Falling out of love with the gym

Until about a month ago, the summer had left me in a pretty serious fitness rut. While my trip to Turkey was actually quite an active one filled with copious amounts of city walking, mountain hiking and ocean swimming, as is the case with any vacation I came back feeling pretty unenthused to get back in to the gym. My efforts amounted to a sub-par workout once or twice (if I was lucky) a week. I just didn’t have the motivation and drive that I used to. I was constantly exhausted, and frankly at the end of a long day at work, all I wanted to do was cook some comfort food and snuggle up to a good movie on TV or a book in bed (yes I know, I’m about 80 years old at heart).

While I consciously tried to get back into the “fitness mode” by planning to revisit tried and tested workouts, or looking up new routines my mind and body just weren’t having any of it. I became frustrated and irritated at my seeming unwillingness to return to my regular gym workouts. I thought, “I’m supposed to love exercising and staying in shape. How can I be demotivated? What does this say about me?”. It also didn’t help to think of the one-year membership that I had pre-paid for in January just sitting there going unused. The more I thought about it, the more the negativity, guilt and frustration festered. So I just disassociated myself from those thoughts and focused on work which, as it happened, was taking up most of my time and energy anyways.

It wasn’t until my recent trip to Egypt that I finally made like Stella and got my groove back (props to anyone who got that movie reference). I made a point of packing workout clothes and took advantage of the fresh sea air at our resort in Hurghada. Being an early riser I snuck out every morning for a run and even did a few HIIT workouts by the pool despite the weird looks I garnered from the overwhelming amount of Russian tourists staying at our resort.

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Unsurprisingly, I felt better than I had in weeks. My energy levels (along with my appetite) were up, my mood was lifted, and I even experienced a sort of mental clarity that felt like fog clearing from my brain. Now that I was no longer in my dreaded rut, I was actually able to reflect on it, and begin to ascertain the cause.

I pondered why it was that I was so eager and willing to exercise on vacation. Was it the change of atmosphere? Lack of work-induced stress or daily routine time constraints? I couldn’t place my finger on it. I was practically itching to get out every morning and, despite the fact that I was not at my fittest, I found myself enjoying every second of my outdoor runs and workouts.

HIIT-workout

That’s when it hit me. It wasn’t that I had lost the will to work out and stay in shape – I just no longer enjoyed going to the gym. Since my modus operandi for exercise in Bahrain meant hitting the gym, it just so followed that if I didn’t – I wouldn’t work out at all. Cardio machines had become my nemesis and bored me to death. Lifting weights just didn’t give me the thrill and rush that it used to. Walking through the glass double doors and hearing the pumping music no longer gave me a jolt of excitement and anticipation to get in a killer workout. On top of that I had become so consumed with unattainable goals and numbers that it just wasn’t fun anymore.

It took me a while to find my footing, but a few failed martial arts classes (never again) and team sports endeavors later and I’ve finally settled into a new routine. I revisited an old love and signed up to a great Zumba class twice a week. Thanks to the cooler weather I’ve started running outdoors regularly, and even signed up to the upcoming Bahrain Marathon Relay as part of a team running for charity. When I’m short on time I hit up old reliable at home workouts like Insanity which still kicks my butt every bit as hard as it used to. I’m also keen to start Pilates, at the recommendation of a friend who is an enthusiast and instructor in training, but I haven’t found a class that fits my schedule yet.

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Needless to say I feel so much happier and centered than I have in a long time. I enjoy working out and staying in shape for overall health and wellness, stress relief and let’s be honest, vanity reasons too. I would be lying if I said that aesthetics weren’t a large part of my motivation, but to be honest I see no shame in that. In fact I’ve noticed that even when if there’s no physical change I simply feel more confident and self-assured when I exercise regularly – perhaps its a placebo effect.

But above all, I’ve learned that it’s okay. It’s okay to not want to do something that you previously enjoyed so much. It’s okay to take a few steps back, and as much time as you need to figure out your next steps. It’s okay not to feel guilty, and to blow off the impossibly high standards we set for ourselves.

Whether it’s exercise, work, relationships or any other aspect of life – there comes a time where we have to re-evaluate and reassess how we feel. If something no longer gives you the pleasure, joy and fulfillment it used to – take a step back. Face it head on and examine the reasons why you no longer feel that way, then try to make positive changes to rectify the situation.

And now I’m off to enjoy what’s left of a much needed long weekend. I intend to spend most of today doing not much at all – because you know what? That’s okay too.

Easy Lentil Salad with Maple Dijon Dressing

I’ll admit – it’s been quite a while since I’ve shared a salad recipe with you guys. The truth is after months of packing leafy green salads for work day-in, day-out, I started to grow a little (dare I say it) bored. I was in a lunchbox rut – and found myself craving earthier and more grounding foods like roasted vegetables, grains, and lentils.

Of course there were days where I had no time to even think of making a packed lunch, so I often resorted to one of my old reliables – the prepared salads section of Alosra Supermarket – which is where the inspiration for this salad all started.

The first time I tried their lentil salad I was utterly delighted – the simple combination of lentils, red onion (a favourite of mine in salad, much to some of my family members’ dismay), delicate cherry tomatoes and fragrantly fresh parsley was divine. But the crowning glory was the sweet and tangy yellow dressing that came along in a separate packet. Upon reading the ingredients I discovered it was in fact a mock “honey mustard” dressing made with mustard and sugar, not exactly my condiment of choice. But as time went on I found myself purchasing the lentil salad time and time again – so I decided to give it a go at home (to which my wallet will thank me, I’m sure).

The results were just as good as I had hoped!

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I mean really. Could this recipe be any easier?

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And best of all – no obscure or hard to find ingredients! Just pure whole, plant-based foods.

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This was lunch last week at work, and I have to tell you it held me over nicely all afternoon. It would also be a great side dish/salad to bring to a potluck or barbecue.

I hope you make it, and that you enjoy it as much as I do.

Until next time.

Vegan Supermarket Guide – Bahrain

Today’s post is one I’ve been meaning to put together for aeons, but before I get to that I’d like to take a second and say a very big thank you to everyone who read my last post. Your comments and e-mails were incredibly comforting, touching and heartfelt. I was unsure what the reception might be like, and even worried I’d be met with some criticism for writing something with negative undertones (a rarity on this blog) but I must say I was pleasantly surprised. Once again, thank you. I am beyond blessed to have readers that have such open minds and warm hearts.

Now – on to the topic du jour! Being vegan and living in Bahrain, I constantly get asked variants of the following questions:

a) Isn’t it really hard to be vegan here?

And a follow-up of either or both:

b) Where do you buy your food?

c) What do you order at restaurants?

The answer to the first one is, as you might have guessed, not at all. I have a wide variety of options in terms of both grocery shopping as well as dining options. What people fail to realise is that for the most part, vegan food isn’t comprised of hard-to-find specialty ingredients – it’s made up of things that we all eat on a daily basis. Fresh fruits and vegetables, leafy greens, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils and other legumes. Grains like rice, wheat, oats and barley. I buy my food from the same places you do – supermarkets, hypermarkets, greengrocers and when the season allows it, farmers markets. I of course have some preferred supermarkets that sell a selection of imported vegan goods – I’ll get to those later.

alosra supermarket

As for dining, Middle Eastern cuisine is incredibly forgiving when it comes to vegan options – so anywhere that serves Lebeanese or Arabic food is an automatic win. I’m also lucky that Bahrain’s casual dining scene is peppered with a plethora of Indian and Asian restaurants (due in large part to the large population of South Asian expatriates) – it’s no secret that I’m a sucker for all things Indian, Thai or Japanese – all of which are generally havens for vegan options.

Now – in response to these questions I have put together a Vegan Bahrain Guide – a directory populated with listings of all the vegan-friendly restaurants and stores here in Bahrain, along with recommended dishes for the restaurants mentioned. This directory is nowhere near complete and I plan on populating it as I go along. I should also note that I’m only adding restaurants that I myself have actually dined at and would endorse to others. This is not a paid scheme at all – however I’ve left it open so that anyone can add a listing if they so wish which I can then approve if it seems appropriate.

As for Supermarkets, below are the main supermarkets I frequent, along with a run-down of some of the specialty products that you may want to purchase to supplement your meals.

Vegan Supermarket Guide

Supermarket

Location(s) Notable Products

Notable Brands

Alosra Supermarket Najibi Center – Budaiya
  • Non-dairy milks (including soy, almond, coconut, rice)
  • Tofu
  • Silken Tofu
  • Vegan protein bars
  • Quinoa
  • Millet
  • Gluten-Free flour mix
  • Rice cakes
  • Avocado Oil
  • Vegan Ice Cream
  • Coconut Water
  • Siracha
  • Gluten-Free pasta
  • Almond Butter
  • Organic Peanut butter
  • Vegan burgers and sausages
  • Soya Creamer
  • Silk
  • Alpro
  • Provamel
  • Simply Bar
  • Nature’s Path
  • Bob’s Red Mill
  • Dove’s Organic Farm
  • Booja Booja
  • Vita Coco
  • Orgran
  • Linda Mccartney Foods
  • Melrose
  • Meridian Foods
  • Yves
Al Jazira Supermarket Budaiya Road, Zinj
  • Non-dairy milks (including soy, almond, rice)
  • Tofu (wide range)
  • Quinoa
  • Gluten-Free flour mix
  • Gluten-Free pasta
  • Organic Peanut butter
  • Powdered Peanut Butter
  • Frozen meals
  • Organic Frozen Fruit
  • Vegan Deli Meats
  • Vegan burgers and sausages
  • House Foods
  • Silk
  • Alpro
  • Blue Diamond
  • Nature’s Path
  • Dove’s Organic Farm
  • Orgran
  • Linda Mccartney Foods
  • Amy’s Organic
  • Earthbound Farm
  • Yves
Jawad Supermarket Budaiya Road
  • Tempeh
  • Vegan faux meats
  • Non-dairy milks

 

  • Lightlife Tempeh Bacon
  • Lightlife Chicken Strips
  • Alpro
  • Silk
  • Soyafresh
Geant Hypermarket Bahrain Mall – Seef Area, Enma Mall – Riffa
  • Nutritional yeast
  • Soy yoghurt
  • Non-dairy milks
  • Organic raw nuts and seeds
  • Quinoa
  • Buckwheat
  • Millet
  • Organic oats
  • Tofu
  • Liquid Aminos
  • Chia Seeds
  • Dairy-free chocolate chips
  • Bob’s Red Mill
  • Alpro
  • Silk
  • Blue Diamond
  • Davert
  • Rapunzel
  • Bohlesener-Muhle
  • House Foods
  • Bragg’s
Carrefour Hypermarket City Centre Mall – Seef Area
  • Non-dairy milks
  • Organic raw nuts and seeds
  • Energy bars
  • Organic nut butters
  • Tofu
  • Silken Tofu
  • Chia Seeds

 

  • Alpro
  • Silk
  • Blue Diamond
  • Kara
  • Simply Bar
  • Biona Organic
Organic Foods and Cafe Seef Mall – Seef Area
  • Seitan
  • Smoked Tofu
  • Faux chicken nuggets
  • Faux steak
  • Frozen meals
  • Nutritional Yeast
  • Non-dairy Milk
  • Gluten-free flour mix
  • Quinoa
  • Millet
  • Amaranth
  • Confectionary
  • Coconut Water
  • Wild Rice
  • Tamari
  • Chia Seeds
  • Amy’s Organic
  • Bob’s Red Mill
  • Organic Larder
  • Bohlesner-Muhle
  • Biona Organic
  • Dove’s Organic Farm
  • Orgran
  • Navitas Naturals
Nature Valley Juffair, Near Xerox
  • Sprouted grain bread and wraps
  • Udo’s Oil (3,6,9)
  • Chia Seeds
  • Nori
  • Wakame and other seaweed
  • Quinoa
  • Millet
  • Gluten-free pasta
  • Gluten-free bread
  • Gluten-free cookies

 

 

  • Ezekiel
  • Udo’s
  • Orgran
  • Bob’s Red Mill
  • Clearspring
  • Manna
Lulu Hypermarket Ramli Mall – A’ali, Riffa
  • Hemp Seeds
  • Poppy Seeds
  • Non-dairy milks
  • Tofu (wide range)
  • Shiritaki Noodles
  • Vegan Burgers and Sausages
  • Bob’s Red Mill
  • Alpro
  • Silk
  • Blue Diamond
  • House Foods
  • Yves

I hope that helps all my Bahrain (and possibly KSA) based readers! If you’re looking for a specific product, please feel free to ask me in the comments or via social media, and I’ll point you in the right direction if I can.

Until next time – and a belated Eid Mubarak to all those who celebrate. Wishing you light and love.

Third Culture, and Then Some

Greetings dear readers, from the hallowed lands on which this blog was in fact originally founded (fun fact); Egypt. As I write these words I am halfway into my first visit back in just over three years. This post comes as a result of the inner struggle and range of emotions I’ve experienced since being back. I apologize for the fact that it is mostly comprised of my musings on being an outsider to your own culture and has little to do with veganism per se, so if that doesn’t interest you please feel free to skip this one. I will add however that it is an extremely important subject to me, and I hope that by discussing it I can in some way shed light on it that may comfort others who find themselves similarly afflicted.

Now for those of you aren’t familiar with my somewhat confusing back story, I’m what most people would refer to as a third culture kid. Both of my parents and my entire extended family are originally Egyptian, but I was born and raised in the Kingdom of Bahrain where I lived up until I was 17. I attended university and worked in the UK for 4 years and am now back to living permanently in Bahrain.

Growing up in the Arabian gulf my exposure to Egyptian culture was limited to my own household and yearly month-long visits to Egypt spent between Cairo and Alexandria where we would visit relatives and travel around the country. My parents always lamented the fact that my brother and I spoke English before we spoke Arabic as children, and our cousins never failed to point out the mistakes in our broken Egyptian accents, but we paid no mind and were happy all the same.

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In my early years I never felt like an expatriate in Bahrain. We had tons of Egyptian family friends, and the British primary school I attended comprised of students from a list of nationalities more diverse than the UN itself. I made friends with kids from all over the world; India, the UK, Pakistan, Lebanon, Bahrain, The Philippines – you name it.

When I moved schools (to what was eventually the American high school I graduated from) I was slapped in the face with a dose of Bahraini culture in the form of a not-so-diverse student body that, for the most part, took pleasure in singling out students that didn’t quite fit in the cookie cutter mould. I quickly learned that speaking in my native Egyptian Arabic dialect was a no-go, that my long curly hair was considered freakish and “weird”, and that the expressive reading techniques that I had been encouraged to use in my old school would get me nothing but merciless taunting.

Fast forward a few years and I had come into my own. By middle school, I had a great group of friends, most of whom were more like myself – highly westernized Arab expats or mixed Bahrainis. We spoke English 99 percent of the time, listened to American bands, worshipped British TV shows and dressed a little less conservatively than most of our schoolmates. My friends and I can all attest that we had a great high school experience – this isn’t one of those stories. I’m also happy to report that as we got older our student body became much more diverse and tolerant in terms of bullying – but to say that I felt completely comfortable with my cultural identity would be a lie. When I did speak Arabic, I spoke Bahraini Arabic almost exclusively, even, ironically at times to some of my Arabic teachers who were fellow Egyptians. The possibility that I would be singled out, teased or mocked for speaking differently was too great a risk for me. But anyways, I digress.

Moving on to the formative years of University. I spent four years studying and working in the United Kingdom. Cue another culture shock from all angles – weather, food, language and socializing to name a few. My British friends couldn’t for the life of them understand why I spoke with a quasi-American accent (the explanation that all my high-school teachers were mostly American or Canadian didn’t seem to suffice), or why I wasn’t covered from head to toe having hailed from an island just off the coast of Saudi Arabia. I didn’t understand why Brits seemed to love queues more than life itself, or how anyone could touch marmite with a ten foot pole.

That said I integrated pretty well eventually and left the UK with priceless memories and life experiences that I will always cherish. But what, you may wonder, became of my already withering cultural identity after being abroad for so long? The answer is; not much.

During the summer of my penultimate year of university I spent close to a month in Egypt to renew my student visa for the UK. It was odd being back, at that age, to a place that felt so far from being home in every sense of the word. A place that was neither Bahrain – the country I’d grown up in and become accustomed to spending summers in, nor was it England, my new “home” and current place of domicile. My Arabic was as rusty as ever, and I hadn’t the slightest idea on what the socio-cultural norms had morphed in to, particularly hot off of the revolution that had taken place earlier that year in January 2011. Add on top of it the fact that I was just on the cusp of transitioning into veganism, and transitioning out of restrictive eating habits, I don’t think I possibly could’ve felt like more of an outsider.

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I stumbled, fell and found my footing during that trip. I vowed to make a change and channeled all my energy into trying to “fit in”. I read Arabic books and newspapers, watched Egyptian talk-shows with my family and even forced myself out of my comfort zone by volunteering to attend social functions and visits with my mom that I would usually opt out of. I was practically glued to twitter, and kept myself informed on all things related to the ongoing revolution and protests. By the end of the trip, I had developed a new love and connection to my culture that I had never really had a chance to experience before. I even found myself struggling to switch back to speaking in English once I got back to university – definitely a first.

Following that visit, my absence of three years can be attributed to graduating from university, and settling into a new job and life back in Bahrain. Any time off I had I spent traveling to obscure corners of the world and needless to say my travel plans hardly ever coincided with my parents’ semi-regular visits back to Egypt. So when it came time to plan a trip this September, for a family wedding, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. My anxiety mounted as the trip grew closer and rather than deal with what may befall me I simply ignored it until it was time to get on the plane.

The second I landed, I found myself, once again, feeling like an absolute stranger in what was supposed to be my home country. Sure I may hold the same little green passport, and sport the same signature curly hair as many of my fellow countrymen and women, but the similarities ended there. I walked through the airport dumbfounded – confused and worried at the most insignificant details like whether or not I could fill out a landing card in English or if I could board a shuttle bus without paying a fare. I wasn’t dressed outrageously, but people took one look at me and could instantly tell I wasn’t from there.

I had a long layover at the domestic terminal before I got on to my flight to meet my mom and brother in Hurghada, a resort-type area by the Red Sea. I spent most of it people watching, silently observing, like a goldfish in a tank staring out at a room full of people; although ironically I would also liken how I felt during those moments to a fish out of water.

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As I grow older this feeling only seems to magnify, and torment me further. The feeling that I don’t truly belong…anywhere. The feeling that my ethnicity and cultural identity are so completely disconnected from one another. Someone once told me that your home town is where you spent the majority of your life, or in other words where you grew up. I suppose if I had to pick anywhere that feels most like “home” to me, it would be Bahrain – in the sense that I feel comfortable there. It’s familiar. All my childhood memories are tied to it, most of my close friends still live there, and I’ve built my career there thus far. I know my way around the roads, and I can tell you in a split second what all the good restaurants and places of interest are.

But when I look at what actually ties me to Bahrain I realize that the only thing keeping me there is my job and consequent work permit. Without it I would plain and simply be asked to leave the country, being far too old now to be a dependent on either of my parents’ work permits, and not having a Bahraini passport. (For the record, I have applied for one twice; once with my family and once individually, to no avail as of yet). So how could home be a place where I would no longer be welcome if the day came that I was suddenly unemployed? That fact in itself is pretty unsettling, and something that I have to grapple with on a daily basis.

Furthermore, despite the fact that I am obviously privy to socio-cutural norms, speak the local dialect and understand local customs and traditions, at the end of the day, I’m just not Bahraini. I will never be treated as an equal to a local – not at a social gathering, not in a business meeting, nor when trying to buy property or even establish my own company.

As for Egypt, I have always maintained, from a very young age, that while I immensely enjoy visiting – I could never live there. Partly because I’ve become such an outsider and am so disconnected from cultural norms but largely because I’ve grown accustomed to a standard of living that I wouldn’t be able to easily replicate. Things like a tax-free income, driving my own car, an easy commute to work, decent air quality and even the ability to be mobile and feel safe as a young single woman walking the streets are all aspects of my admittedly cushy life that I would have to give up.

So the question remains – where is home and what is my true cultural identity?

I have no definitive answers for either – but what I do know is this: I am extremely fortunate to have been exposed to and influenced by so many different cultures from such a young age. I’m also very lucky to have grown up in a safe and liberal country – a rarity in a region that has become infamous for it’s instability and tumult in recent years. I’m immensely grateful for having had the opportunity to live and study abroad. I’ll never take for granted how that experience shaped me and helped me evolve into the person that I am today. I’m also conscious that I have garnered the ability to be able to relate to so many different types of people – whether it’s Bahrainis, other Arab expats who grew up in the GCC, Egyptians, or even Brits. For all the anxiety inducing aspects of being a “global citizen”, there’s definitely a silver lining.

My solution to this ongoing dilemma of mine would be to say that I’ll simply go on as I have, and that I won’t stress over the minutiae details of where I’m from and who I am culturally. I’ll be thankful for all the wonderful benefits being a third culture kid has afforded me, including might I add, being exposed to and eventually finding my path towards veganism. It would be to say that I’m creating my own cultural identity, one that’s completely unique to me, and that just because it isn’t what society dictates as the norm – doesn’t make it abnormal.
The only problem with that solution?
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It might get a little lonely.

Curried Mercimek Köftesi

I know I promised you guys part 3 of my trip recap, but I just couldn’t help sharing a teeny tiny recipe first. And in case you were wondering, yes it is in fact Turkey-inspired!

Confession time: while it’s always been my goal to re-create healthy vegan versions of Middle Eastern dishes – for the longest time Turkish cuisine was one big question mark to me, despite having visited Istanbul once before this last trip. Living in Bahrain, when referring to Turkish food, the word “grills” or “kebab” is usually ushered in shortly thereafter. Needless to say that didn’t interest me in the slightest.

My first semblance of an education came when I tried out a popular chain restaurant Kosebasi, in one of the local shopping malls here. (Another slightly embarrassing confession is the fact that I’d assumed it was actually a Persian restaurant for the longest time because of the oriental looking decor – but anyways I digress.) I was truly impressed at how veggie friendly the menu was and delighted in ordering a variety of meze and even wholewheat dairy-free pastries.

Needless to say I have come a long way, especially since returning from my travels, and am now an avid fan of  Turkish vegan cuisine. One of my favourite dishes was an ever-so-simple, mercimek köftesi – loosely translated that’s Lentil Kofte or meatball. Traditionally made with just cooked red lentils, bulgur and spices, the kofte is then shaped into patties and eaten as is – no baking frying or grilling required!

While I have tried my hand at a semi-traditional version of this, I was feeling inspired by my Macrocenter mezze meal, and decided to try my hand at a curried variety.

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The result did not disappoint.

 

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If you’re wondering about the particularly “grainy” appearance of my patties – the reason is that I used an equal ratio of bulgur to lentils the first time round. When I made it again I tried the ratio in the recipe and got a much more uniform appearance and texture.

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An all around light, bright and delectable dish – made with no fancy ingredients might I add, and incredibly easy to just throw together. I hope you’ll try it.