With Lent now in full swing I debated writing a post about abstinence this week. Whether it’s cutting back on a vice such as alcohol or caffeine, laying off the chocolate or avoiding sugar, being abstemious, and knowing that you can do without one thing or another, can be incredibly empowering.
Indeed, since the yoga retreat in early January, I’ve seriously cut down on my caffeine and alcohol intake, with the biggest change being the switch from coffee to herbal and green tea. I really do feel (and sleep) a lot better for it, and now I know that I can power through a day at work or an early morning run without recourse to several vats of black coffee. Moreover, with our wedding now edging nearer and nearer, I’ve been trying to eat well and mindfully, with chia seeds and oats or a green juice for breakfast, soup or salads at lunch, fruit and raw nuts in between and vegetable stews, stir fries and grains for supper.
However, amidst all of this good behaviour, I have to admit that I may have had a few rather indulgent weekends, with recent visits from family members offering up ample opportunities for vegan-friendly afternoon teas.
I thought it would be remiss of me not to report back on such good vegan fare, particularly in the realm of afternoon tea, which is notoriously unfriendly for the dairy and egg-free amongst us. So this year for Lent I’m (temporarily) giving up my healthy-halo and writing not about abstinence, but rather about indulgence.
The weekend before last my sister was in town to celebrate her birthday. We had theatre tickets for the Friday evening and plans for a cinema trip and a spot of shopping on the Saturday, so a decadent Saturday afternoon tea seemed to sit quite nicely amidst our leisurely schedule. Wanting to try somewhere new, I decided to book us in at 108 Rooms in Marylebone. I’d not been before, but it looked lovely from the website and I spotted that they offered a vegan-friendly afternoon tea alongside their indulgent and classic options.
The restaurant was really lovely – light and airy with attractive décor and a good atmosphere – and the staff were incredibly friendly and helpful. We opted for the ‘indulgent’ versions of our respective teas, which meant champagne and strawberries! I knew I had a 17 mile run scheduled for the next day so I stuck to one glass, but my sister, Jo, and our friend Sarah both had a sneaky top up. Sarah also ordered an Americano instead of tea and the staff happily refilled her coffee as they did our teas.
My sandwiches were really flavourful and included hummus and red pepper, crushed avocado, and a tomato and onion chutney with rocket. The regular (non-vegan) sandwiches included all of the traditional options, with smoked salmon, egg and cucumber. There were plenty to choose from and they were topped up as quickly as we could eat them! These were followed by mini scones with jam and strawberries (plus cream for the dairy option) and a selection of vegan cakes – a blueberry-topped cheesecake, a chocolate truffle, a coconut and lemon bonbon and another chocolate cake, which I didn’t even have space to taste.
We ended up staying for a good three hours, and while we were well-attended to, we weren’t hurried at any point. Needless to say we were all really rather full by the time we left!
It was with the knowledge of all of that cake in my stomach that I powered around my run the following day, covering just over 18 miles; slightly further than I had planned and at a faster pace than usual. This made me wonder: could afternoon tea be the way forward in my fuelling strategy?
I didn’t have long to wait to test this theory as the following weekend when R’s mum came to visit us, R booked us all in for another afternoon tea.
After a lovely morning at the Wellcome Collection exploring the two new exhibits: Tibet’s Secret Temple – about the mind, body, meditation and Tantric Buddhism – and States of Mind – in which artists, psychologists and neuroscientists interrogate our understanding of the conscious experience – (both well worth a trip), we headed to La Suite West, just off Hyde Park, for a vegan afternoon tea at the restaurant there.
The menu included a delicious sandwich selection of scrambled tofu and mustard cress, portobello mushroom pate, lemon and thyme tahini and cucumber, roast tomato with sunflower seed pesto and avocado chilli mousse with rocket. These were followed by warm home-made scones served with strawberries and coconut cream and finally a selection of chocolate, ginger and lemon cakes.
The whole menu was vegan, but even the non-vegans amongst us couldn’t tell the difference when it came to the cakes; it was all too tasty!
However, while I loved the sandwiches, I have to admit that the last piece of cake might have been a step too far. I don’t usually eat a lot of sweet foods and the sugar crash later that evening and the next morning reminded me why not.
Still, I powered through a somewhat less successful 13 miles on the Sunday, reminding myself of the calories that needed to be burnt and slightly cursing myself for such a splurge the day before. My afternoon-tea fuelling method seriously failed me in week two and after a couple of weekends of indulging and feeling a little disheartened from my less than successful long run, I was actually pretty glad to get back to the soups and fruit again this week.
Cutting yourself some slack from time to time, and scheduling an indulgent weekend (or two), can actually offer the pressure valve effect you need to maintain your healthier routine the rest of the time. Knowing that things aren’t ‘banned’ but that you are choosing not to eat them, and by extension that you may choose to eat them on occasion, seems to make them less desirable. It is also interesting to be reminded of how much better your body feels when you are fuelling it on healthy food-stuffs rather than sugar and refined carbohydrates and how a sugar spike can lead to dips in energy, mood and, for me, the post-sugar shakes!
So for now it is back to the healthier me, and all the more so since my wedding dress fittings this weekend. More on that to follow, but for now, happy indulging, fasting, or just regular eating!