Hearty Chicken, Carrot and Squash Soup – with a super greens twist

On Monday I wrote about rain. Or rather how to fight the rainy day, wintry blues. As much as I love the summer with all its warm sunshine, there are certain things about the kitchen in autumn that just don’t work for me in 30 degree July heat.

One of those things is soup! Hearty, homely, warming soup. Thick, inviting, steaming broths, concocted from bits and bobs and leftovers.

Perhaps what is most satisfying about soup is its unpredictability. No soup is bad soup (apart from a baby weaning pea soup I once made which was just lumpy, tasteless, green water) but some soups turn out better than others.

Well, today I whipped up a batch of what is lovingly known in my family as Christmas soup. So called because a few days after Christmas, my mum would strip the last of the meat from the Christmas turkey and throw it in the pressure cooker with vegetables. The resulting smell which greeted me as I came downstairs promised thick, orange, flavour filled soup. And this is perhaps why I still make most of my soups in the pressure cooker. That smell is unique.

Nowadays I stick to a superfood, clean version of the soup which I can give to Isaac, offer to guests, shove in the freezer in batches or serve for a light dinner with hunks of home made walnut bread. It’s packed with protein and pressure cooking seals in nutrients. So here it is with my super greens twist.

Ingredients:

1 large/2 small onions, roughly chopped

2 chicken legs (you can also make this with leftover chicken and bones from a roast)

4 medium carrots, scrubbed and roughly chopped

1/3 of a squash, scrubbed or peeled and roughly chopped

3 stalks of celery, scrubbed and roughly chopped

Broccoli stalks (this is my super greens part), roughly chopped

A pinch of peppercorns

2 tsp vegetable bouillon

Bay leaf

Fresh thyme (you can use dried but sometimes it’s a bit woody)

Method:

Soften the onions and seal the chicken in your pressure cooker or pan with a few tbsp of olive oil/butter/coconut oil.

Add all the remaining ingredients and stir around a bit while you add the herbs etc.

Half fill the pressure cooker with water, or just enough water to nearly cover the ingredients.

Bring to pressure and cook for 30 minutes. If you’re cooking this in a pan it would take about 1h30mins on a simmer.

When it’s finished, take the bay leaves out and discard bones/skin/bits from the chicken then add the meat to the soup and whizz it with a hand blender or in a blender.

ENJOY! 

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Say no to rainy day blues

So it’s raining. Lots. And it’s chilly enough for most of us to consider putting the heating on and seek out our woollens, thermals and socks.

The sudden onset of grey, autumn days also means it’s time to take action against the onset of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It’s thought most of us get it, to some degree and when you look at the scientific reasons why, well it makes a lot of sense why we get it and also how we can prevent it.

DAYLIGHT

The shorter days and longer nights play havoc with our hormones. Our sleepy melatonin and happy/awake serotonin get confused, leading to the common ‘duvet day’ mentality. When daylight saving time starts we lose motivation for doing ‘stuff’ and when the lack of light during the day coupled with wet weather encourage us to hobbit ourselves away, our get up and go gets up and leaves.

STRESS

The other cheeky little hormone that mucks with our settings is cortisol, the stress hormone. Working late at night or eating sugar/drinking coffee to make us feel better can disrupt our stress hormone. It’s suppose to be high in the morning to make us alert and motivated and wanes at night for sleep time. If you’re buzzing at night and dozy in the morning it’s quite likely yours is out of whack.

BLUE LIGHT

We muck up our snooze settings even further by filling our senses with lots of blue light and stimulation, otherwise known as TVs, computers and PDAs. This new fangled gadgetry messes with our old fangled biochemistry to leave us sleep deprived and grumpy.

SUNLIGHT

And then, when the sun hasn’t got its hat on we also miss out on that precious feel good vitamin D. Our bodies struggle to synthesise it from food so by far the best source is sunshine.

Fascinating fact: did you know that diseases which have been linked with vitamin D deficiency, like rickets and Multiple Sclerosis do not exist own countries near the equator? The sun gets weaker as we move further away from the equator (stands to reason), in fact it’s thought that north of Birmingham the sun is never strong enough to give you your RDA of vitamin D. Sorry northern folk

SO WHAT CAN WE DO?

  • The most important thing to remember is to take pre-emptive action. Once you’re down and depressed it’s going to be harder to motivate your sorry self into activity. So make exercise your medicine from late September to March.
  • It might be dark out there but there is some light. Make the most of it by getting outside, whenever you can. For a walk, a jog, a play in the park.
  • Exercise boosts your serotonin levels and intense exercise boosts your cortisol too. So work out in the mornings.
  • Switch off all blue light emitting equipment at least half an hour before bed. Dim the lights and snuggle up with a book instead.
  • Eat right. I’ve written about this before in mood food  but put simply, this means ditching sugar, stimulants and processed foods and eating plenty of good quality protein and vegetables. Your brain needs protein to create serotonin and melatonin so if it’s already struggling in winter, give it a helping hand with hearty casseroles and soups.
  • Eat lots of omega oil rich foods or take a supplement. This is again for your brain’s biochemistry balance. A supplement is fine, our whole family takes this one http://www.alimentnutrition.co.uk/Omega-3-Fish-Oils/c-1-71/ , it tastes of orange so you don’t get cod breath.
  • Consider a vitamin D supplement in winter. Recommendations vary as to how much you need and the darker your skin, the more you need.  You can read the government recommendations here http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/vitamins-minerals/Pages/Vitamin-D.aspx. Our family uses this spray http://www.alimentnutrition.co.uk/Vitamins-&-Minerals/Vitamin-D-Spray/p-69-209/.

 

Say no to saggy boobs and save £’s at Sweatshop.

Bouncing boobies are something of an obsession of mine. Whenever I see them, swinging to and fro, nearly suffocating their hard at work host running around the park, I just want to stop and scream, ‘NO – SAVE YOURSELVES.’

The thing is ladies – and I’m sure you’ve got this by now – that yes I’m all for getting fit and active and feeling better but not to the detriment of your health. No matter what shape or size, breasts are a beautiful part of you and need respect.

Your breasts are made up of your mammary glands and fat. Your boobs sit on top of your pectoral (chest) muscles and are attached by the delicate Cooper’s ligaments. Your breasts hang down because the weight of breast tissue is heavier than the surrounding fat.

If you surrender your jugs to bra freedom on an every day basis, or jiggle your jubblies with unsufficient support whilst exercising you’re nipples are more likely to become bed fellow with your navel than with your chin.

Pregnancy, breast size, age, illness, smoking and your weight all have a part to play in the sagging stakes too.

BUT … sports bras are expensive, I hear you say.

Well sort of but they are so worth it. AND, the lovely team at Sweatshop has a fabulous campaign where you can take in any manky old bra and get £5 of a shiny new sports variety. Plus, £1 of this goes to a brilliant charity, the MicroLoan Foundation, developed to help African women work their way out of poverty.

Sweatshop’s campaign is not news. It’s been around for about a year but I was chattering to a lovely mum about it this morning and realised I’d never written about it here.

BUT … sports bras are ugly, uncomfortable and unflattering, I hear you say.

Not so lady friend. When did you last try one on? Hmmnn. I wore my Shock Absorber Run bra in various sizes throughout my pregnancy and not only was it comfy, there was no flattening or pointing of my lady bumps.

BUT … I don’t want to expose myself to a fitter, I hear you say.

Well. You don’t have to. The fitters at Sweatshop are sooooo clever and talented that they can figure you all out without a naked nipple in sight. And they are the only bra fitters in the UK who work directly with the breast science team at the University of Southampton (yes there is one).

So ladies, what are you waiting for? Go get fitted.

http://www.sweatshop.co.uk/index.cfm

For once your breasts head south, I’m afraid their pertness will forever be a distant mammory.

Bordoni Creations. Beautiful handbags and gorgeous workout gear.

Alongside my feature writing and classes, I dabble in a little corporate writing here and there!  Press releases, website copy, blogging, that sort of thing. I’m even writing a book for someone at the moment but more of that another time.

One of my first corporate clients was the fabulously talented Patricia Slapp, who is the creative brains behind fashion brand Bordoni Creations. Trish, is a designer. In fact her skills at the design board and sewing machine are a fusion of traditional ‘nan’ education and cutting edge Cordwainers education at the London College of Fashion. Trish is also a feisty, fitness instructor who can often be found springing effortlessly around the leading fitness studios of London.

Trish has married her two passions into a gorgeous and functional fitness fashion range, Bordoni Creations ‘active wear’. This is not your standard everyone’s-wearing-it Nike/Adidas/M&S sports clothing. This is road tested, hand selected fabrics, attention-to-the-female-form detail sports clothing, that doesn’t cost the earth. And because you can contact the creator directly, a custom made legging isn’t too tall an order.

I’ve done a few press releases for Bordoni Creations which have helped Trish’s active wear make it to the front pages of UK fitness magazines.

I’ve also recently written all the lovely active wear descriptions for the new Bordoni Creations website, take a peek! http://bordonicreations.com/

BAGS BAGS BEAUTIFUL BAGS

As a reward for all of your hot, sweaty workouts, you should take a peek at Trish’s lust-worthy bags. All are limited collections, so there’s no danger of that matchy matchy bag thing going on. Plus, all are beautifully made from the loveliest, super soft leather you can imagine.

Check out the Bordoni Creations bags here: http://bordonicreations.com/shop/women/bags

Oh and all of Trish’s collection is hand made in the UK, so very ethical too. I keep mentioning Trish’s lovely Bordoni Creations bags to my hubby. Hoping he’ll get the hint soon, especially since it happens to be our third wedding anniversary next week, which I do believe is our leather anniversary!

Go Trish. Such a fabulous small business really making it’s mark.

Pilates basics – three exercises to practise at home

When it comes to Pilates basics, for me the perfect trinity is always shoulder bridge, swimming and the one hundred.  These exercises help you to focus on your core and trunk stability as well as mobilising your spine and getting blood flow to the lower back.

If you can practise these between Pilates classes, you’ll find you can progress quicker each week.

1. Swimming

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wkDIsTEP5lQ

2. Shoulder Bridge

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FgA2M45dHS4&feature=relmfu

3. One Hundred

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QCSDC5tAOEA&feature=relmfu

Here’s a link to another post I wrote which breaks down the One Hundred setup, just in case you’d rather have it written down. In this post I go into how to do the exercise without the fear of making any pelvic floor issues worse!

https://alittlefitter.com/2012/07/17/finding-your-core-without-pushing-through-your-floor/

Sticky Date and Walnut Flapjacks

On Thursday evening, after I’d got back from my lovely pre and post natal Pilates classes I realised I needed to rustle up something tasty for our impending Paralympics adventure.

I’d wanted to make cashew and apricot oat bars but had neither apricots nor cashew nuts in the house. I could have gone with traditional flapjacks but I’m always searching for a non sugar alternative and felt the sweetness of dates should work as an alternative to all that sugar and syrup.

I did my usual Google search and discovered a few recipes for date and walnut flapjacks (which I had in plentiful supply). One on mumsnet and another from the luscious Nigella. The recipe that follows is a combination of the two with a little Karen magic thrown in.

I have included a little sugar in the recipe to help make the bars stick together but they don’t hold like a traditional flapjack. They are however divine! The combination of dates and butter gave me a real sticky toffee pudding hit which I wasn’t expecting.

You can tweak the recipe for yourself (you might want to try adding cinnamon) but this is the one that works for me.

Sticky Date and Walnut Flapjacks

Ingredients:

125g unsalted butter

1 tbsp runny honey

25g caster sugar

100g chopped dates

1/4tsp bicarbinate of soda

50g walnut pieces

1tsp vanilla extract

150g oats

2tbsp ground flaxseed (optional)

Method:

Grease and line an 8″ square cake tin (I’ve used two loaf tins).

Preheat the oven to GM4 or 18o degrees (lower for fan assisted ovens).

Put the chopped dates in a pan with just enough water to cover and the bicarbinate of soda. Heat them gently and let them simmer for 5 minutes. This will soften the dates and create a syrup. Take care not to heat to much or the syrup becomes dark and the bars won’t be as good!

Add the butter, sugar, honey, vanilla extract and walnuts to the pan and heat until the butter has dissolved.

Add the oats to the mixture and ground flaxseed if using. You may need more oats if there is lots of liquid remaining.

Push the mixture into the bottom of the pan and cook for 20 minutes. I set a timer for mine since if they catch they’ll be chewy and bitter.

When you take the flapjacks out mark into bars but leave to cool completely before taking them out.

And as Isaac would say … “mmmm … num num num.”

Let me know how your’s turn out x

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My Grandma’s Preserving Pan. One of my favourite things.

This is, a preserving pan. It’s not a perfect, heavy bottomed, beautiful preserving pan. But this preserving pan belonged to my Grandma. My dad’s mum. And not long after she passed away, I was given this pan, along with a couple of WI cookery books which are now out of print.

Jams and chutneys are still relatively experimental to me. Ask me to bake a cake or a pie or to whip up a sugar free alternative and I’m filled with confidence but pectin tests, setting points and sugar thermometers fill me with fear.

So why the fascination with this pan? Well it belonged to my Grandma, who was just lovely and gentle and always made beautiful Grandma like pies and jam and puddings. One of my earliest memories is of picking daisies for my Grandma, which she lovingly put in an egg cup and displayed in her kitchen. One of my last memories of my Grandma, years after she had two massive strokes that changed her life completely, is of helping her to make a cake. It was something she’d always loved doing but the strokes had sapped not only her co-ordination and muscle function but also her confidence. She was shocked that I used baking powder (she never did) but still enjoyed the fruits of our labour.

I should also say here that whilst I am something of a health fanatic and believe that sugar really is the root of much health evil, I love baking. And I love baking because you (excuse the sap) bake with love to make people smile. No one ever bakes a cake for someone they dislike. And the pleasure a piece of cake can bring, even to someone who has little perceived quality left in their life is immense. Both my Grandma, and her daughter, my Aunty Brenda who passed away earlier this year had a love of cake. Both finished their days as very different people. Their disabilities, my Grandma’s strokes and my Aunty’s MS had taken away many of the pleasures I’m sure I take for granted in my life, and although both could say very little in the years before they died, I can always remember them saying, ‘mmmm … cake.’

And there is another, massive reason why I’m so fond of this pan which I associate with all the gentleness of my Grandma, and that is my Grandad, her husband, who is still alive but who I no longer have a relationship with. You see I fell in love with a beautiful man called Chris. My soul mate. From our first few dates I knew Chris was THE ONE and walking down the aisle to marry him was the most, on path, spiritual moment of my life. When I walked down the aisle I swear I actually caught a glimpse of heaven.

Grandad and I always used to speak. Lots. We’d have great chats on the telephone. He would ask all about Chris. We could talk in a way he couldn’t talk with other people. I’d say we had a special relationship. I saw through the anger and the front and we’d talk about how he felt and what was really going in in my life. He would tell me stories about the time he met my Grandma, as a beautiful young girl with stunning blue eyes. He would take me back to both happy and painful memories. I had an understanding of him beyond the snappy, agitated, angry at life man he could often appear to be.

But then one day he saw a picture of Chris and discovered he was black. And suddenly everything changed. I knew he disapproved and that he didn’t want for us to have children, since they might turn out brown. I found it difficult to understand but having a relationship with a black man gives you a very steep learning curve with regards to racism and attitudes.

Chris didn’t come to my Grandma’s funeral. We hadn’t been together for long and it felt too soon to go there. So at my Grandma’s funeral I felt very much alone. But when my Grandad, stood, frail and sobbing at the end of the pew, I sidled up to him and held his hand. In spite of my hurt and anger I held his hand because Grandma hadn’t been like that.

A month before our wedding, I wrote my Grandad a letter. I felt it was the right thing to do. I asked if he might actually meet Chris. He never has. I got a letter back telling me that he had no desire to do this and that he believed that we would live to regret our marriage and that by marrying we would offend a great many people. I took that as his answer and have not spoken with him since. Something I still find very hard.

When in 2010 I gave birth to the most beautiful baby boy in the world, Isaac, I fully understood the grievous offence he had caused my family. My Grandad has never acknowledged his existence or asked after him.

My Grandad is the person in my life who daily I struggle to forgive.

But, my Grandma was totally different. She always asked after Chris. Even though when I’d visit her after her strokes she struggled to speak or hold conversation, she would always ask about Chris and my ‘love life.’

So because of my Grandma’s gentleness and how she helped me to learn that baking is about love. And because of that constant wrangle of wanting to have a relationship with my Grandad but also knowing I need to put my own family first. And because I know I still need to forgive daily, whenever I use my Grandma’s preserving pan I feel I’m beginning to forgive.

Post natal Pilates. What’s all the fuss about?

Post natal Pilates – a six week course where we re-build your post baby body from the inside. We aim to get your body ready for mainstream exercise or a stronger Pilates class.

Book Online

 

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You know you probably should be doing it but it seems like everything else about having a new baby seems more important than an exercise class.

After all, you’ve just been through a massive physical and emotional upheaval and you’re just about managing to shower and get out of the house. An exercise class, where you don’t have a clue what you’re doing, might just tip you over the edge.

Admittedly not everyone likes exercise, and exercising in a group environment, when you already feel a little self conscious about your body, might feel a little intimidating.

I’m a firm believer in the power of exercise to make you feel better, to prevent injury and to improve your health. So, I thought perhaps some post natal Pilates FAQs might allay some fears and make it all just a little more approachable.

What should I wear?

Anything you feel comfortable in.  Although snugly fitting clothes do make it easier for me and you to see what’s going on.

What will I need to bring?

Nothing. My classes are mat work based and all mats are provided. Perhaps a few favourite toys since you’re coming to a bring a baby class.

What will we be doing?

Mainly sitting/lying/kneeling on a mat. It’s all very slow and controlled. Put simply, Pilates will strengthen all the muscles in your torso. So tummy, back, shoulders, bottom. We’ll also be getting your joints moving and helping your body to feel better.

Why is it so important when I’ve had a baby?

No matter how the baby came out, your posture, abdominal wall, back and pelvic floor will have been affected by pregnancy and birth. Pilates is one of the best ways of getting your body back to it’s pre pregnancy state and of preventing injuries and health problems in the future.

Do I need to be flexible?

No. Most people start Pilates very stiff and inflexible. It takes time to develop flexibility and the worst thing you can do is get frustrated by the lack of it.

Do I need to be co-ordinated?

No. There are no grapevines, box steps or square dances in Pilates. And most of the time other participants are too focused on what they’re doing to spot if you’ve gone wrong.

Will I get sweaty?

You won’t be dripping but you can expect to glow a little.

Is it all just breathe breathe?

No. Pilates is mindful exercise, which requires you to concentrate on the quality of your movements but there’s a lot more to it than breathing and stretching. Expect to be challenged.

What about this pelvic floor stuff – isn’t it embarrassing to do it in front of other people?

Pelvic floor exercises are incorporated into the class, no one will know. If we do spend time specifically focusing on pelvic floor I ensure we aren’t all looking at each other.

*

If you do want to give it a try I currently teach one post natal specific class and my Foundations class which is great for post natal mummies who’d rather exercise without baby or have perhaps left some time between birth and getting back to exercise:

Post Natal Pilates ‘bring a baby’ –  Epping Registry Office, Epping. In partnership with Brambles Children’s Centre. Tuesdays at 12pm.  Babies don’t participate – this is a class for mummies where babies are welcome (up to crawling). There is a 10 minute ‘baby break’ to ensure babies are happy and not overwhelmed by the sociable nature of this class.

Do get in touch via email at karenlisalaing@gmail.com. I don’t bite!

Or book online

Book Online

 

Ten ways to find your pelvic floor – for your friends.

So I know you know that pelvic floor exercises are a big deal. And I know you know that Pilates is a fabulous way of making sure you get regular practise in.  I also know you know that pelvic floor exercises aren’t just something you do when you’re in the childbearing years because age and the menopause can have an unpleasant affect on your lady parts.

But, your friends might not know these things. So for the benefit of your friends who might not know how to find their pelvic floor muscles. Here’s my uncensored guide.

1. Have sex (or use your fingers if that sounds like too much effort) and squeeze.

2. Straddle the arm of a firm sofa. Rock backwards and forwards and you’ll feel your pelvic floor react.

3. Give birth. The waves you feel when you get a really good push are your pelvic floor muscles working.

4. Lean forwards off a chair and imagine you are picking up a tissue with your vagina.

5. Sneeze.

6. Hold one hand over your bits and then blow up a balloon. You’ll feel tension in your bits. That’s your pelvic floor. If you feel something pressing out, go and see a doctor.

7. Stand on a power plate or above the engine of a double decker bus. The vibrations will make your pelvic floor work.

8. Do a squat, hold it. Now squeeze your fist between your knees.

9. Stand up with your hands up over your head. Now lean backwards as if you’re reaching for something behind you. Your pelvic floor will work.

10. Eat a cabbage/lentil medley, then sit in a very quiet church service . . . parp!

AND always remember the three R’s for doing your exercises:

Find the RIGHT position: Your spine needs to be in a neutral position to get an effective contraction, so get on all fours and wiggle your pelvis forwards and backwards until it feels right.

RELAX: Always work from a fully relaxed state. You need to tense and relax muscles.

REPETITION: The more the merrier (see top tip number 1).