Saturday, 5 April 2014

The one in which I did too much

So the last post before this one is from February 21st, well over a month ago. Not so good. You remember how back then, I was still very excited about the goals. Well, I still am. But, as I often do, I got overexcited and overextended myself which led to a predictable crush and burn kind of situation.

In February I managed to cook 10 new recipes instead of 15 and failed on pretty much all of my stated goals. In March I haven't even gotten around to setting any goals. So what exactly happened? I overdid. Typical me. I set out to accomplish so many things in February that it simply became too much time- and energy-wise and the whole project imploded. My success spiral ruined and motivation rather low, I couldn't even bring myself to set a single goal for March.

This month I am slowly and carefully getting back to goals and challenges with the following lesson in my baggage: chill out, take it easy - not everything has to be accomplished at once. This lesson, which accidently was also described in a charming way by yesandyes's Sarah, was absolutely worth learning. Even if it costed me some of the hard-earned motivation.

So take it easy out there and, to quote Sarah, be gentle to yourself.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Testing New Recipes

The plan for trying 15 new recipes this month is moving ahead, although rather slowly. I am cooking in a frenzy during weekends. But during the week, it gets really hard to cook something new after I come home from work in the evening. 

Anyway, I have tried a couple of new things. First of all, I made this malt syrup. It was fun to make and it smells funky - kind of like sweet beer. I already used it for baking my sourdough bread. It tasted sweeter than usual and smelled nicely of dark beer - Irish breakfast style :D

If you're going to make it, remember that while you are boiling it, it will not get very thick. It's only once it cools down, that it sets and thickens. 

I also made cauliflower soup (good, quick winter food), coconut and ginger smoothy (eee...not exceptional), and also tried this quinoa stuffed portobello mushrooms. Quinoa is usually rather tasteless so I was very surprised at how yummy these actually were. The recipe is rather simple and is really a good idea for a quick, "fancy-ish" side dish when your friends are coming to dinner. 

The last experiment was with milk bread (or cha┼éka) which is one of the tastes of my childhood. Unfortunately, it was a bit led down. The recipe takes quite a bit of time (and some energy) which necessarily means that it is a special kind of dish. And the braiding is harder than it looks. But the problem for me was that my bread got pretty badly burned despite the fact that I looked into it 10min before the time mentioned in the cookbook (I used Scandalicious baking). My oven usually needs extra time to get things finished so I really can't say what went wrong. The bread still tasted pretty good on the inside, but the outside was burned. At some point of time, I will try the recipe again, but for now I am somewhat discouraged. 

For this weekend I bought some really good-class tenderloin (never in my life have I paid that much for 300g of meat). I am also planning vanilla extract and caramel muffins (see my pinterest board for details). The saddest thing is that I will probably not have time to make Korma this month. But hey, there is something to look forward to in March.

And what about you guys? Have you been cooking something yummy recently?

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

For the Love of Smoothies

I have recently rekindled my love for smoothies. I used to drink them a lot when I lived in London but back then I would use sweeten them up a lot with sugar or honey and add chocolate powder or ice-creams. So they were more in the form of sweets, rather than actual healthy, fruit-full snack.

Nowadays, I often drink them in the evenings if I get home too late to eat a full dinner. My trick is to put every good thing I have at home into the blender and hope for the best. And you know what? It usually works!

Here is my very generic recipe:

  1. bananas - lend the smoothy a nice rich flavor and creamy texture
  2. all kinds of fruits - I try to go for seasonal but I also use frozen strawberries or raspberries when they are out of season
  3. low fat milk - occasionally, I use yoghurt, fresh squeezed juice or if I have the time I brew green tea (not too strong), cool it down and use it instead
  4. linseed (flaxseed) - they are super healthy. Sometimes I switch it for other nuts but I like flaxseed especially. You can't taste them in a smoothy and they have:
    1. Omega-3 essential fatty acids - "good" fats that have been shown to have heart-healthy effects.
    2.  Lignans, that have antioxidant qualities.
    3. Fiber.- both the soluble and insoluble types
Occasionally, I also add a spoon of peanut butter or honey. When I get more adventures, I also chuck in a handful of spinach (what?!). If you only add a handful, you won't be able to taste it and yet all the good ingredients of fresh spinach are there. I need to try one time to make an actual green smoothy :)

This month, I am also planning to try this coconut and ginger and green tea goodness. 

Are you a smoothy lover too? What are your favorite recipes? 

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Nutty Sourdough

Yesterday, I baked this nutty sourdough bread as part of my 15 new recipes project. It's not 100% new recipe but rather a variation on this one.

Ever since I made my own sourdough starter, I bake bread pretty much every week. I bake it on Friday evenings so that we have fresh, yummy bread for Saturday breakfast. But, having baked it so many times, I am getting bored and so I need to start experimenting.

I've tried adding chilli (somewhat disappointing), olives (yum) and now the time came for nuts. Instead of the 2dl of flour that the recipe calls for in the morning, I add about 250dl finely ground hazelnuts. On top of that, I add hazelnuts cut in half and some hazelnut shaving on top of the bread.

The bread comes out lighter than when regular flour is used. On the other hand it is also less compact and falls a bit apart. The nutty taste is there but not as strong as one would expect. The sourness of the sourdough is less pronounced, which I like but it might be a minus for others. I would also advise using a bit extra salt than normally as the nuts seem to make the taste a bit too bland otherwise.

The one super fantastic thing about this recipe is the smell of the bread while it is baking. Truly fantastic.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

February Challenge

If you've read my previous post you know that I've been experimenting with challenging myself. Each month I try something new, something that brings a difference to my life, something that takes me out of my comfort zone. Last month, I sworn off sugar and it was interesting to try, I wasn't wowed by the impact of that challenge.

This month I am trying something more active. I will sample 15 new recipes, that I have not tried before. It is not a crazy challenge but I feel like I lack time for this in everyday life. During the week I often skip cooking in the evening and just grab a sandwich, even though I love cooking and it relaxes me. So I want to try to force myself motivate myself to do more of that. You can see 14 recipes I have chosen on pinterest. The 15th dish is going to be a nutty variation on my sourdough bread, that I dreamt of myself so there is no recipe.

The first recipe, and the celebration of no-sugar month, was this, gorgeous looking and yummy, raspberry swirl cheesecake. When I lived in London, raspberry swirl cheesecake from Sainsbury's was my guilty pleasure so I decided to try to bake it myself.

I tasted delicious although it was a bit more wet than expected. I went for a thick variant of yoghurt, you can buy in Denmark, called skyr, instead of fatty cream cheese. It made the cake healthier but not as firm and creamy. Next time, I will go all out :) 

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Life Hacking : Month One

There were a lot of new things happening for me in 2013. Finishing my studies, getting first student job and then a full-time work at another company, and a couple of other big steps forward. And yet, very few of this was actually planned in advance. Opportunities presented themselves and I took advantage of them but I did not set out to achieve clear goals. In general, I guess I am not very good at setting out long term goals and working towards them. 

So I have decided that I want to work on that this year. 2014 is going to  be the year of planned development, good organization and getting a firm grip on life. 

Inspired by the The Small Change Project blog, this Ted Talk about month-long challenges, and the Motivation Hacker book by Nick Winter I got from my husband I am making a plan to hack my life this year. 

The year will start slow with some relatively easy confidence building challenges. As my expectancy of success grows, the goals will become more ambitious and more life-changing.

I have started by setting out these 7 goals:
  1. By 15th of January I need to be able to run 4km in 30m - changed to running once a week
  2. By the end of January I need to be able to run 1,5km without breaking - achieved
  3. I will read JavaScript-related book for at least 10 minutes a day - achieved
  4. I will write for at least 10 minutes a day - achieved
  5. I will eat no sugar (no cakes, cookies, candy, honey or soda) - achieved
  6. I will make a 2013 photobook to keep all the great memories in one place -achieved
  7. I will prepare and practice my bachelor-exam presentation on the 2nd and 3rd of January so as not to drag it out all the way until 16th - achieved (though on the 15th I have decided to redo my presentation, so I am not sure if this counts )
It is now almost February and I am excited and somewhat proud of how many of the goals I have achieved. This has been a great experience I am certainly planning to continue with it. There are a few things I've learned during the first month of the project:
  1. If the goal is too easy, the challenge stops being excited and it becomes a chore.
  2. If the goal is planned for a month, it should not be completed in less time (ex. I finished the JavaScript book in 2 weeks? Switching to another book felt a bit anticlimactic).
  3. Input goals work better than output ones. You can only ever control your effort and not really the outcome. The winter defeated me and I was not able to run 4km before mid-January. But switching the goal to input oriented one (I will run once a week) proved very beneficial and I have successfully completed it and felt excited enough to plan for a Women 5K race in September. 
  4. Leave a little buffer so that you can account for life's little surprises without failing at your goals. At the same time, be very specific about what the special circumstances are. For example, it is ok to not go running if you break your leg - that should not mean you failed your goal.
  5. Be as specific about the goals as possible. The more amorphous the goal, the easier to wiggle out and the more anticlimactic the achievement.
  6. Make a point of tracking your effort every day, whether in a spreadsheet, beeminder or some other app. The feeling of daily achievement and success removes the peril of delay and helps grow your success spiral. 
The special challenge of not eating sugar for a month turned out to be a bit disappointing. I can't notice any changes in terms of my skin, neither have I lost no weight due to this regime. I might be a little more even when it comes to energy supplies throughout the day - but I am not even certain about that. And I don't sleep better (or worse) then before.  I eat a bit more fruits, which certainly is positive but I don't really know if it has anything to do with no-sugar policy. 

It has also proven easier than expected. The first 2 or 3 days I did walk around randomly imagining belgian waffles in great, multisensory details. But it went away after that and I didn't physically craved it. The hardest part was definitely social occasions.  Not eating cake for friends and family's birthday events, not having coke with my pizza or sweet cocktail during the night out was certainly a challenge but not to the point where it was impossible. 

The challenge hasn't proven life changing but it did leave a pleasant feeling of accomplishment and I hope that I will take something from it. I plan to continue with no sugar or honey in my tea and coffee and no sweets other than cakes - preferably homebaked and for special occasions. 

Stay tuned for my plans for February. 

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Cafe Latte Baby Blanket

No matter how many times I've started on knitted projects (and how many of them I actually finished - a few), crocheting will always my go-to method of working with yarn. 

The project I am working on now is a baby blanket with a thick, dense weave. Because it is so dense, it takes long to complete the project, but I like the texture so much, I am planning more projects with it. It will certainly serve as a sweet, warm cover for some baby. Yeah, I don't actually have a recipient of this blanky in mind, so friends and relatives, get on the topic of babies, will you? I would actually make a big blanket for myself (it really is so cozy) but I don't have enough yarn for that.

I am using light cotton-acrylic yarn that is has a soft feel to it while still being very warm. The color is cream, like a very milky cafe latte. I like it for a baby blanket, even if it's probably not very practical. 

And working on this project taught me a lesson: "never put away a project for 2 years and pick it up as if nothing happened". I wasn't sure if I remembered how to make round ends, but I made two rounds anyway. I realized I made a mistake on the round ending, I ripped two rounds...and then I realized I probably hadn't made a mistake and all the ripping was for nothing.

Anyway, I'll show you the finished piece, when I am done.