Asparagus season

The first new crops start to arrive around this time of year. Herbs have been available for a few weeks and salad leaves are now ready. The overwintering brassicas have almost gone although there is still the odd cauliflower around but, most exciting and a real indicator of summer around the corner is the asparagus coming to its peak of production. I took the first few spears at the end of April but am now taking 20 or so a week. I like to cook them in as little water as possible and one of my favourite ways is on a griddle wrapped in good Parma ham. You make picturesque little parcels with the ham around the spears.

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One or two parcels per person. Then simply griddle with your meat. Here is mine with a rump steak.

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Just a couple of minutes cooking, turning to all sides, will soften and warm the asparagus and crisp the ham. Then back to the board to rest the food for a few minutes. I do think resting food improves its eating qualities.

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Here it is served with a chickpea and pumpkin side dish. More about this delicious vegetarian stew in a later post.

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Growing your own vegetables might not be strictly “hunter-gatherer” but it gives me a huge sense of well-being.

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A hot breakfast.

“But what will I eat for breakfast?” Is a question I have been asked many times, although never one that has particularly bothered me, to be frank. Growing up, the only breakfast cereal that was in the house was cornflakes, which I found deeply unattractive, and I never liked milk that much either. I do remember enjoying bread and butter and the spicy Indian brinjal pickle for breakfast as a teenager. Maybe that is why I find this breakfast so enjoyable.

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I take a small amount of finely diced onion or shallot and some grated fresh ginger and fry it off in a good fat with chilli flakes and turmeric. I rummage through the  vegetables in the fridge and see if there are any that will go in – a tomato often makes it but beans and leftover bits of peppers have made an appearance too. I then find some leftover over cooked meat, dice it small and mix it in. I have used everything you could think of steak, sausage, burger, roast pork, roast chicken. Whatever.

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Then, as the contents of the pan heat up, I crack open some eggs and mix them up. I add a really good lump of butter to the pan and when it has melted, I scramble the eggs in the pan with all its contents. I season on the plate and eat it with a hot sauce. Messy but so good. Perfect after a cold early morning workout.

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Running Rut …

Today’s post comes courtesy of my client Trevor, a talented marathon runner who had a personal best run in this years London Marathon. Thank you so much for sharing your experience and congratulations on a superb result.

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I had set myself a pretty realistic target of 4 hours 15 minutes for this year’s London marathon, I’d missed a couple of long training runs, so I thought I’d take it easy, run the first 20 miles, and just plod the rest, essentially treating it as another long run, ready for the Edinburgh marathon in late May which I would set a sub 3.50 target.

On the eve of London I was more stressed than normal, this would be my 8th London Marathon and my 15th marathon overall – so I knew what I was doing!  Perhaps it was the decision to dismiss modern wisdom and avoid “carbo loading” and consuming gels during the run.  Was I wrong?  Would I “hit the wall”?

The reason for this arguably strange decision takes me back 6 months, I was in a running rut!

I’d managed to break the 4 hour barrier in Brighton in 2010 with a time of 3.57, then a 3.51 in London in 2012, and my fastest time, 3.49 in Edinburgh in 2013.  Although I had knocked 8 minutes off in 3 years I wasn’t really getting significantly faster, nor was I feeling fitter.

So in September 2014, after returning from the Medoc marathon (essentially 26.2 miles of drinking red wine and eating) I found a personal trainer with the main aim to lose weight and get fitter.  I was 16 stone 2 pounds (just under 103 kg’s), clinically obese (according to BMI) but “above average fitness” for my age – something that the initial fitness tests did prove, although there was a lot of room for improvement.

Along with weight training, kettle-bells, stretching, I attempted to adopt the “paleo” lifestyle that my trainer (Peter) followed.  I won’t lie – losing those potatoes, pasta, and bread from my diet was a real struggle, and although I “try” to keep on the paleo path I do verve off now and then much to the disgust of Peter!   At the start of each training session I “confess” my guilty treats, attempting to justify to both myself and Peter of my decisions, now before I consume anything vaguely “wrong” I make sure I have good excuse to hand (not that he accepts them!).

Although I have been active all of my life I am heavier than I should be, I’m not basing that statement on the scales, more on how I feel and the ever increasing jean sizes!  Every diet I have ever attempted to go on has lasted less than a week, I lose a few pounds then can’t sustain it, then give up.  So for me investing in a trainer meant I had to stand up, be weighed periodically and look someone else in the eye, not just pretend the scales were obviously lying.  Over the last 6 months I have developed a good relationship with Peter and we discuss progress, choices and next steps.  At no stage has he ever judged me and although I joke about my weekly food confessions at no point has he ever said I can’t eat something, he just highlights the pros and cons and lets me decide.  It must be working as I keep going back to see him and I am seeing results.

Anyway, so far I’ve lost 20 pounds (9 kg’s), reduced my overall body fat, lost a couple of inches off my waist and generally feel fitter and stronger.  As a “running geek” and Garmin owner I have stats dating back to 2008, so I know my times are getting quicker, even though I am the wrong side of 40.  In the Tempest this year I surprised myself by running sub 7.30 miles for the entire 10 miles – quick for me!  But running a marathon with no carbs or gels was going to be a challenge….

Usually I start off a race and get progressively slower, in the past I’ve aimed to get to 20 miles in around 3 hours knowing I should be able to manage to complete the final 6 miles in under an hour, but it’s always a struggle to keep any resemblance of my starting pace.

So fast forward to London 2015.  I started off slowly, mainly due to the crowds.  After a few more miles I felt fine, at 9 miles where I was due to meet family and friends I was well ahead of my 4.15 target.

I did have a minor mental wobble at 15 miles and consumed one of those dreaded gels – not because I felt energy depleted, but because I thought for sooner or later conventional wisdom would catch up with me.

At about 20 miles I started to realise that actually I was on for a great time, not because I was running fast but because I wasn’t slowing.  Driven by seeing family and friends again at the 24 mile mark, I kept running, thinking sooner rather than later I would grind to a halt.

Approaching the Embankment I realised that my speed was indeed changing, I was getting faster.  Briefly stopping to great my “supporters” I was told to keep running.

I crossed the line in 3.37.40, a massive 12 minutes off my PB – and more importantly I actually felt I had energy left in the tank.

Now for the stats ….the first chart below shows my pace [in KM / hr] in the last 3 London Marathons:

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Perhaps a better representation of this data is to add “trend” lines to the chart, this clearly shows the downward “speed” trends from previous years, and the upward trend from this year’s race:

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This increase in speed made a significance difference in my overall finishing position, the London Marathon provide stats for the final 7km of the route:

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In 2012 I passed 478 runners with 220 passing me, compare those with this year results it’s clear that my strength has significantly improved.

I’m not medically qualified in any shape or form, but stating the obvious losing weight and core strength work has make me fitter and stronger.  As for the carbs I didn’t miss them, I was able to run without carbo loading or taking my normal 4-6 gels during the race, (although I do regret taking the gel at15 miles but I don’t think it helped or necessarily hindered my performance), I also didn’t have that sickly sugar taste in my mouth to contend with.

It’s the first time I can ever remember that I have achieved a negative split, running the first half in 1.49.56 and the second half around 2 minutes quicker.

So in conclusion – losing weight, focused training and minimal carbs works for me!

Celtic Salt

Above the Austrian village of Hallstatt rises the 1900 meter mountain called Plassen. At about 800 meters up its eastern flank lies a hanging valley carved by a glacier millions of years ago.

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This was a large Celtic settlement and given that in modern times Hallstatt has been a very small village, and still is, you have to wonder what was so important to Bronze Age people that they lived here, high in a mountain valley, in relatively large numbers and, by the richness of the graves, were apparently so wealthy. The answer is simple. Salt.

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In this valley was discovered a large Bronze Age burial site containing graves of huge archaeological significance. So important was this discovery that it gave its name to a period of human development – the Hallstatt Period.

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Underneath the mountain lies very large salt deposits that have been continuously mined since the Bronze Age. The Celtic miners, men and women, lived and died here mining the salt, carrying it on their backs down the 300 meters to the Hallstatt lake where it was loaded onto boats and traded, providing these people with everything else they needed to live and their relative wealth.

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Today the vast majority of salt is extracted as brine and pumped many miles away for processing along the salt pipeline. However, it is possible to buy unrefined rock salt, just as it is when it is dug out of the mountain. As you can see, it is full of colored minerals and particles of mountain rock. This is “raw” salt and is a wonderful addition to your diet. I see it as the same as putting rock dust on your vegetable garden. But please be warned, you need a ceramic toothed salt grinder to powder the fragments to the size that they won’t break your teeth!