Super Food Shaker

We recently embarked on a late summer camping trip with my sister. That meant my husband, 2 year old boy, sister and myself happily trundling along in our clapped out VW van headed towards the Gower and ‘one of the most beautiful campsites in the country’, Three Cliffs Bay.

The sun was shining, we managed to wangle a great spot (in the crowed site) and all felt very lucky indeed. All was well until I realised I’d somehow managed to do a fantastic job of failing to pack hardly any food. The items I did bring along were pretty random. Worst of all was forgetting the cafetiere (though I did remember the coffee). I was in no one’s good books. The only thing that slightly redeemed me was remembering my trusty super food shaker. A jar filled with nutritious seeds, nuts, dried berries and cacao. Designed to be ‘shaken’ onto our breakfast porridge (I did pack the oats). Instantly transforming them into a much tastier and healthier meal.

The Mix:

  • 3 tablespoons of coconut chips.
  • 1 tablespoon of ground almonds.
  • 1 tablespoon of ground flax seeds.
  • 1 tablespoon of chia seeds.
  • 2 tablespoons of cacao nibs.
  • 1 tablespoon of goji berries.
  • 2 teaspoons of cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla powder, I use this one.

Add all ingredients to a glass jar and shake thoroughly. Store in a cool, dark cupboard. please feel free to increase or reduce any of the ingredients to suit your taste.

The benefits

Coconut chips – Contain protein, fibre and fat which help to promote healthy energy levels. Also contains iron and zinc, minerals that support immune function. The predominate fat in coconuts are medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which are predominantly burned for energy rather then being stored as fat.

Almonds –  Contain minerals (manganese and magnesium, which are important for energy production in the body) and vitamin E (acts as an antioxidant that is great for heart and skin health). Almonds also contain heart healthy monounsaturated fats, which have been shown to reduce bad cholesterol and the risk of heart disease. Due to their fat and protein content they also support healthy energy levels.

Flax seeds – Are a vegetarian source of omega 3 fatty acids, which have been shown to help reduce inflammation and support brain function. However these oils are not absorbed or utilised as effectively as fish oil and higher levels need to be consumed to have a beneficial effect. They are rich in dietary fibre and helpful in regulating bowel movements. In addition they have been shown to promote healthy cholesterol levels.

Chia seeds – Another good source of fibre. When combined with liquid theses seeds expand and form a gel-like substance that moves through the digestive tract picking up toxins, latching onto cholesterol whilst also helping to regulate bowel movements (similar to flax). All of these actions are crucial in supporting detoxification. These seeds are also loaded with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals (B vitamins, vitamin C and E and amino acids). These support a myriad of functions in our body from the immune system, to our skin and energy production systems.

Cacao –  High in a range of antioxidants, iron, fibre, zinc and magnesium. This plethora of nutrients mean cacao is heart protective, anti-ageing, energy boosting, while at the same time helping to relax the nerves (due to the magnesium).

Goji Berries –  Contain vitamin C, vitamin B2, vitamin A, iron, selenium and other antioxidants ( beta-carotene, zeaxanthin, lycopenepolysaccharides). These nutrients help us to fight illness more effectively, reduce inflammation in the body and support muscle and tissue growth, amongst other things!

 

This mix contains quite a nutritional punch. Feel free to add it to your own porridge mix, granola, yoghurt or smoothie. It’s another simple way to boost your daily nutrition without having to do much work.

3 Ways To Get Your Immune System Winter Ready

The kids are back at school, the nights are getting colder and daddy long legs are starting to emerge. September is here and we’re saying goodbye to summer. Autumn is just around the corner and for those health conscious folk it’s time to start preparing your body for winter, when all the flu-forming bugs come into full force.

Here are three simple and relatively inexpensive ways you can do that.

Eat Blackberries

Whether you’re buying them from a shop or picking them from the bushes this is the time to eat blackberries. They’re in season, which makes them cheaper to buy, or free if you are, like me, living close to hedgerows that are weighed down by them (avoid those on the roadside, which get a regular dowsing of petrol fumes and toxins).

My approach is 2-pronged at the moment: eating as many as I, and my little boy, can get our hands on and then those we don’t gobble up are frozen to be used at a later date.

Why? Most of us know that berries are generally very good for us. But these seasonal berries are particularly helpful as they contain nutrients very useful for our immune system. Firstly they are rich in bioflavonoids (a group of antioxidants) and vitamin C. This is a powerful coupling since bioflavonoids work to enhance the action of vitamin C in the body. In doing so they help to support blood circulation, the integrity of connective tissue and collagen (so great for skin and anti-ageing). They also help to reduce inflammation and support the action of the immune cells in the body.

It’s important to start supporting the immune system now, rather then when it comes in for a full on attack later on in winter. My general advice is to aim to eat a handful of berries a day. Here’s how you can manage it:

  • Add them (fresh or frozen) to your morning smoothie
  • Include them in your muesli/granola
  • Snack on them with some nuts and seeds (this will give a more round, filling snack as the nuts/seeds contain protein and healthy fats to keeps your energy levels stable)
  • Combine with natural, full fat yoghurt for a dessert or snack.

Get Some Sun

If you can (and you don’t live in Wales where its seemed to have rained for most of August…thankfully September is looking much brighter) get some sun. Bask in the late summer rays and give your immune system a real helping hand by topping up your levels of vitamin D.

We’re now becoming much more aware as to why vitamin D is so important for our health and the profound effects a deficiency can have in the development of a wide range of illnesses from multiple sclerosis to osteoporosis. In terms of our immune health vitamin D has been shown to play a key role in modulating (balancing) our immune responses. Deficiency in vitamin D is associated with increased autoimmunity as well as an increased susceptibility to infection. It’s argued that one of the reasons we get ill more in the winter is due to our declining levels of vitamin D.

But before you go outside basted in oil there are a few precautionary steps you need to take. You want to absorb optimal levels of vitamin D while avoiding skin damage and increasing your risk of skin cancer. Here’s how you can do it:

  • The time required to make sufficient vitamin D varies according to environmental, physical and personal factors.
  • Essentially your looking to be out for a short burst when the sun is at its highest (the middle of the day). It should be shorter then the time taken for the skin to redden or burn.
  • This means that going out for a few minutes, without sunscreen, in the middle of the day with as much skin exposed as possible (but still decent if you’re in a public place) is the best way to maximise vitamin D production.
  • Failing all this you can take supplemental vitamin D, I like this one. I generally start taking it at the beginning of the new year (January-February) when my stores of vitamin D are likely to be low).

Consume Fermented Foods & Drinks

If you’re looking for a quick and easy way to dramatically improve your digestion and immune health then start eating fermented foods, daily!

They are a true superfood (so much so I’ve already written about them, here). Not only do they contain highly absorbable nutrients but they also directly support the healthy functioning of our immune and digestive systems by supplying probiotic bacteria into the gut. This bacteria is fundamental in helping us to create a robust defence again incoming bacteria, virus and fungi that can make us ill.

What are they? They’re foods that have been through a process of lacto-fermentation. This is where natural bacteria feed on the starches and sugars found in the foods and creates lactic acid. This increases the micronutrient profile of the food, which means they’re full of probiotics, enzymes and vitamins. This process also naturally preserves the food.

Fermented Foods & Drinks:

  • Miso – generally sold as a paste, opt for organic. Use in stir-fry’s, soups or even smoothies.
  • Kombutcha – a naturally fizzy tea, which can be brought from health food shops or you can make your own with the starter scoby.
  • Fermented vegetables – sauerkraut, kimchi and pickles (I’m not talking pickled onions from the chip shop!). Avoid the pasteurised versions if you want to get all the probiotics and either make your own or buy from them your health food shop. My favourite brand is The Cultured Cellar.

Get going with these now, ensure they are a regular part of your diet and lifestyle and you will reap the rewards later on in the year.

Healthy Fudge Bites

I have to warn you, these are good. Properly good. So good I made the first tester batch, which worked perfectly, and fully intended to photograph them, until I ate them all!

The inspiration for these delights actually stems from a snack I have quite regularly. A simple majool date stuffed with some almond butter. Already so very tasty but I wondered what would happen if I took it a step further and pulverised these two ingredients together? The fudge bites happened. This is synergy at work. The result is a fudge-like, decadent but good-for-you snack/dessert (with no sign of butter or refined sugar) that tastes amazing. Enough of my gushing…. here’s the recipe.

Ingredients

  • 4 madjool dates (pitted).
  • 2 tablespoons of almond butter.
  1. Place the majool dates and almond butter in a blender or Nutri Bullet and blend until it resembles a smooth paste. Do not over blend or the nuts will start to produce more oil.
  2. Spoon out of the blender and form into a rectangle and cut into bite-sized blocks.
  3. Wrap each block in some grease proof paper and store in the fridge.
  4. Leave to chill for at a least an hour and then enjoy. I like to store them in the fridge so they keep their fudge-like texture but you can carry them as a snack, just be careful not to squish them.

Makes approximately  10 pieces.

As with the majority of things I make, these are also packed with a bevy of nutrients that fuel the health of the body and more specifically the energy levels. Here’s what makes them a great snack:

  • There are a variety of ways in which these bites support energy production and balance. The carbohydrate content of the dates breakdown into glucose and provides energy to help our body and brain run effectively. Whilst too much glucose rushing into the blood stream is not always good (this can spike blood sugar levels) the fibre in the dates plus the fat and protein in the almond butter helps to slow the absorption of these sugars into the blood stream. This results in a slower energy release and more stable energy levels.
  • These two foods also contain vitamins, minerals, amino acids and fats that are used in the energy production systems within cells to transform glucose into useable energy (Krebs cycle). These include some B vitamins, magnesium, amino acids and fatty acids. All these nutrients are key in helping to support our energy systems and in doing so help to ward off hunger and fatigue.

As you can see these work superbly well as a snack yet they’re also great as a little dessert if you like to have something sweet (and healthy) after a meal. Enjoy and try not to eat them all at once!

 

Fergus’s Irish Oat Bread

We recently had a visit from our old friend Fergus, who on his first day with us told me about his amazingly tasty, filling and healthy oat bread that also happened to be extremely easy to make. In theory it ticked all the box’s and when he made it for us the next day it was so good I knew it would have to make it onto the blog.

It’s not fancy but it’s a versatile number as it’s great for breakfast, lunch or tea (leftover dough can be made into oat scones). For those avoiding gluten it’s another bread alternate and due it’s energy fortifying ingredients it’s great for keeping energy levels up and hunger levels down.

Ingredients:

  • 2 x 500 ml oats (sounds confusing but will become clear in the instructions), it’s almost 1kg of oats.
  • 500 ml natural full fat yoghurt. I use this one from Yeo Valley.
  • 1 egg, beaten.
  • 1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda.
  • 1 tablespoon of milk.
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
  • 1 tablespoon of sesame seeds.
  • 1 tablespoon of sunflower seeds.
  1. Pre-heat your oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Grease your loaf tin and line with baking paper. I used a 1 kg loaf tin which makes one large loaf. With the extra dough I rolled into balls to make scones. Alternatively you can use two smaller loaf tins. This will make two loafs, one of which can be frozen (and no scones).
  2. Pour the yoghurt into a large bowl and add the egg and milk. Mix well. Rinse out and dry the yoghurt pot.
  3. Get your clean yoghurt pot and fill it with the oats, empty these into a separate bowl and repeat (this gives you 2 x 500 ml oats). Add the bicarbonate of soda and salt to the oats and stir.
  4. Now it’s time to add the wet ingredients to the dry. Make a well in the centre of the dry mix and pour in the yoghurt and egg mixture. Stir and kneed into a dough.
  5. Once it’s thoroughly mixed pour into your bread tin and sprinkle on the seeds. If you have made the scones these will need to be placed on a baking tray lined with baking paper.
  6. Cook the bread for 50 minutes. The scones will take less time, 20-30 minutes.
  7. Take the bread and scones out and cool on a cooling rack.

 

The Benefits of Eating This Bread

Improved Digestion

  • Oats are a fantastic source of various types of fibre, the first I’ll mention is soluble fibre. This absorbs water and forms a gel-like substance that moves through the digestive tract slowing digestion, which means vitamins, minerals and other nutrients have enough time to absorb through the intestinal walls. While moving through this fibre also picks up spent hormones and toxins, aiding the cleansing of the body.
  • Oats also contain insoluble fibre, this adds bulk and weight to stool, making them more regular, softer and easier to pass. Therefore oats are very useful for people suffering from constipation and irregular bowel movements.

Lowers Cholesterol

  • Oats contain a specific type of fibre known as beta-glucan, which has been shown to have beneficial effects on cholesterol levels and in turn gives oats cardio-protective properties. These beta-glucans have also been shown to support the (non-specific) immune response helping our bodies battle against bacterial infection.
  • The insoluble fibre in oats also acts to reduce circulating cholesterol by latching onto excess cholesterol in the digestive system allowing it to be passed out through the stool.

Stabilises Blood Sugar Levels

  • Oats have a low glycaemic index, which means they release their sugars slowly into the blood. This results in more stable energy levels and helps to prevent our blood sugar levels dropping too rapidly. The protein and fat in the yoghurt are also key in slowing the release of sugar into the blood and helping to keep us feeling full and our energy production systems running well.
  • The beneficial effected oats have on blood-sugar means that those with type 2 diabetes can also benefit as they may help to prevent blood glucose dysregulation.

 

As you can see this is a loaf that does a lot. It nourishes the body, keeps energy levels stable while also helping to protect the heart and support the immune system.

This bread is so versatile. You can switch round the seeds used on top (chia, pumpkin), add them into the dough, add grated cheese, sun dried tomatoes, herbs, the list is endless. It also works in both meals and snacks. As you can see from the photos I teamed it with cheese, beetroot chutney and some vegetables. However it’s also great toasted with cream cheese or almond butter for a quick and very filling breakfast.

So thank you Fergus for your oaty bread, it’s going to be a regular on my table.

 

Wellness Warriors

I’m very lucky to know an abundance of people who lead interesting and healthy lives so I thought it high time I start to share their wise words with you all. These people include friends, family and colleagues. They help to continually fuel my knowledge, inspire my work and my adventures in cooking. I’ve decided to make my Wellness Warriors a regular feature on the blog, I’ll ask them the same five questions and I’m sure I’ll get five very different answers.

My first is Sarah Tridgell, a good friend I’ve known for a very long time. We traversed our teenage years together in our big gaggle of friends. We’ve shared many laughs, tears and some very funny holidays. Thankfully we are still close as we are to all the other gorgeous women who were part of our school gang. She now juggles motherhood, teaching yoga, and keeping her brood healthy and happy in London.

What key principles guide your eating?
Well, overall I believe in living healthily and I care about our planet and it’s people, I look for seasonal produce with a low-carbon footprint, where possible I buy fair-trade and organic. I’m vegetarian (I eat fish) and I have sensitivities with both my gut and sinuses so I tend to avoid cow’s dairy – these things all affect and inform my food choices! As a parent I feel it is really important to be a positive role model allowing my children to try new things, develop their palate, understand where the food we eat comes from and what’s healthy for the body. It’s a balance as too much control or restriction can be dangerous territory for many reasons so I try to take the ‘everything in moderation’ approach.
In general I want to eat food that is: tasty, nutritious, simple, unprocessed, and ideally homemade.

What’s your morning routine
I try to drink a glass of water as soon as I get up. I’ll make tea whilst I’m preparing the food – I like herbal teas like Nettle, Fennel and Peppermint, or fresh Lemon with Ginger, White tea is also delicious… we are creatures of habit but I like to mix it up a bit! In an ideal world I’d like to get into loose leaves but at the moment the convenience of the teabag suits me. During the week I usually only get round to drinking my tea in gulps just before leaving the house once its cool enough, but if possible I like to have tea before I’ve eaten anything. It wakes up the digestive tract before the food arrives!
…On to the food… With two young children to feed and get ready first thing, I try to keep my breakfast fairly simple and something we all like. We usually have porridge (with jumbo oats), I mash some banana (for vitamins/minerals and sweetness) into each bowl, add some cinnamon, then stir in the hot porridge. The kids like raisins on theirs. A recent addition that I sometimes add, is a spoonful of ground flaxseeds – this adds a new dimension! The kids have whole milk but I make mine with Oat-milk (or Almond milk) and water, 50/50. I come back to a second cup of tea (or my cold cup from earlier!) around mid morning, this time probably something like Assam. Breakfast is my favourite meal, perhaps because it sets up the day and its when I am most hungry. At the weekends it lasts a lot longer with more variety – boiled or scrambled eggs being favourites, as well as the homemade cinnamon buns (see below!).

What’s your go-to week night evening meal?
We go through phases in our house, we get a veg-box delivered so our meals tend to be governed by what’s arrived in that. We like hearty stews and soups with an Indian vibe, and do them a lot in the winter. At the moment I am in a bit of a warm salads phase (I like one-pot meals that reduce the washing up!).

For a warm salad I would:
Grill, roast, steam or stir-fry the veg (or keep it raw if its salad-y),
add some cooked brown rice (or spelt barley, occasionally quinoa),
then, depending on the variety and cooking style of the veg, I’ll add some flaked grilled salmon, (other options might include: chopped feta or griddled haloumi, perhaps some lentils, chick peas or beans of some description, or some fried tofu).
I like to give it all a bit of crunch so I often toast some seeds or nuts to throw in, or coconut chips, and if there are any I’ll finely chop some fresh herbs to go in too.
A splash of olive/coconut/sesame oil, maybe some balsamic vinegar/tamari – again depending on the ingredients.
If I’m pretty hungry I might poach an egg to go on top too.
A pile of tasty nosh!

Who has inspired your eating approach and choices?
We love food in our family (days revolve around meals rather than the other way round!) so I have been brought up being encouraged to try new things and explore new recipes. My grandmother lived in Italy for a while as a young mother, and that influenced her cooking, I have a lot of good memories of that. My travels and the people I have lived with have influenced my cooking style and the food I like to eat, fresh produce, herbs, spices, everything really from how you chop a vegetable to the flavour combinations makes a real difference!
I love Indian food and use both Madhur Jaffrey and Prashad cookery books. In terms of everyday simple cooking I love Nigel Slater’s books (Real Fast Food, Kitchen Diaries, etc), they are no-nonsense and always delicious. With all recipe books (I like Ottolenghi, The Silver Spoon, Cranks, Everyday Veg…) I tend to flick through, read the recipes and then recreate something inspired by what I have read. I am not great at shopping specifically for a recipe – I don’t plan meals enough in advance, only for special occasions!
I never read up on new fad diets but my sensitive gut has led to various exclusion experiments, and my study of yoga has led to more interest in the Ayurvedic diet, and the more Western take of ‘eating right for your blood type’. Both of these as ideas make a lot of sense to me – put simply the food you eat is directly linked to how you feel and how well your body functions – I feel it is important to eat well – and what’s ‘right’ will be different for everyone.
I do follow a few foodie people/chefs on instagram, namely Honey & Co, who make the most delicious cakes. I really love baking and eating cakes, and always look for ways to adapt recipes to make them dairy-free or reduce their refined sugar/flour content without compromising on taste. There is a really gorgeous Cinnamon Bun recipe I like to do for special weekend brunches, it uses olive oil and I make them with Spelt flour. The Nutrition Diaries often comes to help by offering alternatives – I love Miriam’s Vegan Brownie recipe  and the Peanut Butter Cookies too! I was recently fortunate enough to try Hemsley & Hemsley’s avocado and lime cheesecake (completely raw, dairy and gluten free!) which was pretty unique and made with nutritious goodness, definitely inspiring.

 

Thank you Sarah for being my first Wellness Warrior. To find out more about her and her yoga classes (she teaches at venues across London) go to her website and please ‘like’ her Facebook page (Sarah Tridgell Yoga Teacher). You can also follow her on Twitter @thisisme_smt

My Anti-Jet Lag Armoury

We’re off to Canada tomorrow. Excited as we are about seeing family and friends and staying on the glorious West coast both my husband and I are slightly apprehensive about the 10 hour flight and subsequent jet lag with our 2 year old firecracker of a boy. In preparation I’ve collected a selection of natural remedies I’ve previously found useful in dealing with the head-spinning, anxiety-laden, disorientation that is brought on by flying through various time zones.

Before I dive into the actual products I just want to say that some of these items may seem a bit “alternative” and  you may feel that because they’re not proven by science to be effective they should be discounted. All I’ll say here is that I’ve found them to be useful. I also want to state that I am not a qualified homeopath or trained in flower essence therapy. Again I have read up on them and selected these brands and products because they work for me. I want to share my personal experience of using these remedies. What you choose to do with this is up to you. So without further ado here they are…..

Jet Lag Homeopathic Remedy (Arnica / Electricitas / Rad brom) – Helios

This is a combination of remedies that are designed to deal with a variety of different issues associated with jet lag from the ‘trauma’ caused by upsetting the body’s circadiun rhythm (sleep-wake cycle) to the increased exposure to atmospheric electricity and radiation.

I’ve used this on a number of transatlantic flights and felt that it helped to reduce a little of the ‘spaced-out’ feeling and anxiety I got with jet lag.

Passiflora Homeopathic Remedy – Helios

This remedy has a quietening effect on the nervous system. It helps to promote normal sleep and has a calming and relaxing effect. I’ve found this particularly helpful for my little boy if he’s been agitated and I’ve found it’s helped his general sleeping (a little…).

This will be useful during the flight and also once we’ve landed to help with sleeping for everyone.

Both of these remedies are from Helios, whom I have found really helpful. I was able to call them directly and speak to one of their homeopaths who helped me choose the exact remedies I needed.

Emergency Essence Flower Remedy – Australian Bush Flower Essences

Flower remedies have been used by many cultures for thousands of years. They are herbal infusions, made from the flowering part of the plant, which uniquely address emotional and mental aspects of wellness.

This particular one is designed to have a calming effect and to help any type of emotional upset. In the past I’ve found this useful to deal with the anxiety and palpitations related to jet lag. For those familiar with Rescue Remedy, this is very similar.

Travel Essence – Australian Bush Flower Essences

This remedy is specifically designed to counter problems associated with jet lag, from disorientation to fatigue. I tend to add the drops to a bottle of water and sip it throughout the flight.

Remedies To Roll, Travel – Neal’s Yard Remedies

This is a combination of essential oils (including lavender, frankincense and bergamot oil) that are designed to be rolled onto the pulse points during travel. The benefits of the oils range from helping to relax and calm the nerves to increasing circulation.

This is a new addition to my kit, so I’ll have to let you know how I find it. But the smell alone is so lovely I’m sure it’ll make me feel a little better on the stuffy plane.

Emergen-C Orange

I’ve found these sachets so useful. They contain a great mix of nutrients from vitamin C (1,000mg), B vitamins, magnesium to zinc and calcium. This makes it a great support for the immune system (important when packed on a plane with lots of other people and their germs) and a good support for the body when it’s stressed (by aiding adrenal function) and low in energy.

I take these daily but up the dose on the day of the flight. I’ll add a sachet into a water bottle (separate bottle from the Travel Essence) and sip this during the flight. BUT I won’t take these if I’m wanting to sleep on the flight since it can boost my energy a little too much.

 

These supplements and remedies may not magic away all our jet lag and exhaustion but they will contribute in their own way to helping us feel a little better and more sprightly.

 

 

Cleopatra’s Ice Tea

Since the weather has taken a sunny turn I thought it time to introduce you to my refreshing, delicious and nutrient-boosting ice tea.

The base of this tea are hibiscus petals, which when dried make an antioxidant-rich brew apparently adored by Cleopatra who used it to enhance her legendary beauty. I’m not sure how accurate this is but I like the idea and hibiscus tea does have a nice array nutritional benefits that could be argued help it beautify your body inside and out.

I’ve also added a few other ingredients to make it a more flavoursome tea. The peppermint and lime help to make it more refreshing, while the ginger gives it a bit of bite and warmth. The elderflower cordial admittedly adds some sugar but also gives  a beautiful summery taste (I try to keep this to a minimum and you can choose to omit this if you want it to be sugar-free).

Ingredients

  • Hibiscus tea (organic if possible), 5-6 flowers or 2 tea bags.
  • Peppermint tea, 1 tea bag or 5 mint leaves.
  • 2 litres of water.
  • 2 tablespoons elderflower cordial.

To serve:

  • Shavings of fresh root ginger (I use a peeler – make sure you take the skin off first).
  • Mint leaves.
  • 1 lime.
  • Ice cubes.

Makes approximately 2 litres of tea.

  1. Boil 1 litre of water and add to a teapot with the hibiscus and peppermint tea, brew for 10 minutes. Take out the tea leaves/bags and leave to cool.
  2. Pour equally between 2 x 1 litre glass bottles (which have stoppers/caps). Then top up with cold water. This will make a relatively weak tea, if you prefer it stronger simply add less cold water. Add the elderflower cordial and chill in the fridge.
  3. To serve, pour into glasses, add some ice cubes, fresh lime juice and wedges (I use the juice of ½ lime between two glasses), mint leaves and a few shavings of ginger.

The Health Benefits of Hibiscus

  • Research has found hibiscus extract may play a role in helping to regulate the metabolism and aid in weight management. The same research also found that it could protect the liver as those taking the extract showed improvement in liver steatosis (fatty liver).
  • These benefits are predominantly linked to the high polyphenol content. Polyphenols are plant compounds known for being potent antioxidants and useful in disease prevention.
  • Hibiscus has traditionally been used to support heart and cardiovascular health as well the immune system.

It seems Cleopatra had the right idea with hibiscus. I love that this drink hits the spot on a hot summers day while also working to give your body a boost too.

Speedy Apple & Cinnamon Overnight Oats

I’m not sure if I’ve said this before but I love breakfast. Maybe it’s because I haven’t eaten for 8 hours but I always look forward to it. My only issue is that it’s easy for me to get stuck in a breakfast rut, which means I’m always on the lookout for new and exciting options to invigorate my breakfast routine.

The inspiration for this breakfast was actually born out of necessity when last year I was in need of a healthy, tasty breakfast that took little preparation in the morning and could be easily shoved in my bag as I raced out the door to work. This was when I was having a one hour commute to my office whilst first tending to my bright eyed little boy before I left the house. In between feeding and dressing him, showering and getting dressed myself (and therefore making sure he didn’t flush himself or my toiletries down the loo/slip and smash his head on the tiles) I had little time to make, let alone eat, breakfast.

The beauty of overnight oats is that you prepare everything the night before. This means there is zilch to do in the morning (other then remembering to add the nuts/seeds AND remembering take it with you…there were some bad mornings when I failed on this one).

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup oats.
  • 1/2 apple, grated.
  • 2 teaspoons of sunflower seeds.
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon.
  • 2 teaspoons of chia seeds.
  • 2 teaspoons of goji berries or raisins.
  • 8 almonds.
  • 2/3 cup almond milk (or whichever type of milk you prefer), basically double the amount to oats used.
  • 1 teaspoon of maple syrup.

How:

  1. Add the oats, chia seeds, goji berries/raisins and cinnamon to the container you intend to eat this from (I use a mason jar, it must have a tight lid). Make sure all the ingredients are nicely mixed together.
  2. Grate the apple and add to the dry mix.
  3. Pour in your milk and maple syrup and stir well.
  4. You have  two options with the almonds and sunflower seeds: 1) Put them in a separate, small container, cover with water and a pinch of salt and cover. Leave overnight on your kitchen counter. The next morning rinse them well and add to your oat mix (I’ll explain why below). 2) If you can’t be pfaffed with soaking then simply add the raw almonds and sunflower seeds to your oat mix the next morning before eating.
  5. You may want to add a dash more of your chosen milk the next morning if it’s too stodgy when you add the nuts and seeds.

Serves 1.

Why All This Soaking?

  • Nuts and seeds contain a powerhouse of different nutrients BUT their outer husk also contains elements that make them difficult to digest.
  • They contain natural toxins and anti-nutrients such as phytates, tannins and goitrogens. These can inhibit the absorption of nutrients such as iodine, zinc and iron. However soaking helps to neutralise the levels of these anti-nutrients.
  • Nuts and seeds contain naturally occurring enzyme inhibitors that can contribute to digestive upset. Soaking helps to reduce these inhibitors.
  • Soaking also helps to increase the nutrients available in the nuts and seeds themselves.
  • Oats also benefit from a good soaking. It helps to reduce phytates (which are also present in grains) and helps to breakdown their starches, which improves their digestibility. It increases levels of resistant starch, which is considered a type of fibre since it resists digestion and passes to the large intestine. In turn it has been shown to help manage blood sugar levels, act as an aid for weight management and also work as a ‘prebiotic fibre’ helping to encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria in the colon.

So for those of you who are on a tight morning schedule or who can’t be bothered to deal with preparing breakfast in the morning, this is perfect. With its healthy mix of nutritious ingredients it will help you reclaim your morning, no matter how chaotically it starts.

 

Spring Green Salad

Spring signals the advent of salads for me. During autumn and winter I tend to steer clear of a large plate of raw veg. I generally abide by the principle that in the colder months it’s better for one’s health to eat warmer, cooked foods. Then as the weather gets warmer you can up the raw, cool foods (like salads).  A principle also shared by those in Traditional Chinese Medicine, who maintain that for health our body needs to be in balance with our environment and seasons.

So this balance with nature also extends to seasonal foods, which is why I’ve picked asparagus and spring onions. Eating seasonally is not only good for reducing your carbon footprint but is also good for your health. The foods that nature offers us at a particular time of year have an uncanny knack of providing us with the exact nutrients we need to ward of the specific woes of the season. An example of this are the abundance of berries during summer, which provide us with a range of powerful antioxidants that help our body deal with the higher levels of pollen (by working to reduce the release of histamine) and also protecting our skin from the damaging effects of the sun.

So in keeping with these two themes I’ve mixed up a salad of seasonal vegetables with a mixture of both raw and cooked foods (since spring is such a mishmash of weather, one day hot the next torrential rain). I’ve also ensured a blend of foods containing healthy fats, protein and complex carbohydrates, which I hope helps you to feel energised and also in balance with with the world around you.

 

Ingredients:

Salad

  • 1 cup of quinoa.
  • 2 cups of water.
  • Approximately 460g asparagus.
  • 1 large avocado, peeled and chopped.
  • 4 tablespoons of pumpkin seeds, lightly toasted.

Dressing

  • 5 tablespoons of olive oil.
  • Juice and zest of 1 lemon.
  • 100g feta cheese, chopped into cubes.
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar.
  • 1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard.
  • 8-10 mint leaves, roughly chopped.
  • 4 spring onions, sliced.
  • Salt and pepper.
  1. Put the quinoa in a sieve and rinse thoroughly. Drain off the excess water and place in a saucepan with 2 cups of water and a pinch of salt. Put the lid on and place over a medium-high heat until boiling, then reduce to a low heat (with the lid still on) and let it simmer gentl for 15-20 minutes. Once cooked remove from the heat, place in a large bowl (which the salad will be served in) and allow to cool.
  2. While the quinoa is cooking prepare the asparagus by cutting off the tough ends of the stalks and lightly steaming (they should still have a bit of bite to them). Rinse under cold water, chop into thirds and set aside.
  3. Prepare the dressing by adding all the ingredients (except the feta cheese) into a bowl and whisking. Add in the feta and coat with the dressing. Let it marinate while the quinoa and asparagus are cooking.
  4. Now it’s time to put it all together. Add the asparagus and avocado to the quinoa. Pour over the dressing and gently toss together. Finish with scattering the pumpkin seeds over the top and serve.

Serves 4

Why This Salad Will Make You Healthier

Asparagus

  • Contains a type of indigestible fibre called ‘inulin’. This travels to the large intestine and becomes a ‘prebiotic’, meaning a food source for the beneficial bacteria in the gut. This in turn helps the bacterial to thrive, allowing them to profoundly support the health of the whole body (including the immune and digestive systems).
  • They house a bevy of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant phytonutrients including, saponins, flavonoids, vitamin C, beta-carotene, vitamin E, and the minerals zinc, manganese, and selenium. All these impressive nutrients help to reduce the risk of certain cancers and other chronic health problems such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. On a more superficial level they’re also great for the skin!

Quinoa

  • An ancient grain that contains an impressive range of nutrients. It contains vitamins, minerals, fibre and amino acids (building blocks of protein). This means its good for the digestion, immune system and helpful for keeping energy levels stable.
  • It is naturally gluten-free and contains iron, B-vitamins, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, vitamin E and fiber.
  • It is one of only a few plant foods which are considered a complete protein. This makes it a great option for vegetarians and vegans looking to support their protein requirements.

Avocado

  • This is a dream food for nutritionists since they’re loaded with a broad spectrum of vitamins, minerals, fibre, healthy fats and phytonutrients.
  • They’re a fantastic source of carotenoids (a class of fat-soluble antioxidants), importantly the fats in avocados directly help with the absorption of these nutrients. Carotenoids are also found in foods like sweet potato and carrots but they may not be properly absorbed as there is very little fat in these foods (though absorption is improved if you eat fat with the food e.g. drizzle olive oil on sweet potato).
  • A wide range of the nutrients in avocado are very beneficial for the cardiovascular system. Healthy monounsaturated fats, vitamin E and C and other antioxidants all help to reduce inflammation and reduce the risk factors for heart disease.

 

I’ve now had this salad 3 days in a row and I’m still not bored. It makes for a good supper with some grilled salmon or chicken (I also added some more greens in the form of broccoli) or a great lunch on its own.

Enjoy!

 

Peanut Butter Salvation Cookies

Can I just start by saying this post almost sent me round the bend! It started off so well, my friend Laura suggesting I do something on a healthy snack for toddlers. Good idea, should have been easy. Two batches of not very tasty granola bars and one lot of dry beetroot and chocolate cakes later I’m pretty narked off. Thankfully I had an epiphany sparked by a genius present given to me by my sister, Ella: The brilliant ‘Customisable Cookie Stamp‘. This meant cookies/biscuits were on the agenda. So here’s my healthy version of the simple, but very tasty, peanut butter cookie. While they do have sugar in the form of maple syrup, you can keep the levels quite low so these are good for everyone.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup of gluten-free self-raising flour. I used this one from Dove’s Farm.
  • 1/4 cup of ground almonds.
  • 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder.
  • 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla essence.
  • 1/4-1/3 cup of maple syrup, depending on how sweet you like them.
  • 1/2 cup of peanut butter
  • 1 tablespoon of organic butter.
  • Pinch of salt.

Makes approximately  8 cookies

How:

  • Pre-heat your oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Line a baking tray with grease-proof paper.
  • Put the gluten-free flour, ground almonds, baking powder and salt in a large bowl and stir until all the ingredients are well combined.
  • Add the peanut butter, butter, vanilla essence and maple syrup to a small saucepan and gently heat until all the ingredients have melted and are mixed together .
  • Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix well to form a dough.
  • Now form into small balls and gently flatten between the palms of your hands. If you’re lucky enough to have a cookie stamp use it now!
  • Cook in the oven for 10 minutes. They should be just firm (but not brown on one side like some of mine…the joys of my oven).
  • Cool on a rack before eating.

 

A Healthier Cookie

  • Almond flour helps to raise the levels of protein and healthy fats in the biscuit. This in turn reduces the impact of the sugar (from the maple syrup) on the body. It slows the release of the sugars into the blood stream, which results in more balanced energy levels. The peanut butter and butter also contribute to this effect too.
  • Organic butter is a very nutrient rich food to the extent that it’s considered by some to be a health food. It has impressive amounts of vitamins (A, D, E and K) and minerals (manganese, chromium, iodine, zinc, copper and selenium). Its high levels of vitamin A and it’s precursor beta carotene means that it supports the immune system and has has anti-cancer properties.

I’m so glad I’ve managed to write this post. It was a close call. But it made me see failure as a useful step, a good stepping stone to discovering little gems like this.