26 March 2015

Richmond Half Marathon // Jackson + Rye

I like to think that training and eating go hand in hand. Which is just as well really, as they are the two things that I enjoy doing most. When I've got a race scheduled, my race-day prep not only includes running through a mental checklist of essentials (race number, face wipes, safety pins) but also involves taking into consideration post-race refueling (aka stuffing your face). Running a race is generally a pretty good way to justify having a slap up meal. Last Sunday, I ran Richmond Half Marathon and then headed to Jackson + Rye for a meal.

I arrived at Old Deer Park at around 8.15am to run the Salomon Citytrail Richmond Half Marathon. The race was much bigger than I expected, with hundreds of people already milling around the event village when I got there, and queuing for the substantial number of portaloos (one of the most important utilities at any race, as fellow runners will appreciate). I watched the 10k race set off at 8.30am, which was quite a small field. Then I went to drop my bag off (the bag drop was self-service so no queuing necessary - thumbs up!), after which I lined up for the half marathon, which was setting off in waves from 9am. I followed the 2 hour pacer into their pen as I was planning on taking it fairly easy. Then I noticed that the pacer went over to another pen and that the 1.50 pacer had appeared ahead of me. I knew I wouldn't be going at that pace but I couldn't be bothered to change pens at the last minute, so stayed put!

It was pretty chilly to start, but the sun decided to come out just as we headed across the starting line. After a quick loop around Old Deer Park we were off onto the streets of Richmond and followed a course that took us along mixed terrain including pavements, tow paths, and across fields, in a loop that passed Kew Gardens, Richmond bridge, Teddington lock and Ham. It's a lovely, scenic and flat route, parts of which will be familiar to those who have run races such as the Towpath 10, Cabbage Patch 10 and Richmond Running Festival. About 6.5 miles in, I saw the lead runner racing back, covering the last couple of miles to the finish. When I reached that point myself later on, I saw a girl running in the opposite direction, just about to reach the half way point. I felt fer her - she must have been the last person in the race. I hope she made it in the end!

Course map

About 2 hours and 7 minutes after crossing the start line, I made it to the finish. Finishers were awarded with a load of goodies - I could barely carry it all! The medal was pretty cool, the goody bag, sponsored by Whole Foods, was top notch, and we also got a finisher's t-shirt and a number of drinks to quench our thirst (water, Vita Coco and juice). 

Once I'd collected my bag, I walked (rather gingerly) towards Richmond town centre where I was meeting my parents, who were in London for the weekend. We had a booking at Jackson + Rye for lunch and, having run past it earlier, I knew exactly where it was: in a lovely spot right on the waterfront.

Jackson + Rye has an American diner-style menu with a Southern twist, and cool New York style interior decor to boot. When choosing this restaurant, I'd initially made my decision based on the brunch offerings on the menu, including American style pancakes and a number of appealing egg dishes. However, once I'd sat down and realised I quite fancied a post-race beer, the lunch options began to look more attractive. I ended up ordering crab cakes with radish slaw & chipotle mayo with a side of what was probably the most Southern-sounding dish on the menu, creamed corn grits & parmesan. And a Brooklyn lager to drink.

Will run for beer.
I really enjoyed the food - it was wholesome but had enough of a twist to ensure it steered clear of boring. The chipotle mayo really brought the crab cakes to life, and the radish slaw had a pleasantly surprising pickled tang to it. I loved the texture of the grits, they were beautifully creamy, with a handful of sweetcorn kernels thrown in for a textural contrast and extra sweetness. However, I couldn't really taste the parmesan and the grits were quite bland in flavour. I think with some extra seasoning and a generous sprinkling of parmesan these would have been divine.

Crab cakes & creamed corn grits

As it was a beautiful, sunny day, we decided to go for a wander on the hunt for dessert rather than stay in the restaurant (even though the dessert options looked tempting - peanut butter cookies with grape jelly, yum!). We went to the well-established Italian ice cream shop, Gelateria Danieli which is now in its tenth year. The ice cream is the great traditional Italian style you know and love - rich and creamy - but they also have some rather unusual and innovative flavours, including walnut & maple syrup, strawberry cheesecake and banana & salted peanut. I decided to go for one relatively traditional flavour (tiramisu) and one more unusual one (bakewell tart).

Beautifully thick, creamy ice cream!

The bakewell tart flavour was sensational - the perfect balance of sweet marzipan and tart cherries. I think the tiramisu flavour suffered next to these big flavours, as it tasted fairly bland in comparison. It probably would have been delicious on its own but it couldn't stand up to its bold partner. I should have chosen a more compatible pair of flavours! The prices here are incredibly reasonable given the location and the quality of the ice cream: 2 scoops cost £3.50. Gelatria Danieli also have a shop on Shaftesbury Avenue, and one in Kingston. Go and give them a try on a sunny day!

Having savoured the last bite of my ice cream, I realised that I was probably no longer in a calorie deficit and so called it a day.

What's your favourite post-race or post-workout indulgence?

24 March 2015

1Rebel // Porridge Cafe

1Rebel made a pretty majestic entrance onto the London fitness scene earlier this year, with an opening party in the form of a ride at the top of the Gherkin - that must have been spectacular! Although you'll have to do without the stunning view, you can now grab yourself a complimentary spot (first class free) in one of their two signature classes (Ride and Reshape). As I'm about to start training for Ride London, it seemed like the perfect time to check out the spin class, Ride.

From the moment I walked in, I knew this was going to be a pretty special experience. Forget all the fitness studios you've been to - 1Rebel takes the boutique fitness concept to a new level. Both in terms of design and service this is as good as it gets. When checking in for your class you're given a complimentary bottle of water and shower towel. If you want a cold towel you can get one from the Smeg fridge in the changing rooms. You don't have to worry about having a pound coin or holding onto a key during your class, because the lockers work by code. You also don't need to stress about the fact that you forgot your deodorant again - because there are plenty of toiletries and cosmetics for you to use both in the showers and at the vanity desks. The showers are probably the most impressive area: they look like a part of some kind of industrial water works. And unlike many gyms, they're not strictly communal as there are panels between each to protect your modesty. Didn't bring a protein shake with you today? No problem, Roots & Bulbs have your post-workout shake covered. Lunch time classes even come with a complimentary juice or lunch box. Now, I've not even mentioned the class yet, but you already want to check this place out, don't you? I thought so!

The class itself was hard work. I could handle the spinning, but when we started using dumbbells the going got really tough! I'm not sure how heavy they were but it was a really good workout using them for a couple of intervals whilst cycling. You could feel it working your core, and also targeting your triceps and biceps. They lend you cycling shoes to use during the class (which were Specialized nonetheless - no scrimping here!) which means you can pedal more efficiently by both pushing and pulling. The soundtrack was flawless and the 45 minutes whizzed by.

Having worked up a serious appetite, I headed up the road to the Porridge Cafe, a pop up restaurant serving sweet and savoury porridge-style dishes (some of which could be called risotto, if we're being completely honest). But I love the concept, as whether it's porridge or risotto, these are all wholesome, filling and comforting foods that can play host to a range of different flavours, textures and ingredients, making for some pretty exciting results if you do it right. I'm also a big fan of breakfast in general - I think it's the most underrated of meals. I never understand how people can skip it or simply eat a couple of 'breakfast biscuits' on their walk to the bus stop. So the very name Porridge Cafe puts a smile on my face, as it pays breakfast the due respect it deserves!

Inside the Porridge Cafe. The framed prints are by East End Prints.

Every day the cafe serves three different sweet options, and two savoury: over the course of the week that's a pretty impressive selection. On the menu when I went, there were three different sweet porridges, each made with a different grain and milk:

Baked Apple, Raisin and Cinnamon (oats with semi skimmed milk)
Blueberry, Ginger and Cashew Butter (rye with almond milk)
Passionfruit, Coconut and Banana (barley flakes with coconut milk)

A selection of the grains used in their creations: oats, rye, rice, spelt, quinoa

I didn't see any savoury options on the menu, but I suppose these come out at lunchtime. I was initially planning on trying an unusual flavour option that I would probably never go to the effort to make at home... but then I was seduced by the classic apple, raisin and cinnamon option and got that to take away. The porridge pot was absolutely massive and really put those tiny porridge pots sold by other cafes/shops to shame.

Baked apples, raisins, cinnamon, and lots of porridge

The porridge looked and tasted home made. Which I mean in a good way - I felt like I'd gone around to a friend's house and been lovingly served breakfast by their grandma. The bowl had so much character and flavour that it bared no comparison to the aforementioned rather bland and gluey porridge pots. The apple and raisin topping provided just enough sweetness to run right through the porridge underneath. The only improvement I would make would be to add more cinnamon because I'm a cinnamon fiend! I ate my breakfast on the train to work, and I'm pretty sure I made my fellow commuters rather jealous with the sweet smell of cinnamon wafting through the carriage of the 8.57 to Strawberry Hill.

As well as the porridge, the customer service in the cafe was also great. I got in touch with the cafe on twitter before going, as I wanted to see if I could pick up a pot of Pip & Nut nut butter whilst I was there. Elly kindly put one aside for me and had it ready to go when I arrived. That was a nice touch that I really appreciated.

If you're as crazy about nut butter as I am, you really have to try Pip & Nut if you haven't already... they taste sensational, and are made without palm oil, added sugars or additives. I discovered the brand when Pip had a pop up shop in Boxpark Shoreditch a few years ago, and was hooked straight away (on the coconut almond butter in particular). After a successful crowdfunding campaign, the business has gone from strength to strength, and the nut butters are now available to buy in a number of places including Selfridges (swanky!) and Perfectly Paleo if you want to buy online.

Back to the Porridge Cafe: it's run by the aforementioned Elly, and Nick who together are Bow Street Kitchen.Their porridge pop-up is not only a great concept, but also executed really well: so I look forward to seeing whatever venture they have planned next. If you want to check out the Porridge Cafe, you'd better move fast, as it closes this Sunday!

22 March 2015

Meat Free Week // Sweet Potato and Kale Curry

Tomorrow marks the beginning of Meat Free Week in the UK. This is a great initiative to encourage people to think more deeply about how much meat they eat, the welfare of the animals reared for meat production, and the impact that a large meat production industry has on the environment.

As a former vegetarian (I was veggie for 7 years as a teen and young adult) I'm probably more informed than most when it comes to the ethical issues surrounding eating meat and meat production: but it's always great to have a reminder, as it can be so easy to become complacent about this things. Some of the key facts brought to attention by the campaign are:

  • the average person in Britain eats 84.2kg of meat per year
  • the British don't eat enough fruit and vegetables, falling significantly short of the recommended daily consumption of 400g
  • demand for cheap meat has resulted in a rise in factory farming: 80% of chickens in the UK are factory farmed
  • a third of the world's cereal harvest goes to feed farm animals; if fed to people instead, this could feed three billion people and help alleviate malnutrition

Definitely plenty of food for thought there. The good news is that we can all do our bit by making a conscious effort to introduce meat free meals into our diets.

In honour of Meat Free Week, I'm posting the recipe for my incredible (if I do say so myself) Sweet Potato and Kale Curry which, when served with rice and a side of naan, will prove a hearty and satisfying meal for even the most hardened meat eater. This recipe is also vegan, dairy and gluten free.

Sweet Potato and Kale Curry

Serves 4

1 white onion
1 clove of garlic
4 medium sweet potatoes
1 small bag kale (approx 200g)
1 tsp coconut oil

2 tsp mustard seeds
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp tumeric
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp ginger powder

1 tin chopped tomatoes
400ml hot water + half a vegetable stock cube

Start by peeling the sweet potatoes and cutting them into chunks. Add them to a pot of boiling water and simmer for about 5 mins. Drain in a colander and set aside.

Heat the coconut oil in a big pan. Add the chopped onion and cook for 5 minutes or until beginning to brown.

Add the chopped garlic, mustard and cumin seeds and cook for about 5 minutes or until the seeds are starting to pop.

Add the tumeric, chilli, ginger and garam masala and fry for 1 minute, before adding the parboiled sweet potato, tin of chopped tomatoes and 400ml stock. Bring to a simmer.

Add the kale (you may have to do this in two batches depending on the size of your pot - it will reduce in size as it cooks) and simmer until tender. Season to taste.

Serve immediately with rice.

Put any leftovers in tupperware and store in your fridge or freezer to eat another time - this tastes really good reheated!

Warning: This recipe may be a bit hot for some palates! if you prefer a milder curry, use half the measures of each of the spices listed above, and add a tin of coconut milk instead of 400ml stock. Top up with a few splashes of stock if the curry is too dry.

Want to cook some more meat free meals? Meat Free Week have a range of recipes available on their website.

What's your favourite vegetarian meal to cook or eat?

19 March 2015

Kingston's Riverside Edge // The Cereal Bar

The medieval market town of Kingston-upon-Thames has been experiencing a bit of a Renaissance in terms of restaurant options. First there was Five Guys. Then we got a Bill's (love that place!). Now we even have a Cereal Bar. I can only attribute this incredible upturn in the fortune of the town to my very own presence and influence, having started working here at the end of 2013. After all, Peckham experienced a similar explosion in new eateries when I worked there in 2012/13. I seem to be a harbinger of culinary gentrification *ahem*

Kingston's Riverside Walk has become quite the dining destination since its redevelopment, with some big names popping up along the waterfront including Cote Brasserie, Comptoir Libanais, Busaba Eathai and Cau. At the end of the walk, on the corner of Kingston bridge, there's a new concept called Riverside Edge, which describes itself as 'five new pocket kitchens' (how trendy!). As far as I'm aware the vendors have been the same since it opened, so as yet these pop-ups have popped up and stayed up, but perhaps we'll see some different restaurants in the future. Currently the eateries are Lorenzo's Pizza, champagne and macaroon bar Folie Macaron, mediterrenean fare from Cloud Kitchen, coffee from Local Hero and burgers by Le Bun. I feel like I've sampled hundreds of burgers in London over the last couple of years. But I'm still unable to turn the offer of one down. So fellow burger connoisseur Hannah (of Bow Dream Nation) and I decided to check out Le Bun, to celebrate/commiserate my last couple of weeks of working in Kingston.

Stomachs rumbling, we approached the kitchens. I noticed that the lights seemed rather dim inside... and then we got to the door and read the sign explaining that they were closed due to technical difficulties. The dismay! I was particularly annoyed as Hannah and I had been exchanging tweets with Le Bun, explaining that we would be visiting their Kingston branch on Wednesday - so it would have been nice if they could have given us a heads up earlier that day, letting us know they had been forced to close. But they hadn't. Oh well. Luckily Byron, located just down the river, could satisfy our burger cravings, and as ever, it didn't disappoint.

Happily, The Cereal Bar, which we had planned to visit for dessert, was open, and two very eager bar staff welcomed us in immediately. The bar staff looked like cartoon characters, talked like children's TV presenters, and acted a bit like kids who have had one too many bowls of sugary cereal. Maybe they had. But hey, if you're going to open a themed bar you may as well go all out.

Of course this venue follows in the footsteps of the similarly themed Cereal Killer Cafe which opened in Shoreditch recently, and got a fair bit of stick when it did. I'm not entirely sure why as it's just a bit of fun guys, lighten up! East London has been the subject of gentrification for some years now, and new businesses like this (that admittedly won't be to everyone's tastes) are products of gentrification rather than the root causes of it. If you want to blame someone, I suggest turning your attention to the successive governments who have failed to build sufficient affordable housing. I'm going to end my gentrification rant there before I write War and Peace (and property markets).

Cereal aficionados come in all sorts of guises, shapes and sizes, and not all of them live or work in East London, so I'm sure The Cereal Bar in Kingston will attract a certain clientele. It seems to attract the breakfast/commuter crowd in the morning, school kids in the afternoon, and students at night, remaining pretty busy all day (I walk past it every day on my way to and from work). We arrived during a quiet period, and had the place to ourselves for a bit as we pored over the extensive menu and stood mesmerized in front of the wall of cereal boxes. I felt very much like a kid in a sweet shop.

So. Much. Cereal.

The menu was a little bit too busy to be honest - this place does everything from milkshakes to crisp sandwiches and pop tarts. I just focused on the cereal. There were so many varieties that caught my eye... from Reese's Puffs to Cap'n Crunch and Cinnabon.... so eventually I decided to have the decision taken out of my hands by opting for one of the suggested mixes on the menu. I went for a peanut butter and chocolate one (obviously!) that consisted of Reese's Puffs, Hershey's Cookies and Cream cereal, with toppings of chocolate chips and a Reese's cup, and served with hazelnut milk. I asked them to substitute this for almond milk as that's my favourite milk. I was really impressed that they had such a range of dairy free milks actually (they also had soy and coconut). The milk was thoughtfully served in a separate container so that you could splash or drench the bowl to your desired consistency.

The result of this cereal cocktail was the sort of breakfast you always wanted as a kid but would never have been allowed. Rightly so because I quickly reached a dizzying sugar high and began to doubt that I would ever be able to get to sleep that night.

Chocolate and peanut butter cereal 'cocktail' with a side of almond milk.

This place is fun, not overly expensive (given how much you'd be charged for a whole box of one of these imported cereals in a specialist store), and I think makes cereal exactly what it should be: something that's a treat and a bit of a laugh, but not a kid's breakfast (of course kids will be attracted to the bar, but it seems more aimed at creating an environment of nostalgia for adults). Sadly, the producers (Kelloggs, Nestle et al) of these brightly coloured boxes of cereal with cartoon characters on them, directly target children. You don't even need to look at the nutritional information on the boxes to know they can't be good for you: a couple of bites are sufficient to make you wonder how on earth any government's nutritional advisory committee or advertising standards regulator could allow these to be marketed as an acceptable breakfast for children. You can only assume it's because governments are afraid to stand up to these big brands. I'm not for a ban on junk food - I think adults, who are responsible for their own actions and can make their own decisions - should have the opportunity to eat whatever they like. But of course, the rules are different when it comes to children.

On that note, responsible adults will experience an enjoyable sugar-spiked trip down memory lane in this new Kingston cafe.

The Cereal Bar
66 Fife Road
Kingston upon Thames

16 March 2015

Graze: Review & Discount Code

I used to have a graze box sent to my office on a weekly basis a few years ago. They're little boxes of four different snacks delivered straight to your door. I really enjoyed receiving them, they brightened up my working day and I thought they were a great way to make sure I ate healthy (and importantly, tasty!) snacks. But eventually I felt like I'd sampled the entire menu several times over and lost interest, and so I unsubscribed.

However, I recently took a peak at their website again and they have really upped their game. They have a much wider variety of snacks available now, and are tapping into what's on trend at the moment with options including protein flapjacks, beef jerky, kale chips and gluten free brownies. They've mixed up their snack box format with some hot options (broths), microwavable popping corn bags and breakfast box varieties. It all looked much more inviting and innovative than the olives and nuts I remembered, so I was willing to give it another go.

I received a graze box last week, which contained a mixture of sweet and savoury snacks and looked like this:

Here are my thoughts after sampling the lot (which didn't take me very long!)

Cocoa and Vanilla Protein Flapjack
Upon tasting this I had to compare it to my favourite protein flapjack, the Trek Cocoa Coconut bar. This compared pretty well. It actually reminded me of Coco Pops (in a good way!). A dark chocolate glaze on the top wouldn't have gone amiss and would have given the flapjack a more luxurious feel. Seeds were a nice addition to the recipe: you couldn't taste them too much but they give a nutritional boost to the snack (omega 3 from the linseeds, vitamin E from the sunflower seeds). Looking at the ingredients, it turns out this flapjack is made with margarine - come on guys, would it have been that much more expensive to use real butter?

Hot Cross Yum
This snack contained a mixture of orange flavoured raisins, honeyed almonds, and sponge pieces. I loved the combination of these flavours, which created a pretty good approximation to your regular hot cross bun, but with a fraction of the calories (just 132). It was a touch too sweet for me however, mainly because the almonds were really sugary, which they didn't need to be as both the raisins and the sponge were sweet.

Sriracha Peas with Jumbo Corn
This was definitely my favourite snack of the bunch. I just loved the crunchy texture and the contrast between the salty corn and sweet and spicy peas. Really satisfying.

Tandoori Spiced Beef Jerky with Pomegranate Chutney
The jerky wasn't bad, but definitely didn't live up to the standards set by companies like Naked Ape (biltong rather than jerky) and Big T's. The chutney was a clever addition though, as jerky can be quite dry eaten on its own. However, because the jerky strips were so small it was actually quite hard to scoop up any chutney with them!

Graze boxes come with a little booklet that gives you the nutritional breakdown of each of your snacks. Having taken a look at it, it was quite revealing. One thing that stood out for me was that each of the snacks had added sugar, which was quite surprising given that half the pack was savoury, and that graze describe themselves as creators of 'healthy food'. I'm not sure whether it was just chance that I got a selection of snacks that all had added sugar, or if this indicative of the entire line - I'd be interesting to hear from graze on this if they're reading. As graze aims to cater for the health-conscious consumer, I think introducing a no added sugar section to the menu would be a good move, as would re-designing some of the snacks to lower the sugar levels across the range.

As I'm about to leave my office job (hurrah!) this box was sadly a one off for me. If you want to give graze a go, use my code 7DCLTPC4E and you'll get your first box free (as well as your fifth and your tenth if you stay subscribed).

Enjoy the code and let me know what you think!

10 March 2015

Sugar Swaps // Carrot Cake Pancakes

This year Change 4 Life, a public health campaign by the NHS, are running Sugar Swaps again, encouraging people to reduce their daily sugar intake by giving them the knowledge and tools to enable them to do so. Over the last few years, sugar has loomed large on the agenda in terms of public health, with the high sugar content of modern diets playing a critical part in the explosion of obesity and type 2 diabetes in populations. This month the World Health Organization (WHO) has published new guidelines advising an even lower sugar intake - now the official line is that sugar should ideally comprise no more than 5% of your caloric intake (that's roughly 6 teaspoons a day). 

So Sugar Swaps is a very timely campaign, and I signed up a few weeks ago. I generally eat a balanced diet, but unfortunately I do have a real sweet tooth which I find difficult to ignore at times! I thought getting some advice on finding satisfying substitutes for cake and chocolate could only be helpful.

Once you sign up, you get a pack in the post to help you on your way. It's aimed at families so there's some kid-friendly stuff in there like stickers and flashcards, but also some useful bits for the grown ups too, like a notepad for your shopping list, a booklet with recipes, and some money off vouchers for low sugar and sugar free items. The flashcards in the pack highlight how much sugar can be in the foods you eat, and how easily the amount of sugar you consume adds up over the course of a day. For example, a box of sweet cereal has, on average, an eye-watering 34 sugar cubes in it! 

Sugar Swaps pack

In terms of suggestions for getting my own sweet tooth under control, Sugar Swaps recommends swapping puddings for fresh or tinned fruit or fruit salad, sugar free jelly and low sugar yoghurt. Although I am a big fan of Total Greek with fruit, sometimes you just need something a bit more substantial to stave off the sweet cravings. Luckily the booklet also features recipes for some more filling lower-sugar puddings, breakfasts and snacks you can make yourself.

Although I think the campaign is a great way to motivate people to transition to a lower sugar diet, I think one of the main reasons for the high levels of sugar consumption in the Western diet is actually the prevalence of 'hidden' sugar in foods. It's fairly obvious that ice cream and muffins are high in sugar, but not everyone realises that even savoury items, everything from your chicken sandwich to your microwave ready meal potentially has had sugar added to it. This includes products that are marketed as 'healthy' or 'low fat': they may even use fancy sounding words like 'raw cane sugar' to make it sound healthier, when in reality it's still just another form of added sugar. The only way to eliminate excessive sugar from your diet is to read labels very carefully, avoid processed foods, and cook from scratch as often as you can.

Speaking of cooking from scratch, I had to give one of the recipes in the booklet a go. One that caught my eye straight away was Lorraine Pascale's Carrot Cake Cinnamon Pancakes, which sounded like a winner to me. I made these for breakfast but you could happily make them for dessert too. I amended the recipe slightly as I didn't add protein powder (I hadn't trained that morning and so didn't need the extra protein, plus the eggs and greek yoghurt contain protein anyway) or the honey (as I knew I'd add sweet toppings).

These were really easy to make and turned out very much like American style pancakes, which surprised me as there's no flour or baking powder in them. I think part of the reason for this is because I made the batter by throwing all the ingredients in my Nutribullet, which must have beat more air into it than a regular blender, making the pancakes really light and fluffy. The batter can easily make four large pancakes. I made one large one to eat straight away, and then four smaller ones to put in the fridge/freezer and have later. I ate mine topped with a banana and maple syrup (sssh don't tell the sugar police!). I think next time I'll throw some raisins into the batter after blending it, to make the pancakes even more carrot cake-y.

Carrot Cake Pancake with banana & maple syrup

What healthy alternatives do you reach for when you have a craving for something sweet?

03 March 2015

BBC Good Food Eat Well Show

The concepts of health and wellness have definitely been on the up in recent years. With more and more people becoming aware of how they can foster their own well-being, the healthy lifestyle industry has boomed. According to this article in the Evening Standard, it's now officially hip to be healthy. And even though the term fitster makes me cringe, swapping your can of pop for a green juice and hitting the gym more often than the pub can only be considered a good thing. On the back of health's new status, BBC Good Food has launched the BBC Good Food Eat Well Show (a bit of a mouthful, agreed). It's the sister show to the annual BBC Good Food show, but with a focus on healthy eating.

The show ran from 27 February to 1 March at Kensington Olympia, and I visited on the Sunday. The show had lots of exhibitors selling food and kitchen gadgets, plus a number of stages where you could watch interviews and demos, learn from the best and be inspired in the kitchen. There was a really great line up of guests over the three days, including Rachel de ThampleHemsley + Hemsley, Natasha Corrett, Gizzi Erskine and Lorraine Pascale. As well as the various stages, there was also a Dietitians Clinic, hosted by the BDA, where you could book a free 20 minute consultation with a registered Dietitian. This was a well thought-out addition to the exhibition, adding a strictly scientific element to the field of health and wellbeing, which unfortunately has a lot of unsubstantiated claims about the supposed health benefits of this or that product.

After a quick initial look at the stalls, I took a seat in the Healthy Kitchen where Lorraine Pascale did a demo. She's releasing a new book of healthier recipes, which is a bit of a departure from those incredibly decadent treats she created on Baking Made Easy. Apparently the BBC weren't interested in giving her a healthy cooking TV show (just slightly ironic given that they decided to open a show on healthy eating and book her on to it!) so she is releasing a book on its own. She prepared raw brownies which she made really easily in a food processor using ground almonds, dates (half medjool and half regular), cocoa and pecans, and then pressing the mixture into a tray and chilling it. It was so easy in fact that the demo was over in about 10 minutes and we went on to a rather random Q&A mainly about her gym exploits (which I as a gym bunny happened to find interesting, but I don't think talking about deadlifts was supposed to be the point of the session!). Given that she had about 30 mins to fill on the stage, it seemed a bit of a wasted opportunity that she didn't cook more. 

Following Lorraine onto the stage were Jasmine and Melissa Hemsley, who I think we can safely say were largely responsible for popularizing a number of key food trends in 2014 (in the UK anyway), such as bone broth, spiralizing and the now ubiquitous black bean brownies. They've had a recipe blog in Vogue for a few years, and there's now a pretty impressive recipe archive available, which you should definitely check out. Their red lentil soup has now become a staple when I want something quick, cheap and satisfying, and I discovered that their strawberry chia jam is a joyful addition to breakfasts when strawberries are in season. During their demo they whipped up an impressive four dishes: ragu with courgetti, pesto with courgetti, vegetable noodle pots and black bean brownies. These recipes looked really easy to make and didn't require any hard-to-source ingredients. Whilst cooking they talked about their food philosophy, with key points including slipping as many vegetables into your dishes as possible, using high quality protein sources (making your own bone broth using bones bought from your local butcher is a way of doing this cheaply), that natural fats are not the enemy, and that cooking in big batches is a great way to eat healthily every day without having to cook daily. Afterwards they did a signing, and I got The Art of Eating Well signed by the sisters. It's a beautiful book to look at and to read and I can't wait to get in the kitchen and try some of the recipes!

The Art of Eating Well by Hemsley + Hemsley

In terms of shopping, I sampled a fair bit and bought a couple of items too. Moral Fibre's sweet and savoury snack pots are delicious: my favourites were the Choco Banananut bites and Chilli Crunch. These would make a great present for the foodie in your life, and they're also suitable for those with gluten and dairy intolerances. Seed and Bean chocolates were another highlight. These organic and fair trade chocolate bars come in some unusual but winning flavour options including Lemon and Poppy Seed, Tangerine, and Cornish Sea Salt. The Tangerine variety was amazing, much more tart and intense in flavour than your standard chocolate orange. Montezumas is usually my go-to for when I want to treat myself to a better quality chocolate bar - but after sampling Seed and Bean I'll be keeping an eye out for them from now on. I think I was fairly restrained in terms of actual purchases, buying a box of Nakd and Trek bars (the new Bakewell Tart flavour Nakd bar is AMAZING) and a couple of bottles of GOOD Hemp oil which is cold-pressed and has a delicious nutty flavour that is perfect for dressings.

Mixed box of Nakd & Trek bars

There are a couple of things I think the exhibition could have improved upon. Having a salad bar and juice bar for visitors to buy their lunches and refreshments from would have been nice. The few catering options there were weren't particularly in keeping with the healthy theme. I ended up having a halloumi wrap for lunch, which was tasty but with liberal lashings of garlic and sweet chilli sauces, it's not exactly what I would call a healthy choice! Also, a number of exhibitors had sold out or were running low on stock by lunchtime on Sunday which was a bit of a shame, but I suppose that's often the way on the last day of an exhibition, and the fault of the individual traders rather than the organisers. I guess they didn't realise quite how popular some of the products were going to be!

All in all, the BBC Good Food Eat Well show is an interesting addition to the food fair calendar, and if you enjoy healthy eating and cooking, I'd recommend adding it to your diary when it returns next year.