Monday, 18 August 2014

Photoblog: Good Vibrations

A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending a week long yoga retreat in Cornwall which included delicious food, lots of yoga, self-study exercises, mindful meditation and new friends. Spending a week without phone signal, with minimum wi-fi use and in a beautiful setting left me with a hi-vibe buzz for about a week after returning back to busy London. In an effort to recapture some of that awesome energy, I share a few photos here.


Monday, 26 May 2014

Green Inspiration #7

Besides dips, smoothies are one of my favourite things to eat.

This recipe comes from a detox in Whole Living Magazine that I did last year. I liked it so much that I've continued to eat it throughout the year. I especially like it in the winter or on rainy days as the fresh, sweet flavours remind me that summer will indeed, come again; last week's sunshine here in London makes me hopeful that it will be sooner rather than later. But in the meantime, this smoothie will suffice ...

Summer Smoothie:

1 cup apple juice, pear juice or water
1/2 honeydew melon, chopped
1/2 cucumer, peeled and chopped
handful of mint leaves
one lime peeled, or juice of one lime

Serves 2

Place all ingredients in blender until smooth - add a couple of ice cubes at the end to keep it cool.


Monday, 19 May 2014

Going Nuts for Almond Milk

Lately I've been on a bit of a DIY almond milk kick, and today I'm going to answer the age old question, "How do you milk an almond?"

It's REALLY easy ... probably even easier than milking a cow/goat/sheep .... mostly because you can buy almonds at the store and they don't run away when you grab their teats ... uh, wait - almonds don't have teats ...

Without further ado, here is my step-by-step guide to making your own almond milk (which, I might add, is much more delicious than the store-bought kind, doesn't have any of those weird chemicals like carrageenan, sunflower lecithin, potassium citrate, has no added salt or sugar, and takes less than 10 minutes to make - what's not to love?).

DIY Almond Milk

About 1 cup of almonds (organic if you want the almond milk to be organic)
Lots of water ...

1) Soak about 1 cup of (organic) almonds in filtered water in the fridge overnight.

2) Rinse almonds and discard the soaking water - the almonds will have puffed up a bit from soaking.

3) Place almonds in a blender with enough water to cover them, and then about the same amount of water again (you can use more or less water depending on how thick/thin you like your milk to be)

4) Blend for a few minutes until all almonds have been blended with the water and you have a milk-like appearance.

5) Line a jar or bowl with a nut milk bag or large piece of triple folded cheesecloth and pour about 1/2 the liquid inside. 

(Tip 1- use a container that is big and wide enough for your hand to fit inside so that you have room to squeeze the bag and lift it up as you go, without the bag being higher than the rim of the container)

(Tip 2 - I recommend investing in a nut milk bag rather than the cheesecloth as I had several random milk and nut pulp shootings -who knew that nut pulp could travel so far?!?!? - when using the cheescloth. You can easily find them online, at many organic stores, or make your own. I don't recommend spending more than about £10.)

6) Milk it baby! ( ...or just squeeze out all the liquid from the nut milk bag/cheescloth and discard the nut pulp .... unless you are really inventive and find a recipe for it!)

7) Pour into a sealable container and keep in the fridge for up to 3 days (no preservatives means this stuff doesn't last long, but it takes only 5-10 minutes to make, so it's easy to make when you need it!)

8) Inhale the incredible almond aroma (smells like almond extract) and drink with porridge, granola, on its own, or any other way you'd usually use regular milk or almond milk.

And that, my friends, is how you milk an almond ....!

GG Rating: Good for Spelt Supporters - all you need is a blender, a bag and some almonds ...

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Natural Laundry - Am I Nuts?

I've been reading lately about some issues with the chemicals used in soap, detergents, and specifically, laundry products. The ingredients (aka: chemicals) can cause skin irritations and allergic reactions, not to mention environmental problems as they go into our water system. For more about skin problems related to laundry detergent, check out this blog from Pai Skincare (my go-to for sensitive skin products ... and read more about Pai Skincare here).

I read about using soap nuts as an alternative to laundry detergent, so I thought I'd give them a try and see how it went. Those who know me know I'm a little fussy (read: borderline OCD) about how laundry is sorted, washed, hung, and dried, so this was a big step outside my comfort zone. (Despite the obvious environmental issues with water wastage, I have been known to double wash items if I don't think they're clean enough! I AM working on this, however ... )

According to Wikipedia, soap nuts come from Sapindus, a genus of about 5-12 species of shrubs and small trees in the Lychee family. These are found in warm temperate or tropical regions around the world, and include both deciduous and evergreen species. The fruit of these plants is what is known as the soapnut.

Soapnuts are a little smaller than chestnuts, and although they are about the same colour, they are significantly more wrinkly and have a weird vinegary, organic smell (you know, like when you go to the changing room of a yoga studio and one of the really hardcore yogis has just finished a really sweaty class and they exude a very "natural" odour? This is usually a combination of fermented cabbage, hemp products, patchouli incense, and baking soda deodorant ... pleasant is definitely in the nose of the beholder ... me, I can pass on this smell).

As you can tell from my description, it was with great trepidation that I decided to try out this new "soap". I like opening my drawer a week after doing laundry and having a soap smell waft up, and although I am really into yoga, I don't like my sheets smelling of "eau de yogi".

First off, the soapnuts were extremely difficult to buy. I went to all my favourite healthfood stores and generally people just looked at me like the crazy organic hippie consumer that I am ...

"What are they?"
"Nuts are over there ..."
"Ummm ... these are for washing your laundry"
"You're going to do what, now? Wash your clothes with nuts? Weirdo hippie ..."

(Ok, I added that last part in)

But seriously, no one had heard of them, and no one stocked them. I eventually found them online (the joys of being a consumer in today's technologically advanced world), but had to wait a week or so to receive them (the joys of being a weirdo hippie consumer in today's technologically advanced world). When they eventually arrived, I read the directions and got to work...

So that the soap nuts don't go all over your clothes and leave bits of debris everywhere, it is recommended that you use a soap nut bag (I simply made a cheesecloth pouch, although I think a bag would have been better). Similarly, if you like a less "soap-nutty" smell to accompany your laundry, adding a few drops of your favourite essential oil to the bag/cheesecloth is key (I used lemon oil for clothes and towels, and lavender oil for sheets ... and I added about 20 drops instead of just a few, as I like my laundry to be fragrant).

I watched as the laundry started to spin around, and although eventually there were some suds, there were significantly less than with my normal detergent (probaby good from an environmental point of view). I was highly skeptical at this point ... but the first load (sheets) seemed clean and were pleasantly fragrant with the subtle scent of lavender. I did another load (this time clothes), and was less impressed. So that my clothes don't shrink/warp/discolour/etc, and so that I am (somewhat) friendly towards the environment, I usually wash clothes in cold water (sheets and towels in hotter water for hygiene reasons). I'm not sure if this had to do with the choice of essential oil, the fact that the water was colder or that I had used the soap nuts again (which you are supposed to be able to do - several times!), but the clothes were not nearly as fresh as I had expected. One or two items even had some residual stains from the kombucha I had spilled earlier in the week (I joke - what kind of a glamour girl drinks kombucha? Oh ... wait ... this kind) In any case, the second load = #epicfail.

I waited for everything to air dry, eventually (two days later) started folding, and was disappointed that the fresh smell had already faded. I recognise that associating a smell with a hygiene rating is a result of social conditioning, however, it did make me question how clean everything was (and to be fair, some of the more dirty things, i.e. yoga clothes, got put back in the dirty pile rather than in the appropriate clean drawer, just to be safe - remember my thoughts on "eau de yogi" above?). I suppose this has more to do with my perceived cleanliness levels than actual levels of cleanliness, but still ...

My conclusion? Soap nuts are really good if you have severe allergies to the chemicals found in regular detergents, are happy to use hot water, and if you don't feel the need to have that perfumed detergent smell waft up when you open folded sheets and clothes. I would not recommend soap nuts for heavily soiled or delicate clothes as they may not reach the desired level of cleanliness/delicacy required. Overall it was an interesting experiment that allowed me to step outside my comfort zone, however I forsee the soap nuts sitting in the back of the cupboard, while I continue to look for a laundry detergent which meets both my cleanliness requirements and is less harmful to my skin and the environment (read: invloves less harsh chemicals and perfumes).

GG Rating: Good for Carob Converts - this was one tough challenge!

Monday, 24 March 2014

Green Inspiration #6

We recently got back from a month in India - a beautiful, magical country with sights, sounds and smells like no other. To say it was sensory overload would be an understatement.

An easy way to get around in cities in India is via rickshaw, but the more we travelled on crowded and chaotic roads in these open vehicles, the more I realised that those of us who live in Western, developed countries have a greater responsibility to do what we can to help the environment.

Two weeks into the trip, and both my husband and I developed respiratory issues, primarily due to the levels of pollution. The rickshaws and other vehicles are old, often produce dark fumes and likely do not meet the standardized emmission levels that we have in Europe and North America. The experience made me feel priviliged to live in a country where we take clean air for granted, and it also made me realise that I need to do more to reduce the amount of waste and pollution that I create, day to day.

Al Gore was the first person to inspire me to make small changes every day, and from his website, here is a list of little things that can make a big difference.

We only have one world and what we do affects everyone on it ... let's take care of our planet by making the small things count.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Book Review: It's All Good by Gwyneth Paltrow

Despite seeing some negative reviews, I had high hopes when I purchased Gwyneth's latest cookbook, and I have to say, I was not disappointed. In fact, for a period of time, her book replaced my favourite food blog (My New Roots) as my mealtime go-to. There are a great selection of recipes in the book - broken down into categories such as "Morning Time", "Salads", "Soups", "Fish", "Meat", etc...- and they are generally really easy to make with minimal "weird" ingredients required (side note- ever tried to make an amazing looking recipe, only to find out that before you can, you have to go to five different specialty stores and three different websites to get all the required ingredients? Who has time for that?!?).

The book has a great intro about the reasons behind the recipes, and a detailed explanation of pantry staples. Similarly helpful are the icons at the top of each page which indicate if the recipe is vegan, gluten-free, protein packed or can be used as part of an "elimination diet". I've tried quite a lot of the recipes, and, apart from one or two items, all were a colossal success. The recipes were easy, didn't take much time, tasted great, and were healthy too! Now frequently in my recipe rotation are Gwyneth's Spicy Sweet Potato Soup with Chipotle and Coriander (which went down really well with a number of extended family members); Roasted Cauliflower & Chickpeas with Mustard and Parsley (one of the easiest and tastiest dishes and can be eaten on it's own or as a side dish); Mango & Avacado Salad with Balsamic-Lime Vinaigrette - a perfect dish to bring to a picnic; Roasted Leeks - a great way to reinvent the humble leek; Stir-Fried Brown Rice with Nori and Black Sesame - a wonderful way to use up left-over rice (try not to eat the whole dish - it serves 4, after all!). And for desserts/snacks, my friends and family have been really impressed with the Almond Butter Cookies with Maldon Salt (expensive due to the amount of maple syrup and almond butter needed, but worth every penny - consider making a half-batch and eating less ... good luck!), and the Banana "Ice Cream" with Sweet-and-Salty Roasted Almonds. The book also inspired me to make my own almond milk, which was surprisingly easy and fun (coming soon in another blog post)!

For me, most of the recipes use items that I have on hand already (Sweet and Salty Roasted Almonds only use 3 ingredients and can be made in about 10 minutes, perfect for elevating a humble bowl of yogurt or ice-cream into something a little more gourmet), and they do not require a lot of time in the kitchen (Gwenyth is a busy lady, after all!). Last night I made the Roasted Cauliflower & Chickpeas with Mustard and Parsley, and the preparation time was all of about 15 minutes. While the cauliflower and chickpeas roasted, I had time to do some odds and ends around the house, so I felt organised and relaxed when we sat down to eat.

The only recipes that have not impressed have been Broccoli and Arugula (Rocket) Soup (the cruciferous vegetable flavour overpowered the dish and there weren't enough other flavours to balance it out for me - it IS on the elimination diet, however), and the Bummer Bars (for me they had a weird undertaste, possibly from the quinoa flakes, and I didn't love the texture).

However, the book is packed full of recipes, so there is something to suit everyone's taste (meat-eaters, veggies, vegans, celiacs and kids). There is a huge selection so you'll have foodie inspiration for a good long while, and the photos are beautiful and inspiring too (not just food pics, but Gwyneth picking veggies and drinking green juice ... tell me you're not inspired to be healthier, just thinking of that image?!?)

The book is great for anyone who likes good food, clean eating, and who doesn't want to spend their entire day standing in the kitchen or sourcing ingredients. The recipes are enjoyable and make you feel good - eating healthy without deprivation - just delicious, clean food. I highly recommend adding it to your cookbook shelf, getting busy in the kitchen, and watching your friends and family lap up these meals.

GG Rating - Good for Spelt Supporters as the recipes are easy and the food delicious!

Monday, 17 March 2014

Green Inspiration #5

I am a little bit obsessed with dips. I used to buy hummous at least once a week on my way home, when one day, my husband pointed out that even the reduced fat hummous probably wasn't all that good for us. I have not (since then) given up my hummous addiction, but I have started making it myself so that I can control the ingredients and make it taste the way I want. Hummous is a great snack (full of fibre), and I find it indulgent, filling and tasty too. It's really easy and only takes a few minutes. You don't even have to chop anything! My basic hummous recipe is below ....

Easy Hummous

1 can of chickpeas (in water), drained
1.5 tbsp of tahini
2 cloves garlic (peeled)
pinch sea salt (to taste)
pinch crushed chillies (to taste)
juice of 2-3 lemons (to taste)
olive oil

Put all ingredients (except olive oil) in a food processor and blend until smooth(ish), scraping down the sides once or twice. Turn on the food processor again and drizzle a little bit of olive oil into the mix while running (this seems to make it a bit creamier). Taste and adjust seasoning. Blend for a few minutes until desired consistency is reached. Note: this will not be as creamy as store-bought hummous ... to reach a creamier consistency, add more oil, however this kind of defeats the purpose of making it yourself :(

Serve with chopped veggies and try not to eat it all in one go!