Holidays are over and it’s time to get back to normality… If you have kids I am guessing you are in the midst of preparing for the return to school. Even though it is years (many years in fact) since I went to school, this time of year always reminds me of just that. The sense of that first light chill in the air, the sweet smell of grain ready for harvest and just the beginning of a hint of red on the leaves. Then you know that change is in the air and that we are slowly moving towards darker times. Summer is drawing to a close… Both with a little sadness, yet with a light exciting anticipation of what may lay ahead.
I came back from my long awaited holidays earlier this week. And boy am I feeling the change in the air! When you live abroad, “going home” is almost a necessity. Kind of a given way to spend some of your hard earned time off. This is my 13th year abroad and every summer I return faithfully to my roots. Luckily I have a loving home to return to every year and since my beloved mother lives in one of the most beautiful places on earth it makes the endeavor an even sweeter one. About ten years ago she moved to the most southernly area of Sweden, Österlen. It is so close to the sea and one of those special places with special light.
This area of Sweden has been home to painters and artists for centuries. If you have ever visited, it is obvious why. You will find art galleries, vintage stores and artisan cafés dotted all over the place. This is not where I grew up though. My “real home” is smack bang in the middle of Skåne, with a slightly different landscape. Different but still beautiful. My dad and his family come from this particular countryside and my darling brother is set to carry on the tradition, having built his house here and having started his own family earlier this year.
This post is slightly different to my usual ones as I would like to share some pictures I took whilst I was home, in Sweden. I sincerely hope you won’t mind. If you have never visited this corner of the earth, hopefully a few images will inspire you to do so!
The little town of Kivik, located right on the coast is world famous for all things apple. You will find an almost unimaginable amount of rows up on rows of apple trees growing in the area. Imagine the beauty of Spring there! All those flowers…
Most of the coastline is scattered with small sandy beaches and the Baltic can be very warm with water temperatures reaching the mid 20s if the summer is a hot one. I manged just one dip while I was home but I doubt it was still mid 20s kinda warm. It didn’t really feel like it was! It truly is a summer paradise around here and judging from the amount of tourists still around, a lot of people seem to think so. The area is actually equally beautiful in the winter, but much much colder so hardly any visitors to be seen anywhere then. I’m sure the locals don’t mind the peace and quiet over the winter months, though. They must be worn out after the summer.
When I first moved overseas, there was a whole heap of foods and dishes I missed. Since then, my dietary habits have changed, a lot. Much for the better, I suppose. So now I miss cooking when I’m away instead. There are still a few foods which find their way back to Ireland every time though. Things like REAL traditional Swedish rye crispbread and “Kalles Kaviar”, a caviar in a tube. Might sound rather awful to some… But not if you are a true Swede 😉 Anyone with me? Have you tried it?
The recipe here is a delicious purple smoothie bowl made with blackcurrants foraged from my mother’s tiny little kitchen garden. I simply adore blackcurrants, so enjoyed the opportunity to pick them straight from the bush as oppose to a freezer bag for a change. Blackcurrants are a true super food which we, who live in the northerly latitudes can enjoy locally. It has as much vitamin C as goji berries so a perfect berry to store for the winter months to stave off any colds and flu bugs. When I was in my late teens and still lived in Sweden I had never even heard of a dairy free smoothie bowl, like this recipe. Fast forward ten years or so and they have become a weekly staple. How things change, hey?
Smoothie bowls are so handy when you are looking for something which resemble that bowl of yoghurt with cereal you used to eat before you had to clean up your act. When I finally realised that my body felt so much better without dairy and had to give up my beloved natural yoghurt, having my smoothie in a bowl at times has made me feel a little less deprived. Now I can top it with with crunchy seeds or homemade granola just like I used to when I was 12! The fact that this kind of breakfast bowl will give you less sugar and more nutrition than traditional ones, makes it even more worthwhile.
The idea of using coconut milk comes from a summer holiday spent in Barcelona a few years ago. ( I still went “home” though, just had to cut it a little shorter than normal, that year. ) If you have ever visited the amazing food market there with all the gorgeous fresh fruit smoothies, you’ll know what I’m on about… For a smoothie to be eaten out of a bowl, you need a slightly thicker consistency than normal so go easy on the liquid. Otherwise all your lovely toppings will sink like stones to the bottom. No hope of any pretty styling then 😉
Purple Smoothie Bowl
100 ml coconut milk – fresh or use a good quality full fat coconut milk with little or no additives, organic if possible
1/4 cup fresh or frozen blackcurrant
Rinse and drain the berries if using freshly picked ones. Place berries, coconut milk and banana in a blender and blend until smooth. Serve immediately in a bowl and top with your favourite muesli, granola or toasted seeds. Add more berries if you so wish.
I like the rather tart taste of the berries so for me the banana is enough to sweeten. You can of course add a little honey or maple syrup if you find it too tart. However I would recommend not to, if you wish to keep your sugar intake low.
If you wish to try another smoothie with coconut milk, check out this recipe which I made for this site a little while back. A seriously refreshing summer drink. If you can get hold of some water melon and strawberries, it’s worth trying. Promise.
Well, are you ready for autumn now? I don’t know if I can truly say I am. It will be here whether we want it or not though, so we might just embrace it… But until it is inevitable, I for one will savour what’s left of the summer and the lovely memories of the past few weeks spent with old friends and family. Grounding and reconnecting with my roots. How about you?
Are you part of the Green Smoothie Club? If smoothies are a very recent addition to your daily menu, making it a green one may still feel a little daunting. Or if having liquidized greens still seems a little ‘too out there’ for you, yet you are curious about trying out one – then this recipe is for you.
The Green Smoothie for Beginners is the first part in my upcoming smoothie series. I have a couple more refreshing raw drinks in the pipeline for you while the season is still primed for indulging in raw foods. Smoothies, particularly green ones is such a simple step to increase the amount of raw food in your daily diet, and your intake of vegetables over all.
I don’t own a fancy blender like a Nutri-bullet or a Vitamix (I wish I did though…). The basic blender I had, which had a good glass jug I broke by putting something too hot in it. Kitchen mishaps… So these days I’m back to using my trusted hand blender (actually I wore one out and had to replace it as I couldn’t do with out!) I’m not one for (too many) fancy kitchen gadgets but my hand blender is one gadget I certainly couldn’t live without. I’ve even taken it on holiday with me. How sad it that?
Ever since I broke my blender jug, green smoothies has been off my menu, as I believed my little hand blender would not be strong enough to blend the green leaves. The key to a really good green smoothie is to make sure that the leaves are really well chopped up. You simply won’t have that fabulous of an experience if you have to chomp through chunks of leaves. I mean, it’s called smoothie for a reason. Right? Anyhow, we have been getting some great fresh produce here lately which included both spinach and the utterly beautiful rainbow chard. So I though, let’s put the hand blender to the test and see if it is possible to make some kind of green smooth(ie) goodness with it.
Success! Here you are. My basic green smoothie recipe for beginners, using only a hand blender. No excuses now, not to try out these greenies.
Most of the smoothies I make includes two of my favourite ingredients, banana and avocado. Both of them add a lovely creaminess to any smoothie and the healthy fat from the avocado helps to counteract any possible blood sugar spike from the fruit. Having smoothies as oppose to juices means you will get all the fibre from the fresh produce too.
Green Smoothie For Beginners
1/2 an avocado
1 small banana or 1/2 of a big one, peeled & chopped
a fist of soft green mild-tasting leaves, like chard or spinach – washed
1 kiwi, peeled & roughly chopped
a squeeze of lime – optional
200ml of filtered water or plant milk of choice
Scoop out the flesh of the avocado and add together with the rest of the ingredients to your blender and blend until smooth. Pour your smoothie into a glass. Top with some Chia seeds, bee pollen or any other fancy super food you can think of. Or do what I do when not styling for a photo shoot – have it straight from the container…
Congrats! You are now well on your way to a healthier, more wholesome lifestyle. Don’t worry if your tastebuds protest a little at first. Practice makes perfect.
Are you on the “Quitting Sugar Train”? There’s so much hype and information around about the dangers of sugar these days. It feels a little overwhelming at times. Not to mention confusing! The science of nutrition seems to be forever evolving and changing. Eat this. Don’t eat that. Sometimes (even as a trained professional!) I feel confused and overwhelmed about what or what not to eat. I can only guess how you might be feeling…
The thing is though, the downside of eating too much sugar (just to be very clear I am talking about refined sugars here), are not new and is backed up by a lot of research. I picked up some of my mum’s books about healthy eating from the 70s and guess what? They where highlighting it back then too. Sad thing is, it seems like our sugar consumption hasn’t really reduced since then either… Obesity and obesity related diseases are a massive problem today and it seems like it’s spreading downwards with younger and younger people being overweight too. I find this so incredibly sad as it’s not just the excess weight on its own that’s a problem.
It affects our hormones and our mood. Excess weight, particularly around the middle has also been linked to heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. Not to mention how your self-esteem is affected by those extra pounds, when we live in a society so fixated with body image. On top of that carrying excess weight makes it harder and more uncomfortable to move and exercise.
I believe that our “Western Diet” is not weight friendly at all. Eating that way will always bring you an uphill struggle with excess weight. You might be really lucky and put it on really gradually. But the weight will be going on non the less. To keep your figure, and your health there is really only one way to go, unprocessed and quitting sugar. And when I say quitting sugar, I mean the white refined stuff and even mores so the awful High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). It can seem like sugar is in everything when you start reading the labels and it kind of is. Just be clear on avoiding the ADDED sugar and try to reduce or avoid adding it yourself to drinks and food. But please don’t vilify your best friends; fresh vegetables and fruit (in moderation). They are the foods we where originally made to eat.
If you have decided that now is the right time to wave goodbye to refined sugar, make it as easy on yourself as you can. Start with the obvious. Like quitting liquid calories in the form of sodas / soft drinks / energy drinks. No one needs them, unless perhaps you are an endurance athlete, in the middle of a 3h+ race. Switching to naturally flavoured water, herbal teas and/or cutting out your added sugar in teas and coffees will make a major difference to your energy levels, your weight, your health and believe it or not, your taste! It is so easy to over-consume liquid energy as it has no fibre that needs processing and which is an important component to help us stay full for longer.
The next step would be to swap your usually processed, sugar laden treats / snacks for something more wholesome and that’s where these little bites come in! I heard someone saying recently that they have a rule in their house which says only homemade treats are allowed. Sounds good to me. That way you are in full control of what is going into your treat and subsequently into your body. Yes, dates contain sugar.
But they are also a source of fibre, iron, magnesium and potassium. Peanuts will give you some good fats and protein. Good quality dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants. I believe when we eat nourishing, good quality wholefood, less becomes more so even though they are still to be considered a treat, this kind of treat will serve not just as a short term treat for your taste buds, but will do some good for your body good longterm too. Because I am of the opinion that life is for living, personally I prefer to keep the natural goodness in my life and enjoy raw treats like these.
Better For You Peanut Butter Bites
Makes about 15 bites
2 cups of pitted dates
1 heaped tbsp of crunchy peanut butter – 100 % nuts
1 tbsp coconut oil
a pinch of sea salt
80g of 70-80% good quality dark chocolate
In a small sauce pan, gently melt the coconut oil and then mix in the peanut butter. Mix until well combined.
Add the dates to the bowl of your food processor. (I seriously have no idea what I did before mine entered my life…) Add in the peanut butter-coconut oil mix and a pinch of sea salt or Himalayan pink salt. Blend until you have a ball of sticky date-goodness. Proceed to making small little balls.
In a bowl over some boiling water, melt the chocolate. When fully melted, remove from stove top. Dip each date ball into the melted chocolate and fish it back out with the help of two forks. Place each peanut butter chocolate bite on a tray lined with parchment paper. Let the bites cool and the chocolate coating set in the fridge before you treat yourself to one of these better-for-you peanut butter chocolate bites. Your little delicious treats will store in an airtight container in the fridge for a couple of days. These guys are perfect as a little side for your perfect cup of coffee or your favourite cup of tea.
Note* If you are familiar with making raw chocolate, then do use that as a coating instead of the dark chocolate. For simplicity I have gone with regular dark chocolate. For a higher nutrient profile and even less processed goodness I would use raw chocolate, if that appeals to you.
This recipe is a really simple refreshing salad. Good on its own or as part of a BBQ. Watermelon makes the perfect summer food as it has a really high water content and is naturally sweet so pretty compelling to eat. It is certainly a food I crave once the temperatures rises above twenty. Not that it is a common occurrence in this country though… And it is certainly not a fruit which in on my mind in Dec when we are busy eating oranges and drinking mulled wine.
When I spotted a nice looking watermelon in the shop I immediately thought of this salad combination. Especially since I hadn’t enjoyed it in ages. I always have some feta cheese in my fridge simply #becauseeverythingtastesbetterwithfeta. I love adding some of its saltiness to salads, as a topping on homemade pizza or on roasted veg. If you are following me on Instagram, you probably know this buy now. We also have some mint growing in the garden and a various amount of seeds can always be found in my pantry. If you don’t have mint, basil will work really well too.
Apart from being a totally yummy summery fruit, watermelon also has a couple of useful health benefits. Because it is naturally sweet and because we nowadays seem to associate sweet things as being bad for us, many might avoid watermelon because they believe it is high in sugar. The fact is though that the fruit is almost 96% water and a cup of diced watermelon is only 9g of sugar compared to your 100g bag of sweets which might be about 40g of sugar. Due to its really high water content it is the perfect food for warm summer weather we inevitably sweat more and thus fore need to increase our fluid intake.
It contains sodium which we also tend to loose when we sweat. To top it all off it is high in Vitamin C and Vitamin A both strong antioxidants which are never a bad idea, which will hopefully protect us from aging damages from the sun. See nature really has created cleaver ways of foods to work with the seasons and according to our varying needs.
You’ll have this salad done in a matter of minutes, perfect while someone else is sorting out the BBQ. Make a much of it as you like depending on how many people you intend to feed. I enjoyed my bowl all to myself as a refreshing lunch. Probably no harm in adding a few more greens on the side if you so wish. Turn any leftover watermelon that you don’t use for the salad in to a smoothie the following day. (Recipe to follow!)
Watermelon Salad with Feta & Fresh Mint
2 cups fresh watermelon, diced, seeds removed if needed
70 g good quality feta cheese
a few sprigs of fresh mint leaves
some raw pumpkin seeds – or use any other nut or seed you fancy
Place the diced watermelon in a large bowl. Mix with a few shredded mint leaves and top with some crumbled feta cheese and a few pumpkin seeds. As easy as that!
We are still enjoying some warm weather here in beautiful co. Cork, so this week I am going to treat you to a really simple yet healthy “ice cream” recipe. And not too many words, promise! I’m currently writing this from my temporary outdoor office. God bless the inventor of laptops, is all I can say. Yay to flexibility and working from home. I just love this warm weather and can’t get enough of it so even though I am working, I’m grateful I can do so much of it from my own computer, outside, at home. Life is good.
If you haven’t yet tried “Nana icecream”, you are seriously missing out. You will need to be a little ahead of yourself to make this recipe, since the bananas need to be frozen for a couple of hours, at least. But once you get into the swing of chopping up your very ripe bananas (instead of throwing them out) and putting them in the freezer, you’ll have this yummy treat/dessert/breakfast/snack/whatever you want to call it, whipped up in no time. For those non-banana lovers out there, fear not, you can hardly taste the banana flavour, especially if you blend the frozen banana with another fruit or something like cacao powder, for a chocolate hit. Perfect for anyone who needs to be dairy free and feel like their missing out.
You will need as food processor or a good blender for this recipe.
Strawberry Nana Icecream
3 medium sized bananas, peeled, chopped & frozen
6-7 fresh strawberries (depending on size), washed, hullled & halved
1-2 tbsp coconut milk
Fresh berries or edible flower to decorate with – optional
Place all ingredients into your food processor or blender. Note, a handblender won’t be strong enough for this job.
Blend until you have a smooth looking “ice cream”. Serve immediately in individual bowls. Savour a guilt free treat, while doing something good for your health.
This “ice cream” won’t refreeze so needs to be eaten straightaway. But, sure, where’s the harm in that?