Procrastination

Right then. My blog. It’s been a while…

I am an expert at procrastinating and I’ve done it about this blog for far too long. I have actually been quite busy, with cycling, erm, cycling and some other cycling related stuff; but that is no excuse. I find myself in conversations about the food I eat and the way I exercise almost every day; some people agree with my points of view, some don’t. What I do know is that the people who I recommend to try cutting the carbs and eating real food lose weight quite easily and feel great. They pack on lean muscle and do better in the gym and on the bike. I’ve reaffirmed the need I have for an outlet about my low-carb and cycling musings and I intend to get back to this blog and share some (hopefully) interesting nutrition and cycling related information.

So, what have I been up to?

In February I took a cycling physiology test and it turns out my numbers were pretty decent for a carbohydrate avoider. Or maybe they were decent BECAUSE I’m a carbohydrate avoider… The University later contacted me and asked if I’d like to take part in a study they are carrying out about muscle gene expression. Being a science geek I jumped at the chance and will be having little lumps taken out of my thigh muscles after sprinting like a nutter for two minutes.

I had a tangle with a car which ended up with me injuring my knees and needing a new front wheel for my Langster. I was off the bike for a couple of weeks, but have returned with a vengeance.

I’ve experimented with supplementation, primarily with magnesium, to try to deal with the killer migraines that I get about once a month. I’ve had some success and will post about my experience. I’ve ordered some vitamin D3 and fish oil tablets and will be self-experimenting with them over the next few months.

I’ve nailed some primal recipes which I’ll be posting soon, including my best chilli con carne recipe and a fantastic rogan josh-esque curry that I whipped up last night.

I’m even trying to conquer my procrastination.

Stay tuned.

Quick and Easy Fish Pie

Like most people who care about good food, I’m a vocal (and now digital!) advocate of keeping food simple and relying on the quality of the ingredients. Fish pie is one of those dishes that can easily be overcomplicated, and so be daunting to make. This version takes little preparation and will be at the table in under an hour.

Ingredients

half a swede, a couple of parsnips or a celeriac

half a head of cauliflower

some mild cheddar cheese

a knob of butter

2 fillets of smoked haddock (or any fish you fancy or need to use up)

2 handfuls of raw prawns (shellfish such as mussels or clams are good too)

300ml double cream

a good handful of chopped flat leaf parsley (if I don’t have parsley I use spinach or rocket)

a pinch of nutmeg

salt and pepper

 

Boil the swede, parsnip or celeriac in salted water and steam the cauliflower until soft enough to mash (15-20 minutes). Steaming the cauliflower prevents it from making the mash watery. Mash the cooked vegetables (I use an electric hand blender), adding the butter, cheese, a grinding of pepper and a pinch of salt.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200C. Cut the fish into bite sized pieces (don’t waste the skin!) and place in an oven dish.I make this recipe for two and use two individual oven-proof oval dishes. Scatter a the prawns over the fish and finish with the chopped parsley. Mix the fish, prawns and parsley a little then pour over the cream. Grate a dusting of nutmeg over the top.

Top with the slightly cooled mash, smooth and fork to create peaks that will brown in the oven. Dot some butter over the top of the mash. Put the dish or dishes in the centre of the oven and cook for 20-30 minutes until the cream is bubbling and the mash has browned to your liking.

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Carbs are Killing You!

I am in awe of this triptych of infographics published recently by Massive Health. It is a simplistic representation of the science underpinning Gary Taubes’ masterpiece ‘The Diet Delusion’ (or ‘Good Calories, Bad Calories’ in the US). I look forward to the day when I see something similar hanging in the waiting area of a GP surgery, although the statin and food industries might hold a contrary opinion!

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Primal Biscuits and Energy Bars

When making low-fat food, it is usually easy for the non-dieting guest to detect that fat and sugar have been omitted. A polite acknowledgement to the chef is usually made, but in my experience the food is usually bland and unfulfilling. When I served up these biscuits at Christmas, family members could not believe that they were our ‘diet’ food. Of course, to a person who consumes a high carbohydrate diet and has the subsequent high insulin level, these biscuits might contribute to weight gain. For those of us who have our insulin under control, the high fat and moderate carbohydrate content will pose no such problems and give a tasty boost during longer bike rides.

Adapted and from two sources (Mark’s Daily Apple and This Primal Life) , I have a basic recipe for the biscuits, which I embellish as my mood takes me and store cupboard allows. For energy bars, I form the biscuit ‘dough’ into bar shapes which I wrap in cling film and put in the pocket of my jersey or food pack on the top tube of my bike. For biscuits, I make rounds or just dollop the mixture on to the baking tray with a tablespoon.

The biscuits are energy dense, and one is satisfying enough with a cuppa, although I can get through 3 or 4 bars on an epic ride.

Dry Ingredients

1 cup ground almonds (almond flour)

60ml scoop of whey powder (optional)

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

A pinch of sea salt

Put these ingredients in a bowl and give them a mix. To this mixture, add the other dry ingredients that you have decided to use, such as roughly chopped nuts, coconut flakes, chopped dark chocolate, cocoa powder, a small amount of non-sweetened dried fruit (I dry my own blueberries) or some spice, such as dried cinnamon or ginger.

Wet Ingredients

5 tbsp of butter or coconut oil

1 1/2 tbsp maple syrup or honey (vary depending on the other sweet ingredients that you add, fruit, coconut and chocolate add their own sweetness)

A few drops of pure vanilla or almond extract

Heat the wet ingredients in a small pan until the fat has melted. Stir the wet mixture into the dry to form a biscuit ‘dough’. If the mixture is very wet, add more ground almonds. If it is dry, add a little water. Mix and cool a little if you have added chocolate to enable it to stay in defined lumps when baked. Form the mixture into your desired shape and place on some baking parchment and bake in the oven at 180C for 10-12 minutes until slightly golden. Cool on a rack.

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Crispy Fish Skin

Primal humans ate as much of a beast as they could, cooking and processing food to make it easier to digest possibly even further back into our evolutionary history than we have traditionally thought. Some cultures still do, famously the Chinese. I have always been an experimental carnivore and relish scoffing new and exciting animals. I have often wandered around zoos contemplating the taste of one animal or another imagining I’m following in Darwin’s footsteps.

Preparing some smoked haddock for a fish pie this evening, I caught myself walking to the bin with their incredibly fragrant skins, skins with a good bit of flesh still attached. It occurred to me that I should freeze them for stock. An even better thought then popped into my head: ‘Fried, crispy fish skin’. Crispy fish skin is often seen on the menus of swanky restaurants, and for a good reason. As well as being delicious, it’s profitable due to the usual place fish skins end up. The bin.

I snapped the bin lid closed and in 10 minutes, with the help of some hot olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt, transformed the skins into a fantastic cook’s treat.

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I cut the skins into squarish pieces of about 2 inches and put about half an inch of oil into a pan, heated it and dropped the skins in. They shrivelled up when they hit the oil, but relaxed out again after a few seconds. They fried for a minute or two in the oil, until golden, and then drained on a piece of kitchen paper and sprinkled with some sea salt flakes.

Potato crisps are one of my cheat foods. I’m not talking about the tasteless, uniformly beige things, laden with overpowering flavouring, but a good, earthy bag of thicker cut artisan crisps. The fish skin scratched the same itch I have for crisps and qualifies as primal food. They are like fishy pork scratchings. Crunch!

If you are trying to find me tomorrow, I’ll be at the fish market hunter-gathering in the bins.

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One Year On

Smashing my mileage goal early last year prompted me to set a reasonably ambitious goal of 5000 miles for 2012. Things were going well in January, with 350 miles on the clock. That was until I managed to have an altercation with a bus (I ran into one, hard) and bruised my leg and elbow. I wasn’t seriously damaged, but I did have to take it easy for a few days. This led me to have to take the (ergh!) car and train to work for most of the week, setting my target back a bit.

Feeling better today, I decided to make up some miles on my way home from work and headed out into the dusk for the back lanes of Leicestershire on a detour. Instead of the usual 5 pan flat miles, I did 22 hilly ones. If you haven’t already, you should try night riding. The lanes that you think you know take on a mysterious quality; red light blinking brightly on the road behind, front light picking out the lumps and bumps in the road, with the giant ghosts of your fingers working the brakes on the hedges to the sides.

My ride put me in mind of a similar one I made around this time last year that acted as a catalyst to dropping the carbs and embracing fat and protein as my new macro-nutrients of choice. I’d put on some weight over Christmas 2010 and had committed to a low-fat diet plan and diligently recorded and counted my calories in and out, avoided fat and maintained a calorie deficit that I thought would shift my increasing paunch. Toward the end of January, the results were less than encouraging. Despite upping my miles and cutting the fat and calories, I GAINED two pounds and was feeling lousy.

Much like today, I resolved to up my miles and went for an extended ride home. During the day I had my usual muesli breakfast, some low-fat cereal bars as snacks before lunch and a two packs of low-fat wraps from Boots. Getting hungry during the afternoon and anticipating my after work exertion, I nipped out and bought two carbohydrate energy bars and an energy drink. As I set off on the bike, I started feeling hungry. Climbing out of Leicester I bonked, worse than I ever had before. I craved food (?) and started feeling dizzy. Worse, my calf muscles started to cramp. I stopped off at a garage and bought a Mars bar and another energy drink, a little voice in my head DEMANDING sugar. Carrying on the ride got worse. I felt I had no energy and my calves cramped badly twice, almost causing me to fall off the bike.

I was cycling hundreds of miles a week, counting calories and avoiding fat. Why was I feeling so bad? How was it possible that I was gaining weight? I didn’t get it.

I ditched the diet.

A few weeks later, I was browsing the Amazon catalogue on my Kindle and came across Waist Disposal by Dr John Briffa. This seemed a bit more like it, a science based approach with hundreds of references to published scientific papers. I’d grown weary of the pseudo-science and obvious nonsense peddled in most ‘diet’ books that always seemed to advocate eating tasteless, highly processed ‘fake’ foods. After scanning the review I decided to give it a go. The link to human evolutionary biology, what we know about the way food is used by the body and the deconstruction of the conventional wisdom of ‘calories in/calories out’, ‘fat is bad’ and ‘base your diet on carbohydrate’ made a heck of a lot of sense to me.

The first week of going low-carb, I got the ‘low-carb’ flu. Sounds like more pseudo-science doesn’t it? Click the link and revel in the proper, beautiful, sexy science.

I stuck to it and began to feel more alert, energetic and generally fit than I had since, well, ever. Jumping on the scales I discovered I’d dropped a couple of pounds in a week!

Could I cycle though? My low-fat adventures had always ended with me feeling washed out and with little energy for any sort of exercise. Jumping on my trusty Langster, I took off around the block. Like a rocket. 10 miles later, with a massive grin on my face, I resolved to stick to the low-carb thing.

It was weird at first; eating curries with no rice, fried breakfasts with no toast, steak with no chips, meat ragu with no spaghetti. That’s not to say that it was difficult though; the food was real, minimally processed and best of all, delicious. Bacon, butter, Brazil nuts and beef all consumed guilt free with no portion control. My NEED for food decreased and I was surprised to find this was as true on my big cycling days as my more sedentary ones. Pounds dropped off. 36 inch waist to 32. 14 and a half stone to 13. Large cycling jerseys to small. In about three months.

My cycling went from strength to strength, I completed several sportives, including three 100 milers and the 3000 metres of climbing in the Etape Cymru. All while eating low-carb.

Flash forward a year and here I am in the cold dark, pedalling away effortlessly. I skipped breakfast today as I was not feeling particularly hungry so settled for a coffee with cream. Nothing until lunch when I had a salad of green stuff, sliced home-roasted gammon with a generous glug of olive oil and red wine vinegar. Two more coffees with cream through the day and then my cycle. Tea was braised beef in gravy with swede and buttery cabbage. I couldn’t finish it…

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Primal Cycling Food

Flapjacks, bananas, gels and energy bars are the common provisions that cyclists will stuff in the pockets of their cycling jerseys to sustain themselves on longer rides. Having seen the low-carb light, I try to pack some good fat to keep me going when I feel like I need an energy hit. I’ve noticed that I now need much less food before, during and after riding. Pre-primal I’d get really hungry during some rides and if I ran out of food I’d spend the last few miles fantasising about gorging myself, pedalling squares and bonking out. As soon as I hopped off the bike I’d have an insatiable appetite, sometimes for over 48 hours after the ride.

One of the first things that I noticed post-primal was that I  didn’t feel as hungry during rides, even during fasted rides. I also tend to eat about the same amount on 100 mile cycling days as 0 mile cycling days. This is probably because my body has adapted from burning glucose and glycogen and is an efficient fat burning machine. Having said all that I do take food with me on long rides, particularly as it is hard to get good low-carb primal food at some café stops and many feed stations at cycling events.

Here are the usual things that I pack:

Nuts

I like macadamia nuts, almonds, pecans and brazil nuts. Macadamia nuts are probably my favourite as they pack a hefty fat punch and I find them satisfying. I sometimes put in some roasted, salted nuts as they are tasty and can replace salt lost through sweat.

Eggs

A couple of boiled eggs at the café stop on my club run are usually enough to sate my hunger.

Sausages

Polish smoked kabanos (check the labels, some contain sugar) and cooked 100% pork bangers (again, check the labels for rusk or crumb) can be wrapped in cling-film and stuffed in the back pocket easily.

Energy bars

I make my energy bars from fat (coconut oil or butter), ground almonds or coconut flour and other additions that I find in my store cupboard such as dark chocolate, chopped nuts, espresso or dried fruit. Coconut oil imparts a sweet taste and means I usually only add a dash of maple syrup or honey to my bars. I’ve tweaked a couple of recipes I found on the internet (here and here) and will post my take on the recipe later.

Chocolate

A few squares of nice 70%+, dark choccy are good for energy and to lift your mood while tackling those killer hills.

Lemon/lime drink

Hydration is obviously important, particularly on hot days. I used to pop low-cal flavoured tablets into my bidons, but hated the fact they contain a list of non-primal additives and sweeteners. I now concoct my isotonic drinks with the juice of half a lime or lemon and a small pinch of salt in my water bottles.

Cheese

I sometimes throw some Babybels into my jersey pocket. They fit nicely and are easy enough to unwrap whilst spinning along.

Jerky/Biltong

I am the proud recent owner of a food dehydrator. My home-made biltong is very tasty and will be the subject of a later blog. Beware shop bought jerky or biltong; it usually has lots of additives and a good hit of sugar. I pack a strip as it’s nice to chew away at while pedalling along and I can pretend I’m a cowboy.

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Primal Cherry Crumble and Custard

Ahh, crumble. Homely, satisfying and great for a January treat. I’d been thinking about making a primal crumble with custard for a while and suddenly had the inspiration to give it a go.

I was happy with my effort; sweet/tart cherries, crumbly topping and creamy custard. Any other frozen berries would be good and gathered blackberries would be sublime. I split the crumbles into two separate bowls so scale up or down as required.

Ingredients

2 x handfuls frozen, unsweetened cherries
2 x handfuls ground almonds
½ tablespoon maple syrup or honey
2 tablespoons butter
Around 10 roughly chopped macadamia nuts (pecans or walnuts would be good for a ‘nuttier’ flavour)

1 small pot of thick cream
2 egg yolks
Vanilla extract or vanilla pod

1. Put the oven on to heat at around 180C.

2. In a mixing bowl, mix the almond flour and chopped nuts. Put the butter and maple syrup into the bowl and twiddle the mixture between your fingers to create a crumble. It’s not quite the same consistency as when using flour and my mixture had quite a few bigger blobs of buttery almond flour, so I cut the amount down a little for this recipe. This didn’t really affect the final crumble ‘mouth-feel’.

3. Put a handful of the cherries into an oven proof bowl and cover with a layer or the crumble mixture. Place in the centre of the oven for about 20 minutes until the crumble has browned a little and the cherries have defrosted, cooked and gone a little syrupy.

4. Meanwhile, put the cream into a small pan with the scraped vanilla seeds or extract and heat gently. Whisk in the egg yolks and keep whisking until the custard is thicker in texture. Be careful here as it’s easy to heat too fast and scramble your eggs. If this happens, add a little water to cool the mixture down a bit and whisk harder. Turn the heat off when the custard goes as custardy as you like it.

5. Pour the custard on top and tuck in!

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