Miso excited.

Veguary starts tomorrow! I’m giving up meat for the month of February in the hopes that I’ll discover some new healthy recipes, save a bit of dosh and do a teensy bit for the ol’ environment. I’m inappropriately excited about it. Today I went shopping and bought a stack of ingredients I’ve never used before to use in recipes over the next few days. Tofu! Enoki mushrooms! Miso paste! Mountain bread! 

…and then I got a bit overexcited and decided to start early. I had all these great ingredients in the house, and my curiosity got the better of me, so although I’d planned to make this tomorrow and blog about it then… well, I just had it and it was awesome. Presenting:

Vegetarian Miso Soup!

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But Lou, you may ask, isn’t miso soup vegetarian already? Well, that’s a common misconception! Miso soup is traditionally made with a dashi (stock) that incorporates fish shavings. Yes, that’s what I said. Fish. Shavings. You can make a vegetarian version by using dried mushroom shavings instead, but alas, when I went to my local Asian grocery store, the only dried mushrooms they had were enormous bulk bags and I wasn’t about to pay $8 for a stock flavouring. Hence this, somewhat improvised, recipe!

  • 100g firm tofu
  • 1 portabella mushroom (not particularly Japanese, I know, but the only shiitake mushrooms I could find were canned and I am a firm believer that fresh is best.)
  • 50g enoki mushrooms
  • 2 spring onions
  • 2 handfuls baby spinach (you could use bok choy for a more authentic miso… I just really like spinach and always have it lying around, so I chucked it in!)
  • 45g soba noodles
  • 1 tbsp red miso paste
  • dash of soy sauce
  • cooking spray

Press your tofu. Put a small pot of water on to boil. Lightly spray the bottom of a saucepan and place on medium heat. Stir-fry the tofu in the saucepan until it’s got a slight golden sear on each side. Slice the portabella, cut off the roots of the enoki and then add both mushrooms to the tofu. Is your water boiling yet? Add the noodles and set a timer for 3 minutes. Keep stirring the mushrooms and tofu while you wait. When the timer rings, drain the noodles and chuck them into a bowl of cold water so they don’t cook any further. Add 2 cups of water to the mushrooms and tofu, then add the spring onions (cut into 1cm pieces) and spinach. When the water starts to bubble, turn your burner down to a low heat and add the drained noodles and miso. Gently incorporate the miso by stirring it through the water until it dissolves. Don’t boil the miso! Apparently this is a cardinal rule and will result in weird-tasting miso soup from which all the nutrients have boiled away. Or something. Serve straight away. Add soy sauce to your taste.

That’s it! Miso soup. You can add whatever you like to it (you can even poach an egg in it as it cooks for an extra bit of protein!) or just have it by itself, if you’re after more of a savoury snack. I went a bit easy on the miso paste because it was new to me, but you might like more! White miso is a bit sweeter than red, and yellow is a bit meatier. Red is the happy medium – probably a good choice for first time miso-ers. This recipe serves one (it’s easily doubleable, though) and comes to a total of 354 calories, so it’s a pretty light meal but thanks to the warm, brothy, umami goodness it’s super filling.

Souper filling!

Right? Right?

*Sigh.*

See you tomorrow for more vegetarian goodness – the official start of Veguary!

PS: Inspired by my lovely vegan friend, I’ve decided to up the ante and go vegan for one day each week during Veguary. And that day will be… Vegan Vednesday! If you have any vegan recipes you think I should try, let me know in the comments!

PPS: Thanks so much to those who have sent in health and fitness questions for my ‘agony aunt’ series! If you have a question about losing weight, exercise, food, nutrition or anything that you think I might be well-equipped to answer (as you can see, soup puns are my forte, so feel free to ask about that as well), send it to me at luluintherunningshoes@gmail.com or post it as a comment.

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Lulu answers your health and fitness questions!

To all you lovely readers, thanks so much for your overwhelming response to my blog! A lot of you guys have contacted me to share your fitness and weight loss experiences, and I’m well chuffed at the thought that this blog is useful to people, rather than merely being an outlet for my compulsive foodstagramming. The problem with committing to eating well and getting fit is that it’s often something we keep to ourselves for fear of judgement from others – is it really fitness we’re striving for or is it something a bit more vain? Everyone wants to be the kind of person who is effortlessly strong and skinny and beautiful, who drinks green tea because they prefer it to coffee, who is on a constant post-exercise endorphin rush, who loves to run so much that they don’t notice the kilos falling away. The truth is, it can be a struggle, and I think the best way to go about it is to be honest and accountable for what you’re trying to do. Hence this blog. Getting yourself to a healthy weight is a noble goal. Own it. Don’t be afraid to talk about it with others. Living in a lonely world of weight loss obsession will only lead to poor, unsustainable choices (like ‘cleanses’… don’t even get me started). Being honest with yourself and others means that you’re more likely to stick to your guns.

So, it’s been suggested that I do a bit of an ‘agony aunt’ post, since I have apparently become somewhat of a health and fitness guru around here! Disclaimer: I’m not a dietitian nor a personal trainer, I just know what works for me (and have done a bit of research in that arena). If you have any questions you’d like answered, post them as a comment to this post or send them to luluintherunningshoes@gmail.com. I won’t publish your name if you don’t want me to. And I’ll endeavour to answer any questions you throw at me!

BONUS! For those of you who live in Victoria, the VIC government is offering everyone 20 free passes to any YMCA plus 15% off at Rebel Sport. It’s a new fitness initiative and it’s free! Sign up here (I just did… looking forward to some sweet free gym sessions at the Y!): http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcsite.nsf/pafcpages/pafc_register_2013?open

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Takeaway the healthy(ish) way.

I work nights at a cinema, which means that I often have to throw dinner together quickly so that I can eat and get out the door by 5pm (or pack dinner to take with me if it’s a longer shift). This is why I try to keep a few dinner staples ready to go in the fridge – roast veggies that I can chuck into a sandwich, for example, or leftover prawns in enchilada sauce (love that stuff) that I can wrap in a tortilla with some salad. It doesn’t always work out that way, though. The other day I was caught out with no particularly appetising combinations of food in the house (carrot sticks and pesto for dinner, anyone?) so I had to dash out in my dinner break and buy food. Unfortunately, Chat For Tea (my usual semi-healthy takeaway of choice) was closed for the holidays so it was woodfired pizza all the way! Oh, what a shame. I doubt it’s news to anyone that takeaway pizza is not particularly nutritious, and I do tend to avoid it (especially the overly processed pizzas from Dominos and Pizza Hut) as much as possible. Thankfully, woodfired pizzas tend to have thinner crusts (reducing the amount of refined carbs), use less oil, and have somewhat healthier toppings. They’re still not great, but sometimes a girl just has to have some pizza, okay? Shh. Don’t judge.

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This is how I made my impromptu pizza dinner slightly less calorific. Remember the Rule of Quarters? All you have to do is slap some salad (or veggies) down onto half of your plate. It’s not perfect (that pizza is mostly carbohydrate, with a leetle bit of protein – the goat’s cheese and, as far as I can see, one pine nut – plus a smidgeon of veg) but it’s much better than just eating a pizza on its own. This way, I was full after eating 1/3 of the pizza, so it lasted me three meals all up. Healthy and thrifty.

This works well with all manner of takeaway foods. Chinese/Indian? Do up a quick salad or some steamed/roasted veggies to fill half your plate, make your own brown rice or quinoa (way cheaper than buying it takeaway) to fill another quarter, and then korma it up on the remaining quarter. I’ve even done it at restaurants: once, I was super keen to try some chicken and beetroot arancini balls from the tapas part of the menu, so I ordered a full-size garden salad (no dressing) and then popped the arancini balls on top. The concept is the same: fill up on salad, appreciate every bite of the not-so-healthy food.

Happy takeawaying!

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Sandwich love, and the easiest baked ricotta.

You guys, I’m in love. With a sandwich. We met at Bourke St Bakery in Surry Hills while I was on holiday, and although it was merely a holiday fling (never to meet again!), I was determined to recreate a Frankensteinian version of it that I can have right here in Ballarat. And, I must say, the experiment was a total success! Maniacal laugh!

The sandwich in question was a roasted veggie number on delicious, silky-soft grain bread but the star of the show was the baked ricotta in it. I’ve never been much of a cheese-in-sandwiches sort of person (blame the heavy-handed sprinkling of powdery yellow cheese in school canteen cheese and salad sangas… ugh) but this was a revelation. I immediately got my Google on and found a few recipes for baked ricotta. It turns out baked ricotta is pretty much just that – step 1, put ricotta in oven, step 2, bake – but most recipes enhance the flavour with a few herbs and such. This is my recipe, which is a bit of a combination of the Donna Hay and Taste.com.au versions, lightened up a bit.

Lulu’s baked ricotta

  • 500g light ricotta
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 tsp thyme
  • 1/2 tsp chilli (I keep a jar of Coles’ chilli in the fridge – if you wanted to use fresh chillies, this would equate to about half a standard red one)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Cooking spray

Preheat the oven to 180C. Combine the parmesan, thyme, chilli, salt and pepper in a bowl/jug/what-have-you. Lightly beat the egg with a fork in a bowl until the yolk and white are combined. Add the ricotta and half the parmesan mix, and stir until combined. Lightly spray a baking dish with cooking spray and pour in the ricotta mixture. Sprinkle the remaining parmesan mix on top and bake for an hour or until golden.

Easy as. While that was baking, I chucked a few veggies into the oven to go with it – two portabella mushrooms, a red capsicum cut into four, two zucchinis cut lengthways into thin strips, half a sweet potato cut into thin slices, and a sliced-up eggplant. That might sound like a lot of vegetables – and it was! – but it takes hardly any effort to roast vegetables and if you do a bulk lot of them one night, you’ll have loads of them left over to put in sandwiches or with meals throughout the week. I just spray a bit of oil on top and sprinkle with pepper and a herb-salt mix, then leave them for 40 minutes or so and they’re good to go!

When the ricotta and veggies were done, I arranged them in a stack (this is optional, by the way, but if you like to feel all self-important and accomplished and a bit wanky I highly recommend arranging your food), added some spinach and topped it off with pesto.* Voila: baked ricotta veggie stack with spinach and sweet potato chips!

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It was really good, you guys. I’ve done a similar thing before with haloumi and that is also a winner, so if you like your cheese a bit sharper, give that one a go. And if you don’t like pesto, it works well with pizza sauce, too.

*Pesto note: when buying pesto, make sure you read the label. I almost bought Coles brand pesto, until I noticed that it had twice the calories of the Leggo’s version. Leggo’s it is!

“But Lou,” I hear you say, “what’s all this got to do with being in love with a sandwich?” Well! The joy of making obscene amounts of roast vegetables, as I mentioned before, is that you can eat the leftovers for days to come. So, here was today’s lunch:

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That’s right, it’s the sandwich. Baked ricotta, eggplant, zucchini, semi-dried tomatoes and pesto. I also added mushrooms, capsicum and sweet potato (because they were already roasted and ready to go), spinach (because spinach is great, you guys) and a little bit of mustard. And it was almost as goodSo I’m happy – my Frankenstein’s monster of a sandwich was successful, and I have enough baked ricotta and veggies to last me for quite some time now. Awesome.

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Fail happily.

The Saturday morning class at my local studio is one of my favourites – Hot Yoga. Any class that lets you stretch really effectively without having to go through a full-on cardio warmup first is a win in my book! I used to do Bikram at a studio in Perth, but I found the heat a bit ridiculous – Bikram is practised in a 40C room, so not only is it a lot to get used to mentally (your brain is screaming out, “Lie down! Stop exercising! What is wrong with you?”) but you are literally dripping with sweat, so any pose that requires you to hold onto another part of your body becomes a fun game of slip and slide.

Hot Yoga at my studio is practised in a heated room (about 30C, I think), so you still get the benefits of heat (allowing you to go deeper into stretches and whatnot) but it’s not as oppressive as Bikram. I went this morning after having a week off in Sydney and I’m definitely feeling the post-yoga glow. The ride home, despite being uphill, is always a bit nicer, and there’s no doubt that breakfast tastes better after a class (hot yoga pro-tip: eating beforehand will make backbends mega uncomfortable. Don’t eat for at least an hour before class, or take the lazy option and just roll out of bed and head straight there!).

I was expecting today’s class to be a bit more difficult, given that I’ve been away for a while. Surprisingly, my strength was okay (vinyasas, or the flowing movements between poses that are often push-up-like, ugh) are what usually give me the most trouble. My balance was shocking today, though. Ardha baddha padmottanasana is one of my favourite poses as there’s always a ‘next step’ to strive towards. I remember when I could barely stand up in half lotus without falling over, but eventually I got to the point where I could bind my arm around my back to hold onto my toes, and now I can usually go into the forward bend and touch the floor. Usually. Today as I attempted to fold over I was Wobbles McGee on my left leg, and when we repeated the pose on the right, I fell right out of the pose and landed most ungracefully on my derriere. And it was great. I love to fail. Before moving to Ballarat, I used to do impro with Just Improvise and one of the biggest lessons I learned there was to fail happily. If you’re failing at something, it means that you’re trying to do something that’s outside of your comfort zone – and that’s what will eventually make you better! So if you fail, it’s a good thing. It means you’re not content just to be ‘comfortable’; that you’re trying to learn something new or improve yourself in some way.

I’ve fallen out of yoga poses before – many times before! – and every time, the instructor has said how good it is not to be afraid to fall. You just pick yourself up and try again. I know that fear is still stopping me from kicking up to the wall in handstand (well, fear and my paltry upper body strength) but I’m getting there – I frequently fall out of bound headstand but it gets a little bit more stable every time. That’s what I love about yoga – there’s always something new to challenge you, not necessarily physically, but mentally as well.

Well, today’s post was a bit uncharacteristically philosophical! It’s okay, tomorrow I’ll be back with a new recipe… I’ve been experimenting with baked ricotta (in an attempt to recreate the most amazing sandwich I had in Sydney… oh my lawd). So if you’re freaked out by philosophising, we can just pretend this whole thing never happened.

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How to succeed in eating healthily on holiday without really trying

There’s nothing like a holiday to mix up your routine. Usually, this is an awesome thing (routine generally involves work, study and not spending all day shopping, seeing theatre and going to interesting little bars), but it can also mess with your carefully laid-out food and exercise plans. When I go on holiday, my main focus is always, always food (you can blame my foodie family for that!). I love getting the opportunity to try new places, especially now that I live in a town with a fairly small selection of cafes and restaurants, none of which are particularly adventurous. So when the opportunity arose for a five-day jaunt in Sydney, staying with friends in Surry Hills (land of delicious bakeries and award-winning ice cream), I was champing at the bit. I’ve just returned from said jaunt, and I had some of the best food of my life there (including that award-winning ice cream… oh my goodness) but thanks to a bit of forward planning, managed to come home weighing exactly the same as before I left. So, here are a few things to consider when you’re in holiday mode to make sure you don’t undo all of your hard work!

  • Pack food for the train/plane/bus. On my way home, I knew that I had five hours of travel ahead of me and that my flight wouldn’t be serving food. Instead of wasting money and calories on some overpriced, overbuttered airport panini, I bought an extra sandwich from Bourke St Bakery that morning to eat on the plane. It was amazing. On that note:
  • If it’s worth the calories, go for it. Sure, I could have made a less calorific plane-lunch at home, but this sandwich was like heaven on bread, so for me it was worth it. Same thing goes for desserts. Don’t eat average cake. There’s no point. Food is meant to be nourishing and fuelling, yes, but it’s also there to be enjoyed! If the cake is amazing, go for your life. If it’s not, nobody’s forcing you to finish it, and you’re only doing yourself a disservice by doing so. Chips taste pretty much the same wherever you go, so get a side salad instead, or opt out of the “Let’s just get a bowl for the table, yeah?” conversation. Every holiday meal is an opportunity for great food experiences, so don’t waste them on so-so food. This is basically, pared down, my entire food philosophy. Here’s a handy-dandy chart that I made (using my amazing photoshop skills) to illustrate my point. If you only eat within the green zone, you’ll generally be pretty happy and healthy. Average cake is not within the zone of awesomeness. Neither is McDonald’s. Cooking with fresh, good-quality ingredients and cutting down refined carbs (like white rice and pasta) will help you to get your meals into the zone of awesomeness. And you can indulge yourself… but only if the food is really, really delicious.

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  • Research, research, research! I’d looked up the the area I was staying in on Urbanspoon and found the top-rated food places. It meant that pretty much every place I went, I got to eat food that was completely and utterly worth the calories. And then some. Oh man, that sandwich.
  • Have dessert somewhere different. Few dinner places do dessert as well as dedicated cake shops or ice-creameries, so if you order dessert with your meal, you may just be taking in calories that aren’t really worth it. Besides, the extra walk to the awesome macaron place will do you good.
  • Give yourself some wiggle room. I wear a Fitbit (step tracker), and I noticed that on one particularly shopping-heavy day, I walked almost 23,000 steps. That’s over four times the national average. No wonder I was hungry! It means that I burned about 700 more calories than I would on a normal day, so I had a lot more to play with. If you’re spending a lot of time walking around (and running for buses as I did… okay, I may not be the most public-transport-savvy person), you can afford to be a bit more lenient with your choices.
  • Healthier choices can also be mega-delicious. I had a pumpkin, goat’s cheese, spinach and hazelnut salad for lunch one day and it was really, really good. I also had some outrageously tasty mushrooms. Don’t think that you’re missing out by ordering the healthy option. Having said that, there’s no need to order salad if you don’t want it. It’s all about the balance between calories and deliciousness (see my highly scientific chart above).
  • You’re allowed to go to the supermarket. I knew that on some days I wouldn’t have time to sit down and eat breakfast somewhere nice, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to eat a dodgy croissant just because it’s the only thing I can find nearby. So on the first day of my trip, I grabbed some supplies to make my muesli at home, and I’m so glad I did. It got me off to a good start and meant that I wasn’t starving (and tempted to overeat) at lunchtime.

It’s so nice to go away, but I’m also glad to be back home and getting back into my routine. I haven’t done any running or yoga for a week (apart from one very short session in my hosts’ lounge room) so it’ll be interesting to see how I go with hot yoga tomorrow morning… yikes. Enjoy your holidays, if you’re going on any – and eat delicious food while you’re there!

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Veguary! My pledge to go veg (for a month)

So. I love vegetables. Quite a lot. Although I’m not vegetarian by any means, I like to think that the majority of what I cook is veggie-focused – although it may incorporate meat here and there (a bit of chicken in a stir-fry with six or seven different vegetables, enchiladas that are mostly salad and grilled capsicum with a few prawns), it’s fresh produce that usually runs the show.

We’ll just ignore the bulk batch of pulled pork I made last week. Ahem. (It was delicious, though.)

This is something that I’ve been considering for a little while now. I like cooking with loads of veg, and I often substitute non-meat proteins like legumes, cashews or haloumi in my dishes anyway, so what if I were to challenge myself to go vegetarian for a month? Say, the month of February… or as I have dubbed it with a shoddy almost-pun: Veguary? I’m excited about this for a few reasons:

  1. It will take me out of my comfort zone, cooking-wise. I’ll have to experiment with vegetarian proteins (although I love tofu, I’ve never cooked it myself before) and mix up my usual standard oeuvre of recipes.
  2. It will save me money. Meat can be pretty expensive, whereas lentils are outrageously cheap. Of course, I’m planning on working in a few interesting cheeses and fun new proteins (seitan?), which might up the price factor a bit, but since I usually buy free-range, high-quality meat (i.e. the expensive stuff), it should still work out cheaper. I’ll try to eat out a few times, too, and vegetarian dishes are almost always less than the meat-based ones in restaurants!
  3. It’ll be good for the environment and for animal rights. I’m not going to get preachy – we all know this stuff already. But even if you don’t go vego, even cutting your meat intake down a little bit is a good thing.
  4. Veg-based diets can be healthier. Sometimes. Vegetarians have to be super-careful to get enough protein in, but with enough forward planning, they can have a damn nutritious diet. Lots of veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds, beans, yoghurt, grains and cheeses. Less calorific slabs of meat. Awesome.

So, now begins the process of recipe collation. I follow a few vegetarian and whole food blogs (Oh My Veggies and Sprouted Kitchen are a couple of great ones) and I have a few ideas up my sleeve, but to get through a whole month without resorting to my staple recipes is going to be tricky. Throughout the month I’ll be posting what I’m cooking, so if anyone wants to challenge themselves to a month of vego-ness, do it in Veguary! And if you have any favourite vegetarian recipes, let me know in the comments… I think I’ll need all the help I can get!

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