The cure for the winter time blues

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I won’t lie. I’m the worst Canadian ever. I’ve acclimatized so excellently to my new home in Australia, that the short mild winters of the subtropics have become a trial to endure. It’s ridiculous. I know it. But in all fairness- it gets pretty darn cold! Especially at night, and in the houses that were built with that hearty “she’ll be right” attitude. My beautiful old house has no fireplace, no insulation, just drafty hard wood floors and windows that have trouble shutting properly. *Le sigh*

So what is winter good for? For remembering things like jeans and woolen coats and for craddling cups of tea like your whole body could soak up the heat radiating from the little vessel in your hand. Below is a bit of a winter survival guide, for those of us who don’t come alive in the cool (there are those of us out there who do), who feel diminished in their energy and who maybe need a bit of support staving off colds and flus which can get us when we’re down.

Vitamin D- Vitamin D isn’t actually a vitamin, but a hormone, which we produce in our skin from exposure to sunlight- and to a lesser extent from specific foods. In the past, there was this notion that we got enough vitamin D from our daily activities. Unfortunately, our daily activities have changed somewhat since we stopped spending most of our days living and working out doors, and well… wearing clothes. Also, the recent change in our ozone and the suns quality has made many of us avoid the sun all together, wearing hats and protective clothing, and sunscreen all the time. Vitamin D is a major player in our immune health, and long ago, it was believed that if you got skin cancer- from too much sun exposure- you were protected from other often more deadly cancers because your vitamin D status was so good. And while we don’t want to trade one for the other (we know some skin cancers are extremely deadly) it has been found that vitamin D status is linked to many kinds of cancer, specifically bowel and breast, and other auto immune conditions such as MS. Vitamin D deficiency hasn’t been taken seriously, and with up to an estimated 58% of australians apparently lacking, we need to take note. There are acutally so many things Vitamin D is important for- I’ll do an entire blog devoted to the subject later… however in the case of winter time reduced sunlight exposure, change in the angle/direction of the suns rays effecting absorption of UV light, and our extra layers of clothes and hiding indoors- we need a boost to keep our immune systems primed. If you’d like to try to get it the old fashioned way- it is believed that around 15 mins of exposure, in the middle of the day, while NOT burning is ideal- trying to expose as much of your body as possible. Now, if lying around in your bikini in 5 degree weather isn’t your thing you can try Cod Liver oil- a source of vitamin D -and Vitamin A as well as omega 3 fatty acids, OR a vitamin D supplement. Most on the market these days are vitamin D3 or cholecalciferol- the active form of vitamin D. 1000 ius (international units) is generally considered safe and many of the trials done showing the benefit of the vitamin have been done with this dose. A vitamin D test can be helpful establishing if you’re deficient, and then your doctor or naturopath can recommend a dose specific to you. Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin, meaning it stores in your fat tissue, so making sure you aren’t taking in too much is also important. Having your levels tested can make sure you aren’t over dosing. 1000-3000 ius is generally safe for the run of the mill inside living, clothes wearer. I back off or reduce dosing in the summer months. Also kids need a specific dose and for this it’s best to consult your practitioner.

Antioxidants-

These are substances with protective effects on the body- by stabalizing free radicals and toxins, and supporting the immune system so that it an do it’s job more efficiently. The two winter favourites to keep colds at bay are Zinc and Vitamin C. Out of the 2, I rate Zinc the highest- as it’s often tricker to get from the diet (main sources include organ meats, oysters, pumpkin seeds and whole grains) and I have found it excellent in practice- both keeping colds away and in acute treatment. There are a few zinc supplements out there which have both vitamin c and zinc in them- and these are often a good way to go so you are getting the two. I usually take double the recommended dose in acute infections, just for a few days- to really make sure you get a good hit. Take the doses a few hours apart for better absorption and longer action. I do take zinc regularly through the winter, though I avoid taking Vitamin C as a regular supplement and prefer to get it from my diet. Diet is always the best way to get your antioxidants.

Herbal Medicine-

There are so many amazing herbs for building immunity and also for the help in treating individual symptoms- it’s crazy. To really sing their praises I’d need to write an entire book- but here is just a taster in the meantime. You can take immune boosting herbs in a lower dose daily through winter to prevent a cold or flu. Think of it as a natural “flu shot” – your own strong natural immunity is your best defence. Up the dose if you feel like something is coming on- or get in touch with your practitioner:

 Echinacea- Echinacea is usually best used as a preventative and in the first stages of cold or flu. If you aren’t taking it daily through winter in your tonic mixes- try it that first day you feel a little off, or the first tickle in your throat. That’s when Echinacea shines. It is also has an action on the lymphatic system and is ideal if you are someone who suffers from tonsillitis. Good quality Echinacea should give your mouth a tingling sensation after taking it in a liquid tincture.

DSC05278here’s a picture of my little lady a couple of years ago in our garden- Echinacea produces the most beautiful flowers. While you can use the flowers and leaf as a tea, it’s the root that holds the greatest immune powers. 

AndrographisKnown as the “King of Bitters” it certainly doesn’t play around in the flavour department. It’s the herb that makes the immune mix truly intense tasting and is worth a warning. But that said- it is one great herb for the cold that has gotten a hold on you. Almost every single immune support mix I make has this doozy in it. (Mwahahahaha!)

Olive Leaf- I often combine Olive leaf with Andrographis and/or Echinacea for prevention or treatment in colds and flus- and I know there are a lot of great fresh leaf liquid extracts on the market that people swear by as a preventative tonic throughout the winter months.

 Elder Berry- Elder berry is a fantastic herb for the head cold. I love using it when there is sinus congestion, a general rotten-ness all over, maybe even a slight temperature. It’s also great for children, and there are a few on the market in liquid and powder form which taste great.

 Garlic- Garlic is an amazing herb for the immune system. It’s the allicin which we are after, the part of the garlic which is activated during the crushing. It’s not a herb that keeps it’s immune protective characteristics well when it’s made in to a tablet, so be wary- and perhaps get the advice of a naturopath on which tablets are right for you if that’s what you’re using it for. This link can also give you more information on Garlic and choosing the right supplement. Otherwise, make a super strong hummus or pesto, garlic butter on toast, or crush it and add it at the end of a meal to your soup/stew or whatever you are eating. It is excellent for ear infections and head colds, and as funny as it sounds, try this home remedy:

-Chose a smallish garlic clove, about the size of an ear plug

-Peel a clove garlic by removing the papery outer layer

-Slice gently into it with your nail or a knife so that you’ve made a cut, enough for the oil to seep out slightly-squeeze the bulb slightly to bruise it.

-Put in the infected ear so it’s sticking out like a plug. Be careful of course not to insert it too deeply- it should be sticking out of the ear and only just inside the first bit of the canal- don’t go getting it stuck in there or piercing the ear drum- ok?!  This is a great way to get a local antibiotic effect for mild ear ache, and it really works. Try it- you’ll be surprised that in 10 mins you’ll have a garlic taste in your mouth, it goes through your whole head!

 PropolisA resin made by bees to decontaminate themselves before entering the hive, it’s strongly antimicrobial, and excellent for the throat. 1 or 2 mls diluted in water, enough to gargle and then swallow, 3-4 times per day.

Medicinal Mushrooms- Common names for some include Turkey tail, Shitake, Caterpillar mushroom, Reiishi, zhu ling and fu ling.  A real favourite of mine these days there are quite a few ways to get these immune boosting powerhouses- capsules, powders and liquids- quite a few different companies are making great formulations. They are amazing, with the benefits too numerous to list here- but I use them in practice for people recovering major infections such as Ross River fever, chronic fatigue, to support people with cancer or in recovering from chemo and even in the humble common cold. Especially good for kids who are prone to getting sick, and chronic/on going lurking infections of the sinus or chest. Talk to your practitioner about the supplement best for you. Kids usually take a very small dose and in powder or liquid and so it’s easy to hide them in drinks and foods.

Healthy Gut Flora-

If you want a great way to improve your immunity- improve you gut flora. Not only is a healthy gut the first line of defence in our immune system- but secondarily-a healthy gut is more likely to absorb nutrients and expel wastes efficiently which is only going to support overall health and a robust immune system. There are a few strains of bacteria which are clincally proven to improve immunity- and they’ll be marketed as such- but good quality, potent probiotics are all beneficial and should be part of your overall health routine. If you do end up needing a course of antibiotics- remember to take your probiotic supplement along side to keep the gut environment stable, and reduce side effects, as well as taking them after to recolonize the gut flora and support recovery.

Food-

Winter is the season where I can’t help but abandon a lot of raw foods, smoothies and juices. Not entirely- but the emphasis changes. It’s the time of year that I feel like cooked food is good for me, and I love the slow cooked soups and stews, bone broths and roasts.

I’ve already gone on about the virtues of bone broths – and winter is a perfect time to employ their medicinal actions. By nourishing the gut we are nourishing our immune system. The beneficial bacteria in our gut flourish and the integrity of the mucous membranes is strengthened. There’s a reason chicken soup is known for curative powers… and that is STOCK. Some sources say a good chicken stock needs the feet in it… which I’ve yet to try. Stock needs to made from scratch- no cubes or tetra packs allowed. It must be thick like jelly and smooth like velvet in your soup of choice. Always use organic, or free range/chemical free and grass fed animals for your stock.

Miso is something to consider adding to your broth as a well, a dark miso is appropriate for the cold, and macrobiotics and other systems of eastern medicine the salty quality is considered yang, which is balancing to the body when confronted by cold. Chicken soup with miso and shitakes is a favourite of mine. Lots of green veggies added at the end, and I love to add Arame seaweed too. Stir in cooked quinoa for added texture and protein.

People are often going on about drinking orange juice for a cold- which I suppose is because of the vitamin C content. It’s pretty much a standard home treatment. I would suggest though- that instead of orange juice- which is both cold and sweet – two things which are not suitable for the sick body- that you go instead for the hot lemon. You can put a spoon of honey in it to taste, and even better is also adding a bit of ginger, which will mobilize circulation and also warm you. Finely chop the ginger and put in the tea pot with the juice of a lemon- pour in the boiling water and let sit for 10 mins under your tea cozy- or alternatively bringing a sauce pan to simmer and let the ginger simmer there for 10 mins, then pour the tea in and add the lemon juice or just drop in the half a lemon whole. Honey to taste. Perfect!

DSC06046Beautiful lemonades growing in the subtropical winter.

 

A word on analgesics/anti-inflammatories/cold & flu medications

When working in pharmacy- I try very hard to persuade people when they come in for cold and flu medications to avoid excessive use and instead work at supporting their immune system to get over the infection. I’m not suggesting that we all be heroes and suffer through our pains… if you don’t want to feel bad or have been feeling bad for long enough and just want a good nights rest- I’ll forgive you. But what you are doing is suppressing the symptoms of the infection- not fighting the infection itself. This means, you are stopping the processes the body has in place to get over the acute phase, and in my experience, using analgesics usually prolongs the duration of the cold. Parents who give their kid medications at the first sign of a temp- are going to have a sick kid for longer, and maybe even more frequently – as the immune system, I believe, hasn’t had a chance to develop, be strong and robust. Also, whenever we mobilze our immune systems due to low grade infections like colds- we are also attending to other, maybe more sinister matters. That white blood cell that is disbatched to deal with your rhinitis, might become alerted that there’s some rogue or unusal cellular growth happening and deal with those as well while they are on a roll… that’s something you can console yourself with next time you’re in bed with a flu… maybe you’re getting stronger and healthier by going through this process- if you support it correctly- maybe it’s like a good clean out.

*** I will note that I also use homeopathy regularly and with great success treating colds and flus – but to keep this piece brief I’ve decided instead to devote an entire blog to a homeopathic winter first aid in the near future. Stay tuned. xxx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Missus One-Pot-Wonder and the virtues of bone stock

So, sometimes you just want to make dinner. It’s mid week and there is a lot of other things to think about besides your biological need to consume food of some description. Of course, there’s this little voice inside my head during these times, that reminds me that though I’m busy or uninspired, I HAVE STANDARDS, and these standards must be adhered to. This is where I become- Missus One-Pot-Wonder. As with all holism cooking for busy people- planning is the key. I always think about what I’m going to be having for dinner either the night before or in the morning before  heading out. Defrost such-in-such, soak the thing-a-ma-bobs or remind yourself to swing by the shop to pick up what-sy before you get home in the evening. Having a plan for dinner, well in advance of actual cooking time prevents HEAPS of stress, and makes the whole process run like a well oiled machine. And the end result is more likely to be delicious and up to those STANDARDS you’ve set for yourself. Full tummy with a side of chuffed. Good combo.

The one-pot-wonder of the eve- chicken, broth, quinoa and veggies

So, as it turns out- 2 nights ago I made an organic free range roast chicken (thanks birdie!)- today, I pulled off all the remaining meat, and stuck the bones etc in a pot with: 2 sticks of celery 2 med sized white onions 2 carrots 1 tblspoon each Chinese cooking wine and apple cider vinegar Fresh garden rosemary and sage (dried italian type herbs can substitute) 1/2 tsp himalayan or other good quality salt 2  litres of water Let this mix stand for 15-20 mins and then bring to a boil. Once it’s boiling for about 5 mins, reduce to a simmer with the lid on, occasionally skimming off any bubbles or foam that may appear on the surface. I was going in and out of the house all day, so I felt comfortable leaving this guy doing it’s thing on the stove. A good 8 hours at least is what we like ideally for a healthful stock. But, if you feel uncomfortable leaving something on the stove, use a slow cooker. If you don’t have one- this is a BIG hole in your wholefoods kitchen. Slow cookers are lifesavers for busy health conscious folks, and they generally aren’t that expensive. Go get one! If using the slow cooker, you can bring your stock to the boil on the stove, skim off the foam, and transfer to the slow cooker. This is a great way to make stock in your sleep- which makes your preparations for the next days meal even easier! (though technically now we are using 2 pots)

Stock

Fish broth will cure anything. ~ South American Proverb

Indeed, stock is everything in cooking. . . without it nothing can be done. ~ Auguste Escoffier

Good broth resurrects the dead. ~ South American Proverb

Stock is a magical food. It is not only the liquid currency of your meal, that provides base and flavour- it is also DEEPLY nutritious. I was a vegetarian for almost 15 years, and still eat largely a vegetarian diet. However, if there was one thing I wish my vegetarian friends could benefit from it would be stock. Bone stocks and broths have been considered powerful medicines for as long as we’ve been cooking with fire and are part of the diets of most human cultures. The gelatine that is released from bone into the broth has benefits so numerous it needs it’s own whole post to fully appreciate. But here are just a few of it’s attributes:

Nutritional Facts & Benefits of Bone Broth

-The gelatine in bone broth aids digestion. It not only stimulates digestive juices (thereby preventing harmful parasites and bugs from slipping through the primary defences of the gut) – but increased digestive enzymes means more efficient breakdown of foods and as a result- more vitamins and minerals are able to be absorbed.

– Bone stocks are rich in minerals. Minerals such as calcium, silicon, sulphur, magnesium, phosphorous & trace minerals are present in easily absorbable forms. The pre-soaking of the bones in vinegar helps to draw minerals out of the bone and in to the water.

– Bone broth is helpful in treating digestive disorders such as IBS, colitis and even Chrohn’s disease. Gelatine is what we call a demulcent which means it is both healing and soothing to the mucous membranes of the gut. From top to bottom.

– Gelatine can help to build the blood. Glycine, a key ingredient in gelatine, plays a vital role in the blood and some studies have shown gelatine to increase red blood cell and hemoglobin count, increase serum calcium level, increase the absorption and utilization of calcium.

-Stocks made from bones also have been found to be supportive of liver detoxification, have anti-inflammatory effects (especially for our own joints and bones )and it is the KEY to that chicken soup that we talk about having when we are sick. It helps protect us from the toxins of the bacteria we are infected with and aids in their speedy elimination. Bone broths can be considered medicine for an impressive list of conditions, including: food allergies/intolerance, colic, hypochlorhydria, hyperacidity (gastroesophageal reflux, gastritis, ulcer, hiatal hernia) inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis), irritable bowel syndrome, leaky gut syndrome, malnutrition, weight loss, muscle wasting, cancer, osteoporosis, calcium deficiency and anemia.

Of course, we must chose our bones wisely. Our stock will only be nutritious and beneficial if the animal whose bones we are using had a good  life with nutritious food itself. Pasture raised/grass fed red meats, free range and/or wild (fish) and organic where possible. Talk to your butcher and make sure you know where your animal foods are coming from and how they were treated/raised.

SO- there’s our stock- a super food, simmering away, waiting for us to get home and cook dinner. Of course making stock and keeping it on hand for daily use is the life pursuit of many who have come to know and experience its’ health benefits. I always like to make a big batch, so I have some for now, and some for later.

The One-Pot point of it all

Strain your stock and set aside. Tonights pot had in it: 2 cups of soaked quinoa (I put the quinoa out in a bowl of water to soak during the day while the stock was going) 1/4 of a japanese pumpkin cut in to biggish pieces 2 carrots chopped in large unceremonious chunks 1 red onion sliced 2 handfuls of green beans chopped 1 yellow squash 4 roma tomatoes chopped 1 cup washed chopped kale (about 6 big leaves- stems removed) fresh/dried herbs- as you like 1 clove of garlic pressed

Whatever is remaining of the chicken meat you put aside earlier- I like to pull it apart into shreds for texture. 1 tablespoon of coconut oil (ghee/ butter would also be fine-0r extra virgin olive oil) This is the easy part. Splash the oil in the pot (same pot as the stock was in- see  1 pot!) Put in the onion, pumpkin and carrots, herbs and garlic. While this is sautéing, strain and rinse your quinoa. Lightly sauté the quinoa in the with the veggies. Don’t let it cook for too long or get too hot, we want the majority of the cooking to take place on a low heat, in the stock. Add your 1 litre of stock (the other litre goes in the fridge or freezer for future use). Most of the fluid in the stock will be absorbed as the quinoa is cooking- the end result is more of a casserole, less of a soup. Add your tomatoes. Let it cook for  about 10 mins, stirring occasionally. Then add your beans and squash. Let it go another 5 mins. Test. Is the pumpkin soft? Is the quinoa tender? The other veggies should be still firm and vibrant. If so- turn off the heat, put in the kale and the chicken meat, stir through and put the lid on. Leave for an additional 5 mins. You’re done!

Now this is amazing as it is- but you may taste it and decide to add some chilli, or more salt/pepper, a blob of butter melted through or a dash of tamari, or some grated parmesan. I decided tonight to garnish mine with some of my kale chips  as they are crunchy, spicy and have preserved lemon throughout adding a wonderful bite. Best of all, there are leftovers for tomorrows lunch. AND I’ve got adzuki beans soaking to make burritos with for tomorrows dinner…

A lil’ gal named Stella… Chickweed- Stellaria media

Well, today was pretty ridiculously hot- even now at 9:30 at night, I feel the approach of summer- like a galloping beast. In Lismore NSW (Australia), we are known for the… unique quality of our heat. Stifling is one word for it. In these parts we are at the end of our chickweed season (or at least in my suburban experience, out in the wetter forest-y parts it may be hanging in there). And so, for those in this area, there is no time to delay if you want to feast on chickweed. For others just beginning your real spring warmth, time to find your juicy chickweed patch and start pickin’.

The reason I love chickweed, is that it is so humble. It does it’s little thing in the garden, it may mass over a bed like a stringy cob web… but, it doesn’t take much to move it on, pull it out, and it doesn’t last. For the short while it’s around it is an often under-utilised weed that most urban dwellers could do with becoming more acquainted with. Why not get to know some wild plants growing around you and foraging in your yard/neighbourhood, whether you have a garden or not? Or finding a particularly good patch on the way home and picking a bunch? These little daily connections with the earth are good for our sense of the big picture. Big picture leads to perspective. Perspective leads to grain of salt. Grain of salt leads to relaxation. Relaxation leads to joyfulness. So hey, by practicing a bit of urban hunter gatherer-ness, we are de-stressing and improving our inner wellbeing. And we haven’t even eaten it yet! GREAT!

The botanical name for Chickweed is Stellaria media– which has a beautiful translation of “in the midst of little stars” in Latin, and most probably describes its’ beautiful white star shaped flowers. Now it is important in the southern hemisphere and especially in these parts, to distinguish between Stellaria media (the chickweed I’m banging on about), and the so-called “Tropical chickweed” Drymaria cordata which I don’t believe it is related to, or used in the same way as Stellaria. They do often grow around each other however, and can be easily mixed up if you are not familiar with them. Chickweed, when it’s ready to rock, is a juicy, tender little plant. As it gets older it begins to get a bit stringy and fibrous, and much of the foliage disappears as it goes to seed. This is kinda where a lot of the chickweed in my yard is at at the moment… not so delicious. You want the stuff growing in the moist corner of the yard, in the shadows. It’s perky green and full of leaves and little flowers…

Here is some in my garden just last month

Medicinal Uses

Well, most often chickweed is used topically. It’s a fantastic healing remedy for the skin and is often applied in a cream or as a poultice for skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, urticaria and rashes of chronic nature especially where there is heat… it is a very cooling herb. It is used in first aid for stings, wounds and rashes of acute origin as well, like sunburn/heat rash, allergy/hives as well as boils, ulcers, splinters, cold sores and even chickenpox/measles rashes. As well, it is antibacterial, and helps prevent infections. Get acquainted with chickweed, and let me tell you- NOTHING is more impressive then being able to help some poor stranger with a bee sting by chewing up a blob a chickweed and then applying the green glob to the site of the sting… wow, they’ll be so grateful for your survival skills! … on second thought, perhaps maybe just chew up the chickweed for yourself or a loved one. But seriously, this is actually a quick and easy way to make a poultice for any unbroken skin wound. It is also used as a poultice or compress for eye inflammations, such as conjunctivitis, pinkeye, sties or general sore irritated eyes. In this case I would make a tea of the chickweed, strain it and wet clean muslin cloth in the tea and hold it to the closed eye/ or mash a small amount in warm water and place in a piece of muslin cotton and fold over, so that it looks a bit like a tea bag- then hold over the eye. Alternatively ,the infused oil/ointment of chickweed can be placed around the eye. Avoid getting any of the herb in the eye, of course.

When I first learnt about chickweed, I was told it is never to be dried. It is a moisture rich herb and much of it’s medicinal power is in it’s succulent/cooling nature. Take that out of the equation and you really don’t get the magic of chickweed. Kinda like dehydrated watermelon. I’ve actually seen this… I mean, just because you CAN doesn’t mean you SHOULD…right??? Chickweed is the same, it is best fresh. This is probably why it doesn’t have as strong a reputation for it’s internal uses- it’s commercial value is reduced due to the fact that it’s seasonally available and is best used fresh. However, traditional herbal medicine tells us it is used for MANY internal conditions. Again due to it’s cooling nature, it is used generally for internal inflammations. It is used to sooth the mucous lining of the digestive tract and relieves symptoms of wind, colic and constipation. It has a reputation for treating bronchitis and lung infections, though I have never used it in this way personally. It is a diuretic, but both gentle and supportive to the kidney function and is an excellent purifier of the blood. Because of it’s soothing nature, it’s fantastic used in cases of cystitis and urinary tract infection. It has also been touted as a weight loss aid, perhaps through it’s diuretic action.

It is used as a tea/gargle in sore throats, mouth inflammations (ulcers/gingivitis) and also in nasal/sinus infections. In this case I would make an steam bath for inhalation. The best way keep it on hand, when out of season, is in oils and creams which are often sold commercially. Or you can make your own. It is also less frequently made in to a tincture/liquid extract. This is one little unassuming herb with a BIG resume… living right under most of our noses…!

As a food

It is as a food that I enjoy chickweed the most. Again, we keep it in it’s simple fresh state. I would never dream of cooking chickweed, it is perfect raw. It has a gentle flavour that reminds me of snow peas- fresh and green mixed -with the taste of corn silk. Sounds a bit luxurious, right?? It can be used in so many places. Chickweed in pesto (mixed with rocket, basil) or other dips, added to salads with your mixed greens. It works beautifully in Tabouli or similar grain based salads. As a garnish on the top of cooked foods, or indeed in green smoothies!

Chickweed is an excellent source of vitamins A,  B complex, C, and rutin (a bioflavonoid), as well as iron, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, manganese, sodium, copper, and silica. It also contains the fatty acid- gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). Interestingly the medicinal effects of GLA are similar to those of chickweed-  it is recommended for a variety of skin problems, female reproductive hormone imbalances, and for arthritis. It is powerfully anti-inflammatory, reduces water retention, and acts as tonic for the liver.

It is a safe delicious herb full of nutrients and cooling anti-inflammatory effects- however, if you do find a particularly LARGE patch, and decide on going totally ape crazy over chickweed, remember- it is also a mild laxative, yeah? Pace yourself… Get in to the habit of identifying it around your neighbourhood or in your yard-early spring in both the northern and southern hemisphere, and start nibbling on it. Start thinking of it as a food source and a possible medicine. It’s free and it’s everywhere, but only for a limited time… so ACT NOW!

Micro-greens- A Sunflower and Buckwheat garden

Part of having what I like to call a “living kitchen”, is growing your own. Now, that can be your ferments all bubbling and souring away on the counter top, or it can be produce grown in your yard or container gardens/window sills. Sadly, not all of us have the space to grow a veggie garden. Sadder still, some may not have the time. But we can all sprout and grow our own micro greens to increase the vitality and chutzpah of our food. And because they can be grown indoors, even if it’s 20 below or 40 above outside, you can still have fresh greens that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.

The other wonderful thing about growing your own- of anything- but including micro greens, is that you ABSOLUTELY know exactly what that plant has been exposed to, so there are  no questions about the “organic” standards here.  Also, you pick as go, making this food the freshest possible. Fresh food, just picked, is the most vibrant, the most nutritious, the most living food going- which puts all that great energy in to your body and gives you the glow.

What are micro greens?? 

A micro green” is the term used to describe most any green vegetable or herb that has edible leaves and that is harvested just after the first leaves of the plant have sprouted (the coteleydon growth stage- in case you are ever asked on Jeopardy.) At this stage the seed has only just germinated, and the plant’s root and leaf structures haven’t fully developed into producing a “seedling”.

Micro greens differ from sprouts in that, sprouts are grown using only water, whereas microgreens are grown with soil. Micro greens absorb minerals from the soil as they grow, and have undergone a greater degree of photosynthesis, therefore, increasing their nutritional content. They also have a higher fibre content.

Nutritional and Health benefits

This is a tricky one, as the jury is still out. There is plenty of traditional knowledge passed around, which touts the sprout as being the most nutritious thing going. I have always bought the story, as I’ve understood it for years. As it goes, the nutrients of the seed (which we want for ourselves) are normally locked away by the seeds’ own enzyme inhibitors. These inhibitors preserve the nutrients for the seed until the time when the conditions are right for germination, so it has what it needs to develop in to a seedling (before it is properly able to photosynthesise). When we sprout, we are liberating these nutrients, making them easier for us to absorb and utilize then they were in the dormant seed. Raw foodists use this principle when soaking nuts and seeds before consuming them. A soaked nut or seed is referred to as “activated”, as it now has the potential to sprout or germinate.

Now, some scientific evaluations have had difficulty proving that sprouts have a higher nutritional value then their adult counterparts. However, not all that is beneficial in food is vitamins and minerals. So while the jury IS out on wether sprouts have more nutrition per say – there has been scientific evidence to suggest that sprouts contain great amounts of special “phytochemicals” that can have a wide range of health benefits.  For example, it has been found that the cancer fighting compound in broccoli- sulforaphane– is actually much higher in broccoli sprouts than in broccoli. The importance of phytochemicals and their identification is in very early stages of understanding. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of big money going in to this research, so we are going to have to trust our bodies and our instincts when it comes to this for the time being. Sprouts make you feel great- there is NO doubt.

Let’s get sprouting! 

My favourite micro greens are sunflower and buckwheat. Reason being: the seeds are cheap and easy to come by, they grow relatively quickly (1 week or so from seed to green in warm weather) and they are tender and delicious. I use them everywhere. I definitely put them in my green smoothies, but the obvious are salads, wraps etc. I also like to use them as a garnish on as many other dishes as possible. That includes things like soups and casseroles. Before serving I just put a big handful on the top of my dish. They may wilt a little, but that doesn’t deter me one bit. That being said, I never cook them. Exposure to higher temperatures does reduce their nutritional value and vitality- and besides… they are so mild and lovely- always just add them raw.

Micro greens grown from herbs have amazing concentrated flavours and are often used in restaurants for their aesthetic beauty and strong tastes. Seeds for these types of micro greens tend to be a bit more expensive, and some take a while to grow to the stage where they are large enough to harvest. I haven’t tended to focus on growing them much. One thing I DO do, is I let my brassica family (broccoli) vegetables/greens go to seed in the garden. They produce A LOT of seeds. I keep some for the next planting, and the rest I mix in to my micro green mix to add some variety. A good place to buy seeds for micro greens in Australia, is Select Organic, or alternatively, sunflower and buckwheat seeds (in their black shells) are generally available for this purpose at your local health food/bulk shop.

Here are some I prepared earlier. 

Step 1

There are a couple of different methods going around- this is the one I’ve used. Get yourself a standard seedling tray or shallow growing pot. You don’t need much soil, so it doesn’t need to be very deep.

This kind of seedling tray is available from most nurseries and garden supply shops.

Step 2 

Put a thin (maybe 1 1/2 – 2 inches deep) layer of soil in the bottom of the tray. I use an organic potting mix. Organic is ALWAYS best. Potting mix is preferable to just getting dirt from the garden, because you  may end up growing some other things in with your micro greens (weeds/grass etc) that you aren’t wanting to eat, and then you have to pick them all out… bit of a hassle.

La tray au dirt.

Step 3

Sprinkle your seed mix on to the layer of soil.

Dirty garden hands are good for your heart.    

 

Really pack those seeds in there, don’t be shy! 

Step 4

Cover the seeds up with another layer of soil, not too deep, maybe 1 inch? Then, give them a good watering!

Step 5

Keep an eye on those babies for the next week or so. I generally have mine outside during this stage, but under shelter. I find that if they are in direct sun, they can dry out (where I live it can get particularly hot at times). Conversely, if it’s raining a lot, it can make germination difficult as the seeds can rot. They need to be moist, without being boggy, and have adequate drainage and warmth. Sunlight for photosynthesis isn’t really necessary, although a little can perk up the micro greens once they’re out. In the winter, you may find you need to sprout indoors. In my area, they will still sprout outside in winter, but they can take AGES. In other climates, you don’t have a hope, so in the house is a must. Make yourself a little sprouting area, where you don’t mind a bit of dirt falling or water dripping. I sometimes put my trays on baking sheets if they are coming indoors, to minimize mess.

When they first start to sprout, the soil may lift up and they will have their outer shells still around their bursting little heads. Keep watering them, brush some of the dirt away gently, and wait, we aren’t there yet… I may decide to put them in the sun at this stage (or a window if inside) to help them really come in to life…

And BAM! Within a day or two of sprouting out of their shells, you’ll have this little laptop garden of gorgeousness! Ready to eat and sprinkle and enjoy. Important to note: because micro greens and sprouts have such an intimate relationship with soil (even though sprouts are grown in water, they are still often dirty from a farm etc…) it is important to wash them before eating them. I can be a bit of a token-rinser, but it is really very important. There is a lot of bacteria in the soil, especially good quality soil with animal manure in it. So please wash your greens.

Step 6

I keep my greens growing until I want to use them, so that they are fresh fresh fresh. I sometimes bring a tray in to my kitchen and have it on the baking sheet in the window or on the counter, because I just love looking at them and having all that young life growing around me. Also, I’ve put a utility shelf on my landing outside my kitchen door where I put bowls of fermenting things and sometimes too trays of micro greens, so they are out of the way, under cover, but easy to access. OR keep them outside… whatever works for you. Just grab your scissors and cut off what you need!

Now if you’re really clever, you’ll have started a new tray when the first tray has started to show signs of action. That way you never run out of fresh live sprouts, which, become addictive, I promise you. I try to be good, and have a tray always going… sometimes I fall behind and I end up buying a bag from the markets, but then that usually kick starts me in to getting out there again. It literally takes 5 minutes to set up and 5 seconds to water every day. There is NO reason EVERYONE can’t be micro-greening. Kids love it too… it’s something I always get my little ones to help me with. Once you’ve harvested your whole tray, you can use your scissors to cut up the root bound soil, or simply rip it up, add a bit of fresh soil if needed (often not) and start again.

So, get yourself to the nursery- get yourself a couple of trays and some organic potting mix. Stop at the health food store on the way home- pick up some sunflower and buckwheat seeds, and start NOW. Yum yum yum. xo

Kale chips

I was half way through finishing my next post, when I got hijacked by a whirlwind of highly motivated foodie-ism and experimenting that I felt compelled to share. In the last 48 hours I’ve made: a batch of my sprouted buckwheat raw cocao cereal, cashew yoghurt, these fermented corn flour tortilla-like breads for a mexican dinner party, slow cooked lamb stew, dosa mix, as well as few extra special breakfasts and dinners. I’ve been going off- and the kitchen’s a mess!

One of my favourite little garnishes/treats that I buy, is the salad sprinkles from Loving Earth, which are bits of their kale chips with other seeds and spices. I sprinkle it on every darned thing, and have thought, when I get the time, I’d like to try to make them myself. Well, the time is nigh in the garden, for all things kale. And when the spirit of the insatiably-busy-kitchen-witch takes you over, you don’t ask questions. You go with it.

My personal stash 

So, I don’t have recipe to go off of. Though I did go look up a recipe on another blog. The method and outcome were different than what I was going for, but, I could see there were no great big secrets to Kale chips.

First step- wash your kale and get rid of the stems

I’m currently growing a selection of Kale varieties: Siberian, Scotch and Cavolo nero. 

Next- I thought about the flavours I wanted in my chips/sprinkles. I really wanted something with some ZING! I have some preserved lemons left from last years lemon season (eeek! better get on to it and make more- we’re almost at the end of this season!!!) so they were definitely going in to the mix.

Last years citrus mix: preserved lemons, lemonades, limes and cumquats. I had 3 of these bad boys, this is the last one. 

Chilli, of course. Dill is going OFF in the garden, and is a great, unsung hero of the herb world. Garlic has just had it’s first harvest locally, and I picked up some absolutely beautiful purple stuff at the bulk shop the other day.

Feast for the eye. 

So then- I basically just chopped everything up, and placed it in the mortar. I added a whole lot of olive oil (don’t ask me how much), and then decided that my other FAVOURITE ingredient smokey paprika would go nicely, so dashed that in there (generously). More olive oil. Then remembered I had a bunch of walnuts/pepitas/brazil nuts soaked in the fridge. Chucked them in. Big blob of macadamia nut butter (for consistency mostly) and set about the task of pestle-ing the bejebus out of the lot.

Improvised dressing for the kale, mine needed to be thick and chunky.

Now this is not to say you have to go and work with these ingredients. You may not have preserved lemons, but lemon zest would work well. You may want to do a salt n’ vinegar type and use some balsamic and himalayan or other good quality salt. (I didn’t add salt to mine because the preserved lemons were done in a mountain of celtic sea salt.) What’s within reach in your kitchen/garden?  You may just want au natural kale with a splash of olive oil… go with what you’re craving.

Mix- the dressing in with kale. I wanted a generous amount throughout, so my kale was quite thoroughly covered. Then, get your 4 year old to stand on a stool and take your photo… cuz this stuff is messy- so no handling of cameras with those hands!

Time for the dehydrator/oven- Now, I made the VERY wise decision of investing in an Excalibur dehydrator about 5 years ago, and have never looked back. I make heaps of dehydrated crackers, cookies, pie crusts, and cereals in it- as well as drying herbs/fruit- AND I use it as incubator when making bread and yoghurt. I’ve even made kangaroo jerky in it!! It’s a great addition to your whole foods kitchen, so- I highly recommend getting one. If the price is a bit scary and you aren’t convinced you’ll use it, there are less expensive varieties out there. I even saw some at the local home cheap-o store for $40. The thing to look for, is a temperature gage. You want to be able to change the temperature to suit the needs of the food you are preparing. For example, if you are particularly concerned about the “raw” credentials of your food, you never want to dehydrate above 105 degrees farenheit  OR 41 degrees celcius. OR If you are making jerky or other dried meats, you need it to be at a high temperature to be food safe, etc…

So, I got my dressed kale in to my dehydrator, set it to the magic 105/41, and it’s in there as we speak making quite a wonderful smell.

Yum! 

If you don’t have the dehydrating technology, an oven can work too. What you will need to do, is to put the temperature as low as it can go, and keep the door open. The down side with the oven, is that it’s unreliable, you need to keep an eye on it, as it can easily get too hot and perhaps burn. You will also lose your “raw foodist” street cred. But work with what you got. Perhaps you do a few things in the oven and then realize how great and fun the world of dehydrating is, and you run out to your own home cheap-o or visit an on-line shop for the rolls royce-esc Excalibur. For oven dehydrating, I’d place the dressed kale on cookie sheets, and leave them for about 20- 30 mins, checking regularly.

SO, I’ll leave you there… Kale chips dehydrating away… the sweet anticipation and curiosity of how it’s all gonna turn out. I have a really great feeling about it, and I’ll definitely be updating you on the outcome. The moral of the story is: When compelled to kitchen witchery- DON’T HOLD BACK!!!! STOP EVERYTHING! GET IN THERE AND MAKE MAGIC… work with what you have and trust your instincts. These phases come and go, and hopefully, your pantry is full of kale chips and other goodies to see you through the dry spells when you are busy with your other endeavours.

 

 

Fermented flat bread/dosa

If there is one thing I’ve adopted into my regular repertoire over the last couple of years, that has completely changed my life  (indeed, a flat bread CAN change your life) -it’s been this wonderful low carb, high protein, unprocessed gem. Like many of you, I moved away from bread and the dear ol’ sandwich long ago, for a many reasons (the least of which was after eating the darned things every day for 12 years of school, they sort of lost their… charm). I also discovered I had wheat sensitivity and could only really eat spelt/rye bread, and in this regard, preferred the naturally fermented/leavened sourdough variety. While this is still nice for toast, it’s not great as a sandwich. It’s pretty dense and truthfully, I don’t enjoy eating such heavy starch/carb based meals anymore- so, when making a quick lunch at home or for work, I would often use wraps. I tried many store bought varieties. The Mountain bread ones had the least amount of crap in them, and I admit I still buy them from time to time, but let’s face it… has ANYONE successfully been able to eat a wrap with one of those things and not have them fall apart…? The other brands use varieties of humectants (made from glycerine usually), emulsifiers and gluten to give the wrap more elasticity.

They also tend to contain something which I try to avoid- and that is OILS. Oils used in commercially prepared processed foods are going to be of poor quality, there is no doubt. I plan on doing a whole post on oils, and the importance of good quality at all times, but for now, to avoid a major digression, let’s just make a blanket statement- that when we eat processed foods, there is going to be oil present- and that due to the manufacturing methods and processing, these are most often trans fats. Trans fats reek havoc on the cardiovascular system and promote inflammation in the body generally. It’s nearly impossible to eliminate them completely (unless you NEVER eat out at a restaurant or super market ever again) but we need try to limit them, be scrupulous in reading labels and make from scratch as much as we can. Finding new ways to avoid them in our daily routine is a WIN.  Of course that means avoiding ALL fried foods. But they also appear in so-called health foods a well (wraps, cereals, muesli, crackers, biscuits, “milks”ect…) and shouldn’t be underestimated in their impact on our health. The two most commonly used oils are:

  • “Vegetable oil”  This is almost ALWAYS SOY oil, and if there is one thing you can take the bank, it’s that if it’s SOY and it’s NOT organic, it’s genetically modified. So aside from the highly processed, bad-for-you, rancid nature of the fat- it’s a plant that was never found in nature- AVOID IT LIKE THE PLAGUE. I have also heard a theory that because there is so much vegetable oil in SO many foods, people are actually getting quite a high dose of soy. Soy suppresses thyroid function (among other things), and so it may be contributing to chronic low grade hypothyroidism associated with obesity (rampant in the west). Interesting theory.
  • “Canola oil” Sadly, like soy above, it’s one of the major genetically modified crops of the world. If it’s not organic, just assume it’s a franken-food.

As you can see, LOTS of reasons to avoid the oils in processed/manufactured foods.

In my quest to find the perfect, quick, easy, bread-like food for lunch, I tried many things. Some were a great success, but they perhaps took too much time to make, and were messy- like making your own lavash bread. Lavash breads are great, and are used in a different way to this dosa/crepe like bread. I still make them, for particular meals, when I have a plan of action and the time, but on a regular daily basis, I found the work and mess involved not sustainable.

This recipe is great, because you make up the mixture, keep the “batter” in the fridge, and make it up as needed. It takes very little time and there is no rolling out of dough or splashing of flour all over the counter. It’s fermented (I will be singing the virtues of fermented foods in other posts) , and can be made without flour or gluten. It’s also sprouted- a TRUE WHOLE FOODSo let’s get to it!

Raw buckwheat, mung beans and quinoa ready for the soak.

Like all of my recipes, I’ll give you a basic start up example, and then some suggestions on how you may adjust them and make them your own. The list below is my every day basic recipe that I use and love.

Ingredients

1/2 cup raw buckwheat kernels

1/2 cup dry mung beans

1/3 cup quinoa or other grain like seed (amaranth is most common, but there are also some mixes of “aztec” grains you can get that contain a few varieties)

Optional-a fermentation starter (sourdough starter, whey, raw apple cider vinegar, yoghurt ect…)- more on this later…

-So that’s it. You heard me. THAT’S IT! How great is that?! So what’s next:

Preparation

This can take a day or more to prepare, so think ahead. Don’t be daunted by that statement. Once you’ve put in the initial effort- you’ll have the mix for the dosas of a week or more ready to go…

STEP 1- SOAKING- I often soak the seeds (Buckwheat and quinoa are seeds NOT grains. They are also alkalizing-unlike grains, and gluten free!!! WIN!!!) and the mung beans before I go to bed (as you see in the bowl above). Now you can soak them in a bowl, OR a large mason jar. The jar is easier if you want to take the recipe a bit further and sprout the mix in the next step. Cover with a good double the height in water, as they will expand and soak up the water. You may need to add more in the morning if it’s gone dry. In the morning, before I go out, I pour the mix in to a sieve and rinse well, this gets rid of the starchy water the buckwheat makes…it’s quite thick.

STEP 2- SPROUT- So, if you’ve been soaking in a bowl, you’ve rinsed your mix and then you simply put back in the bowl and cover with new fresh water, and go about your day. This mix WILL begin to sprout in the water, though not as much. If you are looking to really increase the vitality and nutrition of the mix, you will have soaked it all in a large mason jar, placed a bit of tulle (I bought some from a craft store and cut it up into squares big enough to cover the mouths of jars) over the top of the jar, and secured around the rim with an elastic band.

So once you’ve rinsed the soaked mix, you put the jar (mouth covered in the tulle) on it’s side in an appropriate sized bowl- and leave it for approx 8 hours. Depending on the temperature, the mix will sprout at different rates. So you see, if you’ve soaked over night, rinsed in the morning and put in the bowl, you can go to work or get on with the day, and leave it to do it’s thing. Works well with the rhythm of the average day.

After rinsing the soaked mix, the jar is placed on it’s side in an appropriate sized bowl. This allows excess water to drain out of the jar and provides the ideal environment for the seeds to begin to sprout. 

STEP 3- BLENDING- So, after approximately 8 hours, you are ready to blend your mix. If you’ve just left it soaking in the water, it will have begun to sprout slightly and you may notice some small points or bumps coming out of the mung beans/buckwheat. If you’ve done the sprout method, you will know you are ready to blend when the mung beans and buckwheat kernels and the rest have those little “tails” growing out of them. I like to give them another good rinse, before pouring the mix in to the blender jug. Now again in this situation, it’s my experience that you need an actual blender for the best outcome. A bar mix and most food processors won’t get the mix smooth enough. The next part is a bit tricky. You basically want ONLY enough water to blend the mix to a smooth, pancake batter type consistency. Thick, but still liquid. So when adding water to the blender jug, start off with a small amount. See how easily it blends. You may find you need to add a bit water until the mix is blended and seems to move smoothly around in the jug. If you’ve added too much water it’s not the end of the world. You can always add flour to the mixture to thicken it at the end, however, it’s not ideal.

The consistency of the blended mix should be similar to pancake batter- smooth, and liquid but thick. Add flour (gluten free or spelt) if you’ve accidentally made your mix too thin. 

STEP 4- FERMENTATION- Now, there are few things we can do at this stage. If you are hungry and want to eat your flat breads NOW or, if you don’t wish to ferment the mix, you can call it a day. You can pour the mix in to a jar and store it in the fridge for use at this point. However, if you’d like to increase the digestibility/available nutrition of the batter, make it “probiotic” (containing beneficial bacteria which help with digestion and immunity) or you enjoy the wonderful sour-ish taste, there is one more step to go. I use a sourdough starter which I was given by a friend. My sourdough starter is fed with spelt flour, so it’s technically NOT gluten free (even though it’s just a small percentage of the overall mix). If you are gluten free, your starter has to be fed on gluten free flour, or use one of the options below. It is possible to make your own starter from scratch or buy it on-line, but that’s again, probably another post all together. If you don’t have your sourdough starter yet, you can also use:

1 tablespoon plain active yoghurt/kefir OR

1 tablespoon whey (the thin liquid from the top of yoghurt) OR

1 tablespoon raw apple cider vinegar (will often say “contains mother” or something similar to let you know it is still “alive”) OR 

1 tablespoon sourdough starter 

Stir it into your batter, and cover with a tea towel and leave in a warm place, for about 8-12 hours. If you’ve been working with the rhythm I suggested, it usually means just leaving it again over night. At the end of that 8-12 hours, you can simply pour in to a jar and place in the fridge to be stored until used. I find the blended batter, which has been fermented, lasts just over a week in the fridge. I’ve actually never had a batch go off, I always finish it first.

*** NOTE: Some people encourage natural fermentation by leaving the mix out, covered- but WITHOUT adding a starter. This can work. However, it sometimes results in a mix that just goes off. I tend to avoid that method, because I like using some kind of starter to inoculate my batter with(a specific good bacteria), but I do have friends who enjoy success (most of the time) fermenting without a starter.

Blended and fermented mix is ready to be stored in the fridge. Lasts approximately 1 week. 

STEP 5- COOKING- The reason I don’t make up a whole batch of breads at one go and keep them, say, in a bag the way you would get them if you bought them, is that these tend to dry out quite quickly. They really are best made to order. They don’t take much time  to prepare at all luckily, so that’s not been an issue. In fact, I often get the dosa on cooking whilst I’m chopping up salad or veggies for steaming, and then use the hot pan I’ve cooked the dosa in to either saute some mushrooms, cook eggs or organic chicken ect… to put on my flat bread. The other thing to point out, is that these flat breads are more like a crepe or pancake. They are quite soft and while you can roll things up in them, I do prefer to eat them with a knife and fork. But who am I to stop you gettin’ right in there and living large? Get messy and go crazy!!

I heat the pan, and add about a teaspoon of oil- usually coconut oil or extra virgin olive oil, however ghee is also great to work with. I use a non stick pan that is supposed to be free of the normal chemicals that teflon ect… contains. Cast iron works too, but imagine what pan you’d like to cook pancakes on… they do have a tendency to stick- at least the first one does. Also, the batter contains NO gluten, so it won’t stick together in the same way pancake batter made from wheat will. It is necessary to give it a bit of a hand making the classic round shape.

 I use a spoon to help spread the mix in the hot pan- as it cooks you can spread the mix out further and further until you have the shape you are after- a circle with no holes in it. 

Once the dosa appears to have cooked around the edges, and a few bubbles have begun to appear,  you can try to flip it. If the edges aren’t quite solid enough yet, give it another minute and then turn it over to cook the other side.

Once it’s golden brown on both sides, you have yourself

one off-the-hook, fermented, sprouted, gluten free,  flat bread!

HIGH FIVE!!! 

SERVING SUGGESTIONS- 

-So with this lovely base, I may lay down a layer of: avocado, hummus, chutney/pickle etc…

-I then may put on that, a couple of eggs (however you like em’), some organic chicken or mushrooms sauteed in the hot pan I just used for the dosa

-I usually will have been steaming some vegetables at the same time. Broccoli, beans, snow peas, kale, cauliflower, pumpkin are favourites. On a day when I have more time, I may have roasted some root vegetables, beets, sweet potato, pumpkin, parsnip etc.

-Next I will add some fresh raw vegetables, salad greens- sprouts, grated beets/carrots, or maybe some fermented vegetables- sauerkraut ect…

-I may even just have leftovers from the previous nights dinner and simply eat it as an accompaniment, the way you would bread or crackers.

Basically ANYTHING GOES! Put peanut butter and honey on that sucker and roll it up for a quick snack- whatever works for you, use you imagination.

This is a quick lunch I made my 4 year old daughter- scrambled eggs with kale and goats feta, avocado and snow peas- dosa on the side. 

I’ve experimented using lentils instead of mung beans. I’ve added soaked seeds like sunflower and pepita and added them to the mix. I’ve blended in fresh herbs from the garden, like basil or dill or thyme. I’ve grated carrot in to the batter before cooking. Really, there is no end to the variations… Once you’ve tried it and seen HOW quick and easy this flat bread is, there’s no turning back. You can scratch one more lifeless, nutritionally void, dubious contents, processed carb off your list of daily foods… AMAZING.

The Green Smoothie of Victory!

Smoothies are one of the foundation foods that I am often getting patients to start experimenting with. People usually think of smoothies as a pseudo milk shake. The way they are sold at various fast food joints and even juice bars, make them more of a “treat” food, and less a part of a healthy daily regime. Smoothies, the way I recommend them, are a way to quickly and easily get an entire meals worth of raw fruit/greens/seeds & nuts, into a glass. It is in line with the basic principle I have of making every meal and drink as densely nutritious as possible. The varieties are endless, but having a few basic start up ideas can get you confidently experimenting. Green smoothies are a fantastic breakfast, but also make a perfect snack throughout the day. There are no hard fast rules about the Green Smoothie, except maybe, that it’s supposed to be YUMMY!!! When I first started making these concoctions, I really really couldn’t believe that such a collection of ingredients would actually be delish. That a huge handful of lettuce or sunflower sprouts can ACTUALLY go undetected in the smoothie, that half a beetroot only really adds delightful colour and no crazy flavor. That said, when you start off you may wish to increase the amount of fruit so that you feel more confident that you’ll enjoy it.

Equipment- Now many advocates of the smoothie and indeed many raw foodist use and recommend high speed blenders, such as the Vitamix. While it is my dream to have a $700 blender with the engine of a small motorboat, at the moment I’m working with a good-ish quality basic kitchen blender (I believe a Breville) . The result is not as smooth and creamy as with a sooper dooper one, and that may influence how many greens I stuff in to my smoothie before it’s just too texturally unappealing, but we work with what we got, and I don’t expect people to have to invest in a million specialty gadgets to get started on healthy living. You do need a good blender though, not a bar mix or a food processor, if you really want the experience to be… drinkable.

Ingredients- 

Fruit- I am very fortunate to live in a part of the world where there is always some kind of fruit in season. This may not be the case for some of us, and then, either having frozen and stored our favorites during the glut or buying frozen may be the way to go (I’m specifically thinking about berries here, but bananas freeze well, as so do mangos and even pineapple ect). Ultimately, working with seasonal fruit is ideal. What is in season, is a food in perfect harmony with the conditions and the weather outside. Summer fruits often have a higher sugar content- they are energetically more “yin”, which helps us to balance in the heat (yang). During the colder months, we need the fruits more adapt to that time of year to help balance ourselves. This may be apples/pears/berries or perhaps no fruit is able to grow in your area in winter, in which case, my natural inkling would be to consume less fruit smoothies, as it’s not as appropriate a food to help acclimatize to the season. When reading the recipes below, keep this in mind, and if the recipe calls for mangos and there aren’t any about… don’t worry, just work with what you have and go back to that one when you’re at the market and there’s some enormous display going cheap cuz they’re fresh and in season.

Milks- I’m not in to using dairy in my smoothies- though I have been known to use kefir (we’ll talk about this in another post) or raw milk on occasion. I do make my own nutmilks, but I’m not consistent with them. I would say if I’m in a busy phase, I would be using Oat milk, store bought. It’s a compromise definitely. Firstly, it comes in a tetra pack- which has waste and packaging to deal with. It also contains oils and sweeteners that are definitely not ideal. Lastly, anything tinned, canned or in tetra type packs has to be heated to a very high temperature to allow for shelf life/preserving. This food, is pretty much “dead”. The heat and processing has made it of very little nutritional value. So, in a busy phase, if I can’t DIY, it’s a compromise. Along the same lines are rice milk and almond milk, which I use from time to time. I tend to avoid soy milk, for a few reasons (it’s influence on hormones/ digestibility). Also, you can always use just water. I do this quite regularly, as the nuts in the smoothie are enough to give it a creamy texture. A tablespoon of nut butter or tahini can also suffice. It’s not AS creamy as a milk smoothie, but after a while you don’t even notice.

Todays smoothie- lettuce, chickweed, tat soi, soaked goji berries, soaked shredded coconut, soaked linseed and chia seed, pecans, banana, the water and flesh from one young fresh coconut, raw cocoa- ROCKET FUEL! 

Basic Recipe

SERVES 2

The basic green smoothie recipe I use is:

2 cups filtered water/ milk of your choice (almond, oat, rice, coconut ect…)

1-2 bananas

1 cup frozen berries

2 tablespoons soaked (overnight) chia/linseeds

1 tablespoon of tahini/macadamia butter

1 tablespoon organic shredded/desiccated coconut

1 tablespoon agave nectar/raw honey

1-2 cups of lettuce, spinach, chard, beet greens, or kale, sunflower/buckwheat sprouts.

Depending on the power of your blender, you may need to add slowly while blending. Blend for 1-2 minutes, or until very smooth.

Make Your Own Variations

Other ingredients I like to add, include/play around with are:

beetroot, soaked (overnight) goji berries, soaked dates, water and flesh of fresh young coconut, raw egg, soaked nuts and seeds (almonds, sunflower, pepitas), avocado, raw cacoa powder, maca powder, spirulina and other super foods. You can also use a fresh made juice as the base for the smoothie.

Soaking is way to increase the digestibility and therefore the nutrition available from many foods, especially nuts and seeds. Dried fruits are an ideal way to sweeten a smoothie, by soaking and using both the re-hydrated fruit and the water. 

The Best Way to Digest

Green smoothies digest best when eaten alone on an empty stomach. First thing in the morning and mid-afternoon are great times. If you drink your smoothie with a meal, you may find it creates gas, bloating and other digestion issues. Fruit rich meals tend to digest best alone. Everyone is a little different on this, so experiment for yourself but don’t give up on green smoothies if they don’t agree with your stomach at first.

When I first started my exploration in to raw foodism and recipes, I was a bit shocked at the things that were suggested to go in to smoothies. Beetroot? I mean REALLY????!!!!! But I swear to you this, you get all that stuff blended in there, with a bit of sweetness from dried fruits/agave, some raw cocoa for a chocolate hit, or desiccated coconut which has been soaked, and you will be AMAZED at the stuff you can hide in a smoothie. And when are you really eating beetroot and greens for breakfast? Have a green smoothie and you’re setting up your day for a spring in every step. Beats dead inert Weetabix and Vegemite on toast ANY DAY, no matter how many times Sanitarium will tell you it’s a healthy breakfast.

These smoothies are very nutritious and deeply cleansing. People often detox, lose weight or notice improved skin and increased energy after simply adding green smoothies to their regular diet. They can give you a real buzz. Drinking them daily is a great step toward clearing toxins and increasing vital nutrition.

Green smoothies are best fresh, but can be kept cold for up to three days. However because the greens will start to oxidize over time, the green drink can become the brown drink, and it will definitely be less appealing. Fresh IS best. Make certain to use a wide variety of greens- your body needs a variety of nutrients.

Here are some other recipes to give you ideas, but remember there are no set rules here. Use whatever combination of fruit and greens work for you. Think about what’s in season. Get out to the farmers markets and fill your fridge for the week!

*** ONE LAST IMPORTANT POINT- Smoothies are a GREAT way to get sneaky extra nutrition in to kids. Older ones may be a bit suspicious of tiny green particles in their smoothie- ok, so maybe you blend it all up, pour out their bit, then add the greens for yourself and the younger kids who you are training up to love such things. But all those seeds/nuts are fantastic sources of protein and omega fatty acids which are essential for hormone and brain development. Raw cocoa is full of antioxidants to help their immune systems as well as magnesium. Not to mention about 3 serves of fruit…

  

Pina Colata

2 cups water (or fresh young coconut water if available)/milk

1/4 of a fresh pineapple

2 bananas

1 orange

1-2 tablespoons macadamia butter

2 tablespoons organic desiccated coconut (soaked overnight is best)

1/2 head romaine lettuce, sunflower sprouts or other mild greens

Pretty in Pink

2 cups water/milk

1 cup strawberries/mixed berries

1 apple

1 banana

2 tablespoons soaked in water over night chia seeds

2 teaspoons soaked in water over night goji berries (add the water too)

3 soaked in water over night dates (can soak with the goji berries)

1 good sized chunk of fresh beetroot (1/4 – ½ depending on the size), chopped in to pieces

2 cups spinach

Chocolate is for Lovers

2 cups water/milk

2 handfuls spinach/lettuce leaves

1-2 tablespoons of tahini/macadamia butter

2 tablespoons soaked in water over night chia & linseeds

2 teaspoons soaked in water over night goji berries (add the water too)

1 banana

1 apple

1-2 tablespoons raw cacoa powder

1-2 tsps agave nectar

1 teaspoon spirulina or other green powder