How to make pho – a cheat’s version…

Every culture has one – a dish that makes you feel so good inside, it can’t possibly be wrong. A dish that tastes like it should be good for you, that it should be able to beat anything that ails you into submission. Folk food, family food, street food.

Pho, (pronounced “fur” or “fuh” for the uninitiated) is one such dish. It started life as a labourer’s breakfast and is now a lunchtime favourite.

It sounds simple enough- flat rice noodles, thinly sliced raw beef, a few herbs and spring onions, and then an aromatic boiling broth is poured over the lot to cook the meat. How hard could it be? But all pho is not created equal.

Good pho has hidden depths of flavour, enhanced by the chilli, lemon, basil and whatever you add to it. It’s the noodle soup of the Gods, and just by eating it you’re treating your body as a temple.

Whenever I feel as though I need a little self-care, as if the sniffle could possibly be threatening to turn into my annual head cold, as if I’ve been spending too much time doing tasks that I don’t find in the least rewarding and my brain is tired and my soul empty – that’s when I go for this soup.

The problem is, the really good pho – the pho that you get at really good pho places – involves making a stock from beef bones and simmering it for 4 hours. Of course, you get the benefit of the bone broth, but it’s not exactly a quick fix for a craving.

To this end, I’ve come up with my cheatie pho – the one that you go to after a long day when you don’t have time to think but you want to be healthy and feel warm and cosy on the inside. And there’s nothing to be guilty about here.

Ingredients

Yes, it’s quite a list but the aromatics tend to be ones we usually have on hand and the whole thing goes together quite quickly. As with all my recipes, this is a combo of a few ideas and the quantities are, shall we say, inexact. Taste the stock as you go and adjust to your own taste. This quantity feeds the 3 of us with leftover stock for lunch the next day. We find 1 225-250g steak is ample for the three of us for dinner.

If you want you can do this with chicken as well – just substitute good chicken stock for the beef and a couple of thinly sliced chicken breasts that you poach in the soup before serving.

For the stock

  • 2 litres beef stock
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • a good size knob of ginger – I use a piece about the length of my thumb – sliced but don’t worry about peeling it
  • 4 cloves garlic – smash with the back of a knife but don’t worry about peeling it
  • 1 cinnamon quill
  • 3 pieces star anise
  • 5 cardamon pods, bruised
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 tsp five-spice powder
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce (you can add more later if it needs the salt)
  • a few whole cloves
  • 2 kaffir lime leaves (or some peeled lime rind)
  • If you have one, a stalk of lemongrass (bruised)
  • Optional: 1 tbsp grated palm sugar (or caster sugar)

For the soup

  • Noodles – you can use 200g rice vermicelli or fresh rice noodles – it’s up to you.
  • 250g beef fillet
  • 2 spring onions, sliced
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 long red chilli, de-seeded and sliced

To serve

  • 2 small chillies, sliced
  • fresh basil
  • lime cheeks

Making the stock:

  • Fry the onion, garlic and ginger in a couple of tablespoons of oil (I usually use rice bran) in a large saucepan. You want them to soften and colour just a little.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to the boil. Once the stock is boiling, reduce the heat and simmer for 20-30 mins. Check for seasoning and add more fish sauce or some grated palm sugar to taste. We tend not to use the sugar. Squeeze in some lime or lemon juice if required.

Putting the soup together:

  • Place your noodles in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Vermicelli normally needs about 10mins soaking.
  • Slice your beef as finely as possible. It will cook in your broth so needs to be as thin as it’s possible for beef to be. A good trick is to put it in the freezer for an hour or two – it’s much easier to slice when you take it out.
  • Strain your stock and return it to the pan, bringing it back to the boil.
  • Divide the noodles between the bowls, top with the onions, then the beef and pour over the hot soup. If the beef is thin enough, the stock should be enough to cook it to medium-rare.
  • Garnish with the spring onions and chillis.
  • Serve with the basil, sliced hot chillis and lime on the side.

Meditating on Meditation

As part of my healthy heart and healthy mind thing this year, I’m giving meditation a whirl.

It’s one of those things I’ve been meaning to do (or should that be talking about doing?) for longer than I care to admit.

I’ve sort of done it before – I did Kundalini yoga for a bit and there was quite a bit of chanting or active meditation in that – and it never failed to make me feel better. It wasn’t something I ever felt comfortable doing outside of a class though.

I’ve mentioned before that there are times when I feel so anxious or worried that my heart feels like it’s beating out of my chest. Sometimes it’s about work, but very often it’s to do with potential outcomes that are beyond my control or other people’s problems that I’ve somehow managed to make my own.

It’s worse at night when the monkey brain really takes over.

I can worry about anything – from what might happen to what people think of me, to creative self-doubt (that’s a huge one), to … well, you get the idea. The thing is, I need to let it go, I need to accept that there are things I can’t change and situations I can’t control, I need to learn to improve my focus, and I need to reduce stress.

And I don’t think that I’m alone in that.

Benefits of meditation…

According to pretty much everything I’ve read, meditation can:

  • reduce stress
  • improves concentration
  • increases happiness
  • increases self-awareness
  • increases acceptance
  • encourages a healthy lifestyle
  • slows aging
  • benefits heart health and immunity

If it can do all this, it has to be worth a go, right?

How to meditate…

I have no flipping idea. What I can tell you is how I’m doing it – or, rather, trying to do it.

I’m starting small – with just five minutes a day to begin to get me into the habit.

I’ve downloaded the app Calm. It plays relaxing birdsong and water trickling types of noises for as long as you need it to, but I’m finding that I’m using it more for the deep breathing and looking at the calming picture during the work day when I get the whole tummy dip thing. As I take ten deep breaths, I feel my shoulders relax almost immediately.

I’ve found a rock down at the beach that I sit on after my morning walks. I set the timer on my iPhone for five minutes, pop my sunglasses over my closed eyes and listen to nothing but the ocean until the timer goes off.

I’ve popped a playlist on my phone with some new-agey sort of music on it that I can use with the timer on my phone, although so far I haven’t managed to get a real habit happening at home.

the view from my rock

I’ve also downloaded the free version of Headspace, but the constant emails are already driving me spare re-upgrading to paid versions – so that won’t be lasting.

Am I feeling the benefits? Nope, not yet anyway. But I will perservere – so many people can’t be wrong…can they?

What about you? Do you meditate? If so, what works for you?

It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishSeize the Day ProjectWrite of the Middle50 Shades of Age,  and, of course, me.


10 reasons to exercise in the morning

I’m easing into the whole 2018 intentions thing. So far I’m doing well at:

  • The water thing
  • The workday walking thing
  • The twice a week at the gym thing (although I want to go on record as saying I still dislike it, but in the scale of dislike, I dislike it less this week than I did last week and much less than I did the week before.
  • I’ve also started adding some black-line swimming again

I haven’t yet addressed the portions and alcohol thing…that’s something for this month…maybe…

Although my brain is a steel trap where matters of my corporate gig are concerned, when it comes to personal goals, my focus is positively Dory-like. I truly forget what it is that I’m meant to be doing. For me, the key is getting things done in the morning. In general, if it doesn’t happen before I log into the partition job, it doesn’t happen.

So, before you hit the snooze button, here are my reasons why you should get your arse out of bed and into the gym, on the path, in the pool, whatever:

  • The sunrises. Even if you’re in Queensland and there’s no daylight saving, there’s something very special about starting a new day – it’s a physical and daily reminder that no matter what other chaos is happening, the world continues to turn and the sun comes up with all the promise that it brings with it.
  • You have to get up anyway and besides, are you really likely to go back to sleep? Be honest.
  • I’d put money on the fact that at least 80% (if not more) of the people already training when you get there would rather still be in bed too.
  • Early morning training is not about impressing anyone other than yourself. No one cares whether you are sporting the latest logo singlet or have a full face on – it’s too flipping early. Basic hygiene tasks only need to be completed before early morning training.
  • Maybe it’s just me, but early morning training gets my creative brain going in a way that lying in bed never would. I solve so many plot problems when I’m walking. Alternatively, stick some ear-plugs in and catch up on your favourite podcast. That’s what I call multi-tasking.
  • If you’re a gym-goer, you mightn’t need to queue for equipment in the mornings and can hog the cardio machines for longer.
  • Early morning training frees your mind for the rest of the day – the real hard work is done, so you don’t need to spend other precious hours thinking of all the very valid reasons why you should be blowing off that class/walk/session tonight.
  • The post-exercise high takes you through at least until your first coffee and sets up the brain as well as the body for the day ahead. And yes, doubters, even if all you are feeling is “thank flip that’s over,” it’s still a high of sorts.
  • No matter what sort of downhill slide your day takes, you started it having achieved something. That’s one box ticked.
  • If you make a deal with yourself that you will train after work, do so in the knowledge that there is dinner to be hunted down, homework to be nagged about and an open bottle of wine in the fridge. And you really think you’ll go back out once the heels are off, the bra is off and the wine poured? No, I didn’t think so either.

It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishSeize the Day ProjectWrite of the Middle50 Shades of Age,  and, of course, me.


How to make corn and ginger soup…

Ok, I know that corn is one of those starchy vegetables that’s probably best moderated, but I absolutely love it. Plus, it’s in season now – I bought four huge  – and I mean huge – cobs the other day at the markets for $3.

I was going to make sweetcorn fritters for breakfast with them, but when Sunday morning came along I couldn’t be faffed. Instead, I stripped the cobs off the kernels and used half of them in this soup. In case you’re wondering, the other half has gone into the freezer for when I can be bothered to do the fritters.

One of my favourite dishes in the world is really good Chinese takeaway sweetcorn and chicken soup. I like making it at home too – to avoid the MSG and seriously salty aftertaste – but Miss 19 doesn’t like the gloopy texture from the cornflour and eggs.  She does, however like this one.

You’re seasoning this with shaoxing wine and soy sauce so it still has a vaguely Asian taste to it, but is much lighter in taste and texture than the Chinese takeaway version. Plus, you get the fabulously sunny yellow from the corn still shining through.

We had some stock left over from when we had Hainanese chicken rice the other night, so that went in as well and added another layer of gingery flavour – I usually add a knob of ginger, a heap of garlic cloves and the green spring onion ends to the water I poach my chicken in.

Anyways, to the soup…

What you’ll need

  • 2 cups corn kernels
  • About a tablespoon grated ginger
  • 1 clove of garlic, grated
  • 1 litre chicken stock or water
  • Finely sliced spring onions – about half a cup
  • 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine (sometimes it’s spelt shao hsing)
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce (or to taste) – use tamari or gluten-free soy sauce if you’re gluten intolerant
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 or 2 finely sliced thai chillis – if you have them lying around and want to spice things up a tad…purely optional

What you do with it

Heat some vegetable oil (we use rice bran oil) in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the ginger, garlic, spring onions, and chillis (if you’re using them) and stir-fry for a minute or so, before tossing in the corn and doing the same for another minute. Pour in your stock (or water) and bring it to the boil. That’s pretty much it – except for the seasoning ie the Shaoxing, soy sauce and salt and pepper. Simmer for another 5 minutes or so and you’re done.

If you want to make it look a tad more spesh, drizzle over a couple of drops of sesame oil, sprinkle some more sliced spring onion, and maybe toss in some chopped coriander.

To take it to another level, add some sliced poached chicken into the bowl before pouring the soup over it. That turns it from lunch into Sunday dinner.

 

 

 

Self-care and resistance training…

At the best gym in the world

This post was supposed to be about why I hate the gym (and why I’m going anyway), but I’ve since decided that it’s actually about self-care – self-care in terms of really looking after yourself. The self-care that’s often overlooked in the name of self-indulgence.

It’s a concept that has kept coming up of late. Debbish referred to an article she’d read in this post late last year, and since then that same article has kept appearing in my feeds.

Have a read of the article – it rang heaps of bells for me. The key message I took away is that true self-care often involves doing the thing that you least want to do:

Sometimes actual self-care, “has very little to do with “treating yourself” and a whole lot to do with parenting yourself and making choices for your long-term wellness.”

It’s about putting in place those structures that mean you don’t need to escape your life as often as you might need to now. It doesn’t mean that every so often you don’t need to take time out or treat yourself, but rather that you don’t need to do it as often – or at the long-term expense of your health or goals.

I haven’t always disliked the gym…

I used to be quite the addict. You name a class, I’ve done it. I even used to double up – a pump followed by a step or combat…or vice versa. I can still listen to certain songs and will automatically know the steps from the old body step track or the rhythm of the pump track.

I stopped in my early 40s when a combination of injuries, weight gain, work travel, weight gain, work stress, weight gain, and chronic back pain took me away from the routine of classes. Actually, the chronic back pain started after I stopped – and stopped me from starting again.

I still moved. I walked and spent endless boring hours before work on the treadmill and cross trainer. The only time I had to exercise was before work and I decided that if I had to get to the gym by 5 am, I certainly wasn’t going to get up at 4.30 am to do something I disliked before heading to a job I disliked as well.  So, I ignored resistance training – even though I knew that I shouldn’t – and my pain got worse.

As we get older we need to do more resistance training.

Cardio is important, but there’s also that business about bone strength and maintaining muscle mass and how metabolism slows when muscles lose their mass. Yep, it’s technical and it makes my eyes glaze over too.

Aside from those reasons, I personally need to do resistance training to support a wonky back that’s always been wonky but is now more so as a result of too many years of doing too little to help it and too much to hurt it.

While I’m in substantially less pain than I was in Sydney, my spine has structural issues that need to be managed. It’s curved in a couple of places and I’m missing a few ribs and a couple of half vertebrates.  There’s also a couple of healed cracks in there from horse falls…don’t ask.

It’s something I’ve dealt with my whole life and managed relatively successfully until my early 40s – which was, you guessed it when I stopped swimming and resistance training…and when I started putting on (rather than lifting) serious weight.

They say that the best exercise for you is the one that you love…

That’s absolutely true. Regular movement is what’s important.  The problem is, I’ve spent the last 7-8 years doing only the exercise that I enjoy and ignoring what I know will be good for me.

While walking does my mind and my body a heap of good, I know that while it helps, it’s no longer enough on its own to keep my back strong.

That’s why even though I don’t enjoy it, in the interests of self-care, I’m adding resistance training back into my regular routine. I’m continuing to walk in the mornings – that’s non-negotiable – but I’m committing to the gym at lunchtime on at least two of the days I’m doing the corporate gig.

It doesn’t mean I have to like it, but I’m going to try and learn to enjoy it. I have a great playlist that I turn up very loud, and I’m just getting on with it. It’s a tough love thing and, while my mind might rebel today, my body needs it for tomorrow.

It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishSeize the Day ProjectWrite of the Middle50 Shades of Age,  and, of course, me.

2018 – The Wellness Goals

In line with my word of the year heart, my wellness goals this year are aimed at heart health – improving it, healing it, making it sing:

  • Healthy body
  • Healthy mind
  • Healthy relationships

As a result of some extreme and sustained stress and anxiety in 2015/2016, I experienced high blood pressure – at one point dangerously high blood pressure. I’m an asthmatic and the medication I was placed on reduced my heartbeat to a level where I literally couldn’t breathe. Instead of feeling as though my heart was beating out of my chest, I felt as though my lungs were carrying a lead weight. My fitness disappeared overnight and climbing even a short flight of stairs left me breathless.

Although the doctor (eventually) changed my medication, I’m not on any at the moment and a pharmaceutical fix is absolutely not a long-term solution for me. Although our lifestyle has changed over the past 12 months, there’s no doubt that my weight is continuing to place stress on my heart.

This year is about healing both the physical and emotional hurts I’ve inflicted on that poor organ over the last few years. In short, I need to lighten up – in mind, body and spirit.

Healthy Body

1.Alcohol

Ok, I drink too much alcohol. My one glass a night has crept up to ½ a bottle a night – and more on weekends. It started as a way of managing the anxiety of my job and the crap storm that was happening elsewhere in 2015/2016. It was my way of winding down and numbing the events of the day – yes, my job back then really was that stressful.

Even after I left that job in July 2016, there was other stuff happening, long commutes, and…you don’t need the details. Suffice to say, I continued to self-medicate and de-sensitise.

These days that’s pretty much going straight to my belly with no nutritional value at all. I don’t intend giving it up completely, and would like to say I’d go alcohol-free during the work week, but in the interests of being nice to myself, will limit my midweek drinks to one glass of red a night – and not one that looks like this!

2. Water

At the other end of the spectrum, I’m slack on my water consumption. This is a problem as my body is one of those that tends to hold onto water. In the summer or on long flights that means my ankles become cankles by the end of the day. Then I spend all night back and forth from the loo to pee it all out again. Too much information?

My heart needs more water to do its job properly, so more water is what I’ll give it.

3. Nutrition

Generally speaking, we eat well. We eat and cook seasonally using fresh ingredients. I gave up sugar (including hidden sugars) a number of years ago – with the notable exception of the above-mentioned alcohol – but my portion sizes are too large (remember what I said in my word post about boundaries?) and although I never eat after dinner, I tend to snack in the late afternoon. This really is a mindfulness thing, but the changes I intend to bring into 2018 are:

  • Smaller portions
  • Meatless Mondays
  • No snacking
  • Reduce wheat and gluten – good sourdough can be my once a week treat

4. Exercise

 

I’ve fallen off the daily walk wagon in the last couple of weeks, but up till then was walking 5 km most weekday mornings.

As for my gym membership? I haven’t set foot in the place since November, so strength training simply hasn’t happened and everything is very floppy. Sadly, the opposite is true of my joints. I used to pride myself on my flexibility, but that’s non-existent these days.

In the interests of doing things that make my heart sing rather than groan:

  • I’ll re-commence my morning walks, but add in a longer one once a week. I’d like to set myself some sort of challenge to work towards, but am not there yet.
  • I’m getting back into the pool. I swam most of my life – until a boxing-related shoulder injury some years ago. It’s time to get wet again.
  • Although I hate it with an absolute passion, I do need to get to the gym and do some strength work.
  • Yoga. I spend a lot of time sitting on my bum, so need both my body and my mind stretched.

Healthy Mind

 

I still struggle with anxiety – those moments that consume my brain with worry and make my heart race, especially at night. As a result, my sleep patterns are less than ideal – alcohol helps me get to sleep, but it also leads to disturbed sleep.

I have to find ways of coping and switching off that don’t involve alcohol. I also need to learn how to let go of the things I can’t control – lighten the load my brain copes with. I spend way too much time worrying about what other people think and trying to control that.

These tactics should help soothe my mind:

  • Morning walks help me deal with the corporate gig and get my day off to a good start, and are integral to my mental health. Walking beside the ocean soothes my mind and makes my heart sing. In addition this year:
  • Swimming along a black line has always been an active meditation for me. It’s the main reason I’m hitting the pool this year.
  • I’m giving meditation a whirl and also recommencing a yoga practice after many years of absence. I’m starting with just 10 minutes a day…surely that’s achievable?

Healthy Relationships

This year marks 29 years that hubby and I have been together, and 24 years married. It’s easy to take each other for granted over that period of time. In a busy life, one on one time takes a back-seat.

In view of that, I’m suggesting we have regular beach walks together – it will help his heart too! – and a date night (or lunch) once a month.

While the three of us eat our evening meal together at the dining table with no telly, I’ll be reinstating the Saturday night specials – where I prepare a more elaborate or special dinner with music, candles and proper table settings. It’s something that we used to always do but has slipped over the years.

Ok, those are the goals…I’m joining with a group of bloggers to check-in monthly in a Wellness Wednesday style post. Wish me luck!

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