Happy feet.

Nope. No penguins here. But my feet are in fact happy so the title fits.

Let me tell you a story.

Around 18 months ago when I decided to try regular running for fitness (again) I was intrigued by (and purchased) nike frees. With the promise of a “more natural” run and “designed to make your feet move the way they were supposed to” I put them on and ran my first kilometer. That was when I started at the gym, but the way, and was put on the treadmill and told to run for as long as I could without stopping.

I only just made 1km. But I was excited because the shoes on my feet felt amazing. I remember describing them to a work mate as “the best things I’ve ever put on my feet”. And it was the first time I had shoes that didn’t make my back ache unbearably with continuous running.

Gary runs barefoot. He always has. I didn’t feel ready to take that step though and spent some time in my frees before ordering a pair of vibrams.

These babies were my second revelation.

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They let my feet move so I could run, and so I could grip while scrambling over boulders. I wore them in rain and mud and dust and inside a freezing underground river while caving.

I got two models, the basic KSO version for general everything use and the Bikilas, specifically for running on roads and paths.

And it was great. The only issue was my lack of control on the downhills, resulting in a stress fracture. (I put that down to hills as I only injured my ankle when I added hill running to my regime. And running down a steep hill on concrete probably isn’t the best idea.)

But come summer, my feet started getting unbearably hot in my vibrams. Hot and sweaty and uncomfortable.

That’s where Barefoot Ted comes in. I’d say most of the barefoot/minimalist community have heard of this guy, because we’ve all read “born to run”. Anyway, he’s been championing the barefoot movement for a while and now has his own company selling huraches, or running sandals. They are called Luna Sandals.

I brought a pair.

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They are the “Mono” version, the all rounder for roads and trails. With a MGT footbed instead of leather they’re also vegan – bonus points for that. I’ve pretty much worn them everywhere except work for the past week and they are definitely my third revelation when it comes to footwear.

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my running partners seem to like them too. Especially Ollie. He always tries to chew on the buckles when I step out the door.

Verdict so far: they’re light, and airy so they don’t overheat. They’re flexible but offer some cushion – more than the KSOs do.

It took me a little bit to get the straps adjusted correctly so the heel doesn’t slip out but all in all I love them. I took them out for a hill climb (rocky dirt track) and they preformed magnificently.

I also went for a run on Friday and to be honest, it wasn’t fantastic. But I think that’s more to do with the fact that all I had to eat that day was a banana (breakfast), half and sushi roll (lunch) and a bag of salt and vinegar chips. There were moments in that run when I felt amazing, and my feet felt great for the whole time.

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Reasons the Luna sandals are so great:

– no more overheated foot.
– easy to get on and off (so much quicker than vibrams. Which means less time stopped if I want to take them off mid run for a sprint across a footy oval or something)
– flexible
– they aren’t constrictive so there is room for your toes to do their thing.
– vegan
– maybe it’s just me but I like having dusty feet. Makes me feel like I’ve been out in the world.
– they feel free.
– relatively cheap, if you order online. Even the additional $20 shipping fee from the luna site meant they were significantly cheaper then buying them from the one Aussie outlet I could find, and I’d still have to buy online and pay a postage fee from the Aussie shop!
– I am more aware of my posture and form than when wearing frees or traditional shoes.
– they make me feel good.

Downside:
– when I put my (fairly rigid) hockey shoes on they feel weird because I’m now used to vibrams, sandals and bare feet.

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My feet feel free and happy. I am starting to really enjoy running again.

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Behold my delicious vegan food wizard skillz!

Tonight I turned this:

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Into this:

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Under that delicious pile of roasted tomatoes and zucchini is an equally delicious pile of wholemeal pasta with kale and walnut pesto.

Mix it all up for a hearty meal with plenty of greens and bursts of sweet roasted tomatoes and zucchini chunks, and the taste of garlic bringing it all together.

home grown ingredients:
Kale
Garlic
Zucchini
Mixed tomatoes (tiny red ones, yellow cherry, mini Roma, standard cherry – there’s a green zebra tomato in the picture but I saved that one for another dish)

store brought ingredients:
Wholemeal pasta
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt
Pepper
Nutritional yeast

It was quite literally thrown together – no idea about quantities. I can try and guess some if anyone really desperately needs a recipe but I’m confident there’s probably plenty of kale walnut pesto recipes to be googled and the tomatoes/zucchini were just veggies tossed with olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper and roasted.

You know what else was delicious? These babies:

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I made these cookies and cream cupcakes for a work meeting using a recipe from Vegan cupcakes take over the world . It’s the basic chocolate cake recipe with the variation of adding chopped Oreos to the cake batter and also to the vanilla buttercream. Absolutely superb.

They were a big hit with everybody. I’ve kind of made it my mission to keep feeding my work mates vegan food just to show them how delicious and interesting it is.

I’ve also found that vegan cakes seem to be ridiculously simple. Maybe that’s just because I’ve been practicing but I am really enjoying baking now.

I made this cake for a work mates farewell a few weeks ago.

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It’s a chocolate mud cake I’ve made a couple of times from Not Quite Nigella that I came across a while ago. I’ve found it turns out best when I be a bit liberal with the chocolate in the batter (75grams… 100grams… Close enough). I also take it from the tin while still warm and plate it, pouring the ganache over before it’s cool.

This recipe makes a chocolate syrup – I’ve been adding coconut milk or almond milk to make more of a ganache. Either way will be great.

Moving off the chocolate cake theme, I also tried my hand at a vegan agedashi tofu. I used shiitake for the broth and let plenty of them soak for a long time to get the flavour. I also used some wakame to get that “sea” flavour since I’m unable to buy kombu at the moment.

I kept all the wakame and shiitake in the end so it wasn’t the traditional clear broth but it was delicious and hearty. I used cornflour for the tofu coating and fried it in a mix of peanut and sunflower oils. It was dished up with edamame and plain medium grain rice.

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So there are some of my latest food achievements. I’m pretty proud of my efforts – still learning new recipes and methods of cooking and still keeping it vegan.

And by the way, what do you do with leftover Oreos and extra icing?

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Challenge accepted week 5.

So as regular readers know, I’m trying to set myself a challenge each week for the whole of 2014. They can be anything – diet or exercise related, reading books, not using Facebook for a week, etc. One friend has challenged me to go a week without buying anything with plastic, and another has set a challenge of not using my bank card, only withdrawing cash from the bank when I need it.

If you want to look at past challenge posts just click on the tag “challenge accepted”. And if you have any suggestions please comment with them. Rules are pretty basic – it has to be achievable, keep within my vegan ideals, and also it has to be practical e.g I can’t do a week long vow of silence due to work. Each week I’ll post a review of the week gone and let you know what challenge I’m doing this week.

Last weeks challenge was to make a sourdough starter and bake a loaf of bread. I started this one early to give the starter time to develop before attempting bread. It’s gone really well!

I used the River cottage method. It’s a bit wordy on the link but really it’s very simple. I think I baked my first loaf a tad too early as the sour flavour was too strong. I made the sponge on day 6. For the next loaf I fed my starter (named Tim) as normal then made the sponge on the night of day 8 and let the bread rise all of day 9. It was better tasting, and the starter was smelling more yeasty and less acid – in fact on day 9 it smelt like beer!

My second loaf was superior in taste however I made it a little too sticky and didn’t prove it in a tea towel lined dish as recommended. This meant that when I wanted to remove it, it stuck to the (floured!) bowl and I had to handle it too much which knocked some of the volume out. So it was a little more dense than it would have been.

I’ve achieved the lovely crunchy crust I wanted so I’m pretty happy. I will continue my adventures in sourdough.

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Lil’ Timmy version 2.0

so, for the week ahead… I’ve spontaneously set this weeks challenge, pushing aside another challenge because I feel I need this one more.

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Unfortunately, this is not the case. I am saying I have been watching too much Doctor Who.

I need a bit of a Doctor Detox. I finally decided to get off my butt and watch some of it and I’m four seasons down in a week and a half. There’s plenty more to go so it’s time for a break. I used to read the books multiple times when I was a kid so I’m familiar with the book Doctor, I just hadn’t seen any of the show yet (although the “geek” category on Pinterest keeps me well up to date with it… And supernatural… And Sherlock… None of which I had seen).

I would like to point out that I use my tablet all the time to watch things off my hard drive while I’m cooking or cleaning or whatever. But it’s usually things I’ve seen a gajillion times before (eg Game Of Thrones) and I can just listen – it’s background noise for me. But being that I haven’t seen this before it’s incredibly distracting and instead of washing dishes I’m standing there holding the same plate for 40 minutes.

So my challenge this week is no Doctor Who. And in fact, no TV with one exception – if Gary wants to watch a movie with me on the weekend.

Let’s see how I go!

Sourdough Tim.

So I have made a sourdough loaf.

Tim has given birth!
I’ve been using the River Cottage recipe… Closely enough anyway.

I figured my starter was 6 days old and using Gary’s superior sense of smell we determined the started was at the “yeasty” point. To me it smelt like apricots. Sometimes I have a hard time pinpointing smells. I can tell you if things smell good or bad but can’t always work out exactly what the smell is. It is supposed to start smelling “fruity and yeasty” when it’s ready so between me thinking it smells like apricots (fruit) and Gary saying bread (yeast) we thought it might be time to trial some bread.

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I moved Mr Tim to a glass jar. Firstly so I can have my mixing bowl back, and secondly because it’s interesting to be able to mark the starting point for the day and then see how much he grows by the next morning.

I started with mixing some starter and fresh flour into the “sponge” according to the recipe linked above. I used plain flour and a touch of spelt because I ran out of plain flour (whoops).

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Mr Spongy sat and bubbled away all night.

Then in the morning I brought some bread flour (higher protein than standard flour, apparently). I added this into the sponge with some oil, salt and water and kneaded it till nice and smooth.

I let the dough sit and rise.

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Then I showed the dough who was boss and punched that sucker back. I let it rise once more then the magic happened.

I put a pan in a rather hot oven, popped the bread into the hot pan and sprayed some water in the oven. 40 or so minutes later and it was done.

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It did crack near the bottom.

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And it was maybe a tiny bit more dense than I would have preferred, but certainly not too dense.

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The bread was also a little too much on the sour side but it was fantastic toasted with the lentil Spag Bol that I made last night. All in all I’m pretty happy. And tonight I’m making a start on lil’ Timmy 2.

Sushi for dinner.

What do you do when you don’t want to heat up the kitchen with the stove?

Throw on your rice cooker, grab some seaweed and some bits and pieces and make this:

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the only fish involved is on the platter which came all the way from Finland. Thanks Annika!

Technically speaking these are nori rolls, not sushi but…. Sushi seems easier. I’ve been big on these lately. I made some for lunch the other day as well with some edamame and some raw veggies.

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Fun fact: in a metal container and an air conditioned office, frozen edamame in the top compartment works well – it’s defrosted by lunch but it keeps the sushi cool without getting cold. I prefer them at room temperature.

Anyhow, nori rolls are a simple thing.

You will need:
rice. Medium or short grain rice can be used – often it’s labeled as sushi rice. Just don’t use any variety of long grain rice. It won’t work.
1/2 cup rice vinegar
2 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp salt
nori sheetsmmmm seaweed. Tasty tasty seaweed.
optional extras for the rice – I use raw nori flakes and black sesame seeds.
fillings whatever you feel like – I used carrot, cucumber, avocado, and tofu.
condiments- wasabi paste, soy sauce and pickled ginger

Step 1: cook sushi rice. I use my rice cooker now because I can pop it on while I do other things and it will just keep it warm till I’m ready. I generally have about a cup of uncooked rice to 2-3 rolls – but I like a lot of rice in my rolls.

Step 2: make your seasoning by gently heating 1/2 cup rice vinegar, 2 Tbsp sugar and 2 tsp salt on the stove until it all dissolves together.

Step 3: mix the rice with the seasoning – add it to taste. The amount of seasoning generally does me about 2 cups (uncooked) rice. This is best done in a non metallic bowl. Fold some of the vinegar through the rice and taste – add more if you feel it needs it.

Step 4: extras! I tend to mix some raw nori flakes through the rice and also some black sesame seeds. Just for some extra crunch and nutrients.

Step 5: lay your nori sheet shiny side down. You can use a mat if you wish but I don’t usually bother. Lightly brush some water over the nori
Spread rice in a thin even layer, leaving a gap at one end. Use a spoon or your fingers dipped in water so it doesn’t stick.

Step 6: fillings. Spread a tiny bit of wasabi on your rice, down the middle. It’s hot so if you haven’t tried it before go very easy on it. Top that with your chosen fillings. Avocado, carrot, cucumber and tofu were my choices last night.

Step 7: roll. Take the end you have rice to and roll it tight enough to keep everything in but not so tight that it tears. You’ll get the habit of it the more you do. Wet the free end and seal your roll. Slice gently with a wet knife into whatever size you want.

Dip in soy sauce and enjoy pickled ginger in between rolls.

Enjoy!!

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Challenge accepted week 4.

Whoops. I ended up missing week 3.

There’s no excuses really – work was flat out, I felt unwell and unmotivated and it just didn’t happen.

So back on the horse for week 4. My challenge actually started yesterday so it’s kind of the Monday and Tuesday of week 3 and then all of week 4.

Which works well as my challenge is to grow a sourdough starter and then bake a sourdough loaf. This may take up to a week to develop the starter. Given the forecast heat for the week – high 30s and low 40s it may not take that long.

Meet Tim:

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apparently it’s bad luck not to name your starter

I started with about 100g of plain flour and enough (filtered) water to make it the consistency of thick paint. I let that sit most of yesterday to activate then added 100g fresh flour and water to maintain consistency this morning.

Then it’s a matter of refreshing it daily for up to a week by discarding half and adding fresh water and flour each day until it’s ready. Then I can start baking!

I love the idea of sourdough as it’s making bread with just flour, water, and a touch of salt. The starter ferments and grows the natural yeast in the air and that’s what makes the bread rise. It’s vegan in the sense that there’s no animal products involved and great because there’s no additives unless I put them in. Mind you, the starter is often considered to essentially be alive and people refer to feeding it and looking after it. Kind of like making yourself a little bread friend… And then eating it…

Anyway, creepiness aside, it sounds like a fun challenge! I’ll try and report every few days and let you know how Tim is going.

Challenge accepted week 3.

Week three starts today.

For this week I’m going to eat at least one piece of fruit a day.

Might seem easy, but I’ve never really been a fruit person. Veggies yes, but not fruit. Which I feel means I miss out a little. Fruit is great – full of natural sugars too! Also plenty of different nutrients. A vegan diet should include as much variety as possible so I really should get some more fruit into me.

I’m starting today with an apple. They are always a great place to start. I’ll let you know how things go at the end of the week.