Our Snow Days Became Baking Days – Is The Gym Open Yet?

4A91CBDC-D755-49B3-8CF1-F433031E30F4I spent an entire week confined to barracks because I can’t bear the minus temperatures and icy winds, or risk a fall on the ice. My husband couldn’t go out on his usual bike rides and we’d also chosen this week to have the hall parquet flooring restored, which meant open external doors. We had blizzard conditions here and the woodburner was our best friend. So was the oven. We spent the whole week cooking, but mostly baking, and if the weather doesn’t improve soon, I’ll be needing a bigger size in jeans!

This was just one day’s production line:

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D14E5C63-6F6C-4E66-A9C5-39B82C1583B2My husband made bread rolls (and next day a wholemeal loaf), I made a Mango & Raisin Crumble with Oaty Topping, some Scones from the leftover crumble and some Curried Squash Soup! The next day I made a Coconut Cake.

9D4DC69F-4FDA-467C-A5E2-65F1ED6E4392My husband, on finishing the cake said ‘We should do this every week,’ to which I replied ‘I don’t think so, there’s no more room for my waistline!’ We even had crumble with Coconut Custard for late breakfast one morning, very decadent.

At the beginning of the week, I’d attempted to make flapjacks. The mixture looked amazing in the tray. Tasted good, too. Unfortunately, I spent far too much time talking to the floor man and didn’t keep my eye on it, so it was a tad overcooked and I forgot to cut it up before it went cold. So it became granola!

(The floor turned out nicely, though:

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Thankfully, it was a much easier task than the other two rooms we’d had done in previous years as it didn’t have to be relaid. It was finished in two days).

My husband made some Welsh cakes – a bit like fruit scones – and our son jokingly said, send some down! So we did, with some granola. However, they were snowed in, there were no shopping deliveries and no mail deliveries until 5 days later! We were convinced they would go straight in the bin, but my son gave them the thumbs up and was very appreciative.

719CAC7A-861A-4A48-8CAE-9F7A86FDE4F0On Friday morning, my husband walked the mile to the gym in snow and icy winds for a spin class, but the only exercise he got was the walk there and back and the half hour in between, clapping his arms around his body trying to keep warm! The class was cancelled due to the snow, but the instructor was unable to contact him. He did get a free session out of it for the next week, though.

As for me and my waistline, well, I surprised myself when shortly after the thaw, and despite the still chilly temperatures, I managed to walk My First 10,000 Steps.

*Since I wrote this, the snow decided to pay another visit at the weekend, and this was the result:

From left, clockwise: Chocolate & Coconut Tarte, Gingerbread Ducks & Chicks, Vegan, Gluten-free Pizza.  There has to be an end to snowdays soon, surely?

Copyright: Chris McGowan

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Monday Meditation: Reliant Robins*

On a bitterly cold Saturday in February, we decided that some very old, ugly shrubs had to come out. They grew along the garden wall in front of our lounge and for half of the year they were bare, uninteresting twigs and for the other half, they grew uncontrollably and needed constant pruning. They didn’t even flower! They did however screen us from passing foot traffic. But they also screened us from what little light there was, since that side of the house had no sun. They were so unattractive, I always carefully excluded them when taking photos of the garden.

The weather hadn’t been conducive to gardening, constantly wet, windy and close to freezing temperatures. This Saturday was fine, if still icy cold, but at least the wind had dropped. My husband decided this was the day. As I could not be of any practical support, and I was somewhat apprehensive, I left him to it and went for a cup of tea and a chat with my neighbour!

The left photo is how things were, and when I came home, this was what I found, quite some transformation and not a little devastation!

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It was quite a shock. The wall is old, cracked and missing a couple of stones on the top. It had been covered in ivy. What had we done? I thought with horror about the birds: the sparrows, blue tits, great tits, blackbirds and wrens loved those shrubs. I felt terrible.

And then, this happened:

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There are two robins in the bottom photo. I had to take it quickly through the window before they split up, so it’s not very clear. One is in front of the stumpy shrub.

We have had a pair nesting behind the shed or in the ivy that covers its roof for many years; I don’t know if they are always the same ones, but it is early to see them together like this; it’s usually late spring, early summer when they are so busy. They are almost part of the family, they are so tame.

They sing so beautifully from the trees in the back garden, I often stand below the apple or hawthorn trees watching and listening to their melodious conversations. The two of them fly about collecting nesting materials or food, not caring about us sitting and chatting with cups of tea or when my husband is repairing bikes. one will often come and sit on bike or on his shoulder as he works. This day, they were following him around the garden, and to the compost heap at the back, helping themselves to insects and worms or just simply observing.

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Frustratingly I missed the perfect photo opportunity, one I’ve been waiting for a long time to catch: I was talking to my mum on the phone whilst standing in front of the window looking at the bare stumps. Both robins appeared and sat on the wall facing each other. One sat with his head back and, opening his beak wide, started trilling with all his might to his partner. It was a beautiful, wonderful sight and I was frantically gesturing to my husband to fetch my camera, whilst trying to remove my iPhone from my back pocket and diplomatically end the landline call with Mum. None of those things happened in time!

They have been busy ever since. They seem to appreciate our efforts and there are many more shrubs along the other wall and in the back garden for the rest of the bird population. A friend is helping us choose new bird-friendly evergreen shrubs that flower to replace the old ones, so it won’t be long before we have a more attractive perimeter. And it is so much lighter in the lounge, even if we do feel a bit like we’re in a zoo when all the schoolchildren file past!

Meanwhile, we have the robins, my favourite birds, to entertain us: they always make me smile when they appear, so friendly, so sociable amd unafraid, and I am carrying my camera everywhere in case that photo opportunity ever arises again.

*Some of you will recognise this title as a pun on the old three-wheeler Reliant Robin cars, my brother-in-law had one as his first car, it used to give me the heebee-jeebies going round corners!

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Monday Meditation: A January Day in the English Countryside Part II

Last year at this time, I posted photographs of a walk along the local lanes on a clear, warm January day in what turned out to be another mild winter.* This year, the weather couldn’t be more different. We had 7” of snow before Christmas, sub-zero temperatures and cowered under numerous storms as we shivered by the woodburner and gradually desiccated in the central heating. This past week has again been freezing and wet, and we’ve just had another two days of sleet and snow.

This particular afternoon, however, the wind abated, the rain stopped and the sun peeped out for a look-see, so we took the chance for some fresh air and exercise and decided to retrace our steps from the previous year.

There was so much mud, debris (squashed plastic water bottles and other litter blown hither and thither by the gales) – and horse manure – on the lanes and verges! But I spared you all that detritus and picked out as much green as I could. We didn’t see the animals on the smallholding, which seemed abandoned, but we did see some sheep. Here are the photos I took this time around:

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This proud wood pigeon wasn’t at all camera-shy, he posed for a very long time, allowing me to get the perfect picture, making sure I only caught his good side, though!

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If you zoom right in on the next photo, you should be able to see a flash of orange just a little left of the tree trunk in the middle. This robin flitted about the whole length of the lane but was always in too much of a hurry to get a decent shot.

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This squirrel on the other hand sat motionless for so long he could have been an ornament. He was so well camouflaged, much darker than all the other grey squirrels, it was a while before I realised he was there. We had met a friend of my husband’s and they stood chatting under this tree. I had my eyes skyward, looking for birds when I spotted him.

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Do you remember the odd long pods that looked like suspended grey broad beans from last year’s post? This year, there were hardly any, those that were in evidence were shrivelled and black and much smaller, but there were many more of these pink, blossom-like flowers on the twigs. I still don’t know what it is.

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From the colour of this sky, you wouldn’t believe we have had endless days of heavy dark cloud, rainstorms and winds strong enough to blow you along the street. My mum’s fence was blown down last week! It was so calm this afternoon, but cold enough to freeze your breath.

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I think this is my favourite photograph from today. 

It was such a refreshing break to be outside amongst the nature we are so privileged to have all around us. It is threatened, sadly, by endless new housing developments which have taken up all the open fields around the schools here. These views are on opposite sides of the lane we walked. The view on the right used to be the same as that on the left.

 

 

We make the most of it and appreciate it while we can.

*Monday Meditation: A January Day in the English Countryside

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Warming Sweet Potato & Ginger Soup

img_2883This is a favourite in our house, it is so simple and quick to make and makes a very welcome lunch or dinner on a cold winter’s day. It takes less than an hour to make and you can make it as thick or thin as you like and spicy or not according to your tastes. We prefer to blend it with a stick blender to thicken it up, but leave it a little coarse. We steamed a little broccoli for garnish and extra nutrients.

Sweet potatoes and carrots are a good source of beta-carotene, for healthy eyesight, while sweet potatoes also contain Vitamin D, B vitamins, iron and magnesium – necessary for relaxation of mind and muscles; celery contains potassium, B vitamins and, like carrots, is a good source of Vitamin K, necessary for bone health; ginger is anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial. Broccoli is a good plant source of calcium, B vitamins and protein. The yeast extract contains protein and B vitamins, including B6 and B12, important for vegans. So now you’re good to go!

All measurements are approximate and all ingredients are vegan, gluten-free and organic where possible. Hence, we scrub the veggies and leave the skin on for more nutrients and more flavour.

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Ingredients

1 Tsp Raw Virgin Coconut Oil

3-4 medium Sweet Potatoes, chopped

3-4 Medium Carrots, chopped

1/2 a Stick of Celery, chopped

1-3 thin slices of Ginger Root, depending how thick the root is and how spicy you want the soup, very finely chopped

1 Tsp Yeast Extract, we use Natex as is low salt and has a slight herbal taste.

1 Low Salt Vegetable Stock Cube

dissolved in about

500 mls of hot water (enough to cover the veggies)

Black Pepper

A few small florets of Broccoli to steam for garnish

Method

Melt the oil. When hot but not smoking, add the ginger and stirfry for a few seconds before adding all the other veggies except the broccoli.

Add some Black Pepper.

(Black Pepper aids absorption of nutrients as well as adding flavour).

Stirfry for a minute or so, mixing them up as you do, then turn down the heat, place a lid on the pan and allow to sweat for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the stock and Natex, turn the heat up a little, but try not to allow it to boil. Replace the lid and reduce the heat to a gentle simmer.

Leave to cook for about 40 minutes, until the veggies are done but not falling apart.

Steam the broccoli.

Turn off the heat, remove the pan and blend with a stick blender.

For a more substantial meal, you could place some cooked orange lentils or organic brown basmati rice in the bottom of the bowl before ladling the soup over the top. 

Top with the broccoli or, alternatively, some bean sprouts.

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Serve with crusty bread.

PS. Look out for Zesty Orange Squash Soup, coming soon!

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Winter Beetroot Wonder-Juice: Refreshing, Nutritious, Simple

img_2479This was a leftover juice in the sense that there were bits of veggies left over just before shopping day and they were put together to produce this very refreshing juice, full of nutrients to help you withstand the Winter bugs.

Together these ingredients have antioxidants, are anti-inflammatory and are good for your blood and circulation; they contain minerals such as calcium, potassium and iron, protein, soluble fibre, they are hydrating and their combined juice tastes good too.

If you’d like to read more about the many health benefits of turmeric, click here or for beetroot, read Make Beetroot Your New Veg Friend! (Juice Recipe Included)

I have kept the fruit to a minimum as I’ve been working on achieving the optimum balance of 80% veggies to 20% fruit to maintain good digestion and blood sugar regulation – the carrot and beetroot are sweet, however if you require it to be a little sweeter, add another apple.

Ingredients

(organic, washed, peel left on, quantities approximate)

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1 Apple

1 good-sized Carrot

1 1/2 Sticks of Celery

Small Beetroot

2″ Cucumber

3″ Broccoli stem

Small piece of Turmeric

Handful of Spinach

Method

 Begin with apple and end with apple, squash the spinach leaves up and put through the juicer followed quickly by other ingredients to get the most out of them so they don’t just go straight into the pulp container.

Juice the turmeric with another ingredient for the same reason

If you want a more substantial juice, blend with a quarter of avocado which will give you extra protein, healthy fats and lots of extra vitamins and minerals. It will also keep you fuller for longer. I didn’t this time, I just wanted juice.

For more information on how to fight winter bugs, read Juicing My Way Through The Cold Wars – Update + Golden Milk Recipe

Since I’m publishing this on America’s Thanksgiving Day, I’d like to thank you all for reading and supporting my blog; I love reading your comments and questions, thank you for keeping me out of mischief!

Cheers, stay healthy!

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Copyright: Chris McGowan

Thick and Chunky Winter Soup with Green Lentils

It’s been blowing a gale and raining cats and dogs, one of those days when you want to batten down the hatches and tuck into a bowl of something hot and sustaining. (Think that’s my quota of meteorological metaphors for one post! What I really wanted to say was: ‘It’s been raining for days in Pigeon Street!’ Anyone remember that?)

So, combined with the fact that I am mid dental treatment and have to be careful what I eat, soup is going to be on the menu quite a bit over the coming evenings.

This one is thick and hearty enough to have as a meal rather than a first course or soup in a mug.

Makes enough for 3-4 servings.

The main thing is to cook it on a low heat, very gently and slowly, so as to maximise the nutritional content.

As always, all veg, oil, etc are organic where possible (the sage is from our garden), carrots have skin left on, all measurements and timings approximate.

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Ingredients

Pre-soak 1/2 Cup Rinsed Green Lentils to make them more easily digested, discarding the soak water before use

Splash of Olive Oil

1 Leek rinsed thoroughly and sliced into rings

3 Medium Carrots, chopped

1 1/2 Sticks of Celery with Leaves, chopped

Half a head Broccoli, chopped, including stalk

1/4 to 1/2 Cauliflower, including stalk, chopped

8-10 Brussels Sprouts, peeled and chopped

Dried Sage + Black Pepper

Optional: 1 Dsp Nut Butter

1 Vegetable Stock Cube + 1 Tsp Yeast Extract and Squirt of Tomato Puree dissolved in approx 600 – 700mls hot water, then cooled a little

Method

Slowly heat oil in large saucepan, don’t let it overheat

Gradually add vegetables, stirring and moving about as you add each handful.

With the lid on, and on a very low heat, gently sweat the vegetables for about 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally

Add Sage + Black Pepper + Nut Butter, if using

Add the water, enough to just cover the vegetables

Add Lentils

Stir well.

Replace lid and on lowest heat leave to cook for about an hour or until vegetables and lentils are tender.

Do Not Boil!

When ready, allow to cool a little before blending just enough to thicken the soup but leaving chunks of vegetables for colour and bite.

Test seasoning.

I haven’t included any salt because the stock cube, yeast extract and tomato puree all contain salt. If salt is required at the table,  Pink Himalayan Salt is recommended as it retains most of the minerals lost in the processing of normal table salt and no added nasties.

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Bon Appetit!

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Spicy Raw Hot Chocolate with Hemp Milk

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This recipe was born on a freezing wet British Friday in August! It is just the thing to curl up with on a chilly afternoon or evening now that it’s time once again to don the thermals and woolly pullies.

Warming and very chocolatey, this hot chocolate is made with Raw Cacao,  Hemp Milk and a touch of cinnamon, but you can opt for nutmeg, ginger or even chilli or cayenne if you’re feeling that way inclined! (You can of course use nut milk if you don’t have hemp seeds but it will have a different flavour).

Ingredients:

2 Cups Hemp Milk made with Raw Chocolate Company Shelled Hemp Seeds* (or any nut milk)
2 Tbsps Raw Chocolate Company Cacao Powder
2 Tsps Coconut Oil
1/4 Tsp Cinnamon
3 Squares Raw Chocolate Company Pitch Dark and a little extra to grate on top
2 Tbsps Raw Chocolate Company Raw Coconut Palm Sugar

Method

You can do this 2 ways:
If you have a high speed blender, place all the ingredients in together and blend for about a minute. The blender will warm up the mixture so it is ready to drink straightaway.
If not, warm but don’t boil the Hemp Milk in a saucepan – it is best done from room temperature – and stir occasionally.
Add the warm milk to the rest of the ingredients and blend.
Grate some Pitch Dark over the top.

Makes enough to fill a huge Friends-type cup or 2 small mugs, so depending on how generous you’re feeling, curl up or cuddle up in front of the fire and unwind with Van the Man’s ‘Oh The Warm Feeling’ (youtube link: http://youtu.be/os9nt93BhqE) or better yet, find an episode of Friends (usually on Comedy Central) and remember what Friday evenings used to be like… Chandler, Joey, Frasier, Niles…

I feel a song coming on… ‘I’ll be there for you…’

Warning: A very few people are sensitive to cacao and are advised not to drink this on an empty stomach eg first thing in the morning.

This recipe first appeared on the Raw Chocolate Company Blog in an edited form.

*http://www.therawchocolatecompany.com/

Copyright:Chris McGowan

Juicy Winter Warmers – 5 Juices to Help Ward off Colds

With the cold season upon us I thought I would write a short post with some Warming Winter Juices that are full of antioxidants to help fight off colds and viruses.

These are of the ‘shot’ variety, not full meal replacements.

Drink one every day after your early morning glass of hot water and lemon or honey. As soon as you feel the first signs of a dry or sore throat or a cold coming on try having one three times a day or more.

You will see that ginger is the common denominator here. It is a natural antibiotic and decongestant, and is full of minerals. It is also anti-inflammatory, as are celery and pineapple.

(Do you remember that scene in The Great Escape where the American POWs are making Hooch to celebrate American Independence Day and when they taste it they each go Wow! and can hardly speak? That was me testing these for this post!)

I use organic produce where possible and leave the skin/peel on – except for the pineapple, unless you have a juicer that can cope with it.

It is best to put the ginger in the juicer between halves of an apple, or in first and then the apple or pineapple if using only those ingredients.

All the glasses in the pictures are 6fl oz. ie very small.

First up is my Morning Glory, it makes a bit more than a shot.

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1 Apple, 1 Small to Medium Carrot, Half a stick of Celery, Thick Slice of Waxfree Lemon, At least 1 cm of Ginger but as much as you can take! Optional: 1 cm of Turmeric plus a pinch of Black Pepper stirred into juice before pouring, to help with absorption of Turmeric.

Next up is Pineapple Bomb – Mark Beddoe’s* short but sweet and very spicy answer to winter sniffles:

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1″ thick round of Pineapple, Thumb of Ginger, as much as you can stand.

The Natural Juice Junkie’s Winter Slammer is a daily starter on his Winter Cleanse Programme.*

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Half an Apple, Half a Waxfree Lemon (rind on), 1 Thumb of Ginger. Optional: Pinch of Cayenne Pepper stirred in before pouring into glass.

Jason Vale’s* Ginger Shot was my first introduction to juicing ginger – as part of his 5lbs in 5 Days plan – it nearly took my head off! Of course now I don’t blink at all, the stronger the better.

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Half an Apple, 2-3cms of Ginger

Down in One!

Jason also does the Ginger Zinger – which is a larger juice – as part of the 7lbs in 7 Days plan.

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2 Carrots, 2 Apples, 1″ Slice of Waxfree lemon, 1/4″ Ginger. Juice and pour over ice.

(Sorry forgot the ice for the photo!)

Here’s to a Healthy You!

(Having tested all these in one go for the blog, I should be cold-free the whole winter!)

*@explorejuice  http://www.naturaljuicejunkie.com  http://www.juicemaster.com

Copyright: Chris McGowan