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Intuitive Cooking

My Beautiful Local Gym, Brighton Fitness is closing it’s doors after 20 years. I attend a class or two there most days of the week, so I am really upset and grieving the loss of my second home. Thankfully, they have a sister gym; Paragon Fitness, 15 or so minutes away, that I can still drive to – I’ll just miss the community and convenience of this haven that was only across the road. I’ve only been a member for just over a year, but am shook to the core by the sudden selling of the building. I can’t even imagine how devastated the friendly and hardworking employees must be feeling. I wanted to do whatever I could to help – which didn’t seem like much …

So I wrote them a heartfelt card and made a batch of AMAZEBALLS …


Which brings me to intuitive cooking. I didn’t measure the ingredients for these simple little balls of crunchy chocolatey goodness and they still turned out pretty damn snazzy (if I do say so myself …  and I do). More often than not, I’ll prepare food with this free-spirited, trusting-that-everything-will-work-out attitude. Usually the results are “all G” at worst and holy shizballs (!) at best. Some recipes are a bit more fiddly than others, but most of a the time, a few tweaks here and there make the recipe even tastier. The more you use your intuition, rather than measuring everything to the letter, the more confidence you’ll develop in the art of substitution. This helps cooking become a playful and relaxing ritual, rather than just another chore or obligation.

Last night mum was using the leftover lamb bone from Sunday’s roast to whip up a batch of this soup. She asked if I reckoned she could add some extra veggies to the mix … I gave her a funny look. My mum is the queen of throwing every veggie from the crisper into her meals, whether the recipe says so or not. I think she was trying to be respectful because I made up the recipe, but she totally didn’t need to worry. I want you guys to know that all of my recipes are made to be played with – except maybe this one, because you can’t play around with yoghurt/sour cream-making (it can go bad too easily).


If the recipe says almonds, you can use cashews. If you need to be nut-free, use sunflower or pumpkin seeds instead. If I use coconut milk, you can use macadamia milk. If I suggest ground pecans, you can swap them for almond meal. If I say lamb, you can use beef, turkey can become chicken, salmon-ocean trout, spud spuds-regular spuds. Kale in place of spinach, carrots standing in for pumpkin, and dates taking the reins from raisins. Himalayan salt can be substituted for sea salt and vice versa. Don’t like animal fat? Use coconut oil for cooking or baking (we do this most of the time anyway). Goodness me, there’s so many more examples but I think my point has been made.

The recipe below is a great way to start having a play, like it sweeter and stickier – chuck in extra dates, want it richer? Go for more raw cacao powder. Like it chunky? Don’t pulse the nuts for as long. Want it smooth and creamy like a traditional fudge? Blend for longer or sub nuts for nut-butter. You can add in a drop or two of food-grade, high quality essential oil – think sweet orange or peppermint for a groovy zing or spike the mix with some of your fave spices; I love cardamon and vanilla bean. The beauty of raw desserts is you can taste as you go until the mix if your tongue’s idea of foodgasm-worthy perfection.


Parting advice: start playing ever so slightly with your fave recipes, or browse my vast collection of easily adaptable recipes and vowel to change at least one or two minor details. Get comfortable with this and learn to trust yourself. I’m noticing more and more food bloggers and cookbook authors providing more and more substitutions and I suspect this is because of questions like; can I use dried apricots instead of figs? Man I use almond butter instead of peanut butter? They want to cover themselves to save on question answering later – I know the feeling.

Think about what an ingredient is doing in the recipe. If it’s adding creaminess – you can sub for anything else that will give the same comforting richness. If it’s there for added flavour – think herbs, you can probably swap said ingredient (if it doesn’t float your boat) for your fave bunch of another wild green variety. Yes, it will taste difference, but it’s always about making the flavour work for you. If it’s an allergy thing, you can always (for example) use cashew milk in place of cows milk, or cows milk in place of cashew milk for nut free (so think smoothies, porridges, creamy sauces and soups).

It’s okay, trust yourself, and make your food work for you. If you run into a few bumps and misadventures along the way – you’ll learn and have a funky story to tell after you get over the  regret of adding too much cardamom to a particular batch of porridge, as an  example (really, I’m okay … with a little help from my therapist, I’m gradually getting over that spicy dilemma – jokes).

Raw Cacao Crunch Amazeballs

2 cups pitted dates, sulphur and vegetable oil-free (or any other dried fruit that rocks your groovy socks)

1 1/2 -2 cups activated nuts (I used a mix of pecans and almonds)*

1/4 -1/2 cup raw cacao powder (more for a darker choccie flavour)

Optional add ins: 1-2 drops food grade orange or peppermint essential oils, 1/4 teaspoon cardamom, vanilla, ginger and/or cinnamon, as much or as little booster powder such as spirulina, maca or hemp protein etc.

Filtered water 1-3 Tablespoons to bring mixture together so it’s flexible enough to work into balls (but not so wet that it’s chocolate slime – this is where you’ll just have to have a play – adding more nuts to dry the mixture out or a tad more water for a wetter chocolate “dough”)

Method

Place dates, cacao and nuts in a food processor or high-speed blender, along with 1-2 Tablespoons of the water. Pulse on medium-high, stopping the machine every few pulses to scare sides down and give blades a chance to reach different areas that have not yet been broken down. If you’re using a Vitamix (or another machine with a tamper) use this tamper to push the mixture into the blades (make sure the lid is on so the tamper can’t actually touch the blades (otherwise you’ll be looking at a broken tamper -trust me, I have ditzy experience in that department).

If the mix is still a tad dry, add that extra Tablespoon of water and plus/blend-and-tamper until mix comes together to form a nice dough. I like to leave the nuts a bit chunky, so I tip my mix into a mixing bowl and “knead” it with my hands to bring any last stray “crumbs” together.

Then I prepare a storage container by lining it with paper towel, and start rolling the mix into balls (they can be any size you like – I never measure!). Keep rolling until all the mix is used up.

These babies will last in the fridge for 2-3 months (but I doubt they’ll last that long – especially if you’re a generous old soul and share them with your mates … but I’ll leave that one up to you … no judgement if you hide this stash in the back of the fridge instead).

Notes

The recipe won’t flop if you don’t use activated nuts – it will just be easier to digest if the nuts have been activated – soaked in water for 12 hours, then drained and rinsed (this reduces any naturally-occurring substances in the nuts that protect the nut itself from digestion … also known as “anti-nutrients”) and dehydrated at a low temperature until crisp. The latter is more for preservation purposes, you can soak your nuts, drain and rinse, then add straight to this recipe and just leave out the added water … just be sure to use these balls within a week or two, as the added moisture will make it susceptible to mould growth.

Stay Well This Winter (no supplements required!)

Most of us see a cold, flu or sniffle and an inevidable part of the Winter season. I used to think it was the cold weather that made us more susceptible. Not directly apparently. It actually has far more to do with how our lifestyles change in Winter. We spend more time inside, so we’re breathing in more recycled air, thats likely full of germs. The heating systems don’t do much to help and can dry out our mucous membranes (remember that mucous is one of our first lines of defence against pathogens). We may become more sedentary, as we think it’s too dark, cold and miserable to get outside. This also means we’re getting less Vitamin D – a hormone that has immune-modulating effects. Then there’s the craving for comfort foods that might be a bit stodgier and less nutritious that our Summer and Spring cravings for smoothies and vibrant salads.

I actually love that our tendencies towards poor immune function is cold weather has little to do with the temperature drop are far more to do with our behaviours. This means we can be pro-active about things and practice prevention.

*Touch all the wood* … I rarely get sick, regardless of the season and I reckon it’s got quite a bit to do with how much sun exposure I get, my affinity for exercise and addiction to fruits and veggies. I don’t take vitamins or supplements, even as a precaution. For me it’s all lifestyle and it seems to work uber well. Here’s my top 5 suggestions for avoiding the Winter sniffles.

Appreciate Mamma Nature

In Australia we love to love Summer and love to hate Winter. Let’s change this up. 

Nature is still a beauty in Winter and getting outside more will do you loads of good. It’s normal to experience all the seasons, our body’s expect temperature changes. In fact, I don’t think they appreciate us having climate control air-conditioning systems year-round. How are they ever supposed to learn resilience if we never let them experience the extremes of the season. We don’t get as much sun in Winter so it’s vital for out Vitamin D levels that we get as much exposure as we can when it decides to show it’s pretty face. Not only it Vitamin D super-important for our immunity, but also our mood. ever noticed when you spend too much time indoors you start to feel a bit detached and despondent? Vitamin D my friends. Get around it.

Action Steps

Rug up in your fave jumper and go for a walk in the afternoon sun. Take a friend or your poochy pal for some company if you lack motivation. Alternatively listen to an awesome podcast.

Sit outside when you eat your lunch if you can, and if you have time when you finish, maybe just lie there a while to soak up the rays.

Don’t cover yourself with sunscreen straight away! The second we apply sunscreen we impair our skin’s ability to synthesise vitamin D. In the Winter sun, you won’t burn for at least 20 minutes, after which wither slap on a hat or apply a natural sunscreen that doesn’t contain any suspicious chemicals. Check out this article by Alexx Stuart from Low to Life for more info if you’re thinking “what’s wrong with regular sunscreens?”

Maintain your Love Affair with Fruits and Veggies

Our need for vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients doesn’t decrease in Winter – even if our appetite for salad does

Get around the hearty winter veggies and vibrant greens of winter. Pumpkin, carrot, sweet spud, brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, pears, avos, zucchini, citrus fruits, ginger and garlic are just some of the beaut offerings in season during the cooler weather.

Action Steps

Make an epic soup from sweet veggies such as pumpkin or carrot, adding ginger and ground cinnamon, plus some coconut cream or soft nuts (think macas or cashews) to creamy it up. I like to add cauliflower as this makes the soup extra creamy. Use this recipe as a base and tweak to suit your tastebuds.

Indulge in this super-easy broccoli amazingness – I’ve been adding ginger lately plus some coconut vinegar for added flavours. The ginger really warms me up and the coconut vinegar contains beneficial bacteria to keep my gut happy (remember that the gut is the seat of the immune system).

Cook zoodles (zucchini noodles – or other spiralled veggie of choice) in homemade broth with broccoli florets and chunks of pumpkin or sweet spud. Add some meat leftover from broth making or cubes of chopped skinless salmon (allow to poach slightly in broth before removing from heat) and you’ve got yourself a deeply nourishing meal.

Make a homemade pear and frozen berry crumble. Just toss cored and chopped pears with a cup or two of frozen berries, the juice of an orange or lemon and some cinnamon and vanilla bean powders and place in a baking dish (or individual ramekins). Make a crumble from 1 cup almond meal, 1/2 cup chopped macadamias, 1/4 cup softened coconut oil, 1/2 cup cashew butter and 1 cup shredded coconut. Rub cashew butter and coconut oil into nut meal, chopped nuts and coconut. sprinkle over fruit and bake at 160 degrees C for 30 minutes.

If all else fails, grab a fluff bathrobe, your favo blanket or a mega-size coat and wear it round your shoulders whilst you sip on your fave green smoothie recipe.

Don’t be Tempted to Skimp on Movement

There’s always ways around “socially acceptable” excuses

Think it’s too cold to exercise? Good news. Exercise warms you up, and the harder and faster you go, the warmer you’ll be during and also after your workout.

Think it’s too dark? There’s no rules saying you can’t go for a walk in the evening or early morning. The street lights will still be on. Alternatively put the lamp on in your bedroom and do some pelvic floor exercises on the floor (think sit ups, crunches, bridge, bicycle crawls, burpees, lunges with the core engaged and high knee running on the spot, alternating with kicking your butt running on the spot).

Is it too wet and miserable outside for your comfort? See bedroom floor option (above) or find an indoor class you can get to at least weekly. Think yoga –  it’s available everywhere, just go searching, you’ll find one in your area (if you’re in Adelaide I teach $10 yoga classes weekly). Alternatively do yoga classes from Youtube tutorials – with a mate might me more fun). There’s group exercise classes at gyms if you can afford the membership – I love this option. Buy a few home exercise DVDs and work out in the comfort of your lounge room.

Exercise improves your breathing, blood flow (important for transport of immune cells) and improves sleep quality (and the better you sleep, the more time your immune system has to build itself up again for another day of fighting off bugs and viruses).

Action Steps

Stop complaining and start moving. Do something you love and if you get bored change it up. If motivation icier weakness, find a walking buddy or find a friend and join the gym together and make “appointments” with each other to get there at least twice a week for a class or some time on the machines.

Remain a Sleeping Beauty

That couch and TV remote is uber tempting (sorry I mean Netflix subscription – am I the only one yet to jump on this addictive digital bandwagon?) but the Zzzzzs is where it’s at!

The better rested we are, the better our body’s work. It’s that simple. If I do get sick, which is a rarity, it’s always because I’ve been deprived of sleep over a few consecutive nights. In the past 3 years I’ve only had 2 colds; one in year 12, at the end of our drama production week. We went straight on a camp to Melbourne on the Thursday night and stayed out late doing volunteer work on the city streets. I came down with a cold on the Saturday. The second was last year after the Wellness Summit. I’d had a gallstone attack the Friday night before the Summit, a late night on the Saturday and Sunday and then another gallstone attack on the Monday night. On the day I flew home my body crashed and burned. Stress and sleep seem to be the biggest players here.

Action Steps

Aim to hit the sack before 10:30 most nights and you should be all G. I like to have a bedtime routine. I switch on my salt lamp, place a crystal under my pillow, brush my teeth, do some stretches and hug Mamma T goodnight. I try not to check my phone right before I lie down and keep my bedroom nice and chilly; windows open, no heating on. The more I can snuggle up, the quicker I nod off. I also sleep nude which seems to work wonders for me. I’ll leave that one up to you to have a play with … or not.

Stress Less

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again … Settle Petal 

What else did both those Melbourne trips have in common? Stress! It trumps everything. So where possible I try to keep a calm perspective, practise gratitude and use essential oils and yoga to keep myself afloat. Stress shuts the immune system and digestive system down. You don’t need these things to be firing when you’re running away from a safer-toothed tiger. What Tiger? You may ask. Well, these days it’s not a tiger, it’s a traffic jam or assignment deadline or argument with a family member, but our nervous system doesn’t differentiate … it just knows there’s a threat and prepares us to fight or flee the situation. You don’t need to digest food or fight infection in these desperate moments, so you body dulls down these functions. Not ideal, especially if these stressors remain.

Action Steps

If you can’t do anything about it immediately, write yourself a note and move on to something you can be productive with in the now. For example; If the internet is giving you a hard time, park that job and go chop veggies for dinner or sweep the kitchen floor.

Diffuse some essential oils or make up a spritzer (just a spray bottle with water and a few drops of your fave EO) and regularly spritz your face. Just smelling something calming like ylang ylang or clove bud oil (two of my faves) can change your physiological response. You can purchase immune boosting blends too to kill two birds with one stone.

Take time to stretch and breath. It’s hard to feel frazzled when your muscles are free of kinks and your lungs are full of air.

Keep a gratitude journal. I’ve heard around the place that it’s impossible to feel stressed and blessed at the same time. This sounds pretty spot on – give it a whirl.

So there you have it, some Action Steps for you to stay fighting fit this Winter. No real added expenses necessary – unless you decide to pay for that gym membership after all (which of course, is totally optional).