Happy new year from MBO!

So what does it feel like be hungry?  I genuinely can’t remember.  December has been a month of excessive feasting and imbibing for me.  So much so I decided to really commit to the celebrations and forsake my usual workout routine for the whole month.  And my pathetic attempt at healthy eating.  As a result I feel bloated, unhealthy and obscenely unfit.    An amazing escape to the Caribbean on a luxury cruise followed by a week scoffing down ALL the food in Florida hasn’t helped.

The truth of the matter is that I really love food.  This blog is evidence of it.  Another truth is that I don’t really enjoy exercise unless I feel like I’m not actually doing it.  Throw me on a bike, a horse or into a pool and I will be happy.  Send me to the gym in obligatory yoga pants and oversized tee and I am immediately escorted back to those dreary, dark days of school P.E. in which I was consistently the slowest,the least coordinated and the last to be picked.

My relationship with exercise has been as emotional as a daytime soap on steroids.  When I was in primary school my ineptitude for sport was not immediately noticeable.  I joined in everything with gusto from athletics club to the local swimming club and of course, riding three to four times a week.  It wasn’t until Year 6 I realised that all my peers were achieving athletics awards at level 9 and above and I struggled to achieve level 8 (a veritable giant in a crowd of Year 4s).  This was hammered home when the athletics coach (and famously outspoken mother)  tried to throw me out of both the athletics club and the competitive swim team (unfortunately she was a coach for both)  due to my lack of talent or skill.  I went home in tears.  I hasten to add I was ten years old.

This inability to sport  was exacerbated in secondary school where Games was on the menu three times a week.  My gosh I’m a trier, but there are no rewards for trying in sport.  It’s about winning (or so I thought).  My natural ineptitude coupled with a terrifyingly critical games mistress lead to me to refuse to exercise after I left school.  What was the point?  It had been made clear that I couldn’t do it.  My only exercise in my twenties consisted of dancing on nights out, where any calories burnt where negated by the alcohol consumption required for said dancing to take place.  And the necessary late night kebabs afterwards.

YM was a contrast to me.  He used to run to work twice a week and cycle the other days. Seven miles.  Through London.  As if this wasn’t enough, he spent three nights a week at a boxing club in Brixton.  Here, YM  was firmly in the minority as both a Caucasian and a welterweight but still managed to impress with his strength, speed and stamina.  My favourite story of his time boxing is centred around the gruelling circuits that build boxing fitness.  Imagine a sweaty, dark South London gym with twenty large men of West Indian or African descent and one rather spindly Northern one pumping out push-ups whilst simultaneously singing R.Kelly’s ‘I Believe I Can Fly’.  And if you didn’t sing loudly enough, the entire group had to keep repeating the song until everyone was bellowing out the lyrics equally.  Brilliant.

It was YM that made me understand that fitness was not necessarily equivalent with the heavily competitive and exclusive past time I had been lead to believe.  It all started when he bought a bicycle and used to it as his main form of transport in Mexico City despite us owning a car.  It was more out of habit from his London days but in the traffic-choked streets it made perfect sense.  Add into this wide, flat roads and warm sunshine and you get a city that is made for the bicycle.  After listening to my woes of getting to school (either a thirty minute walk which necessitated leaving the house at 6.30 am) or a decidedly unreliable bus) he suggested I borrow his bike and ride it to school.

I used to love cycling.  My very first bicycle was a pink Barbie bike that had both bell and a white basket in front.  I then graduated to a pink BMX as Year 6s where allowed to ride their bike to school (a privilege that was much envied by the lower primary classes).  My first proper grown-up bike was a Raleigh 12 speed that my dad bought for us in the U.K. and transported all the way to Bahrain.  This bike really was a thing of beauty with its black frame dusted with glowing turquoise spots.  It had a flat handle bar and proper thick mountain bike tyres.  I rode that bike everywhere.

After school it was straight onto the bike (which naturally, I imagined was a sleek black race horse) and out to join my friends.  We roamed the quiet, car-free streets of our village for hours.  This was obviously before the days before stranger danger and every single man over the age of fifty was considered to be a potential paedophile.  When it got dark we congregated on the front road which was helpfully illuminated by the street lights.  Here we built ramps out of bricks and flat pieces of plywood.  To misquote Napolean Dynamite, ‘we almost got three feet of air that time’.

The love of cycling was carried onto high school and used to get my silver Duke of Edinburgh (despite a set of cracked ribs) and even into university.  I spent my first summer at uni working at a restaurant and I still remember how it felt to load my weary self onto that Raleigh after a gruelling ten hour shift and cycling through the quiet, velvet blackness of Glasgow’s summer nights.  Until some wee ned decided to thumbtack his initials into my back tyre.  Then, the bike lay rusted and forgotten in our tenement hall for the following four years.  I dabbled with cycling when living in Edinburgh and again in the highlands but never really committed.  There is no fun in cycling in the rain.  Or up hills.  Or uphill in the rain.

So my first ride to school was an anxious one.  How would I manage in the dark?  With the crazy driving?  Up that one super steep hill?  Needless to say I did manage.  Even though I had to push up that hill.  And not only did I manage, I was hooked.  There was something magical about weaving through the cool, dark morning whilst watching the city slowly stir itself awake.   And it made my commute to and from work a measly ten minutes.  Slowly, without realising, I got fitter.  And bolder.  Within a month I was cycling to work every day. And I had stopped pushing my bike up (most) hills. I had even started joining the mass cycling movement that took place every Sunday in the centre of the city – a cool 20km without even realising it.

Cycling became a great way to meet people.  I was spending time with colleagues I had barely spoken to before which resulted in forming some fantastic new friendships.  I also felt encouraged to explore other forms of exercise such as boxing with YM at his gym three times a week.  Although I still can’t quite manage push-ups, I loved the convivial, laid-back atmosphere where it was okay to participate as much as you felt comfortable. Mexicans are so non-judgmental.  If you went along to the gym and spent five minutes walking on a treadmill and then the rest of your session just catching up with your gym BFF by the water cooler no one would bat an eyelid.  It was all fine.

Finally, I felt ready to start swimming again.  Another friend had started taking lessons at a glorious 50m outdoor pool an easy 20 minute cycle from school.  What a great bunch of people.  It was completely acceptable to stop through your length to say hello to a friend or sit by the side of the pool if you fancied a wee break.  Not a problem at all.  My first long distance open water competition swimming around Isla Mujeres in the Caribbean was an eye-opener.  No need for wetsuits here!  The day started with an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet.  My team was horrified that I was too nervous to eat.  I, in turn, was amazed that they could trough their way through multiple servings of huevos rancheros, tortillas and chilaquiles.  Not a granola bowl or superfood smoothie in sight!  I was equally enchanted by their reaction to competition in general.

“Where are you going?”

“To warm up.”

“What do you need to do that for – you are going to be swimming for hours, you’ll get plenty of warm up then!”

A good point, well said.

Or, even more life affirming.  I caught up with a young twenty something competitor who was swimming in the males group which had set off before the females.  At first I put this down to my awesome swimming technique but I was soon put right.

“Hey, this is harder than I thought” he exclaimed. “I guess I should have trained.”

“I suppose so. Maybe try not doing breast stroke?”

“Nah.  I don’t like getting my hair wet.”

I’m pretty sure this conversation would never happen in any open water swimming competition in Europe.  Stroking through the warm, silky waters of the Caribbean watching the fish shoal around me and the anemones wave up at me through the crystal clear waters made me realise that this is really the only way to enjoy open water swimming.  Especially when you have another all-you-can-eat Mexican barbecue to welcome you at the finish.  With bottomless margaritas.  Yes please!

So, my New Year’s resolution is to try and get fit again.  It will be hard because open water swimming and cycling are not easily available in Istanbul.  I’m not a fan of the gym but I’m now at the point where I am the heaviest I have ever been and I can’t tell if if I have my jeans on back-to-front any more.  So a healthy diet and some exercise is a necessary evil.  I’m not looking to wear a bikini or deadlift my own body weight, I just don’t want to get diabetes.  So less carbs, fewer calories, no snacking and gym 3-4 times a week.  To get me in the mood I decided to whip up some uberhipster superfood chia bread (urghgh- i’m annoying myself) to get me started on the straight and narrow.  All it’s missing is the obscure soundtrack and overly skinny jeans.  I’ll leave those to you.

This recipe has been adapted from the wonderful Oh She Glows – the original recipe can be found here

You will need the following (also, appreciate my wonderful labelmaker Christmas present – no jar left unlabelled):

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  • 110g porridge oats
  • 70g mixed seeds (I just used a packet of seed blend meant for sprinkling on salads but use whatever you have lying around e.g. sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds etc. but remove the shells!)
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 240ml water

1. Preheat oven to 200C and line a 9-inch square pan with parchment paper

2. Add oats into your food processor. Blend on highest speed until a fine flour forms.

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3. Add all dry ingredients into a large bowl and stir well until combined.

4.Stir in the water until combined. The mixture will be very watery and runny at first, but it will thicken up fairly quickly.

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5.Scoop it into the pan and spread it out with a spatula as evenly as possible. You can use lightly wet hands to smooth it down if necessary. Sprinkle the bread with fine grain sea salt before going into the oven.

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4. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until firm to the touch. Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes and then lift it out and transfer it to a cooling rack for another 5-10 minutes. Slice and enjoy with a hint of smugness!

This is a super versatile recipe.  Just make sure you keep the weight of the dried ingredients the same.  You could use brown rice flour, quinoa flour and substitute chopped nuts for the seeds.  It’s also delicious toasted with butter or hummus.

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