Fava or split pea mash

Greek fava is delicious alongside a selection of meze or as a dip with bread or carrot sticks, or a replacement for your mashed potato.  Versatile or what!?
Made of yellow (or red) split peas, fava originates from Santorini where the peas grow well on the island’s rich volcanic soil.  These days we can find dried split peas in health food shops and most supermarkets.  Easy to keep in your larder and have at hand when you’re wondering what to cook that night.

I tend to soak the split peas for at least four hours even though they’re more easily digested than larger dried beans – just habit from working with clients who can’t tolerate pulses.
I love fava with caramelised onion on top or with capers – or both.  There are so many variations, it’s one of those taste-and-decide recipes, as you can tell by some of the options I’ve suggested below 🙂
You can blend it super smooth or mash it to whatever texture your taste buds like.  It’s a super easy & delicious recipe, so I hope you try it out.

Ingredients:
For 4

250 g yellow or red split peas (soaked min 4 hours if you want to play it safe)
1/2 red onion, peeled
another onion, peeled and finely sliced
1 peeled clove garlic, & an extra to add later if you like a garlicky taste
1 heaped tsp ground cumin
squeeze of lemon juice
a smidgeon or more (or less) of ground chilli
sea salt
freshly ground pepper
extra virgin oil
capers, if you like them

Method:

Sieve the split peas to remove any possible small stones then if you have the time soak overnight, but otherwise just wash well.
Put into a pot and cover with about 1″ water.
Peel your onion, chop in half and snuggle it, together with the peeled garlic clove, into the centre of your peas-in-a-pot.
Boil and skim off the white froth that will want to bubble over.  Then simmer with lid on.
When I used to try different versions of this recipe I’d often read, ‘cook for 40 mins’ but, to be honest, my split peas seem to get soft within 15-20 minutes.  This could be due to the soaking, or the peas.  However, once you’ve skimmed the scum and place on simmer, don’t head off to your desk or into the garden.  Stay close as they may be soft and ready sooner than you think, or they may need more topping up with water if they’re resolutely hard.

Meanwhile, finely slice the other 1 + 1/2 onion and gently fry in oil in a pan.  This will be your topping, so just put aside until you need it.

When the split peas are cooked and soft, blend or mash, add the squeeze of lemon, spices and taste.  If the garlic flavour has boiled away, add another fresh clove.
Make a small crater (ode to Santorini) in the middle and drizzle in some virgin olive oil and top with your caramelised onion and/or capers.
Enjoy!

Fig chutney

Finding different ways to prepare and cook summer’s ripe vegetables and fruit is an important part of seasonal eating.
At the moment fig trees here in Greece are laden, so we’re eating them daily (never thought I’d say I’m figged out!)
Delicious when freshly chopped in muesli, added to smoothies or salads, or with cheese, but as I want to preserve as many as possible – not let the wasps eat them all! – I’m also stewing them to freeze, drying them in the sun and making chutneys, a definite favourite and so very easy.
It’s summer here, too hot for Moroccan stews, but that could be something for the winter, adding some of the lightly stewed figs you’ve cooked and popped in the freezer now.


This chutney started off as on online BBC food recipe but it was somehow lacking, plus the figs here are so sweet, most of the online recipes had too much added sugar.   That’s something to bear in mind.  Adjust to the sweetness of the figs in your part of the world!

Honey rather than sugar gives a chutney another scrummy layer especially if you use your local honey, raw honey or perhaps even Arbutus honey with its sweet-bitter taste.
I kept the chilli in this recipe to a small ‘kick;’ just enough to make it less jammy.  Very individual whether you want chilli in it at all – or if you want to add even more.  You could always start small and work up, like I did.
Chutney isn’t just an addition to cheese or a ploughman’s lunch!  It can be added to steamed veg or to a stir fry or enjoyed alongside roast meats, chicken or turkey, very delicious.
I’m loving it topped on my almond butter toast here!  I hope you get lots of mileage from the scrummy recipe x

Ingredients

For a 1/2 litre Kilner jar (or a tad more so you can eat some straight away 🙂

400g fresh ripe figs, chopped
120 ml apple cider vinegar
1 organic apple, cored and chopped (peel first if not organic)
1 red onion, finely chopped
50g sultanas or raisins
1 heaped tbs honey (or more depending on your figs’ sweetness)
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cardamom
1 (less or more) red chilli, seeds removed and finely chopped
1 tsp sea salt

Method

Put all the ingredients into a pot and simmer uncovered for about 1 hour.  Spoon into a sterilised Kilner jar or empty glass jar.  As easy as that!

 

 

 

Crossing Covid borders (or Our Road trip in tomato miles)

Last week we packed up the car, put on our masks and I took a very deep breath of courage.  A road trip across Europe was the last thing on my mind, I was still stuck in Downing’s street ‘Stay home’ slogan even though UK had moved on from there.
Travel was happening, flights were flying, but government recommendations were once again wobbling, erring on the side of caution after some viral clusters up north and spikes in parts of Spain.  I was quite happy staying in our Dorset cocoon, thank you kindly.

However I’m married to a braver human bean who was chomping at the bit to get out to the olive grove, to lop and clear and feed our trees for that wannahave opulent harvest.  To deal with any wildlife that had moved into the house, and yes, to swim in the Ionian and enjoy summer heat.
He told me we could do the drive in three days, just had to exercise caution and common sense and keep washing our hands.
I wasn’t so sure, but the choices didn’t look good.  Fly out and join him when the virus had calmed down?  Well, planes were definitely not on my to-do list (yet!), and Covid-19 wasn’t showing any signs of exhaustion.
Husband Braveheart then assured me we didn’t have to book anything until the last minute.  He knew me well.  It gave me wriggle room to wait and see if the dreaded second spike would lock us down; time to check online if there were problems crossing borders.  Silly, of course, since that could change from day to day, minute by minute, but crucially, it gave me time to get used to the idea and supplement my faith and courage with mega doses of brave thoughts.

Fear can really mess around with your mind, that’s what this road trip has shown me.  Also, that the English, French, Italians and Greeks all look the same in masks (but tomatoes look quite different 🙂

We headed off on a Tuesday just after dawn.  The most breathtaking gossamer mist was hovering over the surrounding fields; sheep floating on clouds.  I would’ve liked to stop and take pictures but knew that a photo session three minutes from home might be pushing my luck.  We were now on a mission, moving forward at speed.

We drove past the edge of a low-cloud New Forest, then onto a mist-filled empty M3 followed by a not-so-misty M25 with morning traffic moving surprisingly smoothly.  Needless to say we arrived at the Eurotunnel with too much time to spare.  No earlier trains were offered unless extra was paid; that wasn’t happening since we’d already paid considerably more than in the past.

So many cars were lined up at the terminal!  Didn’t they know they shouldn’t be crossing borders or gallavanting off?  That hesitant see-saw was STILL happening in my head even after we’d packed up and given three peeps baby-sitting rights to our home and tomato plants.  Crazy, right?  Fear had definitely set up house in my brain’s amygdala.

First interesting Covid change I noticed was that only Starbucks was open in the Eurotunnel building.  Not Leon’s or any other independant coffee/food outlet.  And that just about sums up how stupid some decisions have been in these times.
No real coffee to be had for Braveheart, no delicious Leon nibbles for me.
Luckily I’d made enough sourdough rolls to last the week so we didn’t bother, but we did use the loos; signs everywhere were warning us that toilets on the train were off bounds.
People came in and out of the terminal, lined up for their Starbucks, but they weren’t the crowds I’d dreaded.  Mostly wearing masks and certainly all keeping sensibly apart.

The border checked our passports and that was it.  No taking of temperatures, no forms to fill out declaring we were Covid-free (although I could’ve sworn the month before, online forms had been requested; go figure).

Whisked from Folkestone to Calais in 30 minutes we found ourselves on the autoroute with a  clear blue-sky above, and on both sides endless stands of ripening corn and dirt-brown fields where grains had been harvested.  On the horizon, vast stands of sunflowers, blooms long gone but still tall and leafy with blackened seed heads gently nodding at the ground.   This was normally the low, flat landscape with sludge grey skies that would make me yawn into a neck-cricked car sleep.  Today a shining scene took hold of my attention.  Windows open, I breathed in holiday.

Just an aside, whilst talking of driving, mention should be made of French autoroutes.  Who can’t wax lyrical about them after the bump and polluted constriction of the M25?   Why we can’t do the same in England is a mystery to me.
The highway service stations, too, in France are more like destinations than necessary refuelling spots.  Rows of shady trees, beds of tall white gaura swaying in the breeze and cars separated by grassy stretches and picnic benches.  Not the concrete car landscape on most (ok, not all) British motorways with their scattering of reluctant trees and boxed in plantings.  Here, even with a flow of travellers arriving, safe distancing was happening easily.

We covered 891 kilometres that first day, the longest drive day of all, and stayed overnight just outside Beaune, a beautiful medieval town in the centre of the Bourgogne wine region that we’d never seen before and hadn’t planned to see now (we were on our mission etc etc).
By the morning of day 2, however, something lifted.
We’d been sitting in the hotel gardens the evening before trying the local wine and eating our sourdough sandwiches (no restaurant, and the hotel owner said ‘pas de problem’…btw, that’s another thing I’ve noticed: some rules have become stricter but others have really gone to pot).   As we watched guests soaking up the last of the sun, a family playing in the pool, a couple riding off on bikes, I thought, yes, people on holiday, not just passing through as quickly as possible.
We woke up the next morning to the idea that a drive into town and a relaxed wander there would be just the thing.  Braveheart’s mission could be put on hold for a few hours.

Three hours wandering, in fact, because Beaune may be small but it’s the prettiest town ever.  Very vigilant too, almost worryingly so.  Masks were on indoors as well as out, with locals hurrying past on the cobbled lanes armed with purpose and their baguettes.
When I look back, it was in Beaune where people seemed to be the most careful, taking ‘soyez prudent’ to a level that would disperse any fear of catching anything, not even a smile or a glance, which of course is another sorry downside of this distancing and mask-wearing.  Not seeing facial expressions and smiles and people not making eye contact.

A small street market was being set up (of course, we’re in France with produce markets to die for).  This one was selling trinkets in the main, however one stall had a display of the most astonishing tomatoes which had very little to do with the tomatoes in my veggie box back home, or the tiny firm buds of green cherry toms I was hoping would ripen in our garden.
This Beaunian stall holder was selling heritage tomatoes in delightful small crates, denizens of the region I would’ve happily slipped into our car had there been room (but, like a time capsule, it was full to the brim, ready for all occasions, countries and seasons).  However, just seeing these tomatoes made me inordinately happy.  Look at them, aren’t they stunning!?

Leaving the town late morning we wound our way towards the foothills of the Alps and onwards to the chocolate-box mountains that would take us over the next border to Italy.
Never occured to us there might be delays into the Mt Blanc tunnel; hadn’t happened in the past.
When the road sign, however, glittered at us ‘expect a wait of 90 minutes’, I was sure it was Covid-related, the testing I’d been expecting or at least something to do with checking forms and asking about our well-being.
But no, it was simply August, the main holiday month in France and Italy.  With most people staying closer to home there’d logically be more cars on the road – not that we’d noticed.
Motor off, windows down and another sourdough sarnie as we waited for the line of vehicles to inch up the last hairpin.  Snowcapped mountains above, a waterfall beside us; easy to take.

By early evening we reached Piacenza, a beautiful walled city in the Emilia Romagna region.  We’d stayed here a few times before, loved the Palazzo Gotico and Piazza Cavalli, and the hotel which had coped so well with our groundhog days two years before when our previous car broke down and we stayed on and on….
Sad, but no surprise, to hear the hotel was running at 40% capacity. (The breakfast buffet the next morning was a lonely experience. Us standing in a vast room at a distance to the buffet table, pointing at foods whilst a young masked girl silently placed hot and cold choices on our plates.  Cold scrambled eggs by the time we reached our table, not a culinary delight).

Emilia Romagna was one of the four regions in northern Italy worst hit by the pandemic back in March.  The north was where Italy’s Covid-19 journey began.  In April about 70% of positive virus cases were reportedly from Lombardi, Emilia Romagna, Veneto and Piemonte here in the north.
Contrary to what you might be thinking, knowing about my wobbly start, this Covid fact hadn’t concerned me in the least when I was doing our last minute overnight bookings before the trip.  My brain must’ve been appeased by the fact that people here had been through hell and would be careful, wouldn’t want it repeated.

We sat outside in the square, drank our beer and aperol spritze then moved to another outdoor restaurant for dinner at 8.  Most tables were empty, but then it was probably too early for the locals.   Not for us, however.  After another 623 km, and with more dreary hours on the autostrada than we’d planned, we were tired and in need of a long sleep.

Day 3, the short drive (not) from Piacenza to Ancona.  We were catching our Anek lines vessel at 1500hrs for the overnight crossing of the Adriatic, landing the following morn at 8 (not!) in Igoumenitsa, northern mainland Greece.

What we didn’t take into account was that Italy, too, had crazy early morning work traffic.  Bumper to bumper for a couple of hours then some light reprieve for a few breaths before the turn-off to Ancona, with another slow crawl behind a stream of cars heading towards the port.  Luckily those see-saw thoughts of mine had stopped – the ones silently questioning why peeps were travelling and not staying home.  Fear had let go its white-knuckled grip.

We’d talked about buying fresh food to take on board the vessel since our sourdough sandwiches were long gone, and who knew what the ship’s restaurant/cafe would be like.

Following the huge check-in sign above the road, we parked and headed to the terminal building where “Only the car driver allowed inside” was the one to hand over our precious declaration documents that were finally asking if we were symptom-free with no known Covid case contact (hooray, someone wanted to know!)
And with that we were checked into the system, unable to drive back to town, to ‘check out’ and go food shopping.

A lone portacabin cafe stood by the terminal building selling limp pizzas; that was it.  Not much choice other than follow the signs to the hot concrete expanse of boarding area desert where lines of cars and trucks were already waiting in the midday heat.
There stood a single white van selling foods no one wanted to buy.  Just one customer sipping on a bright orange sparkling something.
I don’t know if this parcity of food outlets was Covid related or not, but how bizarre, given the hundreds  – thousands? – of trucks, cars and bikes queueing for hours here each day.

I walked over to check it out even though the bags of crisps, biscuits and fizzy drinks looked very unpromising.  Disappointment rose again that we’d missed out on a deli purchase in town.
But what was that over on the right?  Through the glass display I spied fresh rolls, ham…. and a pile of juicy red beef tomatoes, the only fresh veg I’d glimpsed since leaving Piacenza at crack of early.  Another moment of tomato joy!

Just before separating to go on board (‘only drivers in the car, passengers walk’), we clocked that we’d covered another 380 km, the fastest zzzzzoom across Italy ever.

I could write a whole blog about the ship aka ferry crossing but I’ll spare you.
A quick list of impressions instead:
– All the crew wore small chin visors but quite a number were cupped below the mouth looking more like some medical chin support.
–  I never saw a bottle of hand sanitiser on board but there were plenty of soap dispensers in all the public toilets
– A crew waiter or waitress was quick to clear up the mass of edible debris sadly abandoned by mainly young peeps (sorry, but true) who were travelling together, or maybe not, hard to tell.
– Every hour or so an intercom voice announced how the vessel was ensuring masks were worn and distances kept, and that this was the reason why ‘Anek lines was keeping us safe.’
Hmmm. I never saw or heard any crew member telling us to wear masks and keep safe.  Some travellers wore them when going into the cafe or wandering around the inside of the ship but I can’t say it was a masked sea journey.  Half and half perhaps.
– But…it was easy to find secluded corners, quiet spaces to keep your distance.  Or to stay in your cabin if you had one.  Ours was super cozy with a large porthole window we’d never had before on these crossings.  Normally a black hole cabin, but this time Braveheart had booked us a ‘pure’ cabin (which does beg the question what the rest of the cabins were).
– The tables in the self-serve restaurant couldn’t be distanced as they were bolted to the ground, but there were only a few people dining and they were all using common sense.  We certainly enjoyed our Greek salads x

The following morn yet another shining day greeted us.  What a sunny road trip this had been!  However, our hearts sank as we soon realized the ship aka vessel aka ferry wasn’t going to be landing in Igoumenitsa by 8.  We hadn’t even reached the first stop, Corfu.  Given we had another ferry to catch 3 hours’ drive south we were aware of time passing.

It was s-l-o-w progress disembarking.  Officials were checking documents and I have to admit I felt quite put out when we were told we had to leave our spot in the line of cars (hey, this was the Covid testing I’d been waiting for so don’t complain, my inner voice whispered).
The chin-masked official pointed to a dead-end area in the distance, a normally forgotten, dusty corner of the port.  There, around 20 cars were parked hugger-mugger and I could make out clusters of people, a line of sorts forming (Italians and Greeks don’t do queues the way the British do).

There were 2 ‘patient’ chairs and just 3 officials in PPE but, oh my word, they worked quicker than I could’ve ever imagined.  Am guessing they didn’t want to be in close contact for more than a minute with any of us viral foreigners. Results, they said, would be texted to us in 24 hours IF positive.
Luckily we never got that text.

The drive south to Patras was easy, partly because we’d done it before but also due to the fact it was a new highway, thank goodness, which was more than equal to the French autoroutes.  Breathtaking mountain scenery all the way, hardly any cars and the first spits of rain and grey skies, how funny, now we were in sunny Greece!

After Patras, there was the usual hair-raising 45 minute drive on the one-lane-pretending-to-be-three road to Killlini; this was the main port for ferries heading to the Ionian islands.

Levante’s car ferry crossing turned out to be a totally different experience to the previous one.  Yes, only a 1.5 hour journey but it was full of rules and hand sanitiser and an official keeping us a metre apart as passengers boarded.
Masks had to be worn at ALL times we were told.  Inside, alternate tables and chairs had been cordoned off ensuring no one sat too close.

When I took off my mask to drink water, at our safely distanced table, I forgot to put it back on (ok,perhaps I forgot on purpose; suffocating in the heat).  A young woman at the table closest to us, from Athens, she later told me when I heard her complicated family history, reminded me loudly to put my mask back on.
Even out on deck, with plenty of space and fresh air and hardly anyone about, they had to be worn, which I thought was a bit ott (and that should suffice to tell you that 4 days of crossing borders had sorted out the emotional amygdala of my brain).

No tourists, 99.9% of the people on board were from Greece, one chatty official explained when I asked why the speaker annoucements weren’t in their usual English.
No doubt the announcer was telling us that Levante ferries were keeping us safe.
And indeed they were!

We landed in Kefalonia, in the town of Poros and only had a short drive to our olive grove house.
Somehow those 35 minutes felt longer than the hours we’d travelled each day, but they did give me pause to think about the miles covered, and to feel grateful for the sun and blue skies that had made it all so easy, showing us so many landscapes at their best.  Also to take stock of just how empowering these four travel days had been.  I suspect fear had flown out the window the minute I realized it wasn’t just in UK – or in our cocooned Dorset – that peeps were using common sense.  Staying safe.  All of us in this global mess together, doing our best.

Freshly picked tomatoes and chillis from our lovely neighbours awaited us, and a message from home that felt like a pat on the back, congratulating us on the journey.
Definitely the best-tasting tomatoes I’d eaten.
Well…the best in the last 24 hours 🙂

 

Stats:

Left Dorset 0550hrs 4th August, arrived Kefalonia 1700hrs 7th August.
Kilometres driven:  2272 km
Ferry Ancona-Igoumenitsa:  723 km (390 nautical miles)
Ferry Killini to Poros:   50 km.

Phew!

Spiced carrot and red chard pancakes

This is a delicious vegan dish, a combination of shredded carrot pancakes with roasted spiced carrot – carrot upon carrot! – topped with a mint-garlic-lime juice df yoghurt.

Inspired by Nikki Webster’s scrummy recipe I added red chard to mine here below for extra colour and antioxidant goodness.  Spinach or kale, cavalo nero or even something like radicchio with its slightly sharp tang, would be delicious.  Really, the choice is yours.
Antioxidants are on my mind big-time due to my current auto immune and post-chemo clients not to mention the background noise of Covid-19, so I multiplied the antioxidant ooomph that spices offer and added lots of ginger, turmeric and garlic.

These gram spiced pancakes are a fabulous base for all sorts of other meals.  I topped them with a mixed rainbow salad last week and last night ate them with fish (cumin and garam masala rubbed on hake before grilling).
It’s so good to wriggle a recipe into the shape that suits your individual taste – and the occasion.
Have fun, and I hope you enjoy this dish 🙂

Ingredients:

Serves 2

Spiced carrots:

2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp brown mustard seeds
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 – 1 tsp chilli flakes
1 large or 2 medium onions, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, pressed
4 cms knob ginger, grated
3 medium carrots, diced into small cubes
6 large red chard leaves (I finely sliced some of the stalks as well); or 2 large handfuls of young spinach or kale, roughly chopped
250ml filtered water
4 tbsp desiccated coconut, lightly roasted
sea salt and black pepper to taste

Carrot pancakes:

140g gram flour
1 tsp sea salt
2 garlic, pressed
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground cumin
pinch chilli flakes – optional of course!
80g grated carrots
handful fresh coriander, chopped
300 ml luke warm water
2 tbsp olive oil

Yoghurt Topping:

6 tbsp plain coconut- or almond-based yoghurt (I used Coconut Collaborative’s df)
juice of 1 lime
1 tbsp virgin olive oil
1-2 garlic, squeezed
4 tbsp chopped fresh mint (about 5 medium leaves per tbsp) or 3 tbsp dried
sea salt to taste

Mix these together and your topping is done!

 

Method:

Carrot pancakes:

Mix all the dry ingredients, add the pressed garlic, olive oil and water.  Blend well then stir in the chopped coriander and grated carrots.  Set aside for 15-20 minutes whilst you start the carrot curry below.

To cook the pancakes, add some olive oil to your non-stick pan then use a soup ladel to pour in your mixture (you’ll figure out the size you want after the first ‘trial’ which is always a good tester for size and taste).
Once bubbles form in the pancake and the edge darkens a little, ease the spatula beneath it and turn.  After the first one your pan usually finds its mojo.
Cover with a cloth or place in a low heat oven whilst you make a total of about 8 small pancakes.

Meanwhile….

The carrot curry:

Heat the oil then add the mustard and cumin seeds. When they start popping add the other spices and stir before frying the chopped onions till they soften.  Then comes the garlic and ginger followed by the diced carrots and water.  Cover and leave to simmer for about 10 mins, adding your chopped chard or greens so they wilt but don’t get cooked to nothing!

Meanwhile….dry roast the coconut in a pan until it just colours then stir it into the carrot-chard mix and season with sea salt and pepper.

To serve, spoon a generous amount onto the pancake base and dollop the mint yoghurt on top.  Add extra mint for decoration (I forgot in this photo!)

Enjoy!

 

 

Time to plug into nature

We’ve been watching far more nature programmes these past months.  So reliably uplifting, nature doing its thing.


Recently Spring Watch was on BBC, a very popular programme here in UK.  Two weeks of learning more about the amazing changes Spring brings with it.  We saw beavers and otters, fish, badgers, butterflies, you name it. 
The main focus, as always, was on nesting birds and their fledgings, with some precarious nests being built on high and others balanced in bizarre places just inches away from predators.  We watched parent birds constantly feed their young until finally most of the fledglings defied the odds and flew off.  A cheering message.  Reassuring to see nature going about normal business at a time when our world is so very far from normal.

The presenters talked about more wildlife and birds being about due to less traffic and noise, less activity in towns and built-up areas.  They shared some breath-taking videos and photos the public sent it.  People who were isolating or not working or on furlough – children still off school – all having more time to notice daily changes in their gardens and nearby parks. 

Every night it felt like an escape from the daily Downing Street updates and world statistics and scenes of angry demonstrators.  And yet nature is just as much a part of our reality as Covid-19 and world news.   A happier part that we can tune into every day – every hour of every day if we want!   Nature can most definitely help us feel better, lifting our mood with a surge of endorphins – those happy hormones – as we watch new life unfold around us.

It was interesting to see how much close-up photography was in the programme this year.  Filming the tiniest insect under a convoluted camera lens.  Seeing a mote of dust floating in water only to discover it was a creature with astonishing talons and fangs.   

It made me think about the macro and micro world we’re living in right now.  How we are changing focus far more than we might normally do.  Moving from the macro picture of what’s going on in our global community, to the micro picture of what’s happening in our personal lives, what we’re eating for dinner tonight.

Changing our focus, our lens, constantly is hard work.  It can be overwhelming thinking on different planes all the time as we try to absorb today’s communal bigger picture whilst looking after our micro world.  Feeding the family, understanding the latest Covid rules, tapping out work emails, seeing second spikes abroad, helping with homework, feeling for angry demontrators, watering the garden.  No wonder so many are saying they don’t want to listen to the news, that it’s too much.   

Most of the posts I’ve shared over the past months have had something to do with plants or gardens, walks or healing foods.  Giving myself and others some mindful space to plug into nature.  Giving those happy endorphins a chance to rise and expand. 

We all need a breather from this bigger macro picture so we can find balance and mindful time in our micro worlds.  This is where nature shines.  It’s right here, outside our windows and front doors.  So easy to bring into our daily lives.  Walking, weeding, cycling, sitting and watching.   Birds peepsing, petals opening, rain falling. 
The sky outside, is it blue or grey where you are right now?  Are buds unfurling or is winter mist drawing in?  Tell me what’s happening around you, I’d love to know.  x   

Ginger-lime marinated chicken

Just skidding in before the month of May moves on.  I’m not sure why I didn’t post this earlier, given how aware I am of time passing.  Counting the daily fall in Covid cases and the lessening of restrictions – long may that last! – and watching the unfolding of spring each day.  Time has slowed down in so many ways…and yet filled up in other ways.

Aside from a website glitsch – yes, that’ll help put the brakes on – I’m also wondering if it’s because my routine has changed.  Suddenly more working time for online webinars, and more free time to walk and weed.  And these wonderful light evenings.  Sitting outside or taking time to water the garden, looking at each plant, seeing how it’s doing in this unusual heat.
Cooking more!  Planning meals and writing food lists so that ‘unnecessary journeys’  for extra food shops don’t happen.  Are you spending more time cooking or thinking about food?  I certainly am!

This recipe is a lockdown version of a fab Rebel kitchen recipe from years ago.  And apparently that was a follow on from Rick Stein’s Indian cookbook chicken kebabs.   So it’s covered some miles with a few tweaks here and there to make it one’s own.  I’ve taken the kebab out of it because I preferred it baked, turned out so tender and moist.

We’re loving it so much it’s a weekly repeat since lockdown began – sometimes with salmon fillets instead of chicken.  And more recently lathered on cauliflower florets, delicious!  Such an easy recipe, and that combo of lime, ginger and cardomon is divine.
If you use fish, then I’d suggest a more solid one like salmon, rather than a flaky white.

The marinade is pale and you don’t want to overbake to get colour, so I’d suggest adding a bright mixed salad or some rainbow veg to zhuzh it up.  To make it look like it’s amazing taste.
Here, in this photo, the chicken’s on a bed of mashed butternut-sweet potato instead of rice.  I couldn’t find a green mango the second time we ate it, when I thought, yes, a photo’s needed because this must be shared.  It works well with mashed starchy vegetables, but I do love that green mango rice!

website marinate chicken

 

Ingredients

Serves 2
2 chicken breasts cut into bite-size portions
60g grated fresh ginger
1 lime, juiced
1 red chilli, seeds removed and chopped finely
2 tbsp yoghurt (use coconut yoghurt for dairy free; or you could use coconut cream instead!?)
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper

Mango fried rice

140g mixed rice (brown, basmati, wild)
1-2 tbsp tamari sauce
1 green mango, cubed
Juice of 1 lime
1 tbsp oil
a generous handful of toasted slivered almonds – save some for decoration at the end

 

Method

Mix together the lime juice, grated ginger, spices and yoghurt then add the chicken cubes and mix well.  Let marinate for at least four hours, ideally overnight.
When ready to cook, place the chicken in its marinade on baking paper or parchment in a 160C degree (360 F) oven for approx 20-30 mins (depends on the size of those chunks and whether it’s a fan-heated oven).
Meanwhile, boil the rice and set aside when done.
When the chicken is almost ready, put the rice into a heated pan with oil.  Add the cubed mango, lime juice, tamari and most of the toasted almonds and fry for about 5 minutes.
When ready, place the chicken on the rice – sprinkle the remaining almond slivers on top – and serve alongside colourful steamed veg or a rainbowl salad.
Let me know how you like it!

 

Green curry paste

Here’s a photo of the ingredients I was able to find at the moment in lockdown for a green curry paste.  The recipe’s from a cookbook I was given almost thirty years ago when Thai food was really popular in Sydney – still is!  Each page gives evidence of how often it’s been used, splashed with sauce from my beaters or from sticky fingers mid-read.

website green paste

So much better – & healthier – making your own base as there are no preservatives and you can add and subtract to suit your own taste.  I couldn’t get some of the ingredients as the Thai store is currently closed.  I’ll make mention of the ones I’ve not included (in italics in brackets) and how I replaced them.  This recipe as is definitely stands alone, it’s delicious!  And a great base for any green curry dish whether vegetarian or with fish, chicken, lamb, duck.
Next month I’ll try to post a recipe for a chicken curry dish where I’ve used this as the base.
Enjoy and stay safe!

Ingredients:

Makes about 8 tablespoons
(I used 5 tbsp for 4 servings)

1 tsp cumin seeds (I only had ground cumin powder which was fine)
2 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp black peppercorns
8 fresh green chillies, seeded and chopped
2 shallots, chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 stalks lemon grass, outer hard leaf removed, flat-knife-crushed then chopped
3 dried large kaffir lime leaves, chopped, central stem removed
(3 coriander roots, chopped) I added 3 extra tbsp chopped coriander leaves & stems instead)
(3 cms galangal)  I used 3 cms fresh ginger, chopped & would probably stick to it, delicious
(2 tsp shrimp paste)  I used a dollop of fish sauce instead.  for a vegetarian version you can get that extra layer with miso paste or even a splash of tamari
3 tbsp chopped coriander leaves

Method:

Heat your pan and add the coriander and cumin seeds (or powder) until you have aroma.  Then crush them in a pestle and mortar or a small blender together with the peppercorns.

Now add the rest of the ingredients and blend anyway you can. I use a hand held stick blender and it works fine as long as I chop the coriander leaves small.  You can also pound it all by hand.

This is a great starter for any green curry and can be stored in the fridge up to 4 weeks.

FODMAPS diet, why and how

Moving away from the theme of viruses – hooray! –  and talking to you today about the FODMAPS diet, specifically the low FODMAPS diet.
If you’re wondering what this word even means, it’s an acronym for terms describing certain carbohydrates (and their fermentable effect on digestion):  Fermentable Oligosaccharides Disaccharides Monosaccharides And Polyols.
Easy to understand why the acronym’s preferred.  Those carbs are quite a mouthful!

low FODMAPS

Fodmaps are found naturally in a wide range of foods.  They are different types of carbohydrates that are not easily absorbed in the gut, and which therefore can kick off IBS-type symptoms in some people.

Due to this diversity of potentially troublesome carbs it can be difficult to navigate the low FODMAPS diet, so here is a broad brush stroke of information to help you decide if you want to give it a go, either with a therapist, or on your own.

Let’s look a bit closer at this acronym.
Fermentables:  This is what happens when your gut bacteria ferments undigested carbohydrates.
Oligosaccharides: mainly found in wheat, rye, pulses but also garlic and onions..and more.
Disaccharides: mainly in dairy produce, including those yoghurts you might be eating daily because you believe they’re healthy (which they are for some, and perhaps for you, once you’ve been eating low FODMAP and introduced it later, in a small way; possibly only occasionally.  All very individual).
Monosaccharides:  these mainly cover fructose and include a variety of fruit plus honey – and corn syrups (do read labels when you go shopping!)
Polyols:  these are also found in different veg and fruit; also in articial sweeteners.

First thing to keep in mind when considering this diet is that you have to be dealing with IBS symptoms.  This isn’t a weight loss programme, nor is it a particularly healthy diet to keep in your life.  On the contrary.  As it excludes a lot of normally healthy prebiotic foods, this is an eating regime to do SHORT-TERM in order to reduce your IBS-ish symptoms.  Some prebiotic foods are included but not many, and you need these prebiotics for a healthy gut, for your diversely populated microbiome, hence this isn’t a diet for the long haul.

I normally suggest two to three weeks with clients, but if you’re feeling vastly better on it then an extra week or two is fine.  Monash university, which developed it in the first place years ago, and have an excellent app (more about that below), states you can follow it up to eight weeks.  Personally, I prefer clients to move back onto some of those ‘missed’ higher FODMAP foods earlier than that.

And this brings me to the next stage of the diet.  After your three or so weeks of ‘low’ eating, you then gradually introduce one higher FODMAP food, from one of the above groups, back into your menu to see how it feels, to check if you react and have symptoms.

This sort of challenge is what a lot of clients try out in order to identify ‘intolerance’ foods.  Exclude then reintroduce, one at a time, giving yourself days inbetween to allow some slower symptoms to emerge – or not.

With the FODMAPS approach – which is not about intolerance foods but about hard-to-digest carbs – once you’ve followed it for your two or three weeks, you then introduce a higher FODMAP food to your meal.  In a small way the first time, then building up slightly the following day.  On the third day you try a ‘normal’ (not huge!) amount of that food with your meal.

I recommend waiting a couple of days before you try another new higher FODMAPS food so that you’re not overloading your digestion, not challenging it too much.
Some people find their old gut symptoms return when they’re stepping up the amounts, so back off with that food, wait a couple of days and then try another higher FODMAP food.  Waiting those two days inbetween these trials gives pause for your digestion.

Always play it safe.  Stick to re-introducing one new food in one FODMAP group at a time.  Start small and gradually.
Everyone is different.  Some digestions are more sensitive or reactive than others, and this is one reason why it may help to work with a practitioner.
Another reason to work with someone:  You might be starting this diet because you feel you’ve “tried everything”.  Left out gluten then excluded that daily biscuit or sweet, reduced wine hugely, stopped the pizzas, left out some cheese.
This approach can often be too random, and if nothing else, there should be a logical and informed plan to how you go about changing your diet.  Some people may want the support of a nutritionist or naturopath with this plan.

Also important to be aware of is that a lot of gut distress can be due to overgrowths of yeasts or bacteria or parasites.  Stool tests would then be indicated, or other home test kits to rule out SIBO or gut permeability for instance.  Dietary changes alone won’t clear up an overgrowth of pathogenic gut bacteria, and eliminating sugars (& using a pessary) won’t resolve systemic candida.

Stress, too, can play a huge role.  In clinic, when talking about stress, often a client will say, ‘yes I’m stressed but isn’t everyone?’  Short-term stress, sure.  That’s part of life, and your body is wonderfully geared to coping with it.
Ongoing chronic stress, however, should never be considered the norm.  A low FODMAPS diet might relieve some gut symptoms but if underlying anxiety, stress, anger or insomnia are big in your life, the triggers to your digestive distress, then switching diets won’t be the magic bullet.  (Luckily there are lots of other magic bullets that can help you!)

All this low and high FODMAP food talk may sound like a pfaff but you can either work with a therapist or use something like the Monash University FODMAP app.  And if you don’t use apps there are some excellent online lists of food and recipes you can print off.

If working on your own, take your time to read about the FODMAP diet first.  Get your head around the aim of the diet, the foods and stages it involves so you are fully committed and have your kitchen stocked and those menu plans in place.  And don’t feel you have to eat a food just because it’s low FODMAP.  If you don’t normally want a banana, don’t eat it just because it’s ‘allowed’!

For those of you thinking life will be a vegetable misery for the weeks you’re on this diet you’ll be jumping for joy.  There are loads of fab veg which are low in FODMAPS.   Animal protein isn’t a problem, and there are good options for vegetarians like tempeh, eggs, quorn…

The above photo shows just a few vegetables I had at hand for some clients last month.  Instead of their regular follow-up, we had an extra hour of going through the foods together, then cooking a couple of dishes and eating the low FODMAP way.

Key points to remember:
First make sure this diet is right for you, that you’ve ruled out other players such as gut overgrowths, intolerance foods, stress….
Work with a therapist if you can, especially regarding the above issues you may not have considered.
If going it alone, I recommend downloading the above-mentioned Monash University app. There are other apps on the market – do take a look online – but this is the one I’m familiar with and which is specifically for tracking and working with FODMAPS and not overall diets.  Otherwise, google low FODMAPS diet and print off the food and menu lists.  Get your kitchen and your head ready for a couple of weeks of changed meals.

If you’d like any more information about the FODMAP diet I always offer 15 mins free calls.  And if you have any other worries about diet, health or well being do please contact me for a chat.

I’ve stopped 1:1 consultations during these times of social distancing, but skype, facetime and landline consultations work really well and have been part of my clinic for years.  Our voices and ears are in fine form and can side-step viruses to cross towns, counties and oceans via amazing technology.
How lucky we are for that!

Gf/df buckwheat banana pancakes

Here is February’s delayed post and Shrove Tuesday’s delayed pancakes.  Was a hard month that ran away with me but better late than never (and for me this was worth the wait!)
I have an idea for my March post bubbling away, so I’ll be on the case soon 🙂

I tried a vegan version of this I saw on Instagram.  The pancake looked great but when I tried – several times! – it kept sticking to my copiously oiled pan, refused to cook through, didn’t want to stay in a circle and basically wouldn’t be friends.  Another day, another vegan attempt.  Until then, an added egg made this into one of the tastiest pancakes I’ve ever eaten.  I used to not be a huge fan of buckwheat but I’ve now got lots of delicious combos that work.  I think the mashed bananas within really makes it.  And I’m so happy to have such a delicious gf/df option for breakfasts and treats.  Give it a try and let me know what you think.

buckwheat pancake

Ingredients:

6 small pancakes
80g buckwheat flour
tsp gf baking powder
2 tsp vanilla extract
pinch sea salt
2 mashed ripe bananas
250 ml coconut milk
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 egg
Enough light olive oil or odourless coconut oil to create a good base in your choice of pan so the mixture doesn’t stick; approx 2 tbsp worked for the small pan I used.
Topping:
Coconut yoghurt (to which I added a splash of maple syrup coz the bottle was there, lol).  Berries and a sprinkling of cinnamon to top it all off.

Method:

Mash the bananas, beat the egg then add them to the coconut milk, maple syrup and vanilla essence, then mix together. Gently add the sieved buckwheat flour, sea salt and gf baking powder.  Stir until well mixed.

Heat either odourless coconut oil or a light olive oil in your fave pancake pan (some pans really don’t respond well to pancakes – my oldest one loves them) and then go for it.
Pour a little mixture in the pan; when you see bubbles forming on the top of the pancake it’s ready to flip.  Gently ease your ‘flipper’ beneath it as the mashed banana can sometimes stick to the base.

I make small pancakes mainly because my first one or two seldom work; I don’t want to waste too much of all that deliciousness.
Also, this way you can pile up a few, add your yoghurt and fruit topping to create a mini pancake tower.

Not just for Shrove Tuesday!

High cholesterol, some facts and foods

It’s almost February, which seems so unlikely as the year only just began moments ago, surely?

In keeping with my new year’s resolution (which actually only dawned on me a week ago, well past new year, oops) I’m going to post more health info blogs on my website rather than just the short social media chat and occasional recipes.
This will keep me on my toes with some mindful research and deliberation, and will hopefully give you something to read and think about; a chance to make comments and suggestions as it’s all a learning game.  We are indeed unique, so our experiences will be very individual.

 
cholesterol lowering

On this last day of the first month (and almost the eleventh hour! Been a long day…) I’m kicking off with the somewhat prosaic topic of high cholesterol.
Oh I know, it feels like we’ve been here, done that, however, in the last two days I’ve seen four clients who came for very different health reasons but all have alarmingly high cholesterol.  Scarily high LDL in fact (more about that below).
I took it as a sign to blog about some cholesterol facts and foods.
Apart from this coincidence – these four clients sharing more than they will ever know – the topic of cholesterol has become quite a controversial one; well worth having a chat about.

Contrary to conventional medical thinking these past decades, many studies now show that high cholesterol is NOT the be-all and end-all of CV risk.
A big statement, some may think, however these studies are proving that the measure of cholesterol is not always relevant.
Some people have a high ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol but are living to a healthy heart-attack-free age because, in part at least, their equally rising ‘good’ cholesterol has been offering them protecton.  Studies are also showing that when high cholesterol IS relevant to a person’s heart health, it’s not the only ‘measure’ that plays a significant role.  As I said, it’s not the be-all and end-all of CV disease.
This is not to say we ignore it altogether.
There is a place on the heart health table for trying to keep high cholesterol in check; certainly if there are other contributing negative factors gathering around that table.  Factors such as eating the wrong foods, chronic stress, insufficient exercise, overall body inflammation, smoking, weight gain (obesity is inflammatory and, like stress, it worsens all conditions), familial history of strokes and heart attack, and age (we remove excess cholesterol less efficiently as we get older).

What is cholesterol anyway?
A waxy fat-like substance that’s surprisingly important to our health.  It helps make our hormones, converts sunshine (when it’s around!) to vitamin D, is necessary for digestion and brain function, and assists in the absorption of fat-soluble nutrients.  Vital in fact for all our cell membranes, so we really don’t want to have too little of it.

When we talk about cholesterol we’re actually talking about the lipoproteins that carry cholesterol around our bloodstream.  These are fat on the inside and protein on the out and come in various forms, the two most relevant being, LDL (low-density lipoprotein, the so-called ‘baddie’ of the two, but yes there’s more to it than that regarding particle size and actual ‘badness’; too involved to go through here but there are excellent sites to read about these).  And secondly, HDL, the high density lipoprotein which is the ‘good’ cholesterol as it’s protective in that it takes excess cholesterol back to the liver where it’s then used or excreted. (It’s the efficiency of this disposal which can slow down with age, as mentioned above).  By removing excess cholesterol the build-up of fatty plaque in your arteries is avoided;  a build-up which is associated with low density lipoprotein, LDL and which can then lead to narrowing of the arteries and atherosclerosis.

When you have your cholesterol measured it’s the ratio of these two – LDL and HDL – that’s important to be aware of, not just the total number.

A large proportion of cholesterol that’s circulating in your blood is produced by the liver and intestines; the rest is from diet.  This may explain why some people with high cholesterol haven’t had the huge improvement – reduction – in ‘numbers’ that they expected after radically changing their dietary habits.

Nonetheless, for many people the effectiveness of dietary change regarding high cholesterol is extraordinary.  I’ve seen it in clinic;  one reason I wanted to write this post.  It’s an easy and very successful first port of call.  Together with getting off your sofa!

So, what are the foods that will make a difference, which will help you avoid taking medications, those statins that can have side effects and which are so very controversial?

Take a look at the photo accompanying this blog.
Eat more of these foods, the likes of flax seeds containing plant sterols that are shown to significantly lower cholesterol.  And oats with their soluble fibre.  More leafy green fibre such as spinach, chard, kale, radicchio, romaine lettuce, fennel, dandelion, spring greens, rocket, chicory… the list is endless!  And more cruciferous veg like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage.
Also tocotrienols – found in the Vit E family and in the likes of walnuts and virgin olive oil which have shown improvement in arterial health.
And turmeric, always!  It’s not just a way of lowering inflammation but it improves vascular function in coronary artery disease and can suppress early atherosclerotic lesions (similar to lovastatin).

Eat far less meat, less overall saturated fats, less ‘whites’ (rice, potatoes, sugar, flour), less fried foods, far less sugars and salt.
Give up smoking, hooray!
And try to get stress levels down, down….

Last but by no means least, get moving.
Exercise will help rebalance your body, move your blood, shift stagnation, drop some kilos, soften the stress in your life, improve energy and alertness, increase happy hormones – and will most definitely help lower your high cholesterol.