

More of that later though. I managed to snap a few shots while climbing the Horn, the highest point of the Mount Buffalo plateau.

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And another panorama, from the top of the horn:

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Now for the caving.

It was quite an experience, for the 20-50 meters we went in. It was probably about 20 meters in a straight line, but there was a bit of twisting and turning involved. We got to a point where we weren’t certain we could get through so we turned back rather than risk it. I’ve been caving before, and there’s been mud and puddles, but I’ve never been in an underground river.

We came out and scrambled up and over the boulders filling the section above the river. We were looking for another way in, but as we weren’t sure we didn’t go too far in the second entrance we found.

On the way back to camp, we saw a snake, about 1.5m long just chilling in the last sunny spot for the day. And he did not want to move. We didn’t want to risk walking around him as there wasn’t really enough room so one of the boys got a really long stick and poked him until he moved off the road. Now sure what variety he was but he had a black back and a copper belly.

On the last day Gary and I took the walk from the campgrounds up to Caldwell galleries. It’s about a 20 minute walk up to the granite outcropping. You climb down through a snug space and it opens up into this awesome walkway. There’s granite walls straight up either side of you, with boulders balancing across the top. You walk along and climb down a bit, then you pop out the other side and loop back around to camp. It was beautiful, and next time ill make sure to take my camera and get some decent photos.
The rest of our time consisted of lounging about camp:

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Cooking lovely vegan camp food:

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And swimming in the lake:

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It was pretty relaxing, and I didn’t want to come home at the end. Just one or two more days there would have been lovely.

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the vegan experiment

Gary and I are going meatless for March. Since I am lactose intolerant, and can eat very little dairy without feeling pretty unwell, it’s an easy jump to go completely dairy free. Gary also seems to have developed a bit of an intolerance, which can happen from time to time. 

As we eat eggs only occasionally, it was also pretty easy to say that we will not consume them for the month as well.

Why vegan? Well, we have both been doing a bit of research lately about the healthiest kind of lifestyle choices to make. Turns out people tend to eat way more meat than they need, and there’s a fairly solid connection between an over-consumption of animal products and diseases such as cancer. There’s also plenty of elite athletes who compete – and win – on vegan diets, so it’s doable. There’s even vegan bodybuilders. 

From a health perspective, eating more plant based if a great idea – it gets away from processed and refined foods, and deals with healthier wholefoods, and as long as you eat a good variety of foods you’re going to get the nutrition you need. With our veggie garden helping us out, it also reduces the shopping bills! 

As it turns out, there’s only one vitamin you can’t get from a plant based diet, and thats vitamin B12. It seems that B12 is added to a number of products, including soy milk and nutritional yeast. Everything else is found in plant based foods. There’s plenty of vitamins and minerals in plants and grains. You just need to mix it up. 

From an ethical perspective, I find it hard to support commercial farming practices. I’m still more than willing to kill my own food (and I have done in the past), but I have a huge problem with factory farming. The conditions that some animals have to live in, and the manner in which they are killed, doesn’t sit so well with me anymore. I know there’s “humane” ways of raising and killing meat animals, but I also question how those places actually run.

I also think I’ve been kidding myself a little with the whole “but it’s free range” argument. Free range does not necessarily mean what I think it means. Eggs and Chicken meat are not raised on grassy open land, with covered and protected roosts. They might have more space than battery hens, but it’s nowhere near the conditions I’d raise my own in.

I am happy to raise my own (actually free range) chooks and consume their eggs, because I’ve grown up with chooks and known them to be perfectly content in a backyard setting. Eating the eggs they naturally produce does no harm to the chickens, and there’s no risk of accidently cooking a baby chicken if there’s no rooster about. 

If we could raise and kill our own food I might be more happy about it, but it’s not practical where we live as we are in town. However, the more research I read about whether or not meat is actually necessary in this day and age, the less comfortable I am with eating it. If it’s not really necessary, is it really justifiable for me to consume meat on the basis that I like eating it? 

There’s so much to consider and to think about when it comes to the ethical side of things, and I honestly don’t know where things will go at the end of March. I’m going to keep learning – reading evidence from both sides of the argument – and I’m going to monitor how I travel over the next few weeks. Conveniently enough, I’ve just had to have a full blood test for something different so if I get another at the end of the month my GP can compare the results to see if there’s been a noticeable difference in anything. 

For the moment, it’s been a week of eating vegan, with the one exception where I ordered vegetarian noodles for dinner and didn’t realise it had egg in it until I had already started eating it, and when I accidently made my coffee with dairy milk out of habit. I haven’t had any cravings for meat, and I haven’t even missed it at all. Only once was I tempted, and that was because one of Gary’s friends brought prawns on the camping trip last weekend and I love prawns. I didn’t give in and I am proud to say I got through the trip completely vegan. 

It’s actually a lot easier to go camping vegan, because you don’t need to worry about anything spoiling, or flies hovering around your sausages. We had (premade) felafels on pita wraps one night, and bean/tomato/veggie stew on coal roasted sweet potato the other. We took some vegan lentil patties and some veggies from the garden, and some oatmeal and soymilk. A few other bits and pieces, and we had plenty of energy for the hiking and scrambling over rocks. 

In terms of health, I’m feeling pretty good right now. I have been running twice this week, as well as aqua boot camp and hockey training, and I have not once felt like I am running out of steam. My off season training has obviously helped too as normally at the first hockey training you feel pretty wrecked. This time I just felt like I didn’t want to stop. 

 

So I’ll try and keep this blog posted and maybe do a few vegan recipes over the next month, and lets see how the vegan experiment turns out!