Monday, 27 October 2014

Crazy Thunderstorm

Last night Andy and I woke up around 2am to the loudest thunder I have ever heard in my life. We went out on to the balcony to watch the most spectacular lightning completely light up the sky over Melbourne. The thunder was so loud, you could tell exactly when the storm was right above us and when it had travelled further inland (it seemed to come from the bay and work its way inland). 

We stayed up watching it for about half an hour and got a few pictures, but they don't do the enormity of the storm justice.

When we woke up this morning there were still passing thunderstorms. Of course the trains were a mess - I considered tweeting metrotrains but plenty of other people were already doing that for me:

I ended up calling a colleague who lives nearby who picked me up thankfully, as when I tried to journey plan my route it was saying it would take nearly 2 hours to get there. Public Transport Victoria has actually issued an apology today, saying it failed commuters. Obviously this was an extreme case today; it would be nice to get an apology from PTV every time it rains and it's trains are delayed! (Actually it would just be nicer if the trains could cope with heavy rain, seeing as this is a place where rain is pretty frequent)

Other people were without power, flights were all delayed this morning, and a house in Prahran was hit by the lightning and burnt down. Crazy.

Here's a video of the lightning from our balcony:

I found this video on Youtube which captures the storm quite well, and has some funny subtitles as an added bonus:

In true Melbourne fashion, the skies were clear and blue by the late afternoon. 

Monday, 20 October 2014

Healthy Eating

So about this time last year Andy and I decided to try to change our eating habits so that we were eating more whole foods and less junk food. (Well, let's be honest... I decided we were going to do this and Andy reluctantly agreed seeing as he didn't have much choice). I was inspired by the website '100 Days of Real Food' which I 'liked' on facebook about a year prior and so constantly see updates on my news feed about Real Food.

The aim wasn't really to follow any sort of diet, but just to try and avoid highly processed foods and eat more natural, whole foods.

The general guidelines we tried to follow were:

- No refined/added sugar. 
- No white flour, bread or rice
- Full fat foods instead of low/no fat
- Use natural sweeteners like honey and maple syrup
- Coffee, tea, water, milk as beverages
- No pre-made foods with more than 5 ingredients listed

In terms of alcohol we've tried to stick to wine and beer, and I've pretty much cut out cocktails completely, which I used to LOVE. (Here in Australia this also has the added benefit of saving you a lot of money!)

This is all the food we got rid of when we first started our Real Food Challenge. 

The first step was to clear out our cupboard and hide all food on the banned list. As you can see from the picture there was quite a lot! Mainly white pasta and rice, white flour, sugar from baking, and sauces that have sugar added to them. Since this clear out the HP sauce has somehow found it's way back into our cupboard... Hmmmm who could have done that? 

We originally spent a lot of money buying some staples - real food is expensive! Things like raw cacao, all natural honey, organic fruits and veggies, quinoa, chia seeds, nuts, and all things coconut: flakes, oil, milk and butter. We actually found most things we needed in Woolworths. We have tried a few times to shop in Prahran Market instead, but have found it to be much more expensive than Woolies. Which annoys me, as I would like to try to shop more locally, but it is hard when you are also trying to stick to a budget. I also don't get this, why is local food at markets MORE expensive? Shouldn't it be cheaper?! 

Since trying to eat better dinners haven't really changed for us much. Partly due to the fact that when we eat dinner at home we generally cook from scratch, so that meal was pretty healthy anyway and we can continue to eat most of what we were already eating. For example, for dinner the other night we had a favourite from 'Jamie's 15 Minute Meals', the Blackened Chicken San Fran Quinoa Salad. (I love Jamie Oliver, and I don't even mind that none of his meals take anywhere close to 15 or 30 minutes, because the recipe instructions are so clear and everything always tastes amazing.)

The most difficult part has been packing lunch and snacks for work. We need to plan ahead for that, something we are both not great at. Also we need enough snacks to keep us from getting hungry and then eating sweets or biscuits - things that are always around from other people that can be tempting during that afternoon slump! One of my colleagues who I share an office with has a constant stash of 'lollies' ('sweets' in England, 'candy' in Canada) in a container on his desk, in full view. The lollies are for the office and prior to our Real Food eating plan I ate my fair share every afternoon. I am pleased to say that over the course of this year I have almost always resisted the afternoon biscuit or lolly. The one main exception is "Friday Tea", which we have at morning break every Friday (duh) at my school. It's used as informal staff briefing, and there is always an amazing spread laid out, and I've decided that Friday Tea is my one free pass every week!

I've done a lot of reading about food over the past year, and although sometimes some of the advice is conflicting, I've come to some overall conclusions that seem to be shared among lots of the experts:

1. Sugar IS EVIL. Fructose, more specifically. It should be avoided, even in fruit in the opinion of some. I don't think we will ever be that extreme, but we don't ever have white sugar anymore, and try to avoid as many products as possible that have sugar of any form added to them. I still use honey and maple sugar in my baking, which I know have almost as much fructose as table sugar. I'm not sure why I think that is ok, maybe because they are more natural or something. I have also tried things like rice malt sugar which has less fructose, and coconut sugar (not sure why... it seems like the in thing?) but have definitely avoided agave as a sugar substitute as it has more fructose than table sugar.

2. White bread/pasta/rice are ALSO EVIL. Again, some people also advocate for avoiding grains altogether, but we eat whole wheat bread, pasta, rice etc. Although it is VERY difficult to find bread that has no white wheat in it at all. I've tried to cut down on bread but it is hard, as Andy loves it and actually I do too!

3. Counting calories is not the answer! I've just read the book "Why we get fat, and what to do about it" by Gary Taubes and although I'm not sure I agree with everything in there, he discusses why the calories in/ calories out theory is not quite right. Our bodies metabolise calories from fat, protein and carbs differently. Basically he says that simple carbs turn right into fat. He says a lot more, in a very scientific way that I have no desire to try to summarise here, so I recommend reading the book if you are into this sort of thing.

4. Fat will not make you fat! Fat is good for us, and fills us up, so stop buying low-fat products that often have added sugar in them. We now drink whole milk (no more skinny lattes for me!), eat full fat yogurt, full fat cheese, and love things like avocados and nuts as filling and healthy snacks.

Both of our families have asked for some recipes and examples of the food we've been eating, so I thought I'd list the blogs I frequent along with some of our favourite recipes so far. These blogs have been so incredibly helpful, especially when trying to find some healthy treats to satisfy cravings for something sweet. I am so impressed with how creative people are with food. Unfortunately I am not one of those people. Fortunately we have the Internet and I'm able to follow a recipe so it doesn't really matter!

Good Blogs:
Iowa Girl Eats (delicious recipes, not all totally healthy but good home cooked meals)

Our favourite Real Foods:
we take a jar with natural yogurt and frozen blueberries to work every day!

Very filling, this is one of my go to green smoothie breakfast recipes, although I use plain almond milk and plain Greek yogurt

Very yummy, filling cookies. A bit of a cheat as I add dark chocolate chips, but cacao nibs could work if you wanted no sugar at all.

Almond Joy Cookies

I use feta cheese instead of the cheese listed in this recipe.

One of my favourite dinners, this is so easy to make, cheap, and really, really tasty. It's one of Andy's favourites too. Also good as it makes enough for leftovers for lunch the next day.

Very yummy with coconut butter on top!

Cheesy Biscuits
Very filling, a good alternative to bread. We had these with avocado, tomato and a poached egg for breakfast the other day and it was so filling!
You can't get the recipe online (I have her cookbook) but they are made of LSA, coconut flour, eggs, cheddar cheese, salt and paprika.

This is perfect for when you want a bit of a treat after dinner. I prefer it to 'real' chocolate now! It is equal parts almond butter, cacao powder, coconut oil, a half measure of maple syrup, and a little bit of vanilla extract. Melt together, pour into muffin molds and freeze. They only take about 10 minutes to freeze and then are ready to eat! Keep them in the freezer or fridge as they will melt otherwise.

I use Parmesan cheese instead of nutritional yeast in this as I'm not vegan, also don't use a lot of apple cider vinegar as it overpowers.

(I wish I had some more pictures of these foods we have cooked but I'm not a great food photographer. Something to work on!)

We still go a bit off the rails at times, caving and buying chocolate as an after dinner treat. And when we go out to eat or have dinner at a friend's house we just enjoy ourselves and not worry about whether we shouldn't be eating something. I do enjoy preparing and eating (ok, mostly eating), healthy meals for us. Sometimes it is time consuming and I'd much rather just get a take-away,  but I do notice a big difference in my mood and energy levels when I eat properly, and so the time invested is worth it. Interestingly TIME magazine had an article out this month by Mark Bittman on the rise of convenience food in the 50s and 60s and how home cooking can improve our health. Mark focuses on making healthy home cooked meals easily and fast... I might have to pick up his cookbook! You can read the article or watch an overview of it here.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Typical Melbourne Weather

We are experiencing some typically crazy Melbourne weather this week.

30 degrees and sunshine all day. Everyone in Melbourne was either at the beach or on a rooftop, loving life (see below). 
St Kilda Beach
Enjoying a few colds ones at Republica

Absolutely freezing. It's like the middle of winter. Rain, high winds and a high of 14 degrees. Don't put your winter clothes away yet!

Here's a look at the rest of the week:

At least the weather seems to be behaving for the weekends.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Birthday Cards - Are they really necessary?

We went to a friend's birthday lunch in the Yarra Valley this weekend. On the way to pick up one of our friends, he called us to ask if we had gotten the birthday boy a card. We hadn't. Big surprise - I am THE WORST at remembering to get birthday cards for people. Andy has given up on expecting cards on time for his birthday, although I have made a significant effort to improve in this area! I think it's because I personally feel like they are a waste most of the time. Yes, they are nice to receive if there is a thoughtful message written in them, and I have kept a few cards over the years as they are sentimental. Mainly cards from my parents who write lovely messages (that often make me tear up!), and these do mean a lot when you are living far from home. My best friend from home also sometimes randomly sends me a card with lots written in it, like an old school letter instead of an email, and these are also really exciting to get and read as they are an unexpected surprise. 

So I am not against the idea of cards if they contain thoughtful written messages. But just getting someone a card for the sake of it and then hastily scribbling "Happy Birthday Love Andy and Wendy" feels a bit forced and wasteful. Waste of money and a waste of paper... if everyone STOPPED buying birthday cards (and Christmas cards while we're at it) that would have to make a significant difference to not only the amount of paper wasted, but the amount of fuel and energy spent on delivering these cards through the post. Surely the fact that we were driving up to the Yarra Valley to spend the afternoon with someone on their birthday means more than getting them a card?! Maybe I am just a very thoughtless person with bad manners, but if you asked me to choose between spending time with people or receiving a card on my birthday, I'd choose the former, as I'm sure you all would too. I guess I am just not really offended if someone turns up to my birthday without a card, but I do understand that some people feel that this is rude. (PS Mom and Dad this does not apply to you).

Anyway, in the end we DID end up buying a card, as our friend's wife (who was on a business trip and so wasn't coming to lunch) told him it would be bad manners to turn up without one. (Who decided that giving cards was good manners anyway? Hallmark? It's all a scam...) So we stopped at IGA on the way, picked out 2 pretty crappy cards (selection was VERY limited), signed them and gave them to the birthday boy at lunch. I am sure he appreciated them, but I would bet he appreciated that we had come to his surprise birthday lunch much more. 

Ok, rant over, we had a very yummy lunch at a winery called De Bortoli. On weekends lunch is either a 2 course ($55) or 3 course ($68) Italian themed menu. I'd say it would be classed as a fine dining establishment, white cloth napkins and a bit on the pricey side, although they had a good selection of their own wines for reasonable prices: $9 glass/$36 bottle. Andy and I decided I would order an entree and a main, and he would get a main and a dessert, but we would share our entree and dessert with each other. I had a pheasant and duck terrine to start with, which I was a bit "meh" about, and I think Andy then decided he regretting saying he'd share his dessert with me! It was just a bit bland. I then had baby snapper fillet for a main and it was delicious. For dessert Andy obviously chose the one that featured lots of chocolate, called a Chocolate Marquise. I have never heard of a "Marquise" before but basically it's a very rich chocolate dessert, like a very heavy mousse. Maybe like a ganache. It was good but very rich - which meant at least he was willing to share with me as there is no way you could eat a whole one yourself.

After lunch we sat outside the winery catching up with everyone - the view was beautiful and the weather perfect, about 22 degrees and sunny. Overall, card debacle notwithstanding, we had lovely afternoon with wine, sunshine and friends. What more could you want?

Monday, 6 October 2014

$107 to find out I have a weak bum!

So about a week and a half after the marathon my knees were still bothering me, especially when doing a lot of walking. I decided to go see a Physio to see what was wrong as I would like to be able to run again sometime in the near future - preferably before our Triathlon on 19th October! A physio is pretty expensive here, $132 for an initial 45 minute appointment where I went, but we have private health insurance so I thought the majority of the cost would be covered.

Australia's health care system is based on Medicare, which covers a lot of basic medical costs. Australia has a reciprocal health care agreement with the UK, so we were able to get Medicare cards as soon as we got here. However, it was a requirement of the 457 visa, our original visa, to have private health insurance as well. We had the Overseas Visitors cover from Bupa, which was a pricey $200/month for the two of us, for things like hospital and ambulance cover. When we became Permanent Residents here we were able to switch over our health insurance to a cheaper plan that also gave us some 'extras' coverage, like eye glasses, dentist, physio, etc. Anyone over the age of 31 has to have private health insurance in Australia. If you wait until you are older you pay a premium on the cost, depending on how long you waited after your 31st birthday. It is a way to encourage people to take out hospital cover at a younger age.

On our overview of our extras from Bupa it says that 70% of the cost of physio is covered. So I thought, great, I'm going go the the physio and pay about $40 for my appointment. WRONG! Unfortunately I neglected to read the fine print and that 70% coverage only applies if I go to a Bupa Members First Provider, which I did not do. (I basically just picked the closest physio to our place). Because I didn't go to one of their providers, they only cover $25 for your first visit, and $17 for every subsequent visit. I didn't find this out until they handed me my bill of $107 after my appointment. Yikes! Moral of the story: Always read the fine print!

The good news is I haven't done any damage to my knee joint, and what I have is ITB Friction Syndrome. Apparently it is a common cause of Runner's Knee, due to a tight IT Band and overuse. Training for a marathon will do that. The IT Band runs down the outside of your thigh from your butt to your knee, and can become tight due to a muscular inbalance or weakness - in my case it is due to weak gluts (my butt). The physio gave me a few exercises to do based on the 'Clam' as demonstrated here:

Hopefully a few weeks of the clam and I will be back on my feet! I am supposed to go back to the physio next week, but that will be about another $100 and I'm not sure it is worth it. She said I would only have to go 3-4 times as the injury is not that serious, which to me means that I don't really need to go back, as long as I keep up with the exercises, and no running for a few more weeks :(

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Brisbane Ranges

Last weekend Andy and I went on a little camping trip. I say ‘camping’ but no tents were involved, there was running water and proper toilets, and we ended up at a winery for dinner… so maybe camping is stretching it somewhat. Ok, we were glamping.

Sunday morning we drove to Andy’s school’s campsite. He was here a few weeks ago with his Year 9 form group, and was told by the caretaker that he could come and stay at the camp over the school holidays, when it wasn’t being used. Andy had a great time with his Year 9s when he came, and was especially excited about doing some more mountain biking, so I said I’d give it a go.

The cabin we stayed in

Cool entrance to to the bike shed
We were in Torquay on Saturday for a 30th birthday party, so needless to say I was not in the best of shape when we arrived at the campsite. I was tired, headachy and generally in a grumpy mood. The weather didn't help - it was 29 degrees (good) however the wind was crazy strong (bad). After getting settled in our cabin we went down to the shed with the mountain bikes and Andy fitted us out with bikes and helmets. It took me about 5 seconds to decide that I hate mountain biking. Basically, I was being a major wimp, but really I just didn’t find it that fun. I lasted about 10 minutes, which consisted of me going super slow both up AND downhill as I was pretty scared of going fast. Andy finally gave up coaxing me to keep trying and was happy enough riding on the trails on his own while I took some video footage.

Not to sure about this whole mountain biking thing...
After the mountain biking we decided to get something to eat. As the camp is pretty much in the middle of nowhere, and we were under-prepared for cooking at the campsite (standard) we had to drive about 20 minutes to get to the nearest town, and on the way we discovered Clyde Park Vineyard. The winery was closing in about half an hour when we arrived so the kitchen to the restaurant was closed, but they said they could make any of the pizzas on the menu for us. We debated whether or not to stay, as the pizzas were quite pricey (about $25-30 each) but decided to stay as we didn’t really know what else was around. Also, I really liked the feel of the winery. Inside, where we opted to sit due to the heavy winds, was very rustic looking, with the walls lined with oak wine barrels and long wooden tables to sit at. As it wasn't very busy when we arrived we got a very cute round table in the corner with big wing chairs to sit in. Outside the winery had an amazing view over vineyards and fields. Even though this place was right off the motorway, you couldn't really tell, it was a very calm and peaceful environment. We were really glad that we stayed in the end. We ordered 2 pizzas, a Sticky Pork and a BBQ Chicken, and both were delicious. I had a glass of their 2013 Pinot Noir as it was the recommended wine with the Sticky Pork pizza, which was enjoyable. Andy stuck with his favourite wine, Sauvignon Blanc. I don’t think he ever orders anything else, even though he claims he can’t tell the difference between different wine varietals. When asked about how his wine is, his reply is normally “Good. It tastes like wine”.

Much happier now that I'm in a winery!

We went back to the cabin, and after seeing the most amazing sunset (which of course didn't look nearly as impressive in the pictures), we spent the evening chilling out, reading, and watching a bit of TV (ya, not really camping). The movie American Reunion was on, which is a pretty awful part of the American Pie franchise, but fun to watch anyway as it made me feel like I was back at uni.

Sunday night was ridiculously windy, we’ve been having some crazy weather here lately where it will be hot and sunny for a few days, and then we’ll get these windstorms and it will rain and/or cool off for a few days. Monday we woke up and it was a lot cooler. In the morning we went kayaking down the river… There is something really nice about being on the river, the viewpoint that you get is completely different to just being on a river bank.

After kayaking we saw a wallaby hopping along on the opposite side of the river. I think it was coming down to get a drink but stopped when it saw us. It stayed hidden behind a tree before hoping further away down the river. I still get a huge kick out of seeing kangaroos and wallabies. They way they bounce along looks almost cartoonish, and you can't quite believe that this is a real animal.

We went back to Melbourne on Monday afternoon, stopping for a walk around Albert Park and a coffee with some of my work friends. I looooove school holidays!