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Friday, 18 April 2014

Keeping fit with a bun in the oven!

Being physically active throughout pregnancy is highly recommended and has great health benefits for both mum and baby, promotes better pregnancy outcomes and shorter labors. I've been aiming (not always successfully) to work out at least 3 times a week, combining a variety of different types of exercise. If you're pregnant, seek advice from your doctor or midwife about what exercises are adapted and appropriate for you. 

Below are some of my favorite prenatal workouts with links to free online classes. I get bored if I do the same thing over and over again, so I try and change it up between yoga, pilates, toning classes and walking. 


Yoga

I love the website doyogawithme, it has a wide selection of free yoga videos, of all types and levels and they have a few prenatal yoga videos too. I particularly enjoy Fiji McAlpine's classes, which I did regularly before I was pregnant. She has a great prenatal power flow video for women in their first and second trimesters of pregnancy, I sometimes find prenatal yoga videos a little too easy and slow, Fiji's class is more dynamic and leaves me feeling both relaxed and like I've done a proper workout.

Click here for Fiji's free online prenatal yoga class. 

Another free online prenatal yoga video I love, which is more adapted for third trimester of pregnancy of for women who haven't practised yoga before, is Sarah Kamrath's prenatal kundalini yoga.




Walking

Living in Myanmar in 40°C heat, with polluted busy roads and potholed or non-existant sidewalks doesn't make for very pleasurable walks, but now that I'm back in Europe on holiday I'm loving going for walks by the lake, into town or up in the mountains. 

Walking is a great form of prenatal exercise as it can be safely maintained throughout the whole 9 months of pregnancy, you can adapt the length and intensity of your walks to suit your level of fitness, walking can get your heart rate up, you don't need any expensive equipment and you can go for a walk wherever and whenever suits you. Make sure you wear comfortable supportive shoes to protect your back and knees. 

Pilates

Similar to yoga, prenatal pilates is great to increase strength, for relaxation and stretching. Try the 10 minute solution prenatal pilates classes free on youtube. You can do all of them together for a 50 minute workout or separate them out, depending on how much time and energy you have. 

Part 1 - standing pilates



Part 2 - core pilates



Part 3 - pilates for buns and thighs



Part 4 - total body pilates



Part 5 - pilates for flexibility



Classes

Find out what classes are available in your area and make sure that your instructor knows you are pregnant and has received proper training to do classes with pregnant women. I do toning classes twice a week, they're great for muscle strengthening and stamina building and can easily be adapted for pregnancy. 

Tips for exercising safely during pregnancy

From what I've read and seen online these are the main recommendations for safe exercise during pregnancy:

- Ask your doctor or midwife for advice
- Don't take up new and intense forms of exercise during pregnancy, such as running, if you were not already doing these prior to being pregnant
- Avoid exercises where you have to lie flat on your back as the weight from your growing uterus will put pressure on the vein that brings blood and oxygen to your baby and can lead to dizziness
- Listen to your body and don't measure your performance against what you were able to do before you were pregnant, pregnancy is a time to stay healthy and fit, but not a time to push yourself too far. 
- And most of all... Enjoy it :)

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Krispy Bars



This is a snack for those moments when fruit and soy yogurts just won't do the job, and you want sticky crunchy chocolatey decadence! 

Ingredients
2 cup puffed rice cereals or rice crackers (non sweetened whole grain)
4 T maple syrup or other liquid sweetener
1/2 cup peanut or almond butter
1/3 cup chocolate chips
pinch of salt
optional: seeds, nuts and dried fruits

Use more or less of the maple syrup, chocolate and nut butter depending on how decadent you want this to be. For a healthier version replace the chocolate with raisins. 

Preparation
Gently heat the liquid sweetener over low heat until it simmers. Switch off heat and pour over the rice cereals (if you are using rice crackers crumble these up into small pieces). Mix in the nut butter until well combined. Wait until the mixture is completely cool then add the chocolate chips and stir in well. Spread out the mixture into a small baking tray and press gently to flatten with the back of a wooden spoon. Let it set in the fridge, then crunch and munch away!



Friday, 21 March 2014

My Pregnancy Breakfast Saviors


Growing a baby is a big deal, and it's given me a monster appetite! I don't want this to mean that I just go crazy and throw healthy eating out the window. So what do I eat now that I’m pregnant? 

I’ll be honest with you, for the first 2 months despite all my determination and promises to self about how I was going to be a superhealthy superpregnantwoman and exercise every day, I mostly sat in my PJs in front of House of Cards feeling sorry for my nauseous self, sending my impressively-patient other half out to the corner shop for endless supplies of oreo cookies to munch on between 2 bowls of muesli. And exercise? Forget it, I wasn’t even feeling up for cooking, no way was I going to be in the mood for lunges and sun salutations.

Thankfully, since the start of the second trimester I have been feeling much more energetic and back on track, cooking, eating well and exercising.

This post is about my favorite and most important meal of the day - breakfast.


My ritual when I wake up is to make myself a warm lemon drink. Squeeze ½ a lemon in warm water, this helps to get the digestive system started, clears out toxins and boosts the immune system.



Breakfast fav n°1 - Chocolate banana ice cream

Yes, ice cream for breakfast.



This is inspired by a recipe on Ashley’s Green Life blog and I love it, this is healthy food disguised in decadence, my kind of food! I add oats, nuts and seeds to Ashley’s version to make it more filling and tick the whole grain box.

Ingredients
1 frozen banana
4 frozen strawberries (you could also use other frozen berries)
½ cup almond milk, or other non-dairy milk
1 tsp ground flaxseed
½ T flaked almonds
½ T sunflower seeds
½  T of raw or unsweetened cocoa powder

Preparation
Blend all ingredients until smooth and drink up!



Breakfast fav n°2 - 2 Minute Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal

What else. Through thick and thin I stay loyal to my love of porridge.


Ingredients
3/4 cup rolled oats
1 date
sprinkle of cinnamon
diced apple (stewed or fresh)
1 tsp maple syrup
½ T flaked almonds or other nuts
½ T sunflower seeds or other seeds
1 tsp ground flaxseed (for Omega 3s)
boiling water

Preparation
Easy. Put all the ingredients, except the boiling water, together in a bowl (if you are using stewed rather than fresh apples add these in at the end). Pour in enough boiling water to just cover the oats. Cover with a plate to let it cook and absorb most of the water, stirring a couple of times. Remove the plate and enjoy.



Tuesday, 18 March 2014

My first pregnancy, being healthy, staying SANE


For once I have a good reason for completely neglecting Ohlala for months..  

I’m 14 weeks PREGNANT with our first child! 
(pause for a little celebratory dance)


We found out on the 31st December - in the morning luckily, sparing future baby from being exposed to alarmingly high units of alcohol that night.. -  in the middle of the most wonderful Christmas family holiday in Canada, 10 days after getting engaged. My boyfriend/fiancé proposed on a candle-lit ice rink in good Canadian fashion, and once I said yes he gave me my first ice hockey lesson! 

I’ve been pretty lucky with morning sickness and nausea, and certainly didn’t lose my appetite (I blame people who keep telling me ‘Oh it’s fine, you’re eating for two!’ for all the perhaps-not-completely-justifiable-weight I’ve put on already). We weren't, however, spared all the crazy stressful thoughts that no one warns you are going to creep up, scratch that, more like ERUPT in your mind suddenly with no warning, such as :

‘OH MY GOD, we don’t even have a savings account!’ 

or, because we are different nationalities and have been living and working all other the place

‘Where on earth are we going to give birth/live/move to/find work/get visas for!?!’ 

Help. 

But in my mother’s infinite words of wisdom - 

Oh whateeeever, it’s a baby, you’ll figure it out!’ 

And of course she’s right.

I’ve searched the web for resources on vegan pregnancy and parenting and have found a few great sites and blogs, but not so many. So, I thought, why not get back to blogging and make Ohlalavegan a space to share the good the bad and the ugly about being pregnant and vegan (although I promise there will be no sight of any potential future bloated feet, cellulite and stretch marks.. so not that kind of ugly).

Vegan, pregnant and healthy..  3 words that go together just fine.

When we told people we wanted a baby or that we are now pregnant we got a lot of: 

‘Ok, so are you going to stay vegan now that your pregnant? What about iron/calcium/B12 etc?’ 

I knew these valid and well meant concerns would be coming our way, and to be honest even though I 100% believed from the start that being vegan, pregnant and perfectly healthy was possible, I wanted to be properly informed, to respond to both other people’s concerns and for my own peace of mind. I’ve read books, blogs, websites, articles etc – some of which are listed at the end of this blog – and here is the conclusion I have reached based on all this:

YES! You can be an animal-loving, tree-hugging, tofu-munching perfectly healthy pregnant woman growing a perfectly healthy human being. Hurray.

I won't bore you with an overload of information, facts and figures about nutritional needs in pregnancy and how these can be met through a vegan diet. What I will say is that if a balanced plant-based diet is not only a healthy and sustainable diet that gives our bodies and minds everything they need in terms of macro and micro nutrients, but also helps prevent and fight off nasty diseases  (check out research by Dr. Neal Barnard, T. Colin Campbell, Dr John MacDougall), then why-oh-why would it suddenly not be right for pregnant women? 

Of course, all pregnant women, whatever their diet, need to pay close attention to their nutritional intake, and iron deficiency in particular is something to watch out. The truth is, you can get everything you need on a vegan diet when pregnant. Yes, you need to put thought and care into what you eat - same as for non-vegans, but no, you won’t need to spend the whole day stuffing your face full of seaweed (thank God) and counting micrograms of everything you eat. 

I recommend Holly Roberts’ ‘Your Vegetarian Pregnancy’ for a useful breakdown of how you can meet these guidelines in pregnancy on a vegan diet.

And most importantly for me, I find it inspiring to be growing a new life without taking life away from any other being in the process.

take a pregnancy supplement (a safety net if you find yourself running to the bathroom every time someone so much as utters the word vegetable), folic acid, and continue to take a daily B12 supplement. I make sure to get omega 3 fatty acids by having ground flax seed everyday in porridge or smoothies and walnut oil in salads. Keep in mind that there are different types of Omega 3 fatty acids, and that these foods contain only ALA fatty acids, which can be transformed by our bodies into EPA and DHA (which are otherwise found almost exclusively in fish) but it is unclear whether our bodies can convert ALA to EPA and DHA in sufficient quantities. EPA and DHA are important for fetus brain and eye development and functioning, so it is safer to take a vegan DHA supplement as well, made from micro-algae. 

And then there’s the big question ... how to deal with other people?!

I have to say I’ve been very fortunate, my family and friends have been nothing but supportive and loving, and apart from the occasional -

‘And you are taking your B12 and folic acid dear?’

I have not had to face any disapproval about my diet, I think mainly because it’s been a few years now since I’ve been vegan and my loved ones know to trust that I take my health and diet seriously. That and the fact that they are down-to-earth open minded people.

I have however faced this in the past, when I first became a vegan. It wasn’t easy, but I tried to remember that if people raised concerns and worried its because they care about me, and in some rarer cases because people feel defensive and protective of their own way of living, and may interpret someone just being vegan as a criticism of that. However difficult this may be, the solutions are pretty simple really, there are 2 things you can do:

1.     Be informed so that you can answer their questions and concerns in a patient and understanding way, which will hopefully reassure them that you have looked into this seriously and know what you are talking about.

2.    If solution number 1 does not work, ignore them, you’re going to be a parent so this is just the beginning of unsolicited advice and concern, we might as well start learning how to not let ourselves be driven crazy by it now!


Support, inspiration & staying sane:  family, friendships and stories shared

I have found inspiration, information and support from my family and friends, especially the women around me.

Whether or not they have kids themselves, the people who love me and know me best are those who can find the right words to remind me how to stay sane through this amazing but also often exhausting, confusing, emotionally and physically draining time. 

I don’t think I realised until I became pregnant how much I would count on their support and presence through this adventure. I am used to being independent, I’ve worked lived and travelled all over the place, and am usually at least two continents away from them, so I was not expecting to feel such a terrifically strong urge to nest, to be home in familiar surroundings, with people I’ve known and loved all of my life. Living in Myanmar (Burma) and not seeing them has been, and continues to be, tough, but I’ve realised being far doesn’t mean to say we can’t be present for each other. 

As for those amazing friends who are already parents, it’s been such an absolute relief to talk to them, to admit to the hard things I wasn’t expecting about pregnancy and to hear them laugh kindly and say 

That is completely normal!’

followed by the comfort of friends sharing their stories, turning what seemed like mountain-sized challenges that I was facing alone into almost friendly-looking hills that so many of us have and will overcome. There are these stories that remind me I am not alone and this is just a temporary challenge, and there are the stories that give me perspective, and remind me how incredibly fortunate I am, like when my Gran wrote to me the other day in response to a long whiny email from me complaining about nausea, saying something along the lines of:

My dear Kate, so sorry to hear that, must be awful for you. Find consolation in the fact that in this day and age you do not have a dragon of a mother in law who is forcing you to wear a corset to hide your bump like I did!’

That made me both laugh and reflect, reflect on the fact that my gran is, like so so many other women around me, resilient as hell, and turns painful experiences into tales of joviality and strength. 

This is exactly what another friend of mine, who has just given birth herself, was trying to say when the other day she sent me a picture of the inside of a kaleidoscope, as a message that by changing the way we look at things, what we see and experience is transformed. In her words:

‘Sending you a kaleidoscope, an imaginative super practical tool to see things, the same things, from different perspectives, as you wish, with just moving thoughts, and looking to the light.’


Beautiful.

All of these stories, which are essentially shared between women, have made one thing very clear to me:


Women are incredibly strong, and solidarity and support between us is one of the most incredible, dependable and precious things in our lives.


Overall being pregnant is, I realise now, an opportunity for me to reflect on what is important to me, whether that’s being vegan - as a way of being kinder to myself and the world – or on the bonds we have with others and our shared yet unique experiences as women. 

It has also opened my eyes to what is probably the first and most important lesson I will learn as a future parent: I can’t control everything, GASP, WAVE HANDS FRANTICALLY IN THE AIR, now calm down. Pregnancy has made that quite clear as it has brought its lot of surprises and emotions along, many of them conflicting with my previous expectations and idealisations of what pregnancy should look and feel like (ie me looking like a glowing levitating goddess in lotus position drinking a homemade green smoothie, looking exactly like my pre-pregnancy self but way better, and with what looks like a watermelon neatly tucked under my shirt).

As another friend of mine and mum of two said to me:

 ‘Everything in pregnancy and parenting is a phase, it always passes, and is always replaced by something new’

And isn’t that a beautiful concept. 

An opportunity to let go, relinquish control and know that not only will things always change and evolve, but that if we just trust in ourselves and life, and decide to look at these moments the right way through our mental kaleidoscope, then each of these moments and changes can be full of learning and appreciation.

Note to self: I may come back and violently scratch this last sentence out many many times over the next few months, years, decades when I’m faced with actually getting a baby OUT of me, or with a baby/toddler/teenager who won’t stop screaming its lungs out, but for now I’ll focus on being my positive self and remain blissfully oblivious to all that (just like that idealised version of pregnant me floating in lotus position sipping a green smoothie).

And to be honest I am - perhaps naively - looking forward to every minute of all of it.


For other sources of information and inspiration, there are some great books, blogs and websites out there, here are some of my favorites:  

-       Ina May Gaskin, ‘Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth’ 
a beautiful awesome informative book about natural childbirth, written by an amazing woman and midwife

-         Holly Roberts, ‘My vegetarian Pregnancy’

-       Ashley’s Green Life blog: www.ashleysgreenlife.com 
A great blog about how to be green, including through pregnancy and parenting.

-         Rebecca Woolf at Girl’s Gone Child: www.girlsgonechild.net 
This is a blog about parenting more than pregnancy or veganism, but I find it’s great to get a sense of what might come after these 9 months!

Sunday, 1 December 2013

French Toast a la Cocobanane

Serves 3 people
Preparation time: 15 min
Happy Sunday!
My brunch loyalty lies with pancakes, but this week end it was my boyfriend's turn to choose what was on the brunch menu, and he's a French toast man. I have hunted around all of Yangon's supermarkets searching for ground cinnamon, in vain - this is now at the top of my 'to buy' list during our christmas holiday in Canada - so with no vanilla essence and no cinnamon, I raked through the cupboards looking for alternative french toast inspiration.. and coconut it was!

This coconut French toast is a delicious variation of the more traditional French toast, and of course, is vegan.

Ingredients
6 slices of bread, preferably a day or two old and whole grain
1/2 pound silken tofu
1/4 cup liquid sweetener (agave syrup, maple syrup or honey)
1/4 cup shredded coconut
3/4 cup non-dairy milk
1/4 cup coconut milk
coconut oil or vegan butter for frying

suggested toppings
sliced bananas
brown sugar or maple syrup
shredded coconut


Preparation
Blend all ingredients (except oil) until smooth. In a shallow dish place the slices of bread and cover with the mixture, make sure to coat both sides of the bread. 

Heat the oil in a large frying pan on medium heat. When the oil is hot add the slices of bread and fry about 4 to 6 minutes on each side, until golden brown. Serve hot with the suggested toppings. 



Friday, 22 November 2013

Food for Thought: A Taste of Myanmar


When I started this blog I imagined it to be a space where I would not only share recipes, but also rêveries/musings about whatever inspired me. So far I have filled these virtual pages with food, food and more food. Time to add some food for thought into the mix, starting by my first impressions of this beautiful country I now find myself inhabiting - Myanmar (previously known as Burma).

I have been living in Myanmar for two months now. It's incredible how time has the ability to simultaneously speed up and slow down, giving me the impression that I have been here for ages, and at other times that my plane landed just yesterday. These photos will hopefully give you a taste of the colors and spirit of Yangon.

I knew nothing about this country before my bearded canadian significant other was sent here to work, after a few months we decided I would move out there to join him. I was intrigued by this unknown place, this country that most people - including myself - know so very little about. So I packed up my belongings and the cat, and off we set on this new adventure in the heart of South East Asia. 

Tropical fruit heaven
Looking out of the window as the plane started its descent into Yangon airport I saw stretches of green luscious countryside, soaked with water from the monsoon season so much so that it looked like the earth beneath me was a giant sponge. I could make out the tips of golden pagodas shimmering here and there in the distance, lakes curled up in the midst of the sprawled out city. And green.. green everywhere, a good sign, I thought, a city intertwined with nature is my kind of city. No towering skyscrapers like her big sister Bangkok, even from above Yangon looked like a city small enough to make a home in and big enough to endlessly explore over the next year of my life. The plane landed, I was smiling. 

The wave of muggy heat hit me in the face the second I stepped out of the plane. One of my first impressions, was the genuine friendliness of the people I encountered and the seemingly peaceful atmostphere of the place. Over the next few days I was agreeably surprised by how welcome and safe I felt wondering around the city. As a woman whenever I arrive in a new country I put my sensors out to get a feel of how people react to me as a foreigner, and as a woman - in many places I have felt uneasy but here in Yangon I have not once felt in the least bit intimidated, more than I can say about pretty much anywhere else I've been to, including home. 

A market scene from Yangon
Another fact that struck me about Yangon was that it is so vegan-friendly. Being in a country where I am not regarded as a mad person because I am vegan is refreshing! Local restaurants are usually outside terrasses sheltered by tin roofs, rudimentary plastic chairs and tables thrown around, waiters running to and fro balancing small dishes of pickled tea leaf salad, potato and tomato salads, mustard leaves, curries, trays of black tea, freshly-squeezed lime juices, coconut puddings etc. Less appetizing is the betel nut that the men chew on constantly here, spitting out its blood-red colored juice onto the floor, their teeth and gums stained (like I'd imagine Vampires' would be!) - you will see the red stains on the pavements everywhere you go - this habit is as accepted and as pervasive as smoking is in France! Yuck.

My Yangon life so far can be summarized as a collection of small simple pleasures, strolling around the markets, cooking, getting back to blogging, meditating, meeting new interesting people, and soaking up the colors, movement and novelties of life in this wonderfully unknown place.  It's been a process learning to live without the usual structure of full-time work, not easy at times - we are so conditioned to be doing doing doing all the time. I am thankful to have the opportunity to slow down, appreciate my time and learn to be rather than to do.

Banana Tree - took me a while to figure out what these were!
There is a strong sense of spirituality here, tangible wherever you go - offerings can be found on every street corner, week end family outings are trips to the pagodas, which are lively bustling places of worship, very different from the solemnity of churches back home. As well as through spirituality, Myanmar's unique and diverse culture is apparent in how people dress - even in modern Yangon very few people have adopted western style clothing, men and women alike wear colorful Longyis (long wrap around skirts) and each State has its own fabric patterns. The women wear thanaka on their faces, a yellow paste taken from tree bark, used traditionally as a sun protector but now worn widely for esthetic reasons. Women wear their traditional dress, long silky hair decorated with jasmine flowers, and yellow makeup with pride, no matter their age or background - finally a place where people haven't all adopted the craze of mainstream high street brands. Will this change now that Myanmar has opened its long-closed doors to international trade and businesses? Time will tell. 

A woman praying at the Shwedagon Pagoda.
Needless to say that Myanmar is a complex place, as anyone who knows about the country is no doubt aware. I am very conscious that my day to day experience of this country stands in stark contrast with its simmering social and political tensions, its divisive and dark history. With 135 ethnic groups, over 30 anti-Government armed forces, natural disasters and internal conflicts, this place is in reality far from peaceful. But I am no political analyst, and I will simply share what I see and experience in this fascinating place, and hope that as it reaches a turning point in its history, opening up to the outside world at last, and with democratic elections around the corner, this country is setting out on a path that will eventually lead to positive and lasting change for its people.


 







Monday, 18 November 2013

Crispy mung bean tofu casserole


Serves 4
Preparation time: 1hr



Perfect for a grey day, when you want something comforting and delicious – this nutritious meal is easy to prepare and packed full of protein and veggies. If you don’t have mung beans you can replace by coral lentils or even swap beans for grains and make this into a polenta or millet casserole instead.

Ingredients
1½ cups ming beans, soaked
1 medium size head of broccoli, cut into large pieces
1 package of firm tofu, sliced
1 small carrot, diced
kernels from 1 ear of corn
1 medium leek, sliced
2 bunches of asparagus, stalks discarded, chopped into 1 inch pieces
½ cup non-dairy milk
3 T shoyu or Bragg’s liquid aminos + 1extra tsp
1 clove garlic, minced
1 T olive oil
1 T + 1 tsp of paprika
salt and pepper
2 T nutritional yeast
2 T wheat germ
2 tsp rice vinegar




Preparation 
Place the mung beans, brocoli, leak,  2 tablespoons of the shoyu or Braggs Liquid Aminos and 4 cups of water in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, remove the froth from the top, reduce the heat, cover and simmer for about 25 minutes, or until the mung beans are very tender. Mid-way through cooking the mung beans, add the carrot. Stir occasionally to prevent from sticking.

Meanwhile preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Arrange the sliced tofu at the bottom of a medium sized casserole or baking dish. In a small bowl mix together the oil, 1 T of paprika, garlic and an extra teaspoon of shoyu/Braggs Liquid Aminos, and pour over the tofu. Place the corn over the tofu, then add the layer of asparagus. 

Remove the bean mixture from the heat, add the milk, vinegar and remaining teaspoon of paprika. Mash together until it ressembles mashed potatoes. Spoon the mixture out into the casserole dish. Sprinkle the nutritional yeast and wheatgerm over the top and drizzle a little more shoyu/liquid aminos.

Bake for 30 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes before serving. Delicious with some steamed greens.