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Wednesday, 25 June 2014

5 simple steps to a better day



Do you sometimes feel like your days slip by, one rolling into the next without you really living or enjoying them? I do. Sometimes it’s because I am too busy running from one thing to the next, my mind already on the following item on my to-do-list while I’m still in the middle of doing the previous one, that’s if I even get to my to-do-list in the first place. Other times it’s because I am bored, and end up searching for ways of killing time by switching off and watching TV instead of truly living in the moment. Either way, whether it’s boredom or busyness, I’m often not fully in the present, therefore not truly living my life to its full potential. I truly think that when it comes to this, I am the norm, not the exception, and that so many of us suffer from not inhabiting our lives, too preoccupied as we are with the next work project, week end plan, programme on TV, meal to cook, place to go, thing to do.. the list is endless.


Enough I say! I have decided to get back to being in the moment, and stop letting life slip away from me out of stress or boredom. Want to join me? Here are 5 very simple steps to help you on your way. They say it takes 21 days to form a habit, why not give it a try!

1. Rise and Shine.. early!
We all know the saying ‘The early bird gets the worm’ well let’s imagine that the worm in this case is symbolic of you starting your day by truly focusing on yourself, rather than just rolling out the wrong side of bed, switching on that auto-pilot mode and mindlessly going through the motions of getting ready, not appreciating breakfast as you gobble it down, not noticing the sunrise on the way to work, not enjoying the music on the radio or having fun while walking the dog. So this week, try it out, set your alarm a little earlier and follow the 4 simple steps below, adding whatever else you want, this time is completely yours to fill with whatever you enjoy, whether that’s exercising, reading the newspaper, cooking or going for a walk. But remember, the rule here is that this is your time, so stay well away from your personal admin or work to-do-list and emails!

2. Set your intentions
You’re up, well done! Now start off by sitting down with pen and paper for 5 minutes, think about how you intend to live your day and write this down – this can of course include things you want to get accomplished, but it’s more than just another to-do-list, it’s about focusing on how you intend to approach your day, relate to your self, and to others. If you set your intentions you are much more likely to have the day the way you want to have. If you like you can come back to what you wrote throughout the day, checking in to make sure you are on the right track.

3. Say your thank you’s!
Take a couple of minutes to thank someone and write this down along with your intentions. Think of someone in your life, a friend, a colleague, the guy who sells you the newspaper, anyone, that you would like to thank for the most meaningful or smallest of gestures. The purpose of this exercise is to become more aware and appreciative of those around us, for who they are as well as for what they add to our lives. At first you’ll find it easier to thank the people you love or appreciate, but after a while you can try and do the same for the people you don’t get on with so well. This is when this exercise gets really powerful, because suddenly we have to make a conscious effort to see these people as individuals, to think about the difficulties they might be facing and recognise their qualities. Challenges are always the best opportunities for learning and self-growth so if nothing else, we can thank the people we find difficult for offering us such opportunities, if we were only surrounded by people we got on well with 100% of the time, we wouldn’t have the same space to grow and improve!
  
4. The minute meditation
I’m not suggesting you light incense, sit in lotus position for a full hour and chant buddhist hymns, unless you want to! Just spend 5-10 minutes in a peaceful and quiet corner of your house, where you will be undisturbed. Close your eyes and just focus on your breath, when your mind wanders simply observe this without judgment and bring it back to your breath, accepting that your mind will wonder, again and again, and that’s ok. This simple exercise will help clear your mind and alleviate stress, and is also a good way for you to check in with yourself and observe how you are feeling, physically and emotionally, without trying to fix or change anything, as a lesson in observation and self-acceptance. After a while, you’ll start recognising your breath as an anchor that is always within reach, so throughout the day if you find yourself feeling stressed or overwhelmed you can simply focus on your breath for a few minutes, as a way of giving yourself a time out and space to find balance and awareness.

5. Do one thing fully
 Chose one simple thing, it can be the same thing or a different thing each day, like brushing your teeth, eating your breakfast, drinking your coffee, or walking to work, and give it your full attention. This exercise is meant to get us out of our auto-pilot mode, which stops us from truly experiencing the moment, and after all what is a life but an accumulation of moments?! So as an example, let’s say you’ve chosen to focus on drinking your coffee: sit down to drink it without doing anything else, no phones, computers, newspapers, radio, just you and your coffee. Now focus, observe your coffee – the colour and texture of it, notice how the mug feels between your hands, inhale and appreciate its aroma, then with each mouthful focus on each and every flavour and sensation. You may find this incredibly boring at first, perhaps a million other things are crowding your mind and you are thinking about what a waste of time this is, but persevere a little and the chances are you will soon appreciate this coffee a hundred times more than you usually do!  And if you find yourself surprised at how much more this technique enabled you to enjoy something as simple as a cup of coffee this morning, think about what would happen if you applied this to other things in life?

There you have it, 5 simple steps to help you be more mindful and in the moment, I find if I do these every morning very quickly I can feel their benefits throughout the whole day, I feel calmer and more grounded and I appreciate my self, others and my days much more. Try these steps out for just a few days and you will probably notice that you will start applying their principles almost unconsciously to other situations in your life, by being more mindful, more in the moment, and increasingly aware of how you am thinking, feeling and relating to others. Let me know how it goes :)

And, last but not least, remember to congratulate yourself, if you did the above steps that means you took time for yourself, to be in your present and be more mindful of your self, your surroundings, your life!

Resources
If you’re interested in reading more about mindfulness try out these two books –
‘Mindfulness: a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world’ by Mark Williams and Danny Penman
‘The monk who sold his ferrari’ by Robin Sharma


 


Sunday, 22 June 2014

The 3rd Trimester Begins, and Brown Rice Pudding Recipe!


Serves 4
Preparation time: active time 10 min + 40 min cooking


Hello people, it's been a while since my last recipe post, and surprise surprise, once more it is in the breakfast/dessert category, my favorite! 

Before I go on to that though, here's a quick update on all things pregnancy - I have just started my 3rd trimester, pretty exciting! I'm still feeling great, but have definitely slowed down a notch, baby bump is getting bigger by the day it seems, I find myself rolling around like a beached whale making grunting sounds whenever I try to get off a sofa or bed, to my partner's great amusement,  and I have a little less energy now. The third trimester is when baby starts putting on fat and goes through an impressive growth spurt, so it's more important than ever to be eating well, and enough, increasing daily caloric intake by about 300 kcal. A valid excuse to eat more? Sounds good to me! Which brings us to today's recipe..


This brown rice pudding is a perfect comfort dish for breakfast, dessert or snack. Creamy, sweet and healthy, it's a great way to use up left over cooked brown rice. You can play around with this recipe anyway you want to, making it more of a decadent dessert by adding chocolate chips, or a healthy breakfast, with different dried fruits and nuts and even perhaps omitting the cocoa powder. It's up to you, any which way you go, it's bound to be delicious!

Ingredients
3 cups of cooked brown rice
8 oz/225gr of tofu
1 ½ cups of non-dairy milk (I used hazelnut)
½ cup maple syrup or other liquid sweetener*
½ tsp cinnamon + extra for sprinkling
½ tsp nutmeg
2 tsp vanilla essence
2 T cocoa powder
optional: chopped dates, raisins, nuts, chocolate chips (I used dates & almonds)


* For a low calorie version use a sugar free liquid sweetener, there are even maple-flavored ones out there.

Preparation
Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C.

In a food blender combine the cooked rice, the tofu and the rice milk. Add the maple syrup, cocoa powder, nutmeg, vanilla and cinnamon. Lightly oil a baking dish and pour the mix into it. Sprinkle the dried fruits, nuts or chocolate chips, depending what you are using,  on top and press them down lightly with a spoon. Sprinkle with a little more cinnamon and place in the oven. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until browned on top and bubbly. Serve warm, with extra non-dairy milk or even cream if you like. 

Thursday, 5 June 2014

My guest post on Alicia Silverstone's The Kind Life blog



Fun news for Ohlalavegan today, I have a guest post on Alicia Silverstone's blog! A few days ago I was surprised to receive an email from Alicia's website community manager asking me to write a short piece on my experience of being pregnant and on my thoughts of Alicia Silverstone's new book The Kind Mama, which I mentioned in a recent post. Needless to say I was only too happy to do so, I love both Alicia's books - The Kind Diet and The Kind Mama - and her website The Kind Life and am super happy to be asked for this opportunity to contribute to it!

For those of you who don't know The Kind Life, it's a great place to find inspiration and articles about all things vegan, from recipes to animal issues to living green. Click here for the link to my piece on pregnancy and The Kind Mama. 

Thanks Alicia!

:)


Friday, 23 May 2014

Cherry Tomato Basil Soup


Serves 4
Preparation time: 40 minutes



Today I received a beautiful veggie box, packed with half a kilo of bright red cherry tomatoes, fresh basil, zucchinis and salads. I love cherry tomatoes but half a kilo, for just 2 people? I had to find something to use up a few, and decided to try out a cherry tomato basil soup, that I could enjoy through the week hot or cold. I found inspiration in one of my fav cookbooks, The Candle CafĂ© Cookbook, changing up their Tomato Basil Bisque recipe by omitting the beet, adding courgettes and replacing tomatoes with cherry tomatoes. Success! Refreshing as a chilled soup in the midday heat of Myanmar, or warm and hearty with chunks of wholemeal bread in the evening, either way this soup will transport you to sunny Italy! The tofu adds creaminess and gives the soup a subtle flavour.

If you don’t have cherry tomatoes or would rather save them for something else then use ripe standard tomatoes instead, they’ll do just as well.

Ingredients

2 T olive oil
15 oz/425 gr of cherry tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 medium zucchini, sliced
1 cup of tofu, chopped
1 medium onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
2 sticks of celery, chopped
5 ¼ cups of vegetable broth
1 cup chopped fresh basil
1 t dried thyme
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
basil leaves for garnish



Preparation

In a large pot, heat the olive oil and add the onion, garlic and celery, cook on medium heat for about 5 minutes or until the onions are soft. Add the zucchini and cook for another few minutes. Now add the tomatoes, broth and thyme. Bring to a boil then simmer on low heat for about 20 minutes. 

Transfer to a blender, add the tofu and basil and blend until smooth. Return to the pot, season with salt and pepper and serve hot or cold with basil leaves as garnish. Delicious with chunky wholemeal bread or home made garlic bread. 

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Good Old Days Chick'n Mac'n Cheeze


Serves: 6 people
Preparation time: 1hr 20 min

Food for the soul, this animal free and healthy version of chicken mac’n cheese takes me straight back to childhood, and rainy days spent cosily indoors. This makes a truly delicious meal, and I was so pleased with how the TVP ‘chick'n’ turned out as I hadn’t tried it before. My man and I both agreed that if people didn’t know us and came for dinner they would never have guessed this dish was vegetarian, let alone vegan, making it a great option for when you have meat-eating guests over or a bunch of hungry kids.

Photographic failure alert: While the food may have turned out scrumptious, I'm afraid the lack of natural lighting, and no doubt my own lack of photographic genius, resulted in the photos not doing this dish justice! Please take my word for it, it's much yummier than it looks on this post. Better photos next time, I promise.

Ingredients

3 T vegan margarine + a little extra for greasing the baking dish
450gr of elbow macaroni pasta
150 gr of large TVP granules (the bite size kind)
2 cups of prepared non-dairy cheese flavour sauce mix (see Note*)
1 t olive oil
300ml of vegetable broth (water will do fine if you don’t have any broth)
2 sticks of celery, finely sliced
1 small onion, finely sliced
½ cup of hot sauce
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2-3 T of nutritional yeast (optional)
sea salt and freshly ground pepper

*Note: I made the cheese sauce the lazy way, because that’s part of the whole idea of comfort food, with a ready-to-use non-dairy cheese sauce mix by Free & Easy, made with rice milk instead of water to make it creamier and adding a little nutritional yeast for extra cheesiness, salt and freshly ground pepper. If you’re feeling up for it then you could easily make your own by following this simple 5 ingredient recipe from Ohsheglows. 

Ready for the oven!

Preparation

Soak the TVP granules in the broth or water with a teaspoon of olive oil for about 30 minutes, or until soft. Once they have soaked, squeeze them out with a cheese cloth, getting rid of as much moisture as possible. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C and lightly grease a 9-by-13 inch baking dish (I only had a small round one to hand which wasn’t ideal).

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil, add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain and leave aside.

Meanwhile, melt 3 tablespoons of non-dairy butter in a large pan over medium heat. Add the onion and celery and cook for about 5 minutes, until soft. Now stir in the prepared TVP granules and garlic and cook for a couple of minutes, then add the hot sauce and simmer for a few more minutes. Season as desired with a little salt and freshly ground pepper.

Prepare your non-dairy cheese sauce (see Note* above).

Spread out half of the macaroni pasta in the baking dish, then top with the TVP 'chick'n' mixture and remaining macaroni. Now pour the cheese sauce evenly on top. Sprinkle a tablespoon of nutritional yeast over the top and some freshly ground pepper.

Bake for 30-40 minutes until bubbly and there you have it, creamy, delicious mac’n’cheese that everyyone will enjoy. Serve with a side of greens for added healthy bonus points.

Half devoured in no time

Friday, 16 May 2014

Chocolate Fudge Pie and 5 1/2 month pregnancy update

Serves: 6-8
Preparation time: 20 minutes + 30 minutes to chill


Delicious, luxurious chocolate fudge pie that is truly - forgive the pun - easy-as-pie to make and with none of the added nasty stuff you'll find in the store bought versions. It's actually as healthy as a chocolate fudge pie can decently allow itself to be, and of course cruelty free!


Directions

The filling
12 oz / 340gr of silken tofu
2 T non-dairy milk of choice
9 oz / 250gr of non-dairy chocolate
3 T of liquid sweetener (I used maple syrup)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp vanilla extract


The pie crust
7oz / 200gr of digestive biscuits* (check they are vegan)
3 T liquid sweetener (I used maple syrup)
3 T coconut oil

* For more decadence you can replace with oreo cookies 


Preparation

Preheat the oven to 200°C / 400°F. Process the biscuits until completely ground, then add the coconut oil and liquid sweetener and process until fully combined. Fold out the pie crust mix into a pie dish, pressing down to even out the surface. Cook in the oven for 5-10 minutes, or until lightly golden. Remove and let cool completely.

Melt the chocolate and blend all the filling ingredients together in a blender until smooth. Pour the filling into the pie crust and place in the fridge until chilled. The longer you leave it in the fridge the firmer the filling will be. 

Below is a photo of me, after eating the whole chocolate fudge pie all to myself. Juuust kidding, that's baby bump, now 5 and a half months on :) 


I'm happy to say that my second trimester of pregnancy is a dream, no nasty symptoms, loads of energy and the excitement of now being able to feel baby move more and more each week. Now that I have a proper bump - finally - and can feel baby kick, it seems much more real to me that I am going to be a mum soon, and that's really exciting! 

I've got a new book to add to my recommended pregnancy/parenting reading list - Alicia Silverstone's The Kind Mama, a controversial and in my view an empowering and fact-full book based on attachment parenting, trusting one's self as a parent, getting and staying healthy throughout pregnancy and beyond and being kind to the planet. 

More pregnancy updates and recipes to come soon. In the meantime, enjoy that pie!


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 :)