Day 5 Brickhill Woods Hill Race 3.2km

With two more days of the Tour, we would be returning to the woods for another cross-country leg. On paper, it sounded great because a nice, short race on some soft woodland trails would help our legs to recover before we had to run the longest race, on the final day of the Tour. However, I also knew by then to expect the unexpected and so I once again, sought out the opinion of a Tour veteran. The good news, he told me, was that it really was only 3.2km of a trail lined by pine trees in a pretty forest. But the bad news was that it was the toughest race of the week and consisted almost entirely of several extremely steep climbs followed by some treacherous downhills. I couldn’t help asking why there were so many races in the Tour that were renowned as being the toughest of the week? However, the Tour vet assured me that this race really was the absolute worst and included a climb so steep that it was known as ‘vomit hill’. Well that’s just great, I thought. At least it didn’t sound like there would be any repeats. In any case, I decided that race plan would be similar to that of Day 2: Go slow and just finish.

When I arrived at the woods, I found that I had another reason to follow this strategy as my stomach was a bit on the dodgy side. I knew I didn’t want to literally be running up vomit hill, so the order of day would have to be to take it nice and easy. However, it was clear when I ambled up to the start of the race that there were those with other ideas. As it became abundantly clear to everyone that it was going to be another uphill start, many of the runners started regrouping and manoeuvring themselves into a good starting position. Several runners even set themselves strategically off piste among the ferns, ready to sprint with a clear path. I, however, concentrated on standing somewhere where I could see the ground in front of me as I knew there would be plenty of things to trip up on.

Off we went with the whistle and the mass of runners surged forward while others seemed to spring out from different directions in the trees, like speedy ninjas. As we started to climb, everyone was funnelled together into a narrow trail. It became so congested that I couldn’t see what I running on and could only hope that I wouldn’t stumble over a tree root. The trail started to get even steeper and before long, the bunched runners began to disentangle and space out. The race then turned into a survival of the fittest and the natural climbers ran far into the distance. Like the rest, I struggled on and continued to climb what felt like a never-ending hill. I attempted to up my speed in an effort to finish climbing sooner. However, this only made me feel like I would be creating my own vomit hill and I quickly slowed back to my previous pace of dead slow.

Eventually, I made it to the top of the hill but if I thought that I would get some much-needed relief, I was mistaken. Down we went thundering on steep, uneven trails full of forest debris scattered about, almost inviting a fall. I tried to slow myself down without losing my step as I skidded on pine needles and fallen leaves. But I felt myself speed up again and was nearly knocked over by another runner who careered by, apologetically, but out of control. I somehow managed to regain control of my legs again and made it to the bottom of the hill in one piece, but barely.

The trail levelled off temporarily and I tried to catch my breath before we began another uphill ascent. But the flat was hardly a relief as the trail became uneven and thick with sand. I trudged on still trying to avoid tree roots with a slow and heavy stride. At least I was achieving my aim to take it slowly. It wasn’t long before we approached another hill, which looked even steeper than the last. I knew that my stomach had met its nemesis full-on and I braced myself to begin another climb. Up vomit hiIl, I went, slowly and steadily but at least I wasn’t alone. This hill wasn’t one for overtaking and all eyes were firmly focused down as we shuffled upwards in a long queue of grunting runners. Every now and then a runner abandoned the queue and walked up almost in defiance of the impossibility of the course. I only reached the top because I was so tired that I feared if I stopped, I would tumble downwards, knocking the other runners over, like dominoes.

I tried to catch my breath but before long there was another downhill to contend with. By this time in the race, everyone’s legs were knackered which meant that it was even more difficult to control them. I hurtled down with several other jelly-legged runners at what felt like breakneck speed. I managed to weave around several collisions of other runners who had attempted to slow down by windmilling their arms. I glanced at my watch and saw that we were finally nearing the end of the race. However, as I looked back up, I missed my step and landed awkwardly, twisting my ankle in the process. I tried to ‘run it out’ as I knew that there wasn’t much choice other than continuing on, as it was the shortest route back. I carried on running with a slightly uneven gait until eventually I could hear that the end was near. I ran down the last bumpy descent as slowly as my wobbly legs would allow until I finally crossed the finish line. The relief of being able to stop was almost overwhelming and I completely forgot about my ankle as I began to commiserate with the other runners.

This truly had been the toughest race of the Tour so far and I cannot say that I enjoyed it. But it was also another day under my belt and in the end, I had managed not to christen vomit hill. With one day to go of the Tour and Pretty Muddy in sight, the end of my 7 days of crazy races was approaching.

But now for the recipe and to fuel up for the final days, it has to be more bread! Here’s one of my favourites, Olive bread.

 

Bread web

Day 4 Campbell Park 8km

Day 4 of the Tour meant a return to a longer race and a second 8km course through some very hilly parkland. With the weather turning slightly colder, I was beginning to dread the event but at least it wasn’t meant to be routed through another stream. I went into this race with slightly low expectations after the miserable mile but I reasoned that at least, I could only go up.

I arrived with barely enough time to glance at the map of the course but it looked like yet another race running twice around a loop. As I made my way to the start, I couldn’t help wondering if I was the only one who struggled with repeats. Does everyone else really like the mental torture of running the same course twice?! But before I could continue whinging, the race began with the whistle.

Off we went over a grassy field like a stampeding herd of cattle until the course started to veer towards a steep downhill. Down we all ran in a thumping unison of heavy steps and I tried to not collide with the rest of the runners who were packed in beside me. I began to pick up more speed as we ran en masse and I started to feel like a running machine. However, I also realised that the faster I ran, the more I was starting to lose control of my sprinting legs. There began my attempt to put on the brakes by flailing my arms while shouting warnings, that I was incoming. After nearly tripping myself up (and others), the hill thankfully started to level out and I finally slowed at the bottom. I continued running but by then I was also laughing at the sheer ridiculousness of it all.

As the race went on and stretched out as the leaders sped ahead in the distance, the rest of us began to migrate into smaller groups. I soon found myself settling into one where I could run at a comfortable pace and as the course weaved through pretty parkland, I realised that I was starting to enjoy the race. Despite this, in the back of my mind was the recent steep downhill because like all runners, I knew that there had to be some payback. I ran on, taking my time and trying not to think about the inevitable uphill climb. But before long, the course started edging towards the beginning of a modest incline. Although it did not seem to be very steep, the runners seemed to slow to nought. The reason why was clear to me at once. It was precisely at that point in the race that every runner could feel just how much effort their quads had made in the previous day’s mile race. Despite coming last in my mile heat, my quads told me a different story.

I carried on slowly and dug in deep as I headed up more inclines and the final long hill before reaching the end of the first loop. But as I glanced at my watch, I was surprised to see that it had only recorded 3.6km of what I thought would be a 4km loop. Looking around, I wasn’t the only one doubting the distance as I heard a runner query the marshal as we passed. He replied that the race was in fact, 5½ miles long. That was an extra 800m or two more laps of the previous day’s race!  Although surprised, I was grateful to know this and knew I had better save some energy to run much further.

In the meantime, I had another loop to run and I began the second one knowing what to expect. This time, I mostly managed to control my downhill speed and kept up a steady but conservative pace for the next kms. However, there was much less movement between different groups of runners and it felt as if no one was going to change tack on the second loop. I enjoyed it so much that I almost forgot I was running a race as I relaxed and let my mind wander. I spent the next kms thinking about what to eat for dinner and whether it might rain or not. But I also kept wondering where the extra 800m of the course was going to come from. I prayed that it wouldn’t turn out to be an extra hill or a partial repeat of the course.

There was no sign of the missing 800m as I carried on up the inclines. But I began to gear down as I approached the last steady hill. I glanced at my watch which confirmed that at 6½ km, I had well over 1km to go. Oddly, I could see in the distance that the runners ahead of me were ramping up their speed and starting to increase the gap. I didn’t worry about it because I knew I would soon catch them in the extra 800m. Just like yesterday’s race plan, I decided that I would start my sprint with 100m to go. Strangely, as I carried on up the hill, I saw a crowd of runners really cheering everyone on. I didn’t know why they weren’t standing closer to the finish as we still had the extra 800m left. I carried on up at my steady same pace with my extra energy safely stored for the final sprint. As I reached the top of the hill and followed the course route, I suddenly realised that I was only 20m from the finish line. I quickly sped over it not knowing if I had truly finished or not. I looked at my watch which showed that the race was only 7km! But as I looked around, I could see others who also seemed confused and kept looking at their watches. However, there was nothing I could do but smile and feel relieved because I had made it to the end.

And the missing 800m? Well, after speaking to some Tour veterans I found out that this leg was simply a distance anomaly of the Tour. It wasn’t a secret and I would have known about it if I had made more of an effort to study the course map. Fortunately, because I hadn’t, I ended up saving some extra energy and I finished Day 4 feeling slightly less exhausted than on previous days. Which made we wonder if perhaps going slower is the best way to get through the remaining days? With 2 more days to go, I was getting closer to the bigger finish line.

In the meantime, for an easy dip that works as a perfect recovery snack, try this recipe for Beetroot hummus. It works with any dippers and if your children do not demolish it as quickly as mine did, the leftovers make a great filler for a sandwich, wrap or jacket potato.

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Day 3 Stantonbury Track Mile race (1.6km)

Although I finished on a bit of high after Potterspury, I was still a little intimidated by the prospect of running the next leg of the Tour around an athletics track. Considering that I hadn’t run a track race since I was a teenager, and never for anything over 800m, I had absolutely no idea how to approach the mile. The fact that I was going to be running 4 laps of the same thing also put me off because I couldn’t imagine it being anything other than boring. Even worse, there is no escape on a track. How could I enjoy my workout if everyone would be watching my every step?! I realised that I was probably the only runner who didn’t actually want to race anybody and who truly preferred the mile to be run en masse. I wondered if there was any way that the mile race could be run for fun? But I reasoned that even if some people were really racing, it was a short distance to contend with. It should be possible to run a little mile without succumbing to the pressure of competition. After all, it’s all in your head, isn’t it?

I wasn’t feeling so certain as I arrived at the track on race day, so I decided to ask my teenage daughter for some reassuring advice. After considering things for a mere millisecond she waved away my concerns and said I would be absolutely fine and wouldn’t have any problem, at all. She explained that all I had to do was simply run at a good pace and then speed up for the last 100m. The race ‘plan’ sounded pretty easy and I relaxed because if she wasn’t worried, why should I? Besides, as the race was ordered into several heats of runners, there would be many chances to watch how it should be done before my own race.

As I watched several faster heats set off and finish before me, I noticed that many of the runners were running really slowly around the track. At first, I thought that they must be following a different race plan from my own. However, even as they sprinted to the finish, they seemed to be putting a lot of effort into what looked more like jogging. I couldn’t understand how they could be getting such fast times when they were hardly sprinting. The more I watched, the more convinced I was that this mile business was going to be just fine.

Unfortunately, I found out that it is extremely deceptive to estimate speed when you are watching others running on a track. As soon as I started my race, I knew that I’d massively underestimated the speeds of the previous runners I’d watched. My mile race was being run at a fierce sprint from the go. In fact, it was impossible to keep up with the other runners and it didn’t get any better as the race went on. Despite the cheering for No 1 from the trackside spectators and my family, my legs simply would not go any faster than my breath allowed. It felt as if I was running in slow motion and I had to keep looking down to see if my legs were still moving. I suddenly remembered why I had never done a mile race before, because I had always hated sprinting for races longer than 100m. My brain was swiftly flooded with all the worst swears. As each lap went by, my legs seemed to shift down into even slower gears and gradually, I slipped to the back of the race like an abandoned caboose. I then faced an internal struggle to carry on running and with many eyes upon me, I knew that the mile could not finish soon enough. I prayed that when I reached the last 100m, I could find just enough speed for a final sprint. But I had nothing left in the tank, so to speak, and my number 1 could only cross the line, last of the pack. However, if I felt slightly downhearted, it didn’t last for very long. As the next heats of runners were up, like the rest, I cheered them on knowing that it was going to be tough for them. But as I watched them I also couldn’t help wondering to myself, why they were running so slowly?

It has to be said that I definitely found out the hard way that without question, the mile race cannot ever be described as something that is ‘fun’ to run. It is a highly competitive 4-lap mad sprint and running it on a track only increases the pressure of competition, ten-fold. Personally, that is not something that I would like more of. I may have finished Day 3 surprisingly tired for such a short race and a little frustrated but at least I was officially half way to the t-shirt.

Well, another day means another recipe so here’s a great one for Oatmeal soda bread. Be warned. The smell of this bread baking will tempt any teenager out of their room so you would be advised to bake two.

Oatmeal soda bread blog

Tour de force? Day 2 Potterspury Cross-Country 8km

After the baptism of fire on Day 1 of the Tour, I was slightly apprehensive about what was to come. This time, I would be prepared and what better way to do this other than simply asking someone who had done the Tour before. It was easier to find a Tour veteran than I thought and they were more than willing to share some vital course information. They advised me to wear my oldest trainers for the race as the course was not only mucky, but involved running through a stream three times and climbing stiles. This sounded tricky enough but I knew from my past cross-country experience that the 8km course would also feel considerably longer on such terrain.

I decided that the only way I would be able to complete Potterspury in one piece would be to run the race at a much slower pace so I could watch my footing. I would have to focus on finishing and run it more as a fun run, so I would enjoy it as much as possible. I tried not to think of the fact that I would be running another race of repeated loops, even if there were only 2½ of them. And I was really dreading the stream…

But before I knew it, I joined a long queue of other runners walking to the start which was at the base of a very steep muddy hill. I couldn’t believe it! We were starting on a hill?! Before I had time to question the injustice of it all, we all went off at once, albeit at a slightly slower uphill pace. The course, itself, was very hilly and uneven and it winded itself around several muddy fields. After circling for some time, we ran through a forest trail and of course, in and out of a murky stream. However, this managed to help me slow my pace as I followed other runners who dodged verges, clambered over stiles and leapt over logs. As for the stream, it was very mucky, indeed, but at least it was not too cold. My attempts to clear it, however, were futile. Each time I geared myself up to leap, my tired legs only landed me in deeper water. But with my trainers literally squelching as I ran, there was no point in worrying about the time or distance. Unlike the previous day’s race, it felt less like a fierce competition and I was surprised to find that I was starting to enjoy the race. I continued to run past another field, another climb then a steep downhill before the finish was in earshot. The course rounded the perimeter of a grass pitch for the final sprint to the finish. However, it also circled all of the speedier runners who had hung around after finishing to cheer everyone on. It felt more like a victory loop as I ran and unlike the previous day, there wasn’t a mad scrum to get over the line. I finished Day 2 enjoying running at a slower pace, without any pressure and I felt more confident that I would complete the Tour. With two races down, I was almost halfway there.

In the meantime, I could only think of recovery and mainly, nourishment. With that in mind, here’s another easy one-pot recipe for Fruity cauliflower pilaf to try.

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Tour de force?

Well, it certainly feels like the summer has wound down with the damp weather, slightly cooler air and just a hint of autumnal leaves about. With the return to school and start of the new sports season, there is a sudden flurry of activities at home. Adjusting to the new routine whilst being presented with some looming deadlines have managed to stir my sleepy children, who act more like grumpy bears, woken from their endless summer of hibernation. I also had a slow start and was reluctant to remember our schedule of coordinating meals with drop offs and pickups again. I can’t say I take great pleasure from also being landed with some homework, hidden within the influx of red flagged emails and communications from my children’s schools and sports clubs. The sheer number of them is slightly overwhelming and only makes me second guess whether I have actually managed to finish filling in forms and ticking boxes before I pass them back again like a hot potato. At least there is still a little breathing space on the weekend left to catch up on things before we become fully entrenched into rugby and cross-country season. Or at least I thought there was…

Unfortunately, like my children, I was also woken up from my summer hibernation to realise that I had signed up for some running events in September. Ones that I conveniently put to the back of my mind after signing up, believing that they would be ‘fun’ and a great way to finish off the summer. Why wouldn’t I want to take part in a 6-day running tour of my local area that included 6 races of different distances and mixed terrains? The longest race was only 11.2km, so how hard could it be? Sure, there were two races of around that distance and a couple of 8kms but the remaining two days were far shorter. Sounded like it would be a week of good workouts among like-minded runners without the pressure of actually ‘racing’ and the chance to add to my collection of technical t-shirts. This year was the 35th anniversary of the Tour and rumour had it that the t-shirt was going to be in ‘Hawaiian blue’.

That alone, was enough to sign myself up to the Tour several months ago and I should have stopped there. But in my summer haze of naivety, I also signed up for the Cancer Research UK Race for Life Pretty Muddy 5km event with my daughter and her friend. As minors, they needed an accompanying adult and after enjoying the event in the past, I didn’t hesitate in signing up. I knew that it would take place the day after the Tour finished but did it matter if I extended my own Tour and finished on a very muddy 7th day? It was for a good cause, after all.

Unfortunately, I have found out the hard way that you should always read the small print. Especially, when it comes to running events. A couple of days before the Tour took place, I began to realise that I may have underestimated just how difficult it would be. As my daughter read out the description of Tour races to her brother, the reality of it all began to set in. When I overheard her say that the event was one that ‘local running club members simultaneously dread and look forward to’, I felt like I might have signed up to the wrong Tour. What happened to the week of relaxed workouts?? It was too late to bail out but I was starting to feel a bit out of my depth. The only option seemed to be to go forward and so I stepped up gingerly to the first event.

Day 1 Tattenhoe Park 11km
On the first day of the Tour, I arrived to register amongst a large crowd of mingling runners who were also collecting their race numbers. When I reached the front of the queue I discovered that they had been allocated alphabetically, which meant that for the Tour, I was number ‘1’. Now probably many people imagine that they would like to be wearing this number thinking that they could tell everyone with impunity that they were, in fact, numero uno. However, wearing this number also invites plenty of comments from others before you’ve even started running. Thus, began a running banter of variations of ‘She’s in the lead!’, ‘Look out for her!’ and ‘No pressure, then!’. Now this is fine if you are a confident runner and are feeling good about an event. However, if you are at all a little nervous, overwhelmed or intimidated by the whole series of RACES then it does not bode well for a week of being number 1.

Nonetheless, with my pristine number 1 pinned to my chest, I stepped forward to the start of the race. I knew that if this went well, it would help to put things into perspective and could herald the start of a really ‘fun’ Tour. But I began the race packed into a crowd that struggled to unfold. Gradually, we began to spread out as we faced the 3-loop course that alternated between tarmacked footpaths and parkland. Before long, I found a place to run alongside some friendly faces and I reminded myself that this was just a workout. However, it became abundantly clear that most people were opting to race. At the time, the race felt like it was a little bit speedy but I had no idea what pace I was running at as my watch’s GPS could not pick up any signal.

After the first loop, I was already tiring and I realised two things: I was running way too fast for a ‘workout’ and the course was not as flat as I had hoped. I started the second loop dreading the same again and now with legs that were starting to feel like blocks of wood. I focused on relaxing and managed to engage a couple of other runners in conversation for a km or so. But they didn’t have time to chat in the middle of a race and soon outran me. I somehow finished the second loop but then I began the mental torture of repeating a third and final loop. By then my watch had started to kick in but it was far too late to tell me anything useful. My legs had also transformed into concrete slabs and I felt like I was running through treacle. I could only grimace to cheers of encouragement and shouts of ‘Look, it’s number 1!’ from spectators. I grumbled on and wished I hadn’t won at the alphabet. It seemed to take days before I finally saw the finish area in sight and it couldn’t come soon enough for me. I was pipped in the final metre of the finish by another runner which only made me feel more knackered and frustrated. The first day of the Tour didn’t feel anything like ‘fun’. After commiserating with fellow tired runners, I heard that the first day was supposed to be the worst of the 6. In fact, runners were supposed to improve as the week goes on as long as they don’t start out too fast and overdo it. I also knew that you had to do all of the races to get the t-shirt. And I really wanted the t-shirt. Which meant that despite my low mood, I knew I would continue with the Tour. I mean, how much worse could it possibly get?

While you wait to find out, why not make a Spiced plum loaf? It makes a great snack to fuel up on before a run (or another race…) Or you can just relax and enjoy a slice with a cuppa.

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goodness KNOWS no bounds

Well I have to hand it to Mars. Just when you thought that they had cornered the market of all things confectionary, they’ve done it again. They have created a new brand and with it, an inspiring new reason to snack. Forget hunger or sustenance, that’s old school. Now your elevenses can bring you even closer to realising your dreams. That’s right, every bite of the new goodnessKNOWS snack will help you to take ‘a simple step toward being your best and reaching your goals’!!! And all in 4 little squares! Which makes me wonder, what exactly is in those little bite-sized pieces of perfection? And what is behind Mars’ launching a new brand?

Luckily, Mars is letting us into the secret as they launch their new brand in the UK with a £4.6 million marketing campaign and social media presence. goodnessKNOWS snack squares have been marketed as a new, low-calorie snack containing simple, natural ingredients and its branding invites us to ‘try a little goodness’. The snack is targeted at the growing market of snackers who seek out ‘healthier’ choices as consumers have become more aware of the effect of diet on their health. According to the Euromonitor, UK consumers chomp their way through more than five times as much confectionery as the global average. However, health concerns have caused a downward trend in the sales of sweets and chocolate as consumers are switching to savoury snacks and yoghurts. goodnessKNOWS has arrived just in time, then.

But back to the little squares. What about their ingredients and how are they going to help me be my best? It turns out that the goodnessKNOWS snack range has already been available in the US but Mars had to spend 18 months rejigging the recipe to suit UK palates. Contrary to the widely accepted negative stereotype of American eating habits, the US version of goodnessKNOWS was found to be not sweet enough for UK consumers. As you would expect, just a spoonful of sugar (or two or three) to help the little squares go down, did the trick. Now it may seem odd to mention sugar at all as an ingredient when goodnessKNOWS has marketed itself as a healthy snack food. But here is where it all gets slightly suspect.

The snack squares are advertised as containing whole nuts and real fruit with dark chocolate. So far, that sounds like real food and the packaging certainly displays the real thing. The different flavours are shown to contain slices of crunchy, fresh apple, sun ripened peach and fresh berries together with whole nuts and just a curl or two of dark chocolate. But just in case you even doubted whether this snack was good for you, goodnessKNOWS have done the thinking for you with a marketing blurb that invites you to ‘pat yourself on the back’ for choosing it. goodnessKNOWS also awards you a ‘Well done’ for eating something that does not contain any artificial colours, flavours, preservatives or high fructose corn syrup. However, sugar is not really mentioned, not even the extra spoonful, until you take a closer look at the list of actual ingredients.

In fact, each of the snack squares contain sugar within just about every ingredient listed. For example, the Apple, peanut & almond with dark chocolate snack square is advertised as containing ‘Sweet apples. Roasted peanuts and almonds. Dark chocolate’. But take a look at the ingredients listed. The squares contain sweetened dried apples, rice sweetened with raisin juice concentrate (essentially, sugar) and honey plus some toasted oats sweetened with brown sugar and white sugar. In addition, the squares contain brown rice syrup (more sugar), dried cane syrup (same again) and for good measure, some more sugar. All in all, each 34g pack containing 4 little squares comes out at 12g sugar which is 3 tsp. But at 150kcals a go, many people will not think twice about the sugar content. And to be fair, compared to many of the flapjacks, granola bars and paleo snacks on the market heavily promoted as being ‘healthy’, they are certainly not higher in sugar. But they are not a whole lot less, either.

To be clear, I am not saying that there is anything inherently wrong with the little squares, per se. They may even taste good. After all, I like dried fruit and roasted nuts and I choose dark over milk chocolate every time. But it has nothing to do with the cocoa flavanols, which goodnessKNOWS tells me, ‘are the good stuff in dark chocolate’. And this is exactly why I think Mars’ new confectionary brand should sit a little uneasy on its healthy pedestal.

What I find problematic and slightly disingenuousness about goodnessKNOWS is the fact that it is being promoted as a sort of superior snack of wellness rather than as a confectionary. This is not to say that Mars is alone creating a product that targets the growing number of consumers who are health conscious. Manufacturers have flooded the market with ‘healthy’ bars, snack packs and drinks aimed at followers of clean eating, carb-free diets and any number of wellness trends. So why wouldn’t any company not want to profit from products that they are allowed to market as being better and ‘healthier’ than the alternative? The problem is that these products are more than often not nutritionally better than a biscuit and consumers may not realise this. When it comes to goodnessKNOWS, they have also pushed the boundaries a bit beyond their ‘healthy’ claims by tying up value judgements to their products.

Some very clever marketing and down-to-earth, simple language is used to validate the notion, that eating the snack squares will not only make you healthier but be a better person. For example, goodnessKNOWS is described using numerous self-congratulatory phrases and even a little smugness dressed up as pride. Every time you unwrap a goodnessKNOWS, you will not simply be having a quick bite. These snack squares will enable you to ‘take that one small step toward being your best’. If only I had known this earlier…The marketing materials also tell you that by choosing goodnessKNOWS, you will also be giving an emphatic ‘no’ to some ingredients you may not even care about. Does it make it any more nutritious if it is gluten free, not genetically modified or kosher? The truth is, it’s just an upmarket biscuit. It is not going to change you or the world. And it’s certainly not going to make you healthier.

In fact, the last thing that consumers need right now is more encouragement from manufacturers to eat more snacks between meals, especially ones that contain added sugar. There may now be a general awareness among the public of the high rates of obesity in the UK and the role of our diet plays in our health. However, I wonder if we can also say the same for tooth decay? How many people are aware that the UK is also breaking records when it comes to the rising number of tooth extractions carried out and the rate of dental caries, particularly among children? The evidence based truth is that eating snacks between meals that are full of added sugar, aka free sugars, whether it is the ‘natural’ sort such as honey or agave syrup or heavily processed high fructose corn syrup, is not good for our health, contributes to our waistlines and causes tooth decay. Dried fruit is very high in sugar and sticks to our teeth which makes any snack containing them particularly bad for them. However, goodnessKNOWS says that their snack squares can be eaten all in one go or broken up to eat throughout the day, depending on how you feel. Your teeth do not care how you feel and neither does your dentist. These are the kinds of snacks your dentist hates. I don’t quite see Mars using that as a catch phrase, though.

Despite all this, I am sure that goodnessKNOWS will do well in the ever-growing market of health-conscious consumers. After all, there has been a market for products that promise health and wellness since time immemorial. Perhaps the only thing that has changed has been the degree and sophistication of the marketing messages that make us buy the products. Wouldn’t it be refreshing and even revolutionary, for a company to just come out and be honest about their wares? Especially, when it comes to food and drink. In other words, call a pudding a pudding, even if you are claiming that it is made of better stuff. But there is a time and a place for pudding and it is not every so often, throughout the day, as a snack. If you are going to have a pudding, for goodness sake, everybody KNOWS that you should enjoy it with a main meal.

Now if you are going to have a proper snack, why not try a Roasted nut and nectarine buttermilk scone? They make a great breakfast, too.

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Some like it hot…but will it keep you cool this summer?

I may be tempting fate by saying it, but summer has now truly arrived in the UK. It’s almost hard to believe the weather forecasts of temperatures more akin to holiday destinations. Another day of sun? Again?? It almost feels greedy to experience such a run of glorious sunny days filled with blistering heat. With no end in sight and only the odd interruption of a storm to clear the air, we may actually defy the odds of not having the common English variety of summer, of rain and more rain. However, there appears to be only so much good weather that people can take. It only takes a couple of degrees for the blue skies to transform someone’s sunny outlook to a flared temper that can rapidly morph into the mother of all meltdowns. Luckily, the remedy is always the same: chill. But getting cool is easier said than done and I am often surprised by some of the unusual attempts and methods used to achieve a little comfort. Especially when it comes to food and drink.

There are those that swear by eating spicy foods when the temperatures rise in order to get some relief. They point out that in hotter countries such as Mexico, Vietnam and Malaysia to name a few, the cuisine typically features copious amounts of chilies. Chillies contain capsaicin and as soon as we eat something spicy, the capsaicin in our mouth triggers our bodies’ internal AC to start up and we begin to sweat around our forehead and neck. By sweating, we begin to release more heat from our bodies as our sweat evaporates into the air. We carry on with the sweating until we have cooled down and reached our normal temperature range.

Of course, there are as many types and ways of using chillies in cooking as there are strengths. In Mexico, chillies and chilli powder is sprinkled on just about anything including fruit. In fact, one of the most common street foods available are brightly coloured overflowing pints of ensalada de fruta. These massive plastic cups are filled to the brim with diced pineapple, papaya, watermelon, cucumber, jicama and lots of chillies which is then doused with lime juice. Or you could try to cool down with a chamoyada, a Mexican version of a granita, with a difference. Sounding not too dissimilar to a craving experienced during pregnancy, a chamoyada typically contains mango, chilli powder and salsa that is frozen and blended into a slush. It is then topped with more salsa and served in a cup like a spicy Frappuccino, but not before sprinkling it with some Haribo-type sweets. I don’t imagine Starbucks taking on any of this soon but I could be wrong.

Although I do like my chillies, and will eat Mexican food at every opportunity, I am not so sure if eating something spicy in hot weather to stay cool works for me. If sweating is supposed to cool my body down, why does it make me feel hotter? Can eating spicy foods actually work to dial up my AC if I am already sweating beforehand? What if my internal AC is working on full power when I eat something spicy? Is there a danger my AC could blow after one too many chamoyadas? Perhaps there is a sweating tipping point.

Another school of thought says that to cool down you should bypass the chillies and instead eat or drink something that is hot in temperature. Using the same argument, by the time the hot food or drink hits your stomach, it has triggered your internal AC to do its magic. But this time, you sweat in all the usual places which means that more heat is lost from your body than by eating spicy foods. In terms of food and drink, proponents of this practice point out that tea is traditionally taken in numerous hot countries around the globe. With over 1,500 varieties of teas to choose from, it is the world’s most consumed drink after water. Why would everybody be drinking it to stay cool unless it really worked? As for food, the obvious choice would be a soups, stews and hot pots and this method of cooking is customary in many of these same countries. But many traditional dishes even go one step further in the heat stakes and intensify the heat by combining the hot and spicy. There are many dishes to choose from such as the Ethiopian doro wat, a stew of chicken and whole boiled eggs, the Thai tom saab kra-dook aon, a soup of pork cartilage and Thai bird chillies. However, you always could stick to a favourite culinary import to the UK, the vindaloo curry.

However, I am not entirely convinced that eating or drinking something hot really works to cool me down. Although I drink the odd cuppa and still enjoy a coffee throughout the summer I have to say that when it is really sweltering, I prefer it on ice. After all, when the humidity doesn’t allow your sweat to evaporate, a hot drink seems to only work to make you sweat in places you didn’t know were possible. As for hot food, I can’t seem to bear it on a hot day even if it contains my beloved chillies.

But there are those in yet another camp who believe that if you want some cool relief, the choice of what to eat and drink is no mystery. You should obviously eat or drink something cold when it is hot outside. As you would expect, there are also a wealth of tempting examples from hotter climes to back up the simple notion that consuming chilled foods and drinks will do exactly what they say on the tin. Instead of trying to lose your body heat by spending all the energy sweating, the theory goes that the low temperature of the cold foods and drinks will instantly shut down your internal AC. By shutting off the power and subsequent sweating, and lowering your temperature, you will get instant relief.

In terms of food and drink, ice cream and iced drinks immediately spring to mind as do frozen grapes, smoothies and chilled fruit. Crisp salads also take centre stage when the sun is beating down, full of leafy greens and crunchy veg that also helps to quench your thirst. Then there are many people who on a hot day, like nothing better than to sit down to eat a nice bowl of soup, but ladled out ice-cold. The chilled soup gold standard has to be the Spanish gazpacho, essentially a tomato soup teaming with garlic and cilantro. However, a rival chilled soup also exists in Spain. Described as a white gazpacho, the ajo blanco, is actually prepared with almonds, bread and masses of garlic. Other well-known chilled soups throughout the world include the vibrant borsht beetroot soup from Poland and the French vichysseoise, a purée of leeks, onions, potatoes, cream and chicken stock. There are also plenty of competing recipes for fruit and vegetable chilled soups which can sometimes turn out as something a little too similar to a smoothie that you have to eat with a spoon. However, I think the most unusual chilled soup I have come across is the Korean mul naengmyun. This cold noodle soup is a bowlful of buckwheat noodles swimming in cold beef stock that is topped with several slices of cold beef, a halved hardboiled egg and slivers of cucumber, Asian pear and pickled radish.

I have to say that the idea of having a cold drink to cool down really works for me. I am also a big salad eater and it is my ‘go to’ meal when it’s hot outside. As for ice cream, if I am going to have one, it has to be on a hot day. However, the idea of eating a chilled soup simply leaves me cold. To me, soup = warmth and the chance to warm up icy fingers on a massive bowl. In fact, during the winter months, my family embraces soup season, where each and every Saturday becomes a ‘souper’ Saturday. On this day we make one of our many hundreds of different soup creations for dinner. As we sit down and dip great hunks of bread into our heaven in a bowl, I am in utter bliss. But dipping bread into a cold gazpacho or a borsht??! Or cold NOODLES?! Admittedly, I have never tried cold noodles in soup and I may be missing out on a bowlful of deliciousness. But instinctively, it just feels wrong because I don’t know what would I do with my hands…and all that bread??

So in the end, we have 3 widely held but different practices of eating and drinking to help stay cool in the heat. But which one works best? Will we stay cooler if we eat or drink something spicy, something hot or something cold? Worldwide, there doesn’t seem to be a consensus of opinion and as you would expect, beliefs are rooted in tradition. What is true is that when you are roasting, you will do anything you believe works. So despite the science and growing evidence that gives a slight edge to the effectiveness to eating or drinking something hot to reducing body heat, I can’t say I will be taking it on board. It may not reduce my body temperature as quickly as a steaming cup of tea but I still believe that there is nothing better than sitting back with an ice cold drink on a hot summer’s day. Unless, of course, there is some especially good ice cream on offer or some cold watermelon or berries…Anything chilled – except soup!

Speaking of which, here is an easy recipe for Summer jelly pops to give you some ice cool relief. It makes a great afterschool (or after work) snack and is a healthier alternative to whatever the ice cream vans are peddling. You will also save yourself the inevitable disappointment of discovering that they have, once again, increased the price of a Flake 99.

Ice lollies blog