Tech Review: Monster & The Power of Music in Running

No recipes today, I hope you don't mind. I thought I'd mix things up a little and include another hobby of mine, running. I'm hoping I can get away with it - 'Sophie has to love running, because she loves food'?

Like most, a lot of my days are spent desk-bound. My 'day' job involves shift-working and due to the unsocial hours I find it difficult to motivate myself to the idea of a gym membership I'll actually use. Combined with a healthy appetite and sweet tooth, my metabolism most definitely isn't what it used to be.

I'll skip the motivational running chat, but what I will say is if you need an excuse to get outside and take some time out for yourself then this could be it. Anything that can pull us away from checking for updates on social media feeds every 10 minutes or letting Netflix load episode after episode!

I'm currently working on pushing myself longer distances and was curious to see what I could learn from Curry's workshop on the power of music in running.

Throughout history, there's been a strong link between music and sport. Think National Anthems, the New Zealand rugby team's Haka and Nessun Dorma as the theme of Italia 90. 

In terms of psychological effects, sport psychologist Dr Costas Karageorghis claims the following benefits:
  • increases mood and makes you feel energised/invigorated
  • makes something more pleasurable
  • lowers the perception of effort
  • shifts attention
  • regulates movement
And a benefit of these factors can mean up to 20% increased endurance!

Running synchronously to the beat of music is known to have the most positive effect. But it was also interesting to learn that its not just the beat of the music that can be used as a motivational tool, but the lyrics also.

For example, in order to stimulate and prepare for races during London 2012, Michael Phelps listened to Lil' Wayne's 'I am Me' before taking home 6 medals ("Ain't nobody f**king with me man...I know the game is crazy, its more crazy than its ever been.")

Sedative music is also used to beat pre-game anxiety and pressure for athletics. Audley Harrison prefers to listen to classical Japanese music before matches to promote relaxation and focus. Dame Kelly Holmes' beats her anxiety by listening to Alicia Keys.

Music is not only beneficial pre-workouts and during workouts, it has been found to reduce heart rate and stress post-workout.

Certainly information that may make you rethink your current playlists a little.

With this in mind, we were then introduced to Monster's range of sport specific headphones. 

Previously, I'd be running without realising that the uncomfortable sharp sensations I'd sometimes experience with my cheap headphones were in fact small electric shocks caused by sweat getting into them! Not only had they been shocking me as I ran, they also were pretty distracting each time they'd pop out an ear. 

Monster's iSport range claim to be entirely sweat proof, shock proof and to stay comfortably in your ears all whilst delivering good quality sound. The added bonus being that they're wireless and easily sync to any bluetooth device.

Curry's and Monster generously provided us all with a pair of the iSport SuperSlim headphones to take home and try for ourselves.

After a just a few runs, I've been well and truly converted. Never again will I get myself in a tangle over cables and have to fuss over ear buds flying out along the way.

I thought I'd run you through some of the pros and cons...

  • super lightweight 
  • 5 hours constant playback
  • 50 foot wireless range
  • sweat resistant ear clips that stay in your ears
  • ControlTalk for switching between phone calls on iPhones and your music
  • very good at blocking external noise
  • a little fiddly at the start to get in your ears
  • almost too good at blocking external noise, perhaps ensure volume is low when cycling or running near a road.

My music preferences tend to be limited to a few Spotify playlists for running shorter distances.

I tend to prefer a story to get lost in for longer distances as speed and pace isn't something I'm too worried about. Some of my favourite podcasts for this include Serial, Stuff Mom Never Told You and The Infinite Monkey Cage. If anyone has any other recommendations then please do let me know!

Fear not, I've not gone all health obsessive on you, I'm eating left over pizza whilst writing this...

Thanks so much to Joe Blogs & Curry's for inviting me, its encouraged me heaps.

You can read more about the Curry's workshop here.

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Review: Arla Skyr Breakfast & Feed Your Adventure Tour

You all know by now, I'm pretty keen on yogurt. Whether its in baking, cooking or just for snacking. Its such a fridge staple for me that there's even a whole shelf dedicated to the stuff; tubs in all shapes and sizes.

Last week, Arla introduced their traditional Icelandic Skyr (pronounced 'skee-er') yogurt to the UK market and celebrated with a bloggers breakfast at Ham Yard Hotel. 

Our breakfast started with an introduction to the yogurt by expert nutritionist from Channel 4's Food Unwrapped, Charlotte Stirling-Reed. We learnt the importance of protein in a balanced diet and how it can make a big difference on satiety. That's the feeling that helps you to feel fuller for longer and to help curb snacking throughout the day.

Charlotte explained that the key to healthy eating is to concentrate on eating well around 80% of the time. Those 'superfood' goji berries aren't going to budge that McDonald's breakfast and even that wheatgrass shot won't be so 'super' if you've had takeaways the past 3 nights in a row. Everything in moderation is the key!
Skyr contains 10% more protein than other brands on the market. In their 150g snack pots, there's 14.1g protein and only 114kcal. Not only are these perfect for a desk snack, the high amount of protein means they also make a great post-workout recovery snack. 

The snack pots come in a selection of Nordic inspired flavours; Apple and Ligonberry, Nordic Sour Cherry, Strawberry, Mixed Nordic Berry and Simply Natural. Perfect as is, or to mix up with some chopped banana, nuts and berries. 

Almost unbelievably, the Simply Natural flavour yogurt is made with just one ingredient. Simply plain milk turned into yogurt using traditional Icelandic straining and filtering methods. No added sugar or preservatives, you can't really get better than that.

The Simply Natural flavour is a great foundation to any meal throughout the day. My favourite being to help make porridge creamy or served with a sprinkle of granola and fresh blueberries. For dinner, try a yogurt dip for Mexican or to cool down a curry. It also helps make chicken extra tender if you make a marinade with a few dollops of yogurt per teaspoon of spice paste.

Not only have Arla released the small snack sizes, there's a range of three 450g big pots including, Simply Natural, Strawberry and Honey. 
Filled with yogurt knowledge and a yogurt breakfast, we set off to stretch our legs and take in the natural beauty of Soho. Now, you may be laughing, but I certainly don't mean 'those' shops. Peter Berthoud from Londonist gave us a guided walking tour and encouraged us to look a little further into an area we were all familiar with.

For example, in Georgian London you could buy your milk from St James's Park. Up to 8,500 cows were kept in and around London delivering and selling milk over a 20 mile distance. Not bad considering today's food miles. Although, to some these 'urban' cows didn't quite cut the mustard, often with pints being topped up with water or milk even being blue due to pollution. The Oxford Express Dairy on Frith Street took delivery of their pure milk to sell from the early morning milk train all the way from the west coast of Wales. 
Next up, Phoenix Gardens. One of those spots you only dare to tell one other person of in the fear that it'll become even busier than Soho Square around the corner. The community gardens are managed by volunteers who use sustainable techniques ensuring that the plants can sustain themselves, look good all year round and attract wildlife. A brilliant spot to read in the sun or for your lunch break if you're a local. 
Did you know London had its own type of tree? Nope, neither did I! The London Plane tree counts for over half of the trees across the capital. First discovered at the start of the 17th Century, these trees not only are pollution resistant but can take up to 80% of pollution of the surrounding air. To do so, its camouflage patterned bark flakes off to cleanse itself of pollutants. Its roots can survive in pretty much any soil type. And, its sleek waxy leaves mean that grime just rinses away in the rain. 

In just two hours I learnt so much, not only about healthy eating but in Soho's natural hotspots. Since, I've been enjoying a quick pot of Skyr for breakfast before running out the door to work and after my runs in the afternoon to help tide me over until dinner time.

Thank you to Arla and Cow PR for a great morning!

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Everyday Yogurt Lovers & Recent Favourites

When my alarm started sounding at 06:30am on a day off, I did doubt the table I'd booked a few weeks before. Yes, I had to book weeks in advance and yes, the only booking I could get was 08:15am. But, eating breakfast 230m in the clouds at Duck & Waffle sure is an experience. Check out my mini review on Urban Spoon here.
I spent Friday night in Brighton meeting some other food bloggers and we enjoyed some great Tapas in Solera. It was the perfect place to go for a larger group, the Sangria was great and I'm still surprised at how reasonable the bill was. 

Crumbs and Doilies has proved to me that cupcakes were definitely not a phase and I still love them. Not only have I enjoyed scrolling through their Instagram snaps, Jemma the owner's how-to's on YouTube, they also have the cutest packaging I've seen in a long time. 

Speaking of YouTube, I worked on a little recipe for Onken as part of their #OnkenTips campaign. Using yogurt in baking is a great alternative to fat and it ensures your bakes are light, moist and creamy.

In this video you'll see me and some fellow bloggers give a quick run through our #OnkenTips. If you fancy giving the lemon and blueberry loaf cake a go, the recipe can be found on their Facebook page.

And now, after all this cupcake and waffle eating, I'm off to prepare some 'healthy' work meals for the week ahead!

Duck & Waffle on Urbanspoon Square Meal

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Recipe: Ideas for leftover Easter Chocolate

If you've got to this part of the Easter weekend and you actually have some eggs and chocolate going spare, then I salute you.

Now you can do one of three things:

a) squirrel it away for the next few months and enjoy it sparingly (if this is you, then I'm sorry to say you're reading the wrong blog)
b) make a very good effort of eating it all within a week. This includes playing swapsies with family members to get extra creme eggs in return for your big Mars egg.
c) use one of these recipes to turn them into something entirely new, and if you're feeling particularly festive, share them around.

3 ingredient chocolate fudge

50g unsalted butter, cubed
375g chocolate, chopped into chunks
375g sweetened condensed milk
a few handfuls of your choice of sprinkles, mini eggs and other toppings

In a large heatproof bowl, gently heat all ingredients in the microwave in short 20 second bursts until melted.  Mix together until smooth. Line a tray with foil or baking parchment and pour the mix in. Give the tray a few taps on the sides to knock out any air and smooth over the top. Scatter your toppings over and leave to cool in the fridge for 1-2 hours. Once fully firm, slice into small squares to serve.

Chocolate bark
(Makes one large 23 x 33 cm slab, alternatively melt what chocolate you have to make mini versions)

600g chocolate of your choice, chopped into small chunks
a few handfuls of your choice of sprinkles, mini eggs and other toppings

In a large heatproof bowl, heat 3/4 of the chocolate over a pan of barely simmering water. Whilst the chocolate is melting, line a large baking tray with baking parchment.

To temper the chocolate, melt only to 43C for white chocolate and 45C for milk and dark chocolate. Once the chocolate has reached this temperature, remove from the heat and add the remaining chocolate. Stir using a spatula until the rest of this chocolate has melted and the temperature cools to 28C for white and milk chocolate and 30C for dark chocolate.

Once the chocolate has reached this stage, pour into your prepared tray and give it a wiggle to cover all corners of the tray.

Scatter with your toppings and leave to set at room temperature. Once set, snap into shards.

Peanut butter cups
(Makes 10-20 cups depending on case size)

200g milk or dark chocolate, chopped into small chunks
100g icing sugar
100g peanut butter, or any other nut butter of your choice

In a heatproof bowl, heat 3/4 of the chocolate over a pan of barely simmering water. Whilst the chocolate is melting, set out paper cupcake cases onto a plate or tray.

Temper the chocolate using the instructions above. Divide around half of the melted chocolate between the paper cases. Lift the tray up and gently drop on your work surface a few times to knock out any air bubbles. Use a small spoon to work the chocolate around the sides of the paper cases.

Pop in the fridge for 10-20 minutes to let the chocolate firm a little.

In a blender, mix together the peanut butter and icing sugar until a smooth paste forms.

Once the base layer of the cups has start to firm, spoon or pipe the peanut butter evenly between each. Pour over the remaining chocolate and smooth over the tops with the back of a spoon. (If this chocolate has started to firm, gently heat once again until it loosens).

Leave at room temperature for the peanut butter cups to full set before serving.

Amaretto cheesecake truffles
(Makes a dozen, feel free to use any biscuits you prefer like ginger nuts, oreos or cookies)

1 regular tub of cream cheese
1 pack of Amaretto biscuits
400g chocolate, melted

In a blender, pulse the biscuits until fine. Mix in a bowl with the cream cheese.

Using a small ice cream scoop, or two spoons, scoop balls of the mix and drop onto a tray covered with foil or baking parchment. Freeze for 10-20 minutes until firm.

Place the cheesecake balls onto a wire rack over a tray. Drizzle over the melted chocolate so all edges of the truffles are coated.

Top with more biscuit crumbs or sprinkles.

And if you needed more inspiration, here are some of my favourites...

Milli Taylor's chocolate bar cake, if for some reason unknown to most, you have a whole heap of chocolate bars leftover then this is the recipe for you. Think Munchies, Maltesars, Flakes, Bountys, Crunchies, the works!

Sarah from Taming Twins' recipe for Cadbury's caramel eggs croissants...this would also be great with creme eggs.

Larissa makes Choc-tails on Drop Dead Gorgeous if you're looking for something more boozy!

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