School lunch box nightmares

 

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Back to the grind of school days and one of the things that I’m least looking forward to is the monotony of the lunch box. Every morning, when I’m just barely awake, I’ve turned the kitchen bench in to an assembly line of snacks and sandwiches- and the anxiety I feel is one of both time pressure, and the pressure of creating something that I will be happy with nutritionally, that they’ll ACTUALLY eat. Nothing makes my blood boil worse than unpacking a lunch box at the end of the day and putting the food I got up early and stressed out over, in to the compost. In fact I’ve implored the kids to PLEASE throw away your uneaten food at school, so that I never have to see it again.

Out of 21 meals a week- 5 will be spent at school- where your kids will be lured in to the playground and may not be able to focus entirely on your lovingly prepared lunch. 5 meals a week, you won’t be able to tell them they have to sit there until they eat their vegetables. You won’t be able to negotiate with them or offer rewards if they have 2 more bites. They will have a half hour tops, they will be distracted and if the contents of their tupperware fail to excite, they’ll be off to the playground and that’ll be the end of it. So what are we to do? How can we sneak nutritionally rich food in to their away from home meals that they’ll ACTUALLY eat? Darned if I have all the answers, it’s bloody hard work and frustrating. I have been at this for 7 years now, and I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve I can share. There won’t be recipes in this post- just tips, but I’ll try to build up a resource of lunch box recipes in the future.

Each kid has their own quirks

Suggestions are helpful, but you will have your own journey figuring out what works for your kid. Depending on when your family started a whole foods lifestyle (it could be this very second) you may have varying degrees of success straight off. Your lunch box kinda reflects the way you eat at home. So the more work you can do making nutrition part of your food culture right from the very earliest introduction to food as a baby- the easier it’ll be at school. If your kid has been till this point raised on white bread and vegemite and not drinking the saurkraut juice out of the jar and eating chia pudding- well, you may have a bit of a harder time initially, and the transition may be slow. If you’ve got small kids just beginning school- the best plan is to start them with a robust palate and a diverse lunch box. They don’t know any different and so they are less likely to argue. A kid who has had raw veggies since day one is less likely to scoff at a box of snow peas and cherry tomatoes.

12190097_10156160575280177_618747318178752797_nPROOF! You can have a kid that enjoys sauerkraut for breakfast- Oscar has been eating this way since day dot, and has an advanced palate. Your kid may not be as adventurous, but don’t despair… 

Accept compromise

It is possible that your kid won’t embrace the pinterest perfect, mum-of-the-year lunch no matter what. Remember that it’s just 5 out of 21 meals. You still have a lot of opportunity to influence the other 16. Don’t set yourself up for tears- work with your kids likes and give in a little. Better that they have calories to fuel their brains then none at all. Try one new thing at a time, and slowly build your repertoire.

Lunchbox strategies

Preparation is key- I always try to make Sunday my prep day for the weeks lunch boxes. This usually involves some kind of baking. Getting the kids involved in this can be both rewarding quality time but also helps them to feel empowered with the decision of what they want to eat that week, and builds their confidence in the kitchen. If you are time poor- and baking once a week is a stretch- try baking once every 2 weeks. It’s actually no more work to mix a double batch of cookies/muffins and you can freeze the batter/dough for the next week, or for a week you run out of time. Double batches are a good way to time save.

Of course baking your own allows you to be in control of the amount/source of sugar that goes in, and to sneak a few healthy ingredients they won’t notice. Here’s where compromise comes in. My kids are less than enthusiastic with doughy sugar free paleo blobs. I’ve had some limited success with coconut flour muffins, and if I have any hope at all – they better have chocolate chips in there. But if they are sweetened with coconut sugar or apple sauce and have no processed carbohydrate in them, can I concede defeat with a sprinkle of choc chips? Sure I can. I may even put a little sprinkle of coconut sugar on the top too so that it goes all caramelized and yum.

If you want to mix it up- also remember things like “balls” and home made muesli bars, of which there are million recipes out there. Nut free is usually the tricky part to adhere to.

Covert ingredients- How awesome is carrot cake? Zucchini muffins? A totally legit vegetable in a dessert. That is some gold right there. Branch out though too… don’t forget the Chocolate/beet root combo (using densely nutritious raw cocoa of course- check out this awesome recipe! ) and the sweet potato/pumpkin options for muffins/scones too.

Everything I bake has chia seeds hiding inside. I usually have some soaked for smooties, and I just add a big tablespoon or 2 of the chia “jelly” to the mixture. Seeds are generally ok for most schools these days (nuts are out, which totally sucks). If your kid is open to whole seeds in their baked good, go crazy- sunflower, pepita, sesame, flax. Also, you can try to reduce the processed carbohydrate by using ½ coconut/buckwheat/quinoa flour to your other flour of choice (if these aren’t already your flour of choice). This will also increase the protein of the baked good and reduce it’s impact on blood sugars (reducing the energy crash for the second half of the lesson day).

Shapes matter– If you want to get your kid to eat raw veggies and fruit in their lunch and you suspect they may be resistant, try experimenting with shapes and widths etc. My kid won’t eat an apple unless it’s cut up. She’ll eat celery if it’s sliced lengthways in to strips that make the stringy-ness less… stringy. There are kinds of slicers and cutters out there that make flowers and stars out of things- see what works for your kid without being too time consuming for you.

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Borrowed this photo from Alphamom.com – this post has some cute shape ideas. However if going to the trouble of fancy shapes isn’t your style, you may still find that veggies in smaller bites and thinner slices are more likely to be eaten. 

Containers are helpful- Aside from being good for the environment and reducing waste, packing your own stuff in containers is more economical. A good container can also make the job of eating easier for your kid. I know it sounds weird, but take this example. If I pack carrot sticks and hummus in 2 separate containers – The hummus comes back every time. If I use a nifty container with a little separate dip section- it’s wiped clean. Also I get mine to eat a variety of vegetables (not just carrots- but also cucumber, celery, snow peas) with dips. They’re tastier with dip- duh.

I will also often portion out my own yoghurt in to small little boxes. Prepackaged yoghurts, even at the expensive end, are either low-fat (which I’m not in to- especially for kids) or have sugar. Finding an organic, full fat sugar free yogurt in a prepackaged container is near impossible. It’s easier to buy your own in the jumbo 1 kg tub and add raw honey, fresh/dried fruit, soaked chia seeds, raw cocoa, cinnamon/vanilla etc…

Those same little boxes good for yoghurt are also good for making things like puddings (chia, sago, rice, avocado) and homemade jelly. I’ve written about the health benefits of grass fed gelatine on the immune system and gut health here before. Good quality gelatine can be a bit tricky to get your hands on. Here and here are good sources to buy it on line in Australia. If you get excited about gelatine, you can also get in to making fruit lollies with it and all kinds of other super fun things.

Puddings and jelly are a good Sunday prep to do while you defrost the second half of your previous muffin batch and whack it in the oven. You’re feeling like a super parent this week.

12737016_10153200389586148_499949656_oThis very uninteresting picture is of some of my favourite lunch boxes. The nifty ones for veggies and dips- the small square ones that seal completely shut and won’t leak yogurt or jelly, and assorted kinds for crackers, dried fruit and other bits and pieces. 

Mix it up- I had an alternating PBJ with cheese whiz sandwich situation every day of my primary school years. I hate sandwiches and bread generally, which makes it really hard for me to make them every day for my kids to eat. They want sandwiches though. Partly because they like them, but also because that’s what everyone else is eating- so there’s that compromise again. Luckily mine will accept spelt sourdough but definitely prefer fluffier lighter options- and I do try to source wheat free/gluten free sandwiches breads from time to time. My daughter will do wraps instead of bread, but not my son (just to make things a bit annoying). I also try to mix up the “main” of the lunchbox with non sandwich options that I know that they like. Sushi- is a fav. I try to sneak ¼ quinoa into the sushi rice. Smoked salmon, avo and cucumber always get a good reception. Leftovers- On occasion when we’ve had a pasta dish, or a home made pie/quiche- the kids will accept these. I wouldn’t send them with a thermos of soup – I just know that wouldn’t get a look in, but your kids might be different. Ricepaper rolls- Traditional Vietnamese cold rolls is another way to sneak in a few extra veggies- just make sure to leave out the peanuts. Fritters and falafel- Some kids love homemade corn/zucchini fritters, bean/lentil patties, veggie burger patties and falafels. Theses can be served as a snack or made in to a wrap/sandwich with salads/pickles and dips.

Carbohydrate vs. protein- Lunch box fare is generally carbohydrate based, which always stresses me out. Sandwiches, muffins, cookies, crackers, fruit. Try to find ways to sneak in protein wherever you can to keep those energy levels stable. Mine love jerky and salami- I try to source as good as quality as possible, and on occasion we make our own. Small boxes of goat feta and olives seems to be well received as a snack. Some kids will do a hard boiled egg. Always add seeds, coconut/buckwheat/quinoa flours to as much baking as you can- as these are seeds not grains and are higher in protein. If your kids will do my raw cereal as a “cookie”, perfect! If it’s sandwiches your kids are after, try to always make your sandwiches savoury and protein based, and avoid sweet ones like jam, honey etc. We do leftover roast chicken with homemade mayo and diced celery, free range ham/salami/BLT, hummus & salad, smoked salmon and avocado.

Drinks- It’s important to limit the amount of juice and flavoured milk. I’d actually say, abstain all together. Mine may get juice as a special treat on an excursion or sporting day- that’s it. Boxed juices offer no nutritional value- they are highly processed and nothing more than a straight sugar hit. On the other hand, if you’re a super parent who wants to put your homemade fresh juice or kombucha in to a container to send to school- and your super kid will drink it there… WIN! Smoothies can also be sources of protein (seeds, good quality protein powder, raw egg, yoghurt) and can be bottled for the lunch box. Smoothies can also hide leafy greens, especially when made chocolate with raw cocoa, I’ve got a smoothie post here.

Breakfast is important- So if lunch is going to be a place of compromise- best make sure that another 5 meals a week are top quality. Protein rich is the best for breakfast. We do lots of eggs (at least 3 times a week) and in winter there may be miso soup made with bone broth, and in summer always a smoothie full of seeds, greens and super foods. Also consider omelettes (a good place to hide veggies), baked beans (home made is best, but if it’s out of a tin, you can sneak in mushrooms, tomato and spinach). On toast think: good quality labna, quark or ricotta with a drizzle of honey, nuts and seeds. If you’re an oats family- try mixing rolled quinoa in to your oats and make sure to add soaked chia seeds, high quality protein powder and nuts. Sorry, but avoid all breakfast cereal. No matter what it says on the box it’s highly processed and a direct sugar hit/energy crash for your kid. If the “best” cereal/granola in the universe fits in anywhere, I’d say it’s as an afternoon snack or desert/treat. Definitely not breakfast.

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However your lunchbox goes out, above all, try to avoid it going out soaked in your guilt, stress or tears. There’s a lot of packed lunches ahead before they’ll be making their own, and at the end of the day, a full stomach and a heart full of love is what we’re the most grateful for- just do your best!

 

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Turmeric: The age old remedy for old age

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A cousin to ginger, turmeric or Cucurma longa has been used as a medicine in Asia for more than 2500 years. It’s only recently in western herbal medicine that we’ve begun to appreciate the full spectrum of benefits this humble herb can offer.

One thing I love about Turmeric is that while it is powerful- it is gentle.

It’s safe to take along most prescription medications (but double check with your doc first) and it has a mild flavour which is pleasant to most. Let’s take a look at some of it’s proven benefits and uses:

Antioxidant- Protecting the body from oxidative stress and free radical damage due to chemical exposure is turmeric’s speciality. Not only do the active compounds in turmeric act as antioxidants themselves, it also helps to accentuate the body’s own antioxidant processes. It’s a must for the modern world.

Anti-inflammatory- Turmeric contains dozens of compounds which exert powerful anti-inflammatory effects. The most studied and backed by research is the chemical called curcumin. The anti-inflammatory compounds in turmeric block enzymes which promotes swelling and pain, making this herb excellent for the treatment of arthritis, chronic pain and injury. Many studies have found curcumin to be as effective in the treatment of arthritis as many anti-inflammatory drugs.

Brain Health- Curcumin crosses the blood-brain barrier and helps to increase certain enzymes in the brain responsible for repair and nerve connections. It’s role as an antioxidant and in inflammation is significant in the processes associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Much research is underway to establish to what extent turmeric can delay or reverse brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s, age related cognitive decline and depression.

Heart disease- A smite on the modern world- heart disease is our biggest killer. While the causes of heart disease can be both genetic and lifestyle induced- our 2 major foes, inflammation and oxidation play a major role. Turmeric can be a valuable addition to the treatments of many kinds of heart disease and are often fine to take alongside conventional drugs (please see your doctor/pharmacist or naturopath if you have any questions about drug interactions). Turmeric also appears to play a role in endothelial health, the inside wall of your blood vessels which are important in regulating blood pressure, blood clotting and many other circulatory processes. As an anti-inflammatory it may be of benefit in raised cholesterol, which often has an association with systemic inflammation.

Cancer- While much research is still needed- early studies have shown that curcumin can reduce angiogenesis (growth of new blood vessels in tumours), metastisis (spread of cancer cells), as well as contributing to cancer cell death and suppressed tumour growth. There is also some evidence of it preventing some cancers, especially cancers of the digestive system (colon cancer).

Turmeric also has significant benefits on the digestive system (local anti-inflammatory action useful in IBS, inflammatory bowel diseases and autoimmunity), the liver, and in helping us to cleanse the blood and improve skin conditions. There really is no one who wouldn’t benefit from it!

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Golden green and lush- turmeric is ready for harvest.

Can’t live forever, but I’m gonna die trying.

Turmeric is up there on the list of ways to try to keep on ticking. So let’s look at some ways to get it in to ya.

We’ve talked a lot about the active constituent curcumin. Now sadly, it’s not such an easy thing for us to absorb. Not only that, the content of curcumin in turmeric is only about 3-5%. Therefore if you really want to get the most from turmeric as a medicine (pain relief or any of the reasons mentioned above)- an extract can be a good way to go. There are many excellent ones on the market these days, providing high levels of curcumin per dose, usually in capsule/tablet or liquid extract. Without directing you to a particular brand, in Australia, you can be confident with most naturopath prescribed-only companies and a few retail ranges. Products should explain their extraction method and talk about their bioavailability as a key feature. “Bioavailability” being the degree to which the active constituents become available in the blood stream. I’ve used and prescribed quite a few different ones all with great success.

For those of us that are more in to food as medicine, or who don’t have the cash to buy supplements or want to just increase the amount of nutrient dense foods in our diet with out any real particular therapeutic goal per say, preparation of your turmeric is the key. Let’s look to some of the ways we can increase the efficacy of turmeric as a whole food:

Black pepper- Piperine from common black pepper has been found to help block the break down of curcumin in the liver, allowing more of it to enter the bloodstream. In human trials adding piperine to turmeric increased it’s bioavailability by 2000%! Adding a generous dose of black pepper to your curries, or simply popping a few pepper corns whole with your turmeric and veggie juice can help increase it’s effect as a medicine.

Fat- Turmeric has low solubility in water. Therefore mixing turmeric with coconut, sesame, flaxseed or olive oil can also improve it’s bioavailability.

Heat- Traditionally, turmeric has been used in cooking, and in medicinal beverages/teas which has also been found to improve it’s absorption. Curcumin is sensitive to heat however, so while a curry might be have you frying your powder in oil and onions and simmering for ages, this isn’t the best way to get the medicinal benefit. By all means enjoy it that way- but look to heat your turmeric gently and not for long if you want it in all it’s medicinal glory.

Bioflavonoids- These are substances found in plants. A major bioflavonoids called Quercetin can help prevent the metabolism of curcumin in the body- enhancing it’s effectiveness. A favourite way to take turmeric is to combine a tsp dried powder in 1 cup of boiling water with the juice of ½ a lemon and some honey to taste. Lemons are naturally high in Quercetin, and hot lemon in water is famous as a liver tonic. Add turmeric – and what a way to start the day!

The Kitchen Medicine Essentials: 

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Golden Paste-

Making a batch of Golden Paste will make it easy for you to add bioactive turmeric to dishes and drinks regularly, and it’s the base of golden milk a traditional Ayurvedic medicine. It’s easy:

¼ cup turmeric powder

½ cup water

1 tsp black pepper

2-3 tsps of coconut oil

Mix all of the ingredients in a sauce pan until the mixture becomes a smooth rich paste. You may need to add a little bit more water if the mixture becomes too thick. Stir over a low-medium heat for 5 minutes. Trasfer to a glass jar and store in the fridge. This paste will last for 2-3 weeks.

Golden milk-

You’ll find many versions of this around, here is my favourite. If you’ve made golden paste- it couldn’t be easier:

½ tsp golden paste

1 cup milk -Of your choice. Traditionally it’s cows milk- but I prefer almond or coconut milk

Honey to taste

A dash of cinnamon/ground ginger or cayenne pepper if you like

If you haven’t made up your golden paste in advance, it’s not really that much more complicated:

1 cup of milk- as above

½ -1 tsp turmeric powder

1 tsp coconut oil

a dash of black pepper , cinnamon, ginger or cayenne

honey taste

Method:

In both cases- combine all the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a simmer for 2-3 minutes (leave the honey out till the very end). Remove from heat and put the lid back on and let sit an extra 5 mins. Stir and serve up the liquid gold, adding honey now if you want a bit of sweetness- you’ll love it! Depending on your therapeutic aim- drink 1-3 cups per day.

Ps- If you have the fresh grated root, you may wish to blend your ingredients in a high speed blender before heating- to give it an extra smooth consistency.

Move over Weetbix- My raw cereal

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I have a few staples that I always have on rotation. Things I prepare in big batches and have on hand for times when life is busy. In these times, I’m hoping I’ve got cupboards full of jars and freezers full of boxes. One of the great staples I’ve discovered, is my raw cereal. I call it a cereal because that’s how I like to eat it, with some kind of milk, or yoghurt, often with fruit and a drizzle of honey. My daughter prefers it more like a biscuit or a cookie. I try to make batches of it where I don’t include any nuts, and then they are perfect in her lunch box at school. The combinations are endless, and dehydrating is a great way to make use of any seasonally abundant produce you may have.

If you haven’t yet run out and bought a dehydrator, after the enthralling and compelling  Kale chips  post- then let this serve as further motivation! Like I said, when I got my paws on my Excalibur, I never looked back. But whatever the brand- you are making an investment in your wholefoods kitchen and increasing the efficiency of all kinds of food preparations/preserving. Now, like the Kale chips, you can make this in your oven, and I know many folks who do. There are a few draw backs with using the oven- 1) you don’t have control over the temperature to the same extent, which means you can easily burn or cook your cereal. 2) Lack of temp control means you can’t really say your end result is bonafide “RAW”- this may or may not matter to you 3) A dehydrator is set up to accommodate many rows or trays. Mine is a 9 tray. In terms of energy and time efficiency you get more bang for you buck (and hour) with a dehydrator. 4) A dehydrator can be left on all night or when you go out. You may or may not like to leave your oven on in the same way, especially if it’s gas. So there. Put that dehydrator on the top of your wish list. Until then, don’t let me put you off trying some of these goodies. The more you get in to the swing of making and enjoying them, the more likely you are to get the right equipment for the job.

The base

I have tried a lot of different bases for the cereal, and I have found that raw buckwheat is the best. It becomes soft with soaking/sprouting and when it is dehydrated, it is nice and crunchy without being too hard. I’ve tried spelt grain in the same way, and the dehydrated result, though entirely edible, isn’t as nice. Depending on the batch size, you may start with 1- 2 cups of raw buckwheat, and soak in double the amount water over night. If you want to sprout the buckwheat, to enhance nutrition and digestibility, check out the method described on my post on the fermented dosa. Buckwheat is amazing versatile and under utilised. It is a seed, not a grain, high in protein and bioflavonids, and it is also gluten free. Time for the humble buckwheat to take to the stage- front and centre please!

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Here my buckwheat has already been soaking and has been drained and rinsed. 

The second half of the base, I usually use another nut/seed of some kind.

Nuts are a fantastic source of protein and omega fatty acids- however, in the modern world of the hysterical immune system- anaphylactic allergies are rampant. Meaning of course the end of the P.B.J era (peanut butter n’ jelly in case you missed it)- but also the end of this healthful food being allowed at most schools/preschools. As a health conscious parent, this is a REAL drag. But of course, we don’t want to risk anyone having a reaction to our lunch, so… seeds it is. I usually mix together equal parts of flaxseeds, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds- ALL RAW. Chia seeds and sesame are also included at times- and if you can get your hands on hulled hemp seeds, by all means- add them too. If I was using nuts for a home-only batch, I would probably go for almonds, cashews, pistachios, pecans. I generally use equal parts seeds/nuts to buckwheat, soaked 24 hours.

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This batch is a home batch- so I’ve got almonds to add to the mix. Along side is flax seeds, chia seeds, desiccated coconut and coconut flour. 

Next you need some kind of fruit.

I use seasonal fruit and there are no rules. I often use bananas as they never really out of season where I live (I’m spoiled). They make a great creamy consistency to the mix, are naturally really sweet, and dehydrate well. When I made this batch- I was drowning in mangos (incredibly decadent). I’ve written a post on eating seasonally and foraging, inspired by the bumper crop we had this year. Frozen berries can work too, or a combination of whatever you’ve got.

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Spotty mangos from a friends tree. Gotta preserve these guys FAST!

Those are basic ingredients to your raw cereal. But don’t stop there! There are heaps of extras you can add to the mix to create a particular flavour or variation that makes each batch it’s own special thing. I often have a couple of batches on the go. One say, really chocolate- another more fruity/tropical.

Some extras to consider adding to your cereal may include: Raw cocoa (can you say- cocopops?!), Acai powder, Maple syrup, Honey, Vanilla bean, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Essences of almond/orange/rose (rose and pistachio with strawberries! YES!), Fruit slices- thinly sliced strawberries or banana spread out over the top, salt (I use Himalayan salt), Spirulina (Great with cocoa and mint essence) … As you can see- the possibilities are endless.

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Blending Once you’ve combined all the ingredients- it’s time for the blender. I’m sure you could use a bar mix for the job- I use a high speed blender. I like to have quite a chunky mix- so there are lots of textures. Crunchy nuts and leathery dehydrated fruit all get their place. One way to achieve this is to blend half the mix until it’s a smooth porridge consistency- then add the other half and just pulse it enough to chop. The trick is adding just the right amount water to make the combination porridge-like. Add a 1/4-1/2 cup of water- blend- then stir before adding more.

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You can also at this stage add extras to the mix- like sweetener. I won’t lie. If I’m making a kid friendly batch- I need to add sweetener. Mine don’t LOVE it just with the sweetness of fruit. I’ll usually use honey or coconut sugar at this stage, though maple syrup sometimes is a nice flavour addition. I’ll leave you to decide how much sweet is good for you- taste as you go. Another thing I may add at this stage is coconut flour. I’ll stir through just enough to make the texture of the mix a bit more creamy- it can really add a lovely consistency. Make sure it’s completely blended and smooth, not dry.

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Stir in the honey and coconut flour. 

Laying it out on trays

Next step is to spread the mix out on your dehydrator trays. I use baking paper to line my trays. I didn’t buy the teflex sheets that some people use. I did a bunch of reading on both teflex and the silicon in baking paper- and there seemed to be areas of concern for both. It’s unclear if either substance leeches in to the food at low temperatures, and seeing as this will be dehydrated at the standard for raw foods- 41C or 105F, I’m comfortable with that. Spread the mixture using a spatula until it’s about 1-2 mm thick.

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I’m pressing desiccated coconut on to the top of the batch- not blended- to add extra crunch and texture.

Dehydrate at 41C or 105F until crisp

There’s no exact time you need to leave you cereal going for- somewhere between 10-12 hours. Once they’ve become solid enough, peel the paper off, as it helps them to dry faster. Make sure there are no soggy or moist bits and any fruit chunks are throughly dehydrated before storing. Break the sheets of dried cereal in to “flake” size bites, or leave in larger chunks and eat as a biscuit. The cereal keeps for couple of months in an air tight container or jar.

IMPORTANT! This recipe is for a sweet, cereal or biscuit. However simple variations can make an equally delicious savoury crisp bread! Instead of fruit- add tomato/grated zucchini, carrot, beetroot, fresh herbs (dill, basil, oregano are great), garlic/onion, diced spinach/kale, nutritional yeast, smokey paprika, balsamic vinegar. I once made a batch of raw nachos using buckwheat, almonds, sweetcorn, garlic and nutritional yeast. YUM. Top with avocado/hummus and microgreens and you’ve got a delicious quick snack.  So many variations are possible. Just get creative and let the produce of the season inspire you.

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Photography courtesy of Rebecca Rushbrook Photography.

Food-babies and Hangovers: Happy Holidays everyone!

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It doesn’t matter if you’re a clean living, green smoothie drinking devoted whole food-er, chances are around the holiday season you may find yourself at a party reaching for a ferrero rocher- most uncharacteristically. Any level of indulgence can have you registering somewhere on the spectrum between the food-baby and the raging hangover. But don’t despair! There are many ways to navigate this time of debauchery and celebration and live to see another egg nog. Here are my top tips for getting you through…

The basics

These are the tips you can employ before and during a period of indulgence to help prevent the unpleasant side effects that we know all too well. You may know a lot of these already- but here they are, in case you need reminding or convincing.

Don’t drink on an empty stomach- If you know you’re going to be heading out for drinks, make sure you have a proper full meal before hand. This slows down the absorption of alcohol and being full may slow down your drinking. Also, pick your poison. If you know you have a sweet tooth and you won’t be able to resist the rum balls, pavlova and shortbreads- make this your main indulgence, and limit alcohol at this sitting. Alcohol is also full of sugar, and aside from the sugar it contains- part of the process of breaking down alcohol results in an increased amount of stored sugar (glycogen) being broken down in the liver, which sends your insulin through the roof and stresses your pancreas. If you’re going to a cocktail party or can take or leave desert, restrict your intake of sweets and other starchy carbs. Opt instead for extra servings of protein and veggies either way you go. Protein will slow down the absorption of sugar and reduce the insulin surge and subsequent crash- which also contributes to feeling off centre the next day.

Take care to hydrate before you go out- Starting off a night having had enough water and electrolytes is going to definitely put you at an advantage of avoiding some of the symptoms of hangover. When we are recovering from drinking, our body tries to regain it’s optimal fluid balance. One way it does this is with electrolytes. It retains sodium and expels potassium, which then plays a role in our blood pressure (increasing headaches) , and causing fluid retention. Coconut water is naturally high in potassium and can be drunk the day before a party and the next day to help with recovery. Natural based electrolyte/rehydration formulas are also a great idea and can even be drunk during the evening. Have them on hand for the next day too.

Stick to clear spirits- If you know you are particularly prone to hangovers, substances called congeners could be aggravating you even more. These are byproducts of the fermention process, found in greater quantities in dark coloured spirits (whiskey, rum, brandy).

Pre-tox/detox-

Preparing your body for the holiday season, if you know you’re going to let your hair down, is one way to avoid being knocked around. Supporting your organ function and making sure your nutritional status is optimum is the way to cultivate only happy memories.

Protect your gut- I did a recent post on how to look after our digestive systems, here, and it would be a good time to do a refresher. Wether it’s too much feasting or too much merry making- protecting and supporting digestion is so important.

  • Alcohol is a major irritant and can increase stomach acid production- so protect your delicate mucous membranes with soothing demulcents like Slippery elm powder and,or aloe vera juice.
  • Probiotics help prevent the growth of our less favourable organisms, including candida, when we’re eating and drinking too much sugar.
  • Digestive enzymes can be helpful if you are some one who suffers from bloating, or indigestion after meals or who feels uncomfortably full. You may need a little support in this area generally but around the holidays, it’s going to be especially important.

Support your liver- This is where all the magic happens. Once alcohol is absorbed from your digestive system, it’s on up to your liver to process- where it does it’s darnedest to transform the very toxic acetaldehyde your margarita has become to less harmful acetate. There are a few main enzyme players in this process, one of which is called glutathione , an amazingly potent antioxidant that contains high quantities of the amino acid cysteine. If you are drinking too much alcohol, or if you don’t normally consume much alcohol and go on what is called a “binge”, you don’t have the enzymes handy. Either you’ve used them up, or you don’t normally need as much as you do on this occasion, so you aren’t prepared. You then end up with a toxic overload of acetaldehyde- which is poison. It contributes to much of the hangover experience. Women also naturally produce less of the enzymes needed to break down alcohol, which is why women and men of a similar weight may have different blood alcohol effects.

N-acetyl cysteine (NAC)- This is a form of the amino acid cysteine- which as we mentioned is an important component of glutathione which helps to detoxify alcohol. Take it immediately before drinking or during the holiday season to support your liver.

B vitamins- While the research on whether B vitamins help with the symptoms of hangover are not supportive of the claim- We do know that B vitamins are an integral part of the liver’s enzyme formation and detoxification process. So your fizzy B tablet or similar isn’t a waste of time. B vitamins can also give us a lift, which many of us are sorely needing the day after a big night.

St. Mary’s Thistle- This is the main ingredient in many herbal liver formulas, the gorgeous herb Silybum marianum.  This is a powerful ally of the liver helping to increase glutathione production. It also protects the liver from the toxic effects of alcohol by acting as an antioxidant, and has even been found in studies to reverse fatty liver. It is the #1 go to if you want to treat your liver right, and the best way to take it is for the duration of the holiday season as a general tonic. Tablets are fine and there are many good quality one-a-day formulas out there containing about 15,000 mg of the herb, which is what you’re after.

milk_thistleMilk Thistle gets it’s name from the milky white veins of it’s leaf, and is as beautiful as it is powerful. Easily grown, you can collect the small black seeds and add them to your smoothies, as you would other seeds. 1 teaspoon ground to a powder is a dose. See this resource for more on this incredible herb. http://www.superfoods-for-superhealth.com/milk-thistle-benefits.html

Zinc- Zinc has been clinically found to reduce the toxic effect of alcohol on the liver. Zinc is also depleted from the body when drinking, so it is absolutely necessary to replenish your reserves, as zinc can be quite tricky to get in the diet (main sources include organ meats, some whole grains, oysters and pumpkin seeds). Take a good quality zinc supplement (best forms include citrate, piccolinolate, or amino acid chelate) throughout the season, or take one before retiring for the evening with a nice tall glass of water.

OOPS! I’ve managed to get hungover anyways!!!

Don’t despair. Pretox protocols in place, keep up the good work the day after a night out. There are few other tricks you can have up your sleeve while you’re sipping away at the coconut water.

  1. Nux vomica– Whether it’s a food-baby or a hang over, Nux vom is the homeopathic first aid for over indulgence. The symptoms you might have include: Headache or migraines triggered by food or alcohol; sensitivity to light, odours and noise; nausea and/or vomiting; dry retching (so awful), and undigested food which “sits like a rock” in the stomach.
  2. Eggs- You crave them because you know you neeeeeed them! Eggs are naturally high in cysteine- so yes, the cafe breakfast is a good idea- GO! Don’t overdo it on the coffee though- you may think it’s what you need, but it’s not. Just one cup to avoid more dehydration and havoc on your liver and kidney.
  3. Umeboshi plum- This is a medicinal food coming from the macrobiotic tradition. It is a japanese plum which has been salted. It’s quite a wonderful idea- the plum never ripens but falls off the tree and rots. People believed there had to be a purpose to this fruit- as nature makes nothing by mistake- and so began to pickle the unripened plums. It therefore combines perfectly opposites- unripened fruit (yin) and salt (yang). It is believed to balance you out which ever way you need. I don’t know if all that is scientifically true- but the stuff makes you feel great. Either eat the plum neat (it’ll blow you head off it’s so salty- but kinda cool), or drop a plum or a spoon of the paste in a cup of boiled water and sip. It really does bring you back to earth, whatever it is you are suffering from. The electrolytes from the salt are also beneficial.                                                10014_alb_xlarge_500x375_19346_1295652239These crazy shrivelled up looking morsels might remind you of all kinds of odd things- but let me tell you, they taste like nothing you’ve ever had. Used as a condiment in Japanese cooking and a powerful medicine in macrobiotics. 
  4.  Soups- Think miso and bone broth. Miso for reasons similar to umeboshi and bone broth is a nutritive elixer for the gut, as I’ve discussed before here.
  5. Sleep and rest- Hopefully you’ve been civilized and planned to party when the kids are at the grandparents or you have a whole day off. Your body didn’t really get much proper resting done last night while it was in full out damage control dealing with the mess you’ve made. You have heaps to catch up on.

Everything in moderation- including moderation

           IMG_3415Party time! 

I’d be a big liar if I didn’t say I hadn’t had my fair share of ails associated with over indulgence. And I’m happy to say, that while the hangover or the gut ache were unpleasant, they were usually associated with some wonderful times with friends and loved ones- connecting, celebrating and having a laugh. This is what life is about! We aren’t just here to preserve our machine- we are here to USE it. So don’t be afraid to let your hair down and enjoy yourself. But it does help to know your bodys’ limits, and practice a bit of pre-tox and detox along the way.

It’s at this point that I do need to be a bummer and remind you that alcohol is a drug- a nerotoxin and one which will disrupt your hormones, create systemic inflammation, ravage your digestive system, and is certain to cause major health issues if you are a regular over consumer. It is also defined as a Class 1 carcinogen by the World Health Organisation- which means- yes, it’s bad for you. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alcohol_and_cancer

What “moderation” is exactly, is a bit fuzzy and depends on what country you live in and who your doctor is. I’ve read between 2-4 drinks max per day for men, and 1-2 drinks per day for women. And that doesn’t mean EVERY day either. You should have regular alcohol free days. Below are a few resources I found interesting on this topic, if you want to work it out for yourself.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/katiebell/2013/09/03/are-you-drinking-too-much-the-myth-of-moderation/

http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/alcohol/art-20044551

http://www.gastro.net.au/diets/alcohol.html

SO… The balance is to nourish BOTH your body and your heart-

I hope you have fun over the holidays everybody-

be safe & SALUD!

Genna

Follow your gut- simple every day things to support your digestive health 

 

The Hows and Whys of digestive wellbeing

In naturopathic medicine there is an old adage “it all comes back to the gut”.  And though it could be considered a bit of a “yeah yeah yeah…” cliche- It reeeeeallllly does. The impact the health of our gut has on the rest of our body, from physical disease to mental health can’t be over stated. Whether you’ve been diagnosed with one of the myriad of digestive disorders (IBS, Chron’s disease, ulcerative colitis, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GORD), Small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), diverticulosis, fructose malabsorption, gluten sensitivity etc…) or a seemingly unconnected illness (autoimmune, inflammatory,depression/anxiety, hormonal imbalance) – the state of affairs in your GIT (gastrointestinal system) could be playing a major role. Even for those of us who may be in general good health, who maybe experience a few seasonal allergies, occasional bloating/fluctuating bowel motions, recurring colds and flus, fatigue/ sluggishness, acne or skin conditions- yup- digestive wellbeing could be at play.

Listen to the symptoms 

When we become accustomed to tuning our attention to our bodies, we get direct messages about how the things we eat or drink effect us. There is either a neutral experience, one of particular balance or nourishment, or immediate imbalance or upset. Of course, while we don’t want to be neurotic or overly sensitive to the play-by-play, listening to our body can tell us what is going on and is crucially important. I don’t believe major illness just happens over night. In fact, a person was probably ignoring and not addressing symptoms- for sometimes years- before the more serious pathology presented itself. If you’re in the fortunate position of being in good health, with no major diagnosis against your name, you are in the perfect position to prevent disease (which we know is worth a pound, right?) through listening to your digestive system, and taking measures to support it’s health and function. If you are the type of person who is experiencing some unpleasant digestive symptoms, whatever they be- it’s time to look a bit closer.

Diet-

“I eat a healthy diet”. I hear this a lot. But what does it MEEEAAAANNNN??? If you’re presenting with persistent digestive symptoms, minor to major, chances are your diet isn’t as healthy as it could be, at least FOR YOU.

Another thing people say, is that they can’t work out what it is they are eating that upsets them. “I don’t seem to react to any one particular thing. I can eat pasta or a salad, the symptoms are the same” This is because, when you have inflammation going on in your gut, it’s the same as if you had a wound on your skin. Say you’ve grazed yourself on the arm, the skin is broken, it’s red and sore. ANYTHING you do is going to cause it to hurt, right? Even just having a shower and getting water on it could irritate it. This is exactly the same in your gut. If you have inflammation internally, everything you eat will irritate it. By eliminating the CAUSE of the inflammation and healing the gut, you will then be able to see a more clear reaction when you consume the offending food. 

Is it allergy? Or intolerance? NEVER in our evolution have we been able to access the same foods day in and day out year after year. There has ALWAYS been seasonal variability and periods of time when a particular food wasn’t around at all, giving our body breaks and time to heal. The modern world which has refrigeration and international movement of out of season foods around the globe has created a situation where we never get a break. And industrial agriculture has also reduced the variety of species we grow. Many people are living on a max of 20-30 foods if they are lucky! And let’s not even START on how highly processed and full of chemicals and preservatives, OR GMO’s sneaking in ever so many more places- it’s no surprise our digestive systems are more and more inflammed and irritable.

So what if you feel like mostly you avoid processed foods and additives and still have symptoms? Most digestive symptoms aren’t caused by a true allergy, but an intolerance. Probably because of a combination diet/lifestyle factors and some of the circumstances listed above. So aside from recommending a reduction in obvious culprits like alcohol, sugar, refined grains, processed food and excessive caffeine- I usually start by looking at what I call- the big 5. The most irritating foods, and ones that are likely to cause intolerance if consumed regularly. That means daily. Wheat, dairy, soy, corn, yeast. By looking over what a person eats in a 3-5 day period, you’ll often find one of these foods is over consumed. Sometimes (often) the offending food is also the person’s absolute favourite, which they don’t think they could ever possibly live without (pasta, cheese, milk, beer, bread are some common examples). It’s mean, but true: the thing you love the most could be the worst thing for you 😦 sorry bout that. This is because if our gut is inflamed and absorbing the larger, undigested molecules of foods we are sensitive to, those larger molecules can trigger the morphine receptors in our brains, and give us a particularly good feeling when we eat those foods (this is especially true of grains and dairy). We become addicted to the feeling and those foods, the very ones that started the process and that may be causing health issues. Totally sucks- I know, but it’s time to say adios amigos if we want to stop the cycle. 

Notice that gluten isn’t in there. Gluten is very often a sensitivity for people, but not always. I find that wheat is more often the culprit and by going off wheat and replacing with other grains or low grain diet (often times gluten free, but not always) many people’s symptoms improve. If they do not improve, well, then we can move on to stage 2, eliminating gluten, looking at carbohydrates/starches which could be feeding bad bugs in the gut, and other potential food allergens. This is where the help of an experienced naturopath or nutritionist comes in handy- when things get confusing and not so straight forward. 

Staying regular having regular (daily) bowel motions is vitally important to digestive health. That means not to many or too little. Every day is ideal. Every second day for some is normal, but any longer than this, and you’ve got old food putrefying in there, feeding harmful bacteria and creating a toxic burden for the liver. Some people go 2-3 times per day, but any more than that and you run the risk of malabsorption. For most people the things required to stay regular are, LOTS of fresh plain water (2 L is ideal), exercise, high fibre diet (fruit and veggies or fibre supplements), and bitter digestive herbs. Many cultures value bitter greens and herbs for their ability to stimulate digestion and they are a feature of aperitifs and many tonics. Bitter is a flavour westerners have shied away from during our love affair with sugar. Time to embrace the dark side… try bitter teas like Dandelion root if you find your bowels are a bit sluggish. It gets bile moving and your bowels will follow. 

IMG_2945Dandelion “coffee” is the roasted root of the Dandelion plant and is a fantastic bitter digestive. It clears stagnant liver energy and can really lift your mood. Consume with abandon. 

Maintenance

So what are the every day things that we can do to give our digestive systems a little extra lovin’, heal and soothe inflammation and maybe prevent some chronic conditions? Things that EVERYONE can and should do to nourish our GITs.

Demulcents- This is the technical term for mucilaginous substances which heal and sooth the digestive tract with their gooey sliminess. Sounds yum, right? Some demulcents are yummier than others, and most you wouldn’t even know were doing such a good job of it- especially if you get crafty at hiding them in food and drinks. Here are some of my favs.

Chia seeds and flaxseeds– These are easy to use every day, and offer so much more than just their gooey goodness. Both are high in omega 3 essential fatty acids, and in the case of chia- a particularly good source of protein and the minerals calcium, magnesium and manganese. The soluble fibres found in both are excellent for keeping the bowels regular and helping to eliminate toxins.

IMG_2938Here are some chia seeds I have soaking for my morning smoothie

Slippery elm-The inner bark of the elm tree, Slippery elm is a demulcent par excellance. Another soluble gentle source of fibre it’s an all around excellent food for the gut. It is used for both constipation and diarrhoea- as it absorbs water, so please please remember, if you don’t have loose stools or diarrhoea- drink a big glass of water after. Hot tip: stir up a teaspoon of it in water and get that stuff down the hatch toute suite. It’s mucilaginous nature will soon become apparent if left in the glass and you may find it reminiscent of the glue you used in preschool. (don’t let me turn you off it- it’s really amazing stuff and a must if you have inflammation or pain in the gut).

Aloe vera- We use the inner gel of the Aloe plant- either in juice or if you have some growing- cut a leaf through the middle and scrape the gel in to you blender when you’re blending your smoothie. Aloe has been used forever as an important internal and external healer of skin and tissues. (The outer leaf has a laxative effect- so again, it’s the just the gel you are after)

IMG_2933This perky specimen grows in my herb garden. I really need to grow more of these beauties so I can have a continuous supply of fresh aloe for morning smoothies and juices.

Kudzu- This is one many people aren’t as familiar with- Kudzu or Kuzu is also known as Japanese arrowroot. It is often used as thickener similar to cornstarch, in macrobiotic cooking. It comes in rough little white rocks which dissolve in warm water. It’s an excellent and nourishing demulcent for the entire gut- and something about it makes you feel relaxed and balanced. I drink it dissolved in bancha twig or green tea. Take ½ – 1 tsp and put it in the bottom of your cup- pour a little bit of boiling water over it, and stir it to a paste with your spoon (similar method to how some people make hot chocolate). Then fill the rest of the cup with water or hot tea. Especially yummy on a cold winters morning. You can find it in most health food stores which carry macrobiotic foods or japanese foods stores.

xkuzu-root-starch-300.jpg,q79f2b8.pagespeed.ic.1TFtM4bZvvThis strange chalky looking substance is Kudzu. 1/2 to 1 tsp dissolved in water 1-2 times per day is a fantastic nourishing tonic. 

Gelatine/bone broth- I have written a whole blog piece on the virtues and wonders of bone broth here. Short story- bone broth is probably one of the most valuable healing tools for the gut- and something severely lacking in our western diets. The healing capacity for gelatine the minerals in bone broth is like no other and should be consumed regularly and with abandon. Always use the bones of pasture raised, free range animals that haven’t been fed antibiotics or growth promoting hormones.

Probiotics The inside of our guts is kind of like a garden. The various bacteria and other organisms that usually live there need to be in the right kind of balance for the environment to stay healthy and for functions of the system to run smoothly. If the garden becomes overrun by weeds (bad bugs)- it makes it hard for the beneficial organisms to thrive. The bad bugs also produce toxins and waste products that are damaging to the gut, and add toxic burden to the liver. They make us bloated and feel yucky, they make us crave things (sugar usually) that feeds them so that the cycle continues. A garden full of weeds is not what we are after.

As a supplement- Whether you have major pathology or some niggling symptoms, a probiotic supplement is a great way to maintain the balance of our digestive system and improve immunity, detoxifying and mental clarity. I actually believe that if you had to chose between a multivitamin and a probiotic, I’d go the probiotic. A healthy gut is better at absorbing nutrients and there fore you’ll be getting more out of your food with a probiotic. It inadvertently does the job of both.

There a many kinds of probiotics on the market, and some strains have been found to be particularly useful in certain conditions (Irritable bowel syndrome, allergy, candida and eczema for example). There are also lots of good all rounders which help stabalize the environment by adding in the biggest players (Acidophilus and bifidus strains), making it easier for the little guys to proliferate. If you’re in general good health, those may be the ones for you.

As foods- Fermented foods are the new black. Everyone wants to eat sauerkraut and drink kombuscha. This is a wonderful hands on way to get a hit of probiotics in you daily life. But let’s also remember other fantastic things about fermented foods. They are pre-digested. You’ve got the bugs to do part of the work for you before you’ve even eaten the food! You’ll have little work to do digesting it now and nutrients are easy to absorb. There are about a million books on the subject- with heaps of recipes and ideas. Some of my favs include:

Wild fermentation-by Sandor Katz

The Body Ecology diet-by Donna Gates

Nourishing Traditions-by Sally Falon

My recommendation is to find 1 or 2 that you enjoy doing and do them regularly… I personnaly love water/milk kefir and sauerkraut- and of course I ferment my dosas.

10639610_777548365640499_4719359839147229758_nTypical Sunday counter top getting ready for the week. Water kefir, Milk kefir, Sourdough and soaking buckwheat and quinoa for my dosas. YUM! 

Stress

Our nervous system has only two states. Parasympathetic and sympathetic. That’s rest and digest OR fight or flight. They are mutually exclusive and you can only be switch on in one state at a time. The fight or flight state is certainly not one we are meant to be living in long term, though we do find that more and more people in the modern world are living in a state of adrenal stress that can shut down digestion, reducing the enzymes needed to properly break down foods, therefore leading to malabsorption, irritation and toxic overload. Stress management is vitally important to good digestion. Things like exercise, meditation, counselling, and taking time out to recoup and nurture ourselves are things we can do. If you know you are under a lot of stress, short or long term, there are many things your naturopath can do to support you, help balance your nervous system and digestion at the same time. Both the nervous and digestive system depend on the other to be in balance so that they themselves can function properly.

There are so many approaches to improving digestive health, it’s almost impossible to cover in one short article. Often it’s as much about what you don’t put in as what you put in. And definitely there is no “one size fits all” approach to dealing with it- which can be frustrating if you’re navigating it on your own. So whether you are suffering a niggling upset or one of a more chronic nature- I hope this short list of practical digestive supports has proved helpful, or at least offered some food for thought– cuz after all, without a healthy functioning healthy digestive system, we really are, in the shit!!!!! (puns are also good for your health) 😉

 

 

 

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…

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