Not So Fast, I’m Getting Ripped

Dear Reader,

The most atrocious time of the year is already upon us in Sofia – you can fry an egg on the pavement.

It’s all very good if you are at the seaside on in the mountains – the cool breeze and shadows there help make the heat less oppressive, but in the city you are doomed to eternal suffering.

It is OK to literally drip sweat when you are working out, but not quite all right when you are miserably trying to go about your day and run errands in the merciless heat.

Happily, for about a week now I have been the proud owner of an air conditioner which has literally saved my life – with the shades down and this contraption on, I am, at least at home, basking in a pleasant coolness that is not perturbed even by the oven, which has been working almost incessantly since the morning. 

A sleek beauty. The possibilities of this amaze me, it is almost inaudible and very efficient. Plus, nobody is turning it off after me, like in the office I realise it is a common appliance,
A sleek beauty. The possibilities of this amaze me, it is barely audible and very efficient. Plus, what I say, goes – nobody is turning it off after me, like in the office… I realise it is a common appliance and not a big deal, but I’ve never owned one before…I am like a child, I know. 🙂
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Cooking, having fun with the blog, sipping water with lime and peppermint and enjoying the coolness…:) These Peruvian lillies turned out very hardy – I have been having them for over a week.

Heat or no heat, life goes on and I’d like to share with you what I have been up to lately – I have been working very diligently on getting ripped! 🙂 I realise this may be Greek to many of you, but I hope you’ll at least share the bottomline of this effort and this is – let’s lead a simple and healthy life by, among other things, eating real and delicious food.

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How about some tasty protein with a vegetable sauce and a large salad? This salmon is simplicity itself – salt, ground black pepper and parsley in a marinade of lemon and white wine. For the sauce, scroll down…

Getting ripped actually denotes a lifestyle characterised by systematic workouts and a strict eating pattern, aimed at keeping body fat to a healthy minimum while maintaining leanness and visible muscle definition (ahh, the six-pack!), thus promoting spiritual strength, perseverance, self-knowledge and, hopefully, disease-free longevity.

Sauce ingredients - two ripe tomatoes, peeled, a handful of spinach, green onions and 2 garlic cloves, two light green peppers.
Sauce ingredients – two ripe tomatoes, peeled, a handful of spinach, two light green peppers, green onions and 2 garlic cloves.

Being 34 is not quite like being 24, so for me the time for meaningful change has come, both physically and mentally. I know we are all going to succumb to time eventually, but I am not giving up without a fight. 🙂 My name, Boryana, roughly translates as a fighter, so I am being true to that. 🙂 

Melt the tiniest bit of butter and fry onions, garlic and peppers. Add a bit hot water or white wine in a minute to boil-fry rather than dry-fry.
Melt the tiniest bit of butter and fry onions, garlic and peppers. Add a bit of hot water or white wine in a minute to boil-fry rather than dry-fry.

I have always been interested in healthy eating and have always worked out, more or less seriously, but now I have actually bought a paid training programme and a personalised eating regimen from a qualified fitness instructor and am working on permanently incorporating them into my daily routine. 

After the peppers have softened, add tomatoes, reduce fire and simmer under cover.
After the peppers have softened, add tomatoes, reduce fire and simmer under cover. Add salt and basil. At some point, remove cover for the tomato liquid to evaporate a bit.

As I have previously told you, this year I experimented with going totally vegan for three months (i.e. doing the Great Easter Lent twice one after the other), but the abundance of carbs, at the end, did not go well with me. Still, I do not think this fasting effort was in vain, as it indeed taught me a lot about spiritual strength, concentration, willpower, discipline, humility and listening to my own body. You really perceive things differently when you fast and your eyes do indeed glow with an unearthly fire, kindled by all the forbearance that you’ve been pulling out of your soul. 

When the tomatoes have cooked, add the spinach leaves, keep under cover but move away from the fire, so as to preserve the spinach's bright green colour.
When the tomatoes have cooked, add the spinach leaves, keep under cover but move away from the fire, as spinach is very tender and will cook in minutes.

I really liked how fasting made me feel, spiritually, but was unhappy with the loss of muscle tone and strength, alongside water retention, that has been the result of eating mainly carbs.

Voila! Your tasty, nutricious and healthy lunch is served.
Voila! Your tasty, nutritious and healthy lunch is served. You can use the other steak and the remaining sauce for dinner or save it for lunch on the following day. Or pack it for work. 🙂

This is why, I have now shifted to intermittent fasting  – meaning stopping eating after 20.00 PM and resuming at noon of the following day. This eating pattern, which is nothing new under the sun, goes a long way toward instilling discipline, patience, endurance and hard work ethics in me, while in the same time making me totally thankful, mindful and appreciative of my meals, when I have them.

Moreover, experiencing the fasted state is really something – you are alert, somehow soaring above things and feeling very powerful and energetic. Toward noon probably a bit hungry and vulnerable too, but the expectation of the satisfying meal you are going to have is totally worth it. 

A nice addition to the lunch table - a cabbage-and-carrot salad and hard-boiled eggs.
A nice addition to the lunch table – a cabbage-and-carrot salad and hard-boiled eggs.

To tell you the truth, I also feel a bit guilty about tweaking the meaning of fasting to include aspects not envisaged by its Christian Orthodox sense. The thought process behind this has been a very long and restive one, I am good where I am right now, but still, there are those pesky voices in my mind warning me against presuming too much. 

With your permission, I’ll quote a passage from book The Orthodox Church by Timothy Ware, who is also Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia. The book was first published in 1963 and I am quoting from the 2015 revised edition by Penguin Books.

Book front cover.
Book front cover.

The quote is from Chapter 10, called Holy Tradition: The Source of the Orthodox Faith, which is the opening chapter of Part II of the book, called Faith and Worship:

Book back cover.
Book back cover. Don’t be outraged by the top quote – the book intends to educate mainly Roman Catholics, hence the comparison, echoing the basic perception or Orthodoxy that many Roman Catholics have. It is human to compare what you don’t know to what you do after all.

“Not everything received from the past is of equal value, nor is everything received from the past necessarily true. As one of the bishops remarked at the Council of Carthage in 257: “The Lord said, I am truth. He did not say, I am custom.” There is a difference between “Tradition” and “traditions” – many traditions, which the past has handed down are human and accidental – pious opinions (or worse), but not a true part of the one Tradition, the fundamental Christian message.”

So how about that?

Abstaining from palatable and rich food, i.e. fasting, is mandated by the Holy Scripture as a community builder, aid and outward manifestation of our internal effort of doing good, being humble and monitoring our own observance (or lack thereof) of the fundamental Christian message. So it is part of the Tradition.

Instead of salad, you can serve this - oven-baked zucchini with a yogurt-and-garlic sauce. This variant is healthy to the extreme, but a breaded, fried and oilier version of this is a Bulgarian cuisine staple. :)
Instead of a salad, you can serve this – oven-baked zucchini with a yogurt-and-garlic sauce. This variant is healthy to the extreme, but a breaded, fried and oilier version of this is a Bulgarian cuisine staple. 🙂

In the same time, the understanding of what palatable and rich food is has changed significantly during the millennium in which the Holy Scripture has existed. So, can we say that avoiding foods of animal origin is part of the traditions, while there could potentially be other approaches to food that might uphold THE Tradition, thus being means to the same end? 

Sauce ingredients - yogurt, cheese, garlic, dill and, optionally, salt.
Sauce ingredients – yogurt, hard white cheese, garlic, dill and, optionally, salt.

The answer to that is not unequivocal. There have been calls in the Orthodox community to relax the fasting rules, which as of today are the strictest in all the Christian world. Sides opposing these calls claim that fasting, as it has been handed down to us more than 1,000 years ago, is Tradition and a golden standard, which we do not have the right to question or alter.

Oven-baked zucchini - peel, slice, arrange in an unoiled dish, very lightly sprinkle with oil and bake. Spice with ground black pepper and dill when ready.
Oven-baked zucchini – peel, slice, arrange in an un-oiled dish, very lightly sprinkle with (sunflower) oil and bake. Or drizzle with olive oil when ready. Spice with ground black pepper and dill when ready too.

However, eating only carbs and limited amounts of vegetable protein does not reflect the macro-nutrient needs of humans and is not how human metabolism works.

Also – doesn’t calculating grams of protein contained in pulses during Lent shift your focus away from the spiritual bottomline of fasting?

Doesn’t not caring what you put in your mouth, as long as it is vegan and filling, result for many in a kind of showy and arrogant piousness, which also runs completely against the spiritual bottomline of fasting?

Is pumping yourself full of carbs, spiking your blood sugar levels and generating visceral fat the way you are supposed to take care of your body, which Orthodoxy considers a temple of the Holy Spirit and thus – inseparable from the soul?

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A dinner dish my children prefer to fish – chicken thighs with onions, potatoes, carrots and champignons. This is also very simple to take – rub meat with sharena sol and oil, cut vegetables coarsely, salt, add chubritsa and dill, fill with water to about 1/3 of the dish or less and bake under aluminium foil to readiness. Remove foil shortly before taking out of the oven for the chicken to form a crust.

I apologise if I am being irreverent. I have thought a lot about this and I finally decided to listen to what my own body and mind tell me, while praying for divine support and enlightenment.

I am aware that the Truth has already been revealed and those still searching are bound to find a Lie, but still…If everyone lived by that principle, the world would end. (which, come to think of it, is perhaps the Ultimate Objective of it all…:))

I just removed this out of the oven and it smells divine...:)
I’ve just removed this from the oven and it smells great…:) The pic’s unnaturally yellow though :(.

Anyway, I am making by best efforts to use food as a means to discipline my soul – thus paying homage to the Lord, my health and my body. I fight gluttony by monitoring the size and frequency of my meals, I pay close attention to nutrition, I shop mindfully, I don’t throw away food and I struggle with temptation on a daily basis. 

If such a frame of mind somehow brings me closer to THE Tradition, I am happy.

I am saying this because I believe people should share their opinions, beliefs, convictions and struggles – this is how we learn from one another and grow. If everybody kept their thoughts to themselves, there would be no knowledge in the world at all.

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This radio is my best friend in the kitchen. 🙂 I have two favourite stations, one playing heavy metal and another playing classical music. Here are two musical compositions I enjoyed while cooking today: Grieg (I bet you’ve heard this one!) and Helloween (I like Andi Deris’s voice and the lyrics). 🙂

I think many roads lead to Rome, if I may paraphrase this popular idiom, so I hope I am doing at least something right.