Saturday, 23 January 2016

Flower power at Columbia Road Flower Market


Last Sunday was one of those piercingly cold January days when the mere thought of stepping outside had me adopting Eskimo-chic and layering up using the entire contents of my wardrobe. Most sensible people would naturally retreat indoors, fuel up on tea, curl up on the couch wrapped in a blanket and laze away the rest of the day. However being in desperate need of some fresh air, having recently finished binge-watching all ten episodes of the excellent ‘Making a Murderer’ on Netflix (if you haven’t seen it yet you’ve got to watch it, as my flatmate and I could talk about little else all week) and with the lovely prospect of a catch-up with my good friend and fellow-blogger Marie I ventured out into the world.

I met Marie when I first moved to London and answered a random flat share advert on Gumtree. As a French fashionista she has shown some real patience with my distinct lack of style - though I think my multi-coloured scrunchies nearly drove her to the edge. Yet in spite of these differences and perhaps because at heart we are both really geek-girls, we have remained firm friends.
Determined to cheer up a gloomy January day when we were both broke and when pay day seemed a lifetime away, we decided there was nothing for it but to head for the explosion of colour that is Columbia Road Flower Market.

Nestled in a small Victorian street amongst a ramshackle collection of art, vintage and antique shops in London’s East End, Columbia Road Flower Market is arguably one of the prettiest of the city’s many markets. Every Sunday this tiny street is filled to the brim with stalls selling every type of flower your heart could desire, as well as bulbs, seeds, herbs and other potted plants. The result is that Columbia Road has become a favourite Sunday haunt of many a Londoner. We went there around midday when there is a great atmosphere but you will be battling the crowds. If you want to snag yourself a bargain then head to the market about 2.30pm instead, just as the stalls are starting to close up.












Stock changes every week so each experience is a little different. I stood daydreaming for ages, listening to the low hum of a band play in the distance and the cheerful Cockney chatter of the flower sellers and soaking up the smell of lavender, before finally deciding that the flowers were just far too pretty and too good value not to buy at least one little bunch. Having always had a soft spot for roses which are surely any girl’s best friend, when I spotted some gorgeous lilac roses for just £4, I couldn’t resist. I even tried bartering over the price, cheekily suggesting that the stall holder give me two bunches for the price of one. Alas I was doomed to failure, but this is London at its friendliest where a bit of banter is an essential part of the experience.

So next time you have a free Sunday make sure to head to Columbia Road Flower Market for what will undoubtedly be a blooming brilliant start to your day.
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Monday, 4 January 2016

The art of becoming a nutri-ninja - The Nutribullet Guide


As a compulsive list maker 2016 naturally began with a list of life goals, fuelled by the need to shake things up and a desire to make the next 12 months really count. Of course no list of New Year goals/resolutions, would be complete without the aim to get healthy, or to be honest to lose that weight that has mysteriously found its way to my belly over the festive period. For most people this involves ramping up their exercise levels, leading to gym owners across the land rubbing their hands together with glee. But as I want this resolution to last beyond the first few weeks of January, I've decided to start this whole 'healthy lifestyle' game with baby steps starting with the plan to just replace some of those deliciously fattening foods I love with fruit and vegetable alternatives.

Knowing this would be quite a challenge for a gastronome like me, I enlisted the king of nutritional gadgets, the prince of pulverisers - the Nutribullet -  a kitchen device which bills itself as the 'world's most powerful nutrient extractor'.

Fighting words indeed! Isn't it just another juicer/blender I hear you ask? Well apparently not, juicers remove all the fibre from fruits and veg (so inevitably you don't stay full for long - never good when you are a serial grazer) and most conventional blenders are either too bulky or not powerful enough to be a feasible alternative. Unsure of whether to believe the hype I embarked on a week of smoothie-ing on the quest to become a nutria-ninja and put this machine to the test.

I took one quick flick through the recipe guide which came with the device and was so freaked out by the amount I would be shelling out on chia seeds and goji berries that I decided to buy whatever ingredients were affordable at the time and worry about the actual recipes later on, an approach which led to some very good, some very bad and some rather ugly results.

 

The Good


Carrot & Orange Smoothie
My little sis came round for the weekend and donated a bag of mini-carrot batons to aid the 'eat more veg' fund. I was a little concerned, would the Nutribullet really be able to pulverize through carrot and make it into an edible drink. I consulted Mr Google and found a somewhat appealing recipe for a carrot and orange nutriblast. Here goes nothing!


What are the ingredients?  1 carrot (or a handful of mini batons), 1 orange, a couple of leaves of mint, 1/2 tsp ginger (1/4 inch ginger), coconut water up to max line

What's the verdict?
Ok you'll need to play around with the consistency until it works for you. When I first made it, it was tasty but WAY too thick for my liking but I added a good glug of coconut water and  re-blended it and it was pretty tasty, packed with goodness with a refreshing taste. While not a leafy green, both carrots and oranges are super nutritious and considered good for both health and weight loss.


Spinach, banana and peach smoothie
This one was borne out of the fact that I found a tin of peaches in syrup way at the back of my cupboard and decided what better excuse than this to finally use them and voila a nutriblast legend was born (sort of!)


What are the ingredients?  Spinach (fill up to 1/4 cup), 1 banana, approx. 5 slices of tinned peaches, (accidentally on purpose) knock in a good glug of the peach syrup too and coconut water to the max line.

What's the verdict?
Sweet and tasty but with a strangely frothy top (which I understand can be reduced through more binding ingredients like banana). Nutritional value is probably seriously diminished by the tinned fruit and syrup so you may want to just substitute that for one real life peach and a squeeze of honey instead.


Fruit blast
My sis asked me to make her a nutriblast too (ideally a fruit one rather than a veg-based one). Thankfully earlier that week I had been in Lidl and had bought a packet of frozen strawberries (definitely worth it as they last for ages and create a cold smoothie in a matter  of seconds). I also popped some kiwis in the basket on the recommendation of a fellow nutria-ninja and mixed those up with other ingredients I already had in the house.



What are the ingredients?  1 banana, 1 kiwi fruit, 5 frozen strawberries, coconut water to max line (enough for a mini blast so double the quantities for the larger Nutribullet cup)

What's the verdict?
Deeeelllllliiiiiicccccioooouuuusss! Very much like the smoothies you would pay several pounds for in a juice bar. However it doesn't fulfil the Nutri-rule of 50% leafy greens to ensure that fruit sugars are balanced out, which means that it probably isn't right for weight loss, so I will instead make this a special nutri-treat once in a while


Mojito-inspired smoothie
I loved the idea of this smoothie as soon as I read the recipe online. Although it took me a while to get round to making it, partly because of the queen of new year's day hangovers (after a truly fantastic new year's party where after way too many glasses of prosecco I ended up bounding up the stairs to grab my bag with the intention of heading home, but instead ended up falling asleep curled up in foetal position on my friend's floor) which made anything resembling an alcoholic drink turn my stomach. And partly because it took me a while to compile the ingredients as I hate to buy lots of extra ingredients simply for one smoothie preferring to use ingredients already in my fridge as much as possible.




What are the ingredients?  1/2 avocado, 2 small pears, juice of 1 lime, 1/2 a cucumber, a few mint leaves, coconut water filled to max line

What's the verdict? In terms of health benefits, avocados are the chubbiest of fruits, containing approx. 160 calories per 100g. However this is only half the story as they are actually full of good fats that are much more likely to be used to be utilized by your body as a slow burning energy source than saturated fats, so essentially they are a good thing to be incorporated in a healthy diet.

In terms of taste, the lime, pears and cucumber meld perfectly together to provide a super refreshing drink with a tiny bit of a zing. The avocado adds a lovely creamy texture too. Altogether it makes a truly fabulous concoction.


The Bad


Before I consigned the Nutribullet recipe book to the bottom of my bookshelf I remembered reading that if you were using the Nutribullet for weight loss you should increase the amount of greens that are contained in your nutriblasts. With this in mind I created what I imagined would be a supremely tasty, super-food nutriblast.

What are the ingredients?  1/2 avocado, 2 sticks celery, 50% kale, 2 teaspoons of mixed seeds and water filled to the max line

What's the verdict? You'll notice there is no picture for this one. That's because it was very BAD! The initial smoothie looked pretty enough but was essentially tasteless green gunge. In a bid to make it more edible I started going off-plan and adding additional ingredients - a glug of lemon juice, a teaspoon or two of minced ginger and when that didn't work in a moment of madness I raided the contents of my fridge and added....sweet chilli sauce! The results were wholly unpalatable and after a few sips the remainder of the contents of the jug were washed down the sink. Never again!


The Ugly

 

Kale, raspberry and banana smoothie
I know everyone has been raving over the last year or so about kale as this incredible 'superfood'. I had also heard it was a nutritious base for smoothies (and that combined with fruits its bitter taste was completely masked) so I popped some leftover kale in my fridge into the Nutribullet so that my blast consisted of about 2/3rds leafy greens. Having learnt from the disastrous vegetable concoction above I now understood the need to add some fruit and so this tasty little nutriblast was created.




What are the ingredients? Lots of kale, a big handful of raspberries, 1 banana, a squeeze of honey and coconut water to max line

What's the verdict? Ok I know it's not the prettiest drink that you ever saw in your life but didn't your mama ever tell you not to judge a book by its cover? Ugliness aside this is really tasty and properly filled me up. A definite keeper.
 

Final Verdict


I LOVE the Nutribullet (and I got it as a Christmas present rather than from  a PR agency so you can be sure this is a 100% unbiased opinion). I tend make my nutriblasts in the morning when I am already inevitably running late and therefore a huge selling point for me is that it takes less than 5 mins to make a smoothie, prepare it to take away and wash all the pieces of the device. That's because making a nutriblast simply involves popping the ingredients in plastic cup, screwing on the blade and popping it into the main unit which pulverises the contents into a drink in less than a minute. Then all you need to do is remove the cup from the main unit, unscrew the blade (which can be easily rinsed under a tap in seconds) and pop on one of the helpful little lids and that's it - good to go!

I can't tell you if it has led to weight loss as I have resolved not to go on the scales as no good can come from it, but I can tell you that I feel fantastic. The days I have been having the nutriblasts I have felt more energetic, more focused and less stressed. I started making much better meal choices (eating more vegetables and pulses and less meat and carbs). I also felt little desire to snack in between meals as all that extra fibre filled me up. I continued to allow myself a treat a day (but strangely seemed to be finding them far less delicious than I imagined they would be). The eagle-eyed of you might have noticed that I planned a week's worth of smoothie-ing but there are only 5 smoothies above. That's because for two days (New Year's Eve and New Year's Day) I fell off the wagon completely, and felt the ill-effects of it (or perhaps that was just too much drink). Either way come 2nd January rather than giving up I was right back on the horse again, and that is why I know this handy little gadget has well and truly converted me to its wondrous ways.

Apart from the recipes above, what tips have I learnt this week? -
  1. Always add some fruit and ideally a tiny amount of honey too (or something similarly sweet). The smoothies may have fewer calories without them but they also making the nutriblasts something that you actually look forward to drinking.
  2. Try coconut water rather than tap water. It is super-hydrating and a tasty alternative to water. This is probably one of the most expensive ingredients in my smoothies but I think it's worth it.
  3. Mix it up. Be creative and don't just stick with the smoothies in the recipe guide. Find out what fruit and veg are on sale or are cheaper at the moment because they're in season, and experiment using them. Not only will it be less painful on your purse, but it will keep it interesting.
  4. And finally, in case it needs to be said.........never ever add sweet chilli sauce to a smoothie. It will NOT be good.

Happy New Year and enjoy smoothie-ing!
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