Thursday, 2 January 2014

2014 health kick

If you follow my blog you'll know already that I eat healthily and exercise regularly. This post isn't about a 2014 resolution to start a new health kick for the New Year. I'm just refocusing and planning.

I'm now in training for Milton Keynes marathon, on May 5th. I have 5 months to get my food intake more in line with an athlete's diet! BBC Good Food (my go-to website for foodie ideas) has a whole section on eating like an athlete.

I'm not one of those people who knows in depth how much vitamin D I need to be getting, and I'm not crazy enough to make a kale smoothie. I'm just after some day-to-day recipes that will provide a balanced diet, fulfil my energy needs, and be palatable to me and my family.

Soups

Easy to make and full of nutrients, soups are great for using up leftover vegetables. I throw a handful of lentils into most of my concoctions to ensure I have some protein in there. My favourite recipe is Spiced carrot and lentil soup, or my own version of Ribollita that uses any vegetables I have plus cabbage (or any sliced greens) and a pulse (beans or lentils would be OK). And you can't beat a homemade chicken soup made by boiling a Sunday roast carcass to make stock.

Salads

Winter doesn't feel like the right time of year for salads. I ignore the "traditional" leaf-based salad and make healthy and filling wintry salads that are based on grains or pulses, such as bulgar wheat, quinoa, chick peas, couscous, or beans, to bulk out the veg. Control the grain portion, so you're not eating more than 100 g (cooked) a serving, and add any veg you like, such as courgettes, green beans, sweet peppers, onion, sweetcorn, broccol, or spinach, plus herbs for extra flavour. If you have cooked chicken handy, shred some of that in too, or add a low-fat cheese such as feta. And don't forget a dressing such as olive oil infused with garlic or chilli, balsamic vinegar, or a squeeze of lemon.

Main meals

I don't want to be making different meals for my family and myself, so I try to plan recipes that everyone will like, or I can adapt easily to make them slightly healthier for myself. Turkey burgers or bolognaise are as tasty as lean beef (if seasoned correctly, and you don't tell the family!). Fish fillets (such as salmon) or a lean meat (such as roasted chicken breast) is always a good option for the evening, either on its own or with a sauce such as curry, chilli, or soy. Roasted vegetables (in spray oil), such as peppers, carrots, and beetroot, are an easy side dish, and chips can be substituted for homemade potato wedges baked in a little spray oil and seasoning. And don't forget the easiest meal of all: eggs cooked however you like, or baked beans and a jacket potato!

Monday, 26 August 2013

Summer camping

We've visited a few new campsites this summer. First up was Searles Holiday Park in Hunstanton.

The pitch we booked was a mains serviced pitch, which had a hedge surrounding the pitch, 16 amp electric hook up, TV point, private water point, and private waste point. We were advised the pitch was 10x8 feet in size, on arrival we were fairly sure the pitch wasn't that size (some were but ours was one of the smaller ones), but our tent fit the space (just) and we had the privacy we wanted. The kids spent most of their time at the local park (when not being picked on by older children) and the rest of their time was spent riding their bikes and scooters up and down the holiday park roads. They had a lot of freedom to explore in safety, which was lovely. We visited the restaurant on the first night (food was OK but nothing to write home about), and we also swam in the indoor and outdoor pools (adequate, although the changing rooms weren't very good). Showers and toilets were clean and we never had to queue.

Hunstanton was a nice town, a bit run down in places but some areas were lovely. Plenty of coffee shops and cafes to choose from. We walked from Searles along the seafront to the centre of town and then back again, about 3 miles in total but easily managed by my kids. There is a good beach, a fun fair, a Sea Life centre, and a leisure centre along the seafront walk. At the entrance to Searles is a Tesco that stocks most camping supplies. Overall, the site was adequate but we wouldn't go again.

Our second camping trip was to Pillaton Hall Farm in Staffordshire, between Penkridge and Cannock. We've visited this site before and it didn't disappoint (apart from the stormy weather!). We choose two adjacent electric pitches within view of the children's play park and we had plenty of room and privacy. Since our last visit the owners have built a second play park for younger children. This one was nicknamed "The Sand Park" by my kids because it was completely covered in play sand. As a result, my kids had been banned from The Sand Park by the second day of our trip. The toilet facilities appear inadequate for a site of its size, only four showers for ladies and five toilets (in the main block; four other toilets were available around the site). However, I never had to queue for a shower, and only for a minute or two for the toilet. More consideration for fellow campers would've helped in that respect (some parents weren't very aware of what their children were up to). The toilet facilities weren't kept especially clean, again that was down to inconsiderate campers rather than the site managers. The site managers were very visible on site, rather militant with respect to BBQs and campfires. If you're not cooking on a fire you can't have one at all (they say). Just make sure you burn charcoal and not wood, and have some sausages handy.

During our stay we visited Coalport, the location of some Ironbridge Gorge museums. We had another trip down the Tar Tunnel and a walk around the Jackfield Tile Museum. We had a great meal at the Half Moon pub on the River Severn. Instead of revisiting Blists Hill Victorian Town, we spent a very wet day at the Black Country Living Museum, where we also had a trip on the Dudley Canal through the tunnels. I finally got my wish to visit Lichfield, and we had a walk around the cathedral and Dr Johnson's birthplace.

Our third trip was to another new site (for us), Wellington Country Park, which is located between Reading and Basingstoke. It had been recommended by a colleague of my husband, and proved worthy. By camping at the park we had full access to the park during the day, and once the park closed to the public we could use the facilities that were open (the adventure playground, the miniature golf, nature trails, and the play trails). We made full use of our stay and visited all areas of the park. We particularly enjoyed the deer park walks.

We paid for a premium electric pitch, which afforded some privacy (although we were on the road and were woken up on two mornings by small children climbing the trees behind our tent -- sad that some parents aren't aware what their children are up to at 7am). The pitch had no grass but was shallow earth and bark; we'd been advised to take rock pegs. We used the barest minimum to pitch because of the shelter afforded by the trees, but we lost almost all of them once we decamped.  Shower facilities at the campsite weren't the best, only three for women, and there were long queues every morning. The toilets also weren't kept very clean. There were very good washing-up facilities though (one plus point). There was no campsite play park for the kids (not that they needed one, with all the woods to explore); they could ride their bikes around the campsite (not the park though except after hours). We might return to this site because of the location, there are plenty of attractions in the area (we visited Hartley Wintey, Wokingham, and Bagshot, with Silchester Roman City on the list for next time). I'll just time my shower a bit better!

Our final camp was over the August Bank Holiday weekend. It was our annual Family Camp, and we'd booked with Brook House Farm at Crew Green (between Shrewsbury and Welshpool) in January to have three electric tent pitches, a shepherd's hut, a camping pod, and a room in their B&B. That's a lot of people! We turned up to discover the electric tent pitches weren't electric and weren't pitches either (an unmown, uneven, stone strewn, hole-covered sheep field). The shepherd's hut had also been double-booked and was unavailable. The owner was rude, unapologetic, and unhelpful, seemingly unaware of her responsibilities once you've taken a booking. She also went out onto the road to continue her abusive shouting after we had to park up nearby to do some online research and ringing around. What a nightmare woman! Not a site to be recommended at all (I will not post a link to the website, google if you like, but the website is deceiving).

After much ringing around I managed to secure three tent pitches at a campsite near Market Drayton, called Abdo Hill Farm. The owner went out of his way to help us, providing one of the pitches with an electric extension so we could at least blow up everyone's camp beds. Once we arrived we managed to sort out rooms at a B&B across the road, so we reaccommodated everyone. Relief all round!

The site was fairly new but had very good facilities nonetheless. The toilet and shower facilities were mixed sex, two toilets and two showers, a temporary solution for now until the owner can build separate facilities for men and women. They were kept very clean. There was a large play area for the children, which was superb, I rarely saw my two, they made a lot of friends there! The owner, Paul, lives on site behind the playground and is very visible walking around, talking to guests, and making sure everyone is happy. We had many long chats with him, he's got a lot of plans and I think he's going to do well with his site in years to come. We gave him some ideas (holiday lets, renting fire pits -- he's very happy for people to have campfires, washing-up facilities -- missing at present but not necessary) and he passed on his own plans for expansion. A proper genuine "good guy", it was a pleasure to meet him and know that there are people out there who will do their best for you when they don't really need to do anything.

Paul also passed on information about local pubs for food: The Bear at Hodnet, which we didn't visit; and The Red Lion at Wistanswick, which does excellent food, but if he tells you it's walking distance then you need to ignore him because it's near on 3 miles!! He also recommended we visit Hawkstone Historic Park and Follies (looked brilliant but we didn't have chance to get there), and he pointed out sites of local interest, such as The Wrekin (a big hill) and the Goose at Market Drayton (a real goose that drinks cider and has its own website). We would return to this campsite.

That's our summer of camping over with -- or is it? Any recommendations?

Monday, 1 April 2013

Belgian waffles

The Husband loves a waffle, and so do my kids. Breakfasts and puddings, at home and on camping trips. They're very tasty indeed.

I have a lovely friend who lives in Belgium and she kindly sent me her grandma's waffle recipe. I've adapted it slightly because hers makes about 100 and even we cannot eat that many.

Belgian waffles

Makes about 12 waffles

In one bowl:
250g plain flour
175g caster sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

In another bowl:
190g butter, melted

In a jug:
125ml milk
2 egg yolks, beaten together

In a third bowl:
2 egg whites, beaten until stiff

Gradually incorporate the dry ingredients with the milk/egg mixture and the melted butter. Once they are mixed, fold in the stiff egg whites. Leave the batter for at least an hour.

Lightly grease your waffle iron. Put 1-2 tbsp batter on each plate (will spread out itself). Cook for 3 minutes.

Serve with cream or ice cream, bananas or strawberries, chocolate sauce, syrup, or caramel, or a mixture, or plain!

Thursday, 31 January 2013

Janathon: day 31, over and out

The last day of Janathon was possibly my best run session this month. Intervals! (I secretly love intervals.)

I joined our beginners group for short sprint intervals at a local underpass; we sprint fast up the hills and recover on the way back down. Because I was also going to be at the later intermediate session, I didn't take part in the session fully. I was "bike spotter" and enthusiastic supporter. I did run a couple of sprints as a way of encouragement and to give the beginners someone to chase.

At the intermediate session we headed to a local road that is fairly flat and well lit for some 400 m intervals. After a short warm up we alternated sprint/jog recoveries of 400 m, I managed 4 sprints before my body decided I'd had quite enough thank you. Splits of 1:33, 1:29, 1:25, and 1:25 are all around 6 min/mile pace.

Total distance run: 6.39 miles
Time taken: 1 hour and 20 minutes
Total distance run during Janathon: 101.56 miles
Total time spent on Janathon: 25 hours and 13 minutes

I'm so pleased that I managed to run 100 miles this month, and I've spent a whole day on Janathon!. I'm now having 2 days full rest before my half marathon training kicks in again with an 11-miler on Sunday.

If you want to know what I'm doing in February, you can find out here.


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