Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Our Week Without Meat

Our 12 year old daughter Erin has been thinking about being a vegetarian for a while so to support her exploration of that we all decided to try a week without eating meat to see what it was like. It was hard to settle on a menu as most of what Erin likes is meat. Sausages, chicken, pepperoni pizza etc. She's not really a fan of vegetables either. After talking to her about it she decided she wanted to try some new foods along with eating no meat.

The first day started well, we made one of our favourite meals Taco Salad but instead of regular mince we tried Quorn mince. Leigh said it was no different and enjoyed it but Erin wasn't so keen although she ate it anyway. JD and I also liked the Quorn mince.

Another day we made these black bean burgers. They're really good as a meat burger substitute, filling and of a similar texture to a burger. Again we all enjoyed them except Erin who didn't want to try them.

We had some meat-free sausages that we all liked. We'll probably have them again in fact. We had carrot soup with garlic parathas that were delicious, Erin enjoyed those too. We had corn on the cob that Erin likes now and chip butties another day. We had one of my favourites, macaroni cheese, which both the kids have yet to warm to.

For JD and I the vegetarian week was easy, we already like plenty of meat-free meals anyway and it wasn't much effort to change the menu to foods without meat that we'd enjoy. Leigh also found it somewhat easy, over the last few years she's started eating a wider range of foods. She likes stews, soups etc whereas Erin does not as yet. Erin doesn't like the idea of eating meat but struggles to enjoy enough other foods to make being a vegetarian doable yet.

It was nice to have a week with no meat, it made us eat some different foods we wouldn't normally have (like the black bean burgers) and it saved us money on our shopping bill. We might continue with a Meat-Free Monday and experiment with some different veggie recipes.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

My Experience with the Couch25K App

I like to challenge myself to do things that work towards my life priorities. One of those is to get fitter. So I decided to have a go at completing the Couch25K training program.

It's 8 weeks of running towards a goal of being able to run continually for 30 minutes. The name is because it's designed to get you off the couch and running 5 kilometres. Supposedly anyone at any fitness level can do it so let's put that to the test.

When I started I already did a lot of walking and have a job where I'm stood up for 8 hours moving around constantly. I hadn't run for years though and got out of breath if I had to run for a bus or something.

The program is on an app on your phone which prompts you to run or walk depending on the day you're on. Every session starts with a warm-up walk of 5 minutes and ends with a cool-down walk of 5 minutes. On the first day you alternate running for 60 seconds and walking for 90 seconds for a total of 20 minutes.

You train for three days a week running for longer and longer each week. It started off fairly easily for me until I got to week 4. It has a total of 13 minutes running and I felt like I wouldn't be able to do it. It seemed like it'd gotten suddenly serious and as I looked ahead to the following weeks I began to wonder why I'd even started.

I'd been posting on Facebook after each week's training was done to make it public so I'd keep on track and I'm glad I did because people were very encouraging making it much easier to carry on.

The training went well on week 4 despite my worries and then I was on to week 5. Week 5 is a shock after the first four weeks. For the first time each day has different run lengths. I looked ahead to see what we were going to be doing and week 5 Day 3 is just to run for 20 minutes...no walking at all after the warm-up. I felt slightly panicked at the thought of it but I put it out of my head and got on with the first two days of running.

My husband JD had been running with me from the start and after the first few runs he held the phone so I wouldn't be tempted to keep checking how far we'd done on the day's training. This was even more vital for the 20 minute run, I have a terrible mental struggle even when doing a walk if I know how far we've gone (or more importantly how far there is to go!) so I knew I'd have to just run without any thoughts of how long we'd run for.

It worked, I ran for 20 minutes solidly and felt amazingly happy. It's the longest I've run for years (probably even since school!!). All of a sudden 30 minutes of running seemed like something I could actually do, I might finish this thing.

The 20 minute run was followed by 22 minutes, 25 minutes, 28 minutes and finally 30 minutes. I'd done it, I'd finished the training program and run for 30 minutes continuously. I was over the moon. ^_^

I think the Couch25K is a great program to get a non-runner slowly running and gradually increase their ability and confidence over the 8 weeks. I always ran at a steady pace, had no problems with joint pains or anything else.

When I first started running I felt very aware that I was a fat woman out on the street jiggling about, we only went running after dark and I felt nervous if we saw anyone as we ran. My confidence grew the more I ran, soon we were running in the morning instead (a much better time for it) and I felt less worried someone would shout anything mean at me. In fact a few times people called encouraging things at me as I ran, an old lady shouted "Go on lass, give it some wellie" much to my delight. :D

One of the best things to change about my body during my Couch25k training is how I breathe, I can feel that I breathe much easier while doing any exercise now, I don't wheeze or pant when I'm running, I can breathe deeper and control my breathing if I get out of breath now. It feels good.

Thanks to my husband JD for being so supportive and running alongside me, it was beneath his level of fitness to run at my pace but he did it, without complaining or making me feel slow. It made it tons easier for me by having him to run with and I really appreciate his help.

So, yeah, give it a try. It's good to challenge your body. I challenged mine and I've never been so proud of it for finishing the Couch25K. Bad news body, now there'll be more challenges. Mwhaha. :)

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Family Game Review: Spelunky

Spelunky is a platform game you can get for PC or console. JD got it for PC but when we got an XBox we decided to buy it to play there. It cost £10. It's an understatement to say we've had our money's worth out of this game as we've all played it LOTS.

As the title suggests you're an adventurer spelunking caves to find treasure. You collect money and items as you go. One of the best things about this game is that every level is different, it's randomly created every time you start. You never know what to expect and this stops the game from feeling repetitive. There are boxes with items like extra bombs or ropes here and there, sometimes you get a really good item in these so it's always tempting to get to them to find out. Especially for JD who can't resist a box no matter how hard it is to get to it.

There's also a damsel to rescue each level, if you get her safely to the exit door she'll reward you with a kiss which gives you an extra life. No sexist stereotypes here though, in the settings you can set the damsel to be male or even a pug dog if you prefer canine smooches. The best thing about the game for me is the dog's stupid face, he looks so hopeless when you find him stuck in the caves. There's also the option to sacrifice the damsel at altars you sometimes find in the caves, it can give you extra items or lives if you please Kali.

There are further levels to the caves including jungle, ice and pyramids. All with different monsters and traps to avoid. This picture shows a shop where you can buy extra items. The shopkeeper looks like a friendly old guy but if you try to take something without paying he gets out his shotgun and goes insane, rampaging until you're dead (or he is!). So be careful.

On the final level you have to face Olmec, a huge gold statue intent on smashing you under his bulk. You have to make him smash down into the lava beneath tricking him into killing himself. I recently completed the game after MONTHS of playing. It was so satisfying to finally beat Olmec.

This is my character (looks a lot like me, right? Glasses, mid length brown hair, rotund ^_^) victoriously leaving the caves with a giant golden skull.

You'd think the game ends there but oh no, there's so much more to do. There's a black market to find, a giant wormhole to explore, a city of gold to discover and hell to contend with. Plus there's lots of achievements to complete. JD just finished a speed run - Speedlunky - where you have to finish the game in 8 minutes. Now he's trying to complete the game without picking up any treasure, which looks fiendishly difficult to do. It's a simple game but there's so much to do that it really keeps your interest.

Ratings: JD - 5, Emma - 5, Leigh - 3, Erin - 5

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Saturday Sandwich 82: Japanese Fruit Sandwich and 83: Fruit and Nut Sandwich

I have to admit we're not too enthusiastic about making these two but they finish off the Sweet Sandwich section of the book. We'll be glad to see the back of it to be honest, we're not huge fans of sweet sandwiches. :D

At the back are the Japanese Fruit Sandwiches. Triangles of crust-removed white bread filled with sliced strawberries and whipped cream. It was like eating nothing, there was no substance to the sandwich and neither JD or I enjoyed them. Leigh loved them though, she said they were like sandwiches a small child would have at a play tea party.

Ratings: JD -1, Emma - 1, Leigh - 4

In front we have the Fruit and Nut Sandwich. More crust-removed white bread filled with a mixture of fig, chopped pecans and dates. This sandwich was ok tasting with a nice chewy/crunchy texture to it. Still not really our kind of sandwich though but at least better than the Japanese ones.

Ratings: JD - 1, Emma - 2

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Eat Well For Less in the Jackson House

A TV show we've enjoyed recently is Eat Well For Less. Some experts come around to different family's houses and swap all their food for cheaper alternatives in plain packaging in an attempt to help them spend less on their weekly shop.

It gives us a good opportunity to feel smug, we organise our shopping pretty well already, have a weekly menu we stick to and spend less than the national average each week.

The national average for a family of 4 (according to Eat Well For Less) is £86 a week. We usually spend between £60-70. But after watching this series we've been thinking maybe we could spend less is we tried more of the cheapest non-brand foods.

So we decided to go for it and in one week just buy Morrisons Savers versions of everything we usually get. All our meals for the week would be made up of Savers items. The weekly shopping was weird to see with no brands and very plain packaging. It was JD's favourite thing about it.

In addition to the Savers stuff we had our usual fruits and vegetables which are just a standard price and not in the Savers category.

We already make a lot of things ourselves but for this week we decided to try the ready-made cheap versions. We bought frozen chips instead of making our own, we bought fish fingers instead of making fish cakes that kind of thing. We tried some cheap canned vegetables instead of fresh veg just to see how the cheap Savers things were.

A couple of examples of our menu for the week:

Fish fingers - 60p a packet
Tinned sweetcorn - 35p
Cheese pasta in sauce - 20p a packet

Total meal - £1.95

It's not really the kind of food we'd like to eat generally but if you were strapped for money it's a decently filling meal for 4 for less than £2. Add some bread and butter from the Savers range for £1.12 for a loaf and block of butter and it's even more filling.

We also ate:

Sausages - £1 for 20 frozen sausages
Tinned peas - 21p
Garlic bread - 34p per baguette

Total meal - £1.89

Leigh and Erin said they preferred these sausages to the usual £4 for 20 ones we buy. JD and I preferred our usual ones in this case.

Most of the food we ate was pretty good. We already usually buy some Savers items every week. We buy Savers oats to make muesli, we buy savers mozzarella to make pizza, we use Savers grated cheese for salads and sandwiches. We missed some things like the nice muesli bars we usually get, the Savers ones are ok but not great.

I was surprised how little complaining Leigh and Erin did about the changes. Erin said the Savers peanut butter was the same, she also enjoyed the Savers wheat biscuits (Weetabix) for breakfast. If we eat fish we usually buy frozen breaded fish but this week I bought Savers fish fillets and added a breadcrumb topping flavoured with curry. They both ate it without hesistation.

We'll stick with some of the Savers items we changed but we'll definitely go back to making our own version of ready-made foods. 

We spent £34 in total for the week's shopping. Which is less than half the national average. I think Greg and Chris from Eat Well For Less would be proud.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Saturday Sandwich 81: Trini Double

This sandwich from Trinidad & Tobago consists of two fried bread rounds sandwiching a potato and chickpea curry. Sounds lovely!

Make up a bread dough with the addition of some curry powder to spice things up! Knead for 5 minutes and leave it to expand a bit.

Diced potato, chickpeas, onion and curry spices along with garlic and chilli simmered in water until it has a thick sauce and the potato is soft.

Form the dough into 4 rounds (ours are more like triangles for some reason) and deep fry until golden brown.

Sandwich together the fried dough and curry adding a spoonful of mango chutney to sweeten the deal.

We loved this sandwich, it smelled great while it was cooking so we'd been really looking forward to trying it. The chickpea curry was really spicy due to the chilli but the mango chutney made it easier to eat by subduing the flavours a bit. The fried dough was light and tasty. We were surprised how puffed up they got in the deep fat fryer.  It's a messy eat with the curry falling back out onto your plate but with a fork handy you can clean up and finish it. It was really delicious, chickpeas and potatoes are a great curry combination.

Ratings: JD - 4, Emma - 4

Next Saturday - Fruit & Nut Sandwich AND a Japanese Fruit Sandwich

Friday, October 30, 2015

Things To Do When You Don't Have TV - Guinness World Record Attempts

I spelled Guinness wrong :(

I'd read an article about how lots of Guinness World Records were breakable so I thought it'd be fun to try a few at home.

First up was eating Jelly with chopsticks. As much as you can in 1 minute with one hand behind your back. This photo was staged after the event in case you're worried they're cheating. Erin loves eating things with chopsticks and felt confident she'd win. She didn't though, I did. :D None of us got anywhere near the record.

Next was sticking post-it notes to your face. As many as you can in 1 minute but not any on your eyelids (an official rule O_o). After the minute is up you have to count to 10 then count how many are still on your face. This was easily the most hilarious event. It's much harder to do than you think.

Erin got 3!

 JD managed 8!

I won with 15 :D

The record is 58!!

The third event was drinking water as fast as you can. The record is 500ml in 2.35 seconds. It has to be from a clear glass with no spillage allowed. Erin did it in 53.92 seconds, JD in 13.72 seconds but I won with 11.63 seconds. I'm starting to worry I have a problem with over-competitiveness!

Stacking coins was the next record attempt. The record is 51 coins stacked in 30 seconds. They have to remain on the pile for 5 seconds when the time is up and you have to have one hand behind your back. JD was moving so fast this picture blurred.

 Erin stacked 13 coins, JD stacked 16 and I won with 20 coins stacked.

Last of all it was time for some speed doughnut eating! The record is for the most jam doughnuts eaten in 3 minutes (6) but we decided to try for 1 minute because no-one really wanted to try eat 6 doughnuts. I won again with Erin beating JD for second place. Eating anything as fast as you can is a horrible experience. Luckily there were spare doughnuts to eat slowly and enjoyably afterwards.

We all won a prize and decided there wasn't much hope of us getting in the Guinness World Record book anytime soon. Still, it's a lot of fun trying.  :)