Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Low fat: friend or foe?

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HeartActive is a delicious, 99% fat free milk enriched with plant sterols, which are proven to help reduce cholesterol. Research shows that consuming plant sterols everyday in milk can reduce cholesterol by an average of 10% in three weeks.  HeartActive is currently available in a 1L carton with an extended shelf life (45 days from production) compared to regular white milks with a shelf life of 14 days.

Have you ever noticed how dietary advice seems to go in and out of fashion? For instance: over recent times, there's been something of a backlash against low fat nutrition plans after years of general consensus that low fat was the way to go. Fat is bad. No, fat is good. This kind of fat is bad, but that kind is good. Wait a minute...that kind is now considered bad, but this kind is A-OK. What was out last week is in this week. Aargh!

In many of the health and fitness groups amongst which I socialise, low-fat is completely out of favour. One of the arguments against is that many low fat packaged foods aren't exactly good for us. Yes, they may contain little or no fat, but the problem is that to make them taste good, other things often have to be added. I'm not going to call out any specific products, but if you read the labels on many of the fat-free items on the supermarket shelves, there's a lot of sugar or artificial additives in there. Those are really not my favourite things, for obvious reasons.

Another argument against going low-fat is that our bodies need dietary fat. Among other things, hormone production and repair/creation of new tissue relies on fat. As well, some vitamins are fat-soluble. If you ate zero fat for any length of time, there's no doubt you'd be risking some potentially serious health problems.

Nobody disputes the value of unsaturated fat. Or that we ought to avoid trans-fats. I know that some trans-fats occur naturally in animal products, but it's the artificially created fats in manufactured biscuits and other baked goods that create concern. Recently there's been quite a bit of argument about saturated fat and whether it's good or bad for you. But the advice from health authorities is still to eat lean meats and lower fat dairy products and to get most of our necessary fats from known healthy sources.

It can be really confusing to try to sift through the mass of conflicting information, but for what it's worth, here's my view. I'm not afraid of fat and I include some in my meals every day. But there are two main reasons why watching the amount of dietary fat you're getting is still generally a good idea:

1) If you're aiming to restrict calories for weight loss or even weight maintenance, keeping overall fat intake moderately low is one of the strategies that will help. Fat is calorie-dense, regardless of the type. It contains almost double the calories per gram of either protein or carbohydrate.

2) If you have high cholesterol, cardio-vascular disease (or more than one risk factors for cardiovascular disease), minimising saturated fat is a wise move too. Regardless of the touted benefits of this week's fad healthy product, if it's high in saturated fat, you should probably minimise your consumption of it.

Add a good dose of Omega-3s and a moderate amount of Omega-6s to your meals, cut back the saturated fat and try to avoid trans-fats. How do you do that?  Eat oily fish, olive oil and some nuts and seeds. Choose lean sources of meat and poultry. Cut way back on packaged biscuits, bars and cakes and switch to low-fat milk and other dairy products.

I may be a bit liberal with the olive oil, walnuts and other plant sources of dietary fat, and I never worry about the fat in a lovely piece of salmon or mackerel, but I do stick to low fat milk and yoghurt. It helps me to keep my overall calorie consumption within my requirements (nobody wants a fat butt, do they?), and I never have the slightest twinge of guilt about grabbing a cafe latte, pouring milk on my porridge or creating a smoothie or shake for a quick and easy snack.

Do you consciously follow a low-fat regime? If so, what are your motives?

This article represents my opinion only, and is not intended as medical advice. If you have high cholesterol or any other health condition, or if you require nutritional advice, you should consult a medical professional and/or an accredited practising dietitian.

HeartActive is a delicious, 99% fat free milk enriched with plant sterols, which are proven to help reduce cholesterol. Research shows that consuming plant sterols everyday in milk can reduce cholesterol by an average of 10% in three weeks. HeartActive is currently available in a 1L carton with an extended shelf life (45 days from production) compared to regular white milks with a shelf life of 14 days.


Sunday, July 28, 2013

How to avert a kitchen disaster

Picture this: You've made a cake for a special occasion and it's turned out very nicely. Except.... in the process of moving it from cooling rack to plate, it falls apart. Like, into three or four pieces.

Do you: 

a) Panic and begin baking another cake?
b) Run to the bakery and buy something instead?
c) Pile a whole lot of fruit on top to hide the damage and serve it up anyway? 

Of course, the correct answer is C.

I have many cake near-disasters, but I find that dumping strawberries, candied orange slices, or some other fruit on top can save just about anything.

You're welcome.

This was Liz's "cake with nothing in it". If you haven't made it, you ought to. Divine. 


Saturday, July 27, 2013

Recipe enhancement

I've created yet another variation of my oat & fruit bakes - this one is perfect for me at the moment, as it's a low FODMAPs recipe. But there's nothing odd about it, no obscure ingredients or anything like that, so don't worry ...it still tastes great.

It's a really nice combo - strawberry and rhubarb.  Hop over and check it out.

You might notice that this image is a cut above my usual quick snaps. It's hard to get good shots when you're photographing your meal just before you eat it and making do with whatever light you have available - usually at night or early in the morning when there's no natural daylight. Not to mention that you're probably salivating all over the subject because you're starving...

So I'm finally making use of all the tips I've collected over the years and getting more serious about my food photography. I've hauled out the tripod and switched my camera away from its full auto settings. My collection of odd crockery and glassware is being called into service and I'll try to take advantage of weekend daylight to set up my shots. Hopefully, I can come up with photos that do justice to the food I'm photographing.

The one above was shot next to a window in the early afternoon. Even after adjusting the camera's white balance for the conditions and adding a reflector, I still needed to bounce my flash off the ceiling to light the shot properly. It took about thirty shots to get one I was happy with. Thank goodness for digital photos - I'd have gone through a lot of film in the old days.

Of course, this may mean that I'll have to cook all our dinners in the middle of the day. On the weekends. I'm sure nobody will mind their food being reheated... ;)

Spot the difference. Tungsten light - aargh! Tricky. 


Friday, July 26, 2013

Appreciating winter

Ooh, hello! Where did my week go? I'm not sure, but I think it got filled up with work and sleep and training ....and possibly Pinterest. All I know is that I've been comatose on the couch by about 8:30pm each night and I was even in bed at that time once or twice. SO tired...

I blame winter. The extra hours of darkness just make me want to a) hibernate and b) sleep. Wait. Those are the same thing, right? Yeah, whatever. What I mean is, I just don't want to go out in the evenings - even when I'm not sleeping. If we have a social event, half of me is all Yeah, awesome! Let's go out and have fun! and the other half is Do we have to go? Can't we just stay in with a book or a DVD and a blankie? Actually, the stay in "half" is probably more like three-quarters.

But I've been making an effort to complain less about winter and appreciate it more. There are some good things about the cold, frosty season, after all. Books, hearty casseroles, hot drinks and blankies aside, I've been making an effort to notice and appreciate some of the places I do actually make an effort to go to. Or just some of the stunning displays that Mother Nature puts on. The phone camera has been put to work to capture them:

An ordinary view from my office window - but a pretty extraordinary sky. 

A quick bite to eat at MoVida next Door before Pink's concert gave
me the opportunity to check out Hosier Lane's street art once again.

This day, I had my DSLR with me. Unfiltered shot of a STUNNING winter day; Luna Park looking good.

Same day, early evening, St Kilda beach. Gah! Tricky lighting.
I stopped to take a photo of this pretty part of the local wetlands on a recent MTB ride.

When you have to be at work stupidly early, it's nice to be rewarded with a view of a dramatic sky.
I ventured out onto the cold and windy balcony to get this one. Wish I'd had my camera.

I almost missed this gorgeous sunrise - thanks to a neighbour accidentally setting off their car alarm,
I happened to be looking out the front door at just the right moment.

I'll be trying hard to look past the mundane to see the extraordinary, to enjoy the beauty that winter has to offer, and to whinge about the cold a bit less.

OK, that last one is a lie. Cold weather sucks and I'll whinge if I want to. Deal with it.


In other news, I'm working on some new goals. One of them involves running. Yes, you did read that right: R.U.N.N.I.N.G.

No, I won't be signing up for any marathons. But I do plan to get back to running 5k distances on a reasonably regular basis. I loved being able to do that. I reckon I could actually do it right now, as my general fitness is pretty good - but it would be excruciatingly slow and I would not enjoy it.

There are lessons to be learnt from history too. Thanks to my uneven legs, I have a tight left ITB and am prone to all sorts of issues with my crooked pelvis, which can translate into lumbar pain, knee niggles and all kinds of un-fun stuff. Running tends to aggravate those less-than-perfect body parts and if I go all Just (over)do it, I can end up with pain and/or injuries that send me back to the sidelines for extended periods.

So I'm proceeding cautiously. Probably over-cautiously, but that's better than the alternative. I set myself a goal of running 2km last Sunday and I did it easily. I kept the pace deliberately slow, averaging barely under 7:00 minute pace. But, woohoo! ...Did you notice the part where I said it was EASY? Also, I pulled up afterwards without any dramas - some extra tightness in the ITB, but I booked myself an osteopath session and had that sorted.

This morning, I repeated my 2km effort, this time increasing my pace just a little and knocking 35 seconds off Sunday's time. It was still easy. :) I'm going to focus on distance for now, and work more seriously on increasing my speed once I hit the 5km mark.

My "avoid injury" plan includes:

Gradually increasing my distance
Keeping my speed a little slower than I think I can go
Making a conscious effort to maintain good posture
Regular osteopathy treatments
Foam roller work for the old ITB. (Yay...)

I think that should do the trick. I'll keep you posted. :)


Friday, July 19, 2013

Completely and utterly bonkers

I spent considerably more time than usual this morning at the supermarket, doing our family grocery shopping. Instead of grabbing my usuals in the fruit and veg section, I had to stop and consult my list of "safe" foods before adding anything to the trolley. Fructose, fructans and polyols, I'm not very happy with you today...

Anyway, I got through that part without too much angst. No asparagus, no apples, no pears, no mushrooms - oh wait. I did buy mushrooms, I just won't be eating them - but I loaded up with oranges, kiwi fruit, bananas, spinach, beans, carrots, zucchini, potatoes and plenty of other fresh and tasty stuff.

Then things got interesting. I found myself scouring the specialty breads, hunting for the brands the dietitian had suggested. What? I don't eat bread normally; why am I even checking this? I moved on to the dairy cabinet. Lactose-free skim milk - check! Jalna plain yoghurt (practically no lactose in that one) - check! Into the trolley with those.

Why do manufacturers feel the need to label MILK as "gluten-free", I wonder? Are consumers really that stupid?

Next up was the coffee and tea aisle, which also happens to be the biscuit aisle at our local Coles. I grabbed a couple of things that the boys like for snacks and then found myself hunting for a gluten-free macaroon thingie that Arnott's apparently make. Wait. What? Why am I looking for those? I don't usually eat biscuits*, I don't need them, aargh!

The same deal was repeated in the health foods aisle and over at the freezer cabinets. Gluten-free products, ice cream.... I stopped and asked myself: are you completely mental? The answer to that is: obviously, YES.

This all just proves my theory that if I'm told I can't have something, I immediately and desperately want it. Even if it's something I don't really like. That has to be the definition of crazy, right?

I got out of there without a whole lot of crap in my trolley by reminding myself that: a) I don't really want and certainly don't need those things; and b) it's temporary! Chances are I will be adding most of the forbidden foods back into my meals in just a few weeks. And besides, if I really want something delicious, there's always chocolate. :)

Do you go bonkers too when you're suddenly unable to have something for some reason?

*I make an exception for home-baked delicious morsels such as these.


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Finding my way through FODMAPs

(Image source)

This afternoon I had my long-awaited consultation with the dietitian to get to the bottom of my life-long battle with IBS. I was asked to keep a food diary for the week prior to my appointment. This might seem tedious and/or difficult for many people, but for me? Piece of cake. I've kept food logs off and on for years, so it was honestly no problem.

We had a long discussion about my history, symptoms and what I've already discovered about the types of foods that upset me. The dietitian agreed that wheat is 99% likely to be one of my intolerances; no surprise there. It's also not a big deal, because most of the time I don't eat the stuff. I'm a pro at making pancakes and other treats with oats, buckwheat, coconut or rice flour. My pantry is stuffed full of weird ingredients like quinoa flakes, xanthan gum, tapioca starch, chia seeds, potato flour and so on. No bread? No problem. I can't remember the last time I ate a sandwich for lunch anyway.

But even when I've gone completely wheat-free for months at a time, my symptoms haven't entirely disappeared. So we need to do some detective work and pinpoint what else is upsetting my poor old digestive system.

I gather that most people find the thought of an elimination diet terrifying, so the usual approach is to pick one or two likely groups of FODMAPs foods and cut those out to see what happens. Not me. The problem is that I regularly eat numerous foods from ALL of the groups, so it's impossible to deduce from my food diary and record of symptoms exactly what's giving my large intestine such a hard time. Plus, I really don't want to spend weeks eliminating one or two groups of foods only to find that my symptoms haven't improved and then have to go through it all again with other groups. So I'm going to take the hard-core approach and cut out all of them at once. Yay...  :o/

It's nowhere near as bad as it sounds. There are some foods that need to be avoided altogether, sure. But there are substitutions for many and for others, reduced quantities of the suspect food can be tolerated. So it's not like the super-strict six-day elimination diet I did a couple of years back where I could only eat about a dozen foods. Or even like the completely mental bodybuilding diet I did way back in 2006, which cut my allowable foods to chicken, fish, steak, three varieties of fruit, about eight veggies, oats, rice and plain yoghurt. I cannot believe I actually did that...

This time around, the things I have to avoid or minimise include:

Lactose - but lactose-free milk, some cheeses and some yoghurts are fine. Phew.
Fructose - lots of fruits & veg are OK, but some are off-limits, as is honey. No apples, pears, dried fruit, asparagus. *pouts*
Polyols - this one peeves me a bit because it means no erythritol for me. Bye-bye Natvia. Also? No mushrooms. Boo!
Fructans - the most difficult. Wheat, etc? No drama. Legumes & lentils? Meh. Who cares? But: Onions, garlic... *cries*

I'm still reading the notes and absorbing the information, but basically, I need to be quite strict about avoiding certain foods for six weeks (and keeping others to small portions) then go back to see the dietitian to sort out the reintroduction phase.

As some of my favourite foods are in the no-no category, I can't promise there won't be sulking.

It's unlikely that all of the FODMAPs are a problem for me - it's far more likely to be one or two of them, which is easily manageable.

Frankly, I'm heartily sick of spending many of my afternoons and evenings in pain, clutching a heat pack. I'm also sick of blowing up like a puffer fish to the point where I have to loosen my belt a couple of notches or undo the zip on my skirt. Not to mention the noxious emissions from my *ahem* nether regions. So if this process identifies my nutritional nemeses, it will be worth a few weeks of mild deprivation.

And on the plus side?  Chocolate is not on my no-go list. See? I knew it wouldn't be all bad.

Stay tuned. I'll let you know how it goes and will do my best to keep the whinging to a minimum.


Monday, July 15, 2013

The French connection - Europe in a Box

I've always had an affection for all things French: champagne, perfume, Monet and the other Impressionists, croissants, crepes, cassoulet... or hell, just about any French food. You name it; if it's French, I probably love it. I learned the French language in years seven and eight (or form one and two as we used to call them back in the Dark Ages), most of which I've long since forgotten. But my love for the country has never faded.

So I'm having a ball planning our long-awaited first ever European holiday. Details are still being nutted out, but the vague plan is to head off mid-next year and visit France, Spain, England and Scotland. And possibly Switzerland. And maybe Singapore on the way home. I'm sure we'll figure out the finer details by the time airfares are on sale.

Anyway, I'm reading Lonely Planet guides, haunting Trip Adviser and other travel sites and obsessively trawling Pinterest for yet more gorgeous places we MUST visit. Bike Boy has his must-see list for the Spanish leg of our trip while I'm dreaming of Paris, Provence, Champagne, Alsace, Languedoc...

Lucky for me, I have a handy contact who can help me to narrow down the choices to a manageable itinerary. I met Cyndie, a.k.a. Mademoiselle Slimalicious, in person at Problogger last year. She's a French expat living in Sydney and is more than happy to share local knowledge of her part of the world. As luck would have it, her part of the world just happens to be Carcassonne - check this out:

Image source: mslimalicious.com

Breathtaking, non? (I'm going to annoy the crap out of everyone for the next twelve months by throwing French words and phrases into my conversation. Hehe). UNESCO thought the town important enough to add it to their World Heritage listing. I'm pretty sure we can fit in a visit to Carcassonne between Paris and Barcelona...

As well as writing her blog, Cyndie is the brains behind Europe in a box. It's a subscription service that delivers a monthly box of European goodies to your door. I've been intrigued by the concept since it was launched, but you know how it is - you mean to do that thing, but somehow you just don't get around to it... Then last month I saw in my Facebook feed that Europe in a Box had a one-off special edition Bastille Day box available. I jumped on it and ordered mine, tout-suite!

So, what would I get in my box? Here's what the website says:

"Each tasting box contains four gourmet treats, each originating from a different country in Europe, including one authentic imported drink. We also include a few samples, a free gift in your first box and an information card with educational, cultural and culinary information in every box. Free shipping Australia wide."

I waited impatiently for my treats to arrive. Last Thursday, three days before Bastille Day, my box turned up - yay! I ripped open the post pack and eagerly raised the lid. The packaging was gorgeous....

...And the contents did not disappoint. (There was also a miniature (200ml) bottle of sparkling peach wine, but I forgot that I'd popped it in the fridge when I finally got around to taking photos.)

The products are all items that I haven't seen before and are not things that I'd be likely to find at my local supermarket, that's for sure. So what did I get? My box contained:

JP Chenet Fashion Peach Piccolo 
Bonne Maman fruit conserve - currant jelly 
Pascal Esquines Pate de Foie 
La Tisanerie herbal tea bag
Rendez-Vous violet bonbons
Lutti Arlequin candies
Espelette chilli jelly

Included was a sheet describing each item: where it came from, a few facts about the town or the company and some information about the product - which is very handy with something like the chilli jelly, which the average Australian may not know is intended to be paired with sheep cheese, such as Manchengo. Coincidentally, we just happen to have some in the fridge, left over from last night's tapas feast. :) I guess though, it would go well with crackers and many different cheeses.

There were little extra touches too - some additional sweets, another variety of tea, and the cutest Eiffel tower keyring...

A handwritten note from Cyndie added a personal touch - and she had included a gorgeous dark Belgian chocolate, flavoured with lavender, saying that she thought I'd enjoy it. Is my love of chocolate that obvious? Don't bother answering that...

I haven't worked my way through the contents as yet. The box's arrival coincided with a busy time as well as our planned Spanish feast, so I'm saving most of my treats and will sample them over the next week or two. I did try the violet bonbons - which are sugar-free, by the way. I wasn't quite sure at first taste, so I had to try one more...and then another, just to be certain they were OK. And hey - I like them! :D

Europe in a Box: gets the thumbs-up from moi!

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. I purchased my Special Edition Europe in a Box with my own funds and this post represents my honest opinion.


Sunday, July 14, 2013

Indulging without bulging

I consider myself fortunate to be married to a man who loves to cook.  He also has a "thing" for tapas, and works in the city, which means that the Queen Victoria Market is within a quick lunchtime dash. Add all of these things up and what do you get?

...Tapas extravaganza!

Yep, this was last night's dinner - which went on and on and on... We started with chorizo in cider, which was amazing - that's it in the middle pic on the right. Then we moved onto pork rolls stuffed with jamon and manchego cheese (top right); even more amazing. Next was a tortilla patata (bottom right), served with garlic aioli. Again, amaaaazing.

After those little tidbits, we got into the serious stuff: clams in green sauce (bottom left). We had a similar dish at Movida Next Door a couple of years ago and Bike Boy hasn't stopped raving about it. Lucky for him, I found Frank Camorra's fabulous Movida recipe book for a bargain price at bookdepository.co.uk... This was awesome sauce. I mean the sauce was awesome - so much garlic!

The final course was a Spanish rib-eye, served with roasted cumin-lime baby carrots (top left) and Brussells sprouts. Sensational!

The best way to eat these babies - gently cooked in a little olive oil with jamon and onion. Yum!
I did help a little. I made the veggies.... lit the candles....

...and, as usual, was responsible for dessert. I found this flourless chocolate-orange cake recipe and decided to give it a whirl. It was almost a disaster, because: a) the recipe isn't quite right; and b) I was rushing and didn't check the oven settings. Oops.

Luckily, it turned out OK. A little burnt on the bottom, and it did stick to my silicon pan on one side and come out a bit imperfect-looking, but nothing that couldn't be hidden with a good dollop of Greek yoghurt, some chopped pistachios and the right camera angle. Delicious!

I'm going to make my own version of this and will share the recipe once I've tweaked it suitably. 
You might be wondering how eating like this reconciles with healthy living, weight maintenance and all that kind of thing. Here's my general life philosophy, as stated in a comment I left over at Sara's blog the other day:

If losing or maintaining weight required eating lettuce and poached fish, I'd be the fattest person on planet earth, because I adore good food. There has to be room for chocolate, ice cream and wine - just not in enormous quantities.

Eat things you like (in the right amounts) and move your butt quite a bit. Stress less and do the things that you enjoy, travel the world, hug your loved ones, read good books, take pleasure in small things.... and never, ever act your age.

So... Saturday's dinner... Yes, it contained numerous courses, but I ate only small portions of each. Bike Boy did his usual thing and slightly extravagantly over-catered. But that doesn't mean we have to EAT ALL OF THE FOOD, just because it's there. A spoonful of chorizo, one pork roll (OK, two...), one slice of tortilla, a few clams and a little steak with generous amounts of the veggies was more than enough for me. Our fridge is well-stocked with leftovers.

There was actually meant to be one more course, something fabulous with fresh whiting - but halfway through, we looked at each other, looked at the food left from each course so far, and said "Maybe we'll save that for lunch tomorrow...." It's good to know your limits.

I knew that dinner was going to be indulgent - and that dessert was on the menu too, so I ate lightly during the day. Lunch was this colourful salad with a small can of salmon chucked on top:

Food photography is so much easier with the help of daylight....

Another important part of my approach to healthy eating is to never demonise food. There is no "good" or "bad" food, there's just food... Yes, there are foods that we should eat more of than others, but there is nothing that I can't eat. Creating a list of banned foods, (or "cheat" foods - I hate that term, ugh!) is a sure way to send me off into a destructive spiral of craving, binging, compensatory deprivation, self-loathing and serious mental problems.

Instead, I eat what I like - and how could you not find my "whatever's in the fridge" salad appealing? All those colours and textures and flavours, mmm! I'm able to limit my consumption of indulgence foods; most of the time anyway. I've been paying close attention to how food affects me and have learned that too much chocolate or cake or wine isn't a great idea - not just because it will make my butt expand, but because my body objects quite loudly to an excess of sugar, starch or alcohol. Waking up with a headache, dragging myself through the day feeling lethargic and grumpy, or dealing with an episode of severe gut dysfunction are not things I choose to experience on a regular basis.

Thus, the leftover cake is about to be sliced, packed into a container and frozen. Bike Boy will turn some of the tortilla and chorizo into breakfast today (he's currently pedalling his way through a workout in the garage) and will probably eat some of the remaining savoury goodies for his dinner tonight while I'm out enjoying Pink's umpteenth Melbourne concert.

I had planned to mark Bastille Day today with some French cuisine, and had a vague idea about popping out to buy fresh croissants for breakfast. But I woke up this morning feeling not very hungry - and after last night's magnificent feast, I don't really want pastry; it just doesn't appeal right now. That's OK; I can have croissants any time I like. Maybe next weekend. Or not. Right now, I think I feel like some fruit and yoghurt...


Friday, July 12, 2013

A mountain of yoghurt

I don't know about you, but when I find a new product that I love in some obscure small shop somewhere, I'm excited. It's not available in the big supermarkets, so it's like it's my little secret...  Last year, I discovered The Collective's gourmet yoghurts in a small shop near my office. This stuff was divine!

I had a brief love affair with the apple crumble flavour. I'd duck in there at lunchtime to stock up on my goodies - which nobody else seemed to have cottoned onto. Then it disappeared from the shelves without warning. It was like losing a lover. Well, not exactly like that, but it made me a little bit sad. :(

So when I was asked if I'd like to try some samples from The Collective, as you can imagine, I said "yes" faster than a speeding fast thing.

I was given four flavours to try: Apple Crumble (which I was already familiar with), Passionfruit, Rhubarb and Strawberry and Russian Fudge. I restrained myself from eating all four immediately and spaced out my sampling over a few days.

I love all the fruit flavoured ones - the yoghurt is creamy and delicious, with none of that nasty artificial taste that some brands have. That would be because it's free from preservatives or artificial anything and contains nothing but yoghurt and fruit. Or maybe it's because it comes from happy cows who live on the island of natural wonder. Yep, this is a new Zealand product, and one thing those Kiwis do well is produce top quality dairy foods.

The Russian Fudge is a little sweet for me; I like my yoghurt with plenty of tang. But I knew it would be right up Bike Boy's alley and I was right. He LOVED it. He went rummaging in the fridge the next day in the hope that I had extras stashed away.

So I received these samples last Thursday and was pretty stoked - who doesn't love getting deliveries? Then on Friday, I was surprised to receive an email telling me that I'd won The Collective's Passion for Your Peeps Facebook promotion. I'd forgotten all about that! A week or more earlier, I'd "liked" The Collective Oz's Facebook page and spotted the #passionforyourpeeps giveaway - the prize being yummy passionfruit yoghurt for morning tea for your workplace. I sent in an entry, and thought no more about it.

On Tuesday morning this week, I had a big bag full of passionfruit yoghurt and mango drinking yoghurt hand-delivered to my office. Guess who was the most popular person at work on Tuesday? My boss, who's from an Indian background, was mad for the drinking yoghurt - it reminded him of the Indian lassi that he loves. I gave him two. Looks like I'm getting an extra-good mid-year report then. :D

A yoghurt mountain!

I have a thing for passionfruit; I think this is my favourite flavour.

I did intend to post photos of all the flavours, but alas...I can never seem to remember BEFORE I eat them. Oh well....


Now that my little secret is out and everyone knows about these little pots of deliciousness, you might think I'd be a bit annoyed. But nope - because Woolworths is now stocking the 170g tubs, and I've even seen the 500g tubs at one Woollies in my area.

I'll have to go on the hunt for the drinking yoghurt though, because Bike Boy is extremely partial to that stuff. Plus extra bribes gifts for the boss won't go astray.

Who's tried this? What's your favourite flavour?

Disclosure: This is not a sponsored post. I received free product for the purposes of review, but no payment was provided. Opinions expressed here are my own.


Thursday, July 11, 2013

Winners and losers

First up, I have the pleasure of announcing the winners of the AntiOx chocolate giveaway. Remember that? Yes, it was a while ago. Unfortunately there was a bit of a delay in the decision-making process, but the wait is finally over.

The two lucky winners are .....

MichVee and KSavwater. Congratulations to both of you - I'll be in touch to get your mailing addresses so your prizes can be sent to you. :)

Thanks to all those who entered, and I'm sorry I can't give you all a lovely prize of free chocolate, but:

OK, so there are TWO in this case. Shut up.


Now, onto the Losers. Or LOSER (singular).

I wasn't doing too much winning myself yesterday. I'd just got to work and after turning on my computer wandered off to put my lunch in the fridge and make a cup of tea. I shoved my phone in my blazer pocket so I'd have both hands free without having to put the Precious down on the always wet or generally scuzzy benchtops in the kitchen.

On my way back from the kitchen, I put my cuppa down on a handy table and ducked into the Ladies. I completed my business, remarkably without tucking my skirt into my tights or getting toilet paper stuck to my shoe and turned to wave my hand in front of the high-tech touch-free flush buttons.


I hardly had time to think "What was that?" before I glanced down to see the Precious sitting in the toilet bowl. IN THE UNFLUSHED TOILET BOWL. I didn't even hesitate before plunging my hand right in and grabbing the phone. - What? Don't tell me you wouldn't do the same thing.

I wrapped it in approximately a thousand feet of toilet paper and then in fifty layers of paper towel, before unwrapping it again to pull off the cover and switch it off. I re-wrapped it in clean paper towel and headed back to my desk to Google "iPhone dropped in water". It's now sitting in a container of rice and I'm hopeful that it will survive. We'll find out tonight...

Meanwhile, I'm phoneless, as SIM cards are now so tiny you can barely see them with the naked eye, which means that mine won't fit in any of our old phones. Seriously, another day of this might just send me mental. Instead of filling my spare moments with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, blogs and obsessively checking my email, I actually have to speak to other humans. Face to face. O_o

If fate smiles on me and the damn thing still works, I'm going to start keeping it in a ziplock bag.


Tuesday, July 09, 2013

No surrender!

Sponsored Series by Nuffnang Australia

HeartActive is a delicious, 99% fat free milk enriched with plant sterols, which are proven to help reduce cholesterol. Research shows that consuming plant sterols everyday in milk can reduce cholesterol by an average of 10% in three weeks.  HeartActive is currently available in a 1L carton with an extended shelf life (45 days from production) compared to regular white milks with a shelf life of 14 days.

You might remember a week or two ago I had a blood test and wasn't thrilled with my less than healthy cholesterol levels. Back in October or November last year, my total cholesterol was at a slightly concerning 7.2. Then, after I cleaned up my act in the nutrition department, upped my exercise frequency and dropped about 5kg, by mid-March it had decreased to 6.5. High cholesterol taking a beating -yay for me and my healthy lifestyle!

So after a further three months of almost saintly living, I expected to see a further drop. I was even hopeful of a score under 6.0. Instead, it had inexplicably leapt up to a worrying 8.2. What the HELL, body?

Some research and a quick consultation with my guru of all things nutrition sciencey calmed me down quite a bit and I'm not worrying about it all now. The most likely explanation is that some thing or other affected the test on that particular day - something I'd eaten, a particularly vigorous exercise session the day before, even my recent weight loss could have potentially caused a temporary increase in blood cholesterol at that particular time.

As well, my HDL ("good") cholesterol is quite high and my triglycerides are low. My ratio of HDL to LDL is also quite good; it's just the LDL level and the total cholesterol that drag the whole thing down to not so good level.

So I'm completely chilled about the whole thing now. So is my GP, who was so unconcerned that she didn't even want to order up another test for twelve months.

Meanwhile, I'm continuing follow the health guidelines for managing cholesterol levels. I may be unconcerned, but I am aware of the risk of high cholesterol and am not about to just ignore it, especially given that I'm over fifty. High cholesterol is a risk factor for coronary artery disease and suffering a heart attack or stroke would really mess with my plans for the future.

So I'm still following my usual exercise regime, eating plenty of veggies and fruit, keeping dietary fat reasonably low and getting in some protective good fats from olive oil, fish oil and so on.

The Heart Foundation of Australia recommends people concerned about their heart health to have a daily intake of 2-3 grams of plant sterols from fortified foods, including low fat milk, because of their ability to effectively lower LDL cholesterol. With that in mind, I'm continuing to use Heart Active milk in my daily meals - usually in my breakfast porridge, but I do try to be creative and come up with other ideas.

Milk, raspberry, yoghurt...hmm, what to do with these...?

Even when you're following a healthy nutrition plan, there's no need to miss out on dessert. You know how I love dessert. One of my favourite things is a light and creamy milk-based mousse, flummery or pudding, which inspired me to come up with this Lime & raspberry pudding.

I've put a healthy spin on a delicious creamy dessert - this one was a winner with Bike Boy; who is a huge fan of lime and vanilla.

With my ongoing approach to healthy living, I'm confident that when my annual check up comes around again, my cholesterol levels will be much lower.

Have you ever had an "unsatisfactory" cholesterol test result? What did you do about it?

HeartActive is a delicious, 99% fat free milk enriched with plant sterols, which are proven to help reduce cholesterol. Research shows that consuming plant sterols everyday in milk can reduce cholesterol by an average of 10% in three weeks. HeartActive is currently available in a 1L carton with an extended shelf life (45 days from production) compared to regular white milks with a shelf life of 14 days.


Monday, July 08, 2013

Weekend shenanigans

My weekend flew past as usual, but Friday was a complete blur. Finding out at 6:00am that I'd placed as second runner up in the Leanness Lifestyle 2013 awards was a great start to my day, but left me kind of stunned. Then I had to be out the door at 9:00am for a family trip to the dentist - a much bigger deal than it sounds, as it involves a train ride to the city and back and took up 4 and a half hours of my day. Then there was grocery shopping to be done and some other mundane stuff and before I knew it, it was dinner time.

I did squeeze in some good stuff, however.

Our dentist is in Collins St - a few doors up from Koko Black. I treated myself to some
of their new liquid-centred  salted caramel truffles. Chocolate perfection!

I shouted myself these gorgeous roses, just because I deserved them. ;)

On Saturday, there was no MTB ride, thanks to a howling, icy wind. Not to worry, I got on the spin bike instead. Then I decided I'd better begin to catch up on an enormous pile of washing (yes, again - it's amazing to me that we can generate so many dirty clothes) and some long-neglected housework. I know...tedious.

But by 5:00pm, it was tools down and I parked myself on the couch with my feet up for a bit before enjoying the celebratory dinner Bike Boy had cooked me. First there was some of this:

I adore Veuve - but it's a bit beyond my usual bubbly budget. Thanks to Number One Son, we'd had a bottle stashed away since Christmas. Now seemed like the perfect time to have a couple of glasses.
Then a decadently delicious favourite - Red Spice Road's pork belly with chilli caramel and apple slaw.

Party in my mouth!
The recipe is available here. It's not for beginner cooks although it isn't particularly difficult. It just takes a long time to prepare, as the pork has to be cooked for 4 hours and then chilled before getting on with the rest of the process. it's well worth the effort!

On Sunday morning, I dragged Bike Boy out to the local farmer's market. It was a perfect morning.

I forgot to take a single photo at the market. But look: here's some blue sky!
Afterwards, we stopped at a cafe for a warming beverage.

Mmm, coffee....
That was the extent of the fun stuff. The rest of Sunday was filled with work and housework and suddenly the weekend was over. Boo! Thank goodness I'll get another one in four days' time...