Spelt & Chia Hot Cross Buns (vegan, wheat free & refined sugar free)

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So it’s 5pm on Easter Sunday which means two things: a) I’m in a slow cooked lamb/scalloped potato/cheesecake/rocky road/chocolate tart-induced coma and literally typing this post through one half-opened eye; and b) it’s definitely a tad late to be posting a hot cross bun recipe. That said, ‘a tad late’ is how I go about life in general, and this recipe is too good to wait until next April to post. Besides, who doesn’t love a fresh-outta-the-oven hot cross bun at any time of year? If it’s acceptable nowadays to eat HCB’s in the three months leading up to Easter, it should be acceptable to enjoy them for a few (or many) months after Easter, too.

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Spelt flour has become my best baking friend over the past few years. I try not to eat too much gluten in general, but when I do it’s usually in the form of spelt or oats. Spelt is technically a sub-species of wheat and thus is not suitable for those with coeliac or severe gluten sensitivities, but it’s significantly lower in gluten than normal wheat so most people who are sensitive to wheat find that they can digest spelt better without feeling heavy and bloated. It’s also high in vitamins and minerals and has a nutty flavour that I just love. The lower level of gluten (and thus protein) in spelt means less elasticity, so baked goods turn out more dense and textural, as opposed to light and fluffy with normal wheat. Being the born carb fiend that I am, I find dense, bready textures more satisfying than fluffy textures, so this suits me perfectly. Gimme something to sink my teeth into!

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These hot X babies do contain a little more sugar (coconut sugar & dried fruit) than my usual recipes, but I really wanted them to taste and feel as close to the real thing as possible. They’ve got just the right balance of sugar and spice and they’ll fill your home with the most beautiful aroma. The smell of bread baking in the oven is magic on its own – add notes of cinnamon, ginger, allspice and orange, and you’re on a whole new level of heaven.

I think the key to getting these buns right is ensuring that the dough gets its full 2 hours of rising time in a warm, draught-free area. I don’t really know whether the rising time or the warm environment is more crucial, but the two together resulted in a far better bun texture than the first time I attempted this recipe when  I only gave the dough 1 1/2 hours to rise in a cool kitchen.

Spelt & Chia Hot Cross Buns 

Makes 9 buns.

Ingredients

  • 3 1/2 cups wholegrain spelt flour
  • 1 tbs chia seeds
  • 7g instant dried yeast
  • 2 tsp dried ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp dried ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 1/4 cup dried unsweetened cranberries
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1/4 cup dried currants
  • Zest of 1 orange (or 1/2 if you don’t want the orange to be pronounced)
  • 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1/2 cup organic coconut sugar
  • 1 cup milk of choice (I use Pureharvest Cocoquench coconut-rice milk)
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 3 tbs melted coconut oil
  • 1 tbs pure maple syrup, to glaze
  • 40g dark chocolate of choice, for the crosses

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180*C. Line a small square cake tin (20cm x 20cm) with parchment paper.
  2. In a small saucepan, stir the milk and coconut sugar over medium-low heat until the milk is warm and the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and add the vanilla and coconut oil.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the spelt flour, chia seeds, yeast and dried spices. Wake a well and pour in the milk mixture. Mix with a spoon until just combined, then add in the dried fruit, zest and salt. Use your hands to combine fully and form into a dough with the dried fruit and zest dispersed throughout.
  4. Lightly flour a clean bench space or a kneading mat with a little spelt flour. Knead the dough for 7 minutes.
  5. Oil the original mixing bowl with a little coconut oil, place the dough back in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap (to trap heat in). Place a tea towel over the bowl (to keep light out). Leave in a warm, draught free space for 2 hours or until the dough has doubled in size (it’s imperative that the dough doubles, and I strongly recommend leaving it for the full 2 hours regardless). My house was quite cool when I was making these, so I found that the best place to leave the bowl was on a stool right in front of the heated oven.
  6. After the dough has risen, knead for another 3 minutes. Divide the dough into 9 equal portions and roll into rough balls. Place the buns into the prepared cake tin and bake for 25 minutes.
  7. Remove from oven and allow to stand for 15 minutes before transferring to a wire rack. Brush the buns with pure maple syrup to glaze. Allow the buns to cool before piping crosses with melted dark choc (see notes).
  8. Serve the only way you ever should: toasted, warm, smothered with organic salted butter (or almond butter) and with your favourite cuppa. Bliss. (Please note that you may want to remove the chocolate cross before toasting the buns!)
  9. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days, or freeze for up to 2 weeks.

Notes

  • If you’re highly sensitive to fructose, adjust the amount of dried fruit to suit you tolerance levels.  You could try omitting the currants and raisins using 1/4 – 1/2 cup dried cranberries, or leave the fruit out altogether if necessary.
  • I used normal organic dairy dark choc for the crosses because I knew it would set and photograph better, but otherwise I’d use vegan dark choc.
  • Make a fuss-free piping bag by spooning the melted choc into a snap-lock bag and snip the corner.Healthy Spelt and chia hot cross bunsimageimage

Honestly Healthy Muesli Bars (fruit free, fructose friendly & dairy free)

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It shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that 98% of packaged muesli bars on the market are not at all healthy.
Despite their efforts to market themselves as wholesome snacks, most muesli bars on the market are loaded with nasties. And those nasties aren’t necessarily always the usual suspects, either. Sure, if you’re into reading labels, you’re probably used to avoiding unpronounceable chem-lab names and numbers which translate into artificial preservatives, sweeteners and other additivies. And sure, you might do a quick scan of the sugar content. But how much notice do you pay to where all that sugar is coming from? The majority of muesli/snack bars out there are loaded with added sugar, whether it’s straight-up refined (white/brown sugar, golden syrup), unrefined like in the ‘healthier’ varieties (honey, maple syrup, agave nectar, coconut sugar/nectar, rice malt syrup etc.), or sneakily disguised as being the most ‘natural’ sugar sources of all: dried/raw fruit and fruit juice concentrates.

As I write this, I’m analysing the labels of 2 different muesli bar boxes I found in my pantry. They’re by a popular ‘real food’ supermarket brand, marketed and believed to be truly healthy. Yes, most of the ingredients are whole, and one thing I’ll give them is how transparent they are about the ingredients they use, but they’re still out of touch with the anti-added sugar movement. Either that, or they know most people will read “honey” or “apple juice concentrate” and think that it must be healthy.
One of said muesli bars contains 6 DIFFERENT SOURCES OF SUGAR: cranberries, sugar, glucose, honey, rice syrup and apple. The other contains 5 sources: glucose, honey, sugar, cranberries and sultanas.
SUGAR, SUGAR, SUGAR…

Of course, if you don’t have fructose malabsorption, then finding a healthy packaged snack is less of an ordeal because there’s a whole heap of health bars on the shelves of health food stores and even supermarkets now. The problem for someone like me is that all those ‘refined sugar free’ and ‘raw’ bars and bliss balls usually scream one thing: FRUCTOSE. They’re pumped with agave (which is 70-90% fructose), dates, and dried fruit. And dried fruit is practically just concentrated fructose. So, without being too controversial, I’d argue that 90% of those raw food bars and bliss balls aren’t that great for you anyway, whether you can digest them or not. Most of them are glorified lollies with a little extra fibre and protein, disguised in rustic packaging with words like ‘raw vegan’ and ‘no added sugar’ sprawled across them. No added sugar? OF COURSE THEY DON’T CONTAIN ADDED SUGAR! They don’t need to add sugar on top of all the syrup and fruit, because if they did, those bars would be distastefully sweet.
Like I always say, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.
And regardless of how ‘natural’ the sugar source is, if it’s as sweet as a lolly, it probably isn’t that good for you.

I’m pretty sure that you get my point by now: most muesli bars are unhealthy, and even the semi-healthy ones are often packed with fructose and are thus out-of-bounds for those who cannot digest excess fructose. I should quickly note that fructose friendly snack bars do exist, but I’m yet to come across one that ticks all four boxes: it’s gotta be honestly healthy, fructose friendly, filling, and YUMMY! All the ones I’ve tried lack in an area or two.

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These Honestly Healthy Fruit-Free Muesli Bars are super easy to whip up and the recipe is very forgiving. If you don’t have a particular ingredient, don’t stress, just use something else that’s similar in density (except maybe for the oats and eggs, you’ll need those!), being mindful of wet to dry ratios. This is a great base recipe, so feel free to mix things up! Try adding things like goji berries (dark choc-coated gojis would be delicious for a more decadent treat), cacao nibs, or a little unsweetened dried fruit, like cranberries or raisins. While this recipe is relatively high in protein, you could even incorporate your favourite CLEAN protein powder into the mix, to make it a great post-workout snack.
When divided into 24 pieces, each serving contains just 3g of sugar, which is equivalent to 2 large strawberries. These bars are super filling so you can be sure they’ll tie you over to your next meal. They’re also high in fibre, healthy fats, protein and antioxidants, and relatively low carb, making them a perfect snack any time of day.
Keep them in an airtight container away from direct sunlight for up to a week. I also like to keep a little container of them in my car’s glove box  (in cooler weather), and one wrapped up in my handbag to ensure that I’m prepared for a snack attack no matter where I am.

Fructose Friendly Muesli Bars

Makes 24 snack squares (or 12 large bars).
Dietary info: fructose friendly, low FODMAP, wheat free (contains spelt), dairy free, refined sugar free, soy free.
Contains gluten (oats & spelt), eggs and tree nuts.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup  unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 1/4 cup wholemeal spelt flour
  • 1 cup mixed seeds (pepitas & sunflower kernels)
  • 1/2 cup raw nuts (almonds & pecans), roughly chopped
  • 1 tbs chia seeds
  • 1-2 tsp cinnamon (depending on how much you like cinnamon)
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp ground dried ginger
  • 1/4 tsp Himalayan sea salt
  • 3 eggs (organic & free range, if possible)
  • 1/4 cup sweetener (I used half/half pure maple and rice malt syrup)
  • 1/4 cup natural nut butter (I used peanut)
  • 2 tbs melted coconut oil
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tbs water
  • Stevia, to taste

Optional: cacao nibs, 3 tbs dried fruit (raisins, sultanas or cranberries), protein powder

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 180’C and line a slice tray or square cake tin with baking paper.
  2. Combine all the dry ingredients in a large bowl. At this point I also added 1/2 tsp of concentrated stevia extract powder (see notes).
  3. In another bowl, lightly beat the eggs, then whisk in the remaining wet ingredients. Add wet mixture to dry mixture and combine well.
  4. Press firmly into prepared slice/cake tin and sprinkle the top with some extra pepitas and coconut, if desired. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until firm and golden brown (as pictured).
  5. Remove from oven and allow to sit in tin for 10 minutes. Remove from tin and cool on a wire rack for a few hours. Use a sharp knife to remove the edges of the slice. Cut slice into desired pieces, and store in an airtight container away from direct sunlight for up to a week.

Notes:

  • As always, the amount of stevia you use will depend on what type of stevia you have. If it’s concentrated powder or liquid, you’ll only need a tiny bit. If it’s granulated, you can use a lot more because concentrated pure stevia is 8 times sweeter than granulated stevia. Those with FM will only be able to use concentrated stevia anyway, as granulated varieties contain fillers to increase their volume, such as inulin and fructo-oligosaccharides, which we cannot digest.
  • Some individuals with FM might be more sensitive to nuts and needs than others. If this applies to you, reduce the amounts. However, the amounts I have used should be pretty safe, especially when the recipe is divided into 24 servings.

Happy Nourishing!
Ax

My Trolley: The Ultimate Shopping List for a Healthy Kitchen

More and more often I’m getting asked what my typical shopping list looks like,
so I thought I’d share it with you!

imageAll the ingredients below are things that I either purchase on a regular basis (like fresh produce), or staples which only need to be bought occasionally (such as spices and grains). As we all know, healthy, fresh and/or organic foods can be quite expensive. I don’t always have every single thing on this list at home at the one time, so please don’t be shocked by the abundance of items below. The main point of this post is to show you the kinds of things you should be filling your trolley with. The more you fill your trolley and stock your kitchen with good stuff, the less room (and money!) you’ll have for bad stuff.

The list below constitutes 90% of what’s in my fridge and pantry. I still live at home with my family, and by no means is my kitchen 100% clean in the nutritional sense. If you were to come over, you’d be sure to find a tub of Ben & Jerry’s in the freezer (my absolute weakness), bacon and chorizo in the fridge, and a packet of biccies in the pantry. To provide an accurate depiction of what my diet mainly consists of, I have only included the ingredients I consume regularly. Anything else is labelled as an ‘extra’.

Just as often as I’m asked what I buy, I also get asked where I buy it. The answer is everywhere – farmers markets, supermarkets (there’s a Super Coles right near my house), local grocers, organic grocers, health food stores and even online. Much to the dismay of small health food store and grocery owners, almost everything I mention below can be found in a supermarket. Even some of the more foreign superfoods can be found in the health food aisle of Coles these days, whereas a year ago I would have had to go to a specialty health store. The same goes for the variety of organic fresh produce; it pains me to admit that, more often than not, Coles has a bigger and cheaper variety of organic goods than my local grocers. Still, I prefer to support local farmers and businesses.

In cases where brands or specific products are mentioned, please note this is simply because I prefer them for their particular taste and quality, relative to price; by no means am I paid to endorse ANY of the following items or their brands.

Another important thing to note is that unless stated otherwise/marked with an asterisk (*), all the below ingredients are fructose-friendly and low FODMAP to suit my food intolerance (fructose malabsorption). As a result, this list does not contain particular foods which are still healthy for digestively normal people  –foods I always ate prior to developing the intolerance and which are still eaten by the rest my family –but ones I can no longer digest properly (such as apples, mango, pear, watermelon, kale, red and brown onion, garlic, mushies, chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans and other legumes etc.). If you don’t have fructose malabsorption or IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), I highly recommend you incorporate said ingredients into your daily diet because they possess wonderful nutritional benefits for those who can digest them.

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FRESH

 When it comes to fruit and veg, my family tries to eat as organically, seasonally and locally as possible for health and environmental reasons, but in reality, only 50-70% of the fruit and veg we buy is organic. I’m lucky enough to have a large veggie patch at home, so a lot of our seasonal produce comes from there, too. Eating organically is not feasible for everyone, but there are certain non-organic foods that have been found to obtain a higher pesticide residue than others and are thus more important to eat organically if possible. These include spinach, lettuce, celery, cucumber, zucchini, capsicum (sweet bell peppers), chili peppers, cherry tomatoes, white potatoes, apples*, peaches*, imported nectarines*, grapes and berries. If you cannot always buy these foods organically, make sure you wash them thoroughly before eating them.

Then there’s the flip-side: although buying organically is great for supporting local farmers and promoting a toxin-free environment, if you’re looking from an artificial pesticide and fertilizer perspective, there are certain foods which seem to remain fairly clean from such chemicals. These include onion*, sweet corn, sweet potato, eggplant, avocado, cabbage*, kiwi fruit, pineapple, mango*, papaya, cantaloupe, watermelon*, grapefruit.
*contain excess fructose or fructans (not suitable for those on a low-FODMAP diet).

VEGGIES

Baby spinach
Bok choy
Chinese broccoli
Broccoli* (fructan – I only eat small amounts at a time)
Green beans
Cos lettuce
Tomatoes (truss and cherry)
Capsicum
Zucchini
Eggplant
Cucumber
Celery* (polyol apparently, but it doesn’t seem to affect me)
Carrot
Beetroot* (contains some FODMAPS. I stick to small amounts.)
Sweet potato
Kent/Jap pumpkin
Avocado* (polyol – I have built myself up to tolerate avocado)
Spring onion
Chives
Ginger

FRUIT

Banana
Blueberries and raspberries (fresh or frozen, depending on season and price)
Strawberries
Kiwi fruit
Passionfruit
Pineapple
Orange
Mandarin
Lemon
Lime

HERBS
We grow all our own herbs, but these are the ones I’d buy if I couldn’t grow them.
Unlike larger veg and fruit, growing your own herbs is super easy and takes up very little space. It’ll also save you a lot of cash!

Basil
Parsley
Coriander
Mint
Rosemary
Curry leaves

Extras: sage, dill, thyme, oregano

MEAT, FISH & POULTRY
I’m personally not a huge red meat eater (I probably only eat it once a week or less), so most of my protein comes from chicken, fish and eggs.

Eggs (always organic free range)
Chicken breast (preferably organic & free range)
Roast/BBQ Chicken (skin & excess fat removed & used in salads, wraps etc.)
Turkey
Salmon fillets
Smoked salmon
White fish
Lean beef (preferably organic & grass-fed)
Pork (rarely)
Lamb (rarely)

DAIRY
I try not to eat much cow’s dairy, but I don’t cut it out completely because I enjoy small amounts of it with certain meals too much.

Full fat natural & Greek-style yoghurt (I love five:am brand)
Danish or Persian feta
Goats feta/curd (Meredith Dairy is my absolute favourite)
Full fat butter (absolutely NO margarine in my house! I usually use avocado instead of butter, anyway)

MILK ALTERNATIVES

Coconut-brown rice milk (Pure Harvest’s Coco Quench brand)
Unsweetened oat milk (Pure Harvest)

FROZEN

Blueberries
Raspberries
Bananas
Stir-fry veg (pre-chopped, so no matter what, I always have some veg to turn to)
Prawns

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IN THE PANTRY

GRAINS & CEREALS

Quinoa (white and red)
Brown rice
Rolled oats (traditional)
Food for Health Fibre Cleanse Muesli (Bought from Coles. I usually always make my own muesli and granola, but it’s good to have a box on hand for convenience so I don’t reach for my brother’s Crunchy Nut Clusters [which I’m very partial to!])

Extras: brown rice noodles, brown rice pasta,
spelt pasta*, polenta, Celebrate Health Mexican quinoa, Celebrate Health Lemon & Thyme quinoa

PACKAGED
BREADS & WRAPS:

Gluten free & organic Old Time Bakery wraps (not so good as a wrap, but great as a healthy pizza base for quick lunch/dinner)
100% spelt wraps*
Healthybake brand breads: oat, spelt & pharoah loaves (Healthybake can be purchased from many health food stores such as GoVita, as well as selected grocers)
Ancient Grains brand breads: oat & spelt loaves (Can be purchased from some supermarkets, health food stores & selected grocers)

SNACKS:
Dr Karg Seeded Spelt crispbread (can be purchased from health food stores and selected grocers)
Corn thins
Brown rice cakes
Cobs natural popcorn
Buckwheat crispbread (Orgran brand)
Brown rice-seaweed crackers (Eat Rite brand)
Mary’s Gone Crackers ‘superseed’ crackers
Rice paper rounds (to make rice paper rolls – found in ‘Asian’ section of supermarkets)
Goji-berries

OTHER:
Puffed rice crisps (Lotus brand)
Plain activated buckinis (Loving Earth brand)
Dried shredded/flaked coconut (Eco brand)

Extra: nori (seaweed sheets for sushi & adding to salads), carob powder (Lotus), psyllium husk, maca powder (Loving Earth), Slippery Elm bark powder

CANNED

Corn kernels (no added sugar)
Crushed/chopped tomatoes
Pure coconut milk (full fat & unsweetened)
Tinned tuna (controversial for a few reasons, I know, but its convenience suits my lifestyle and I just love tuna. I try to not eat it too often, and always opt for more ethical brands)

FLOUR SUBSTITUTES

Buckwheat flour
Brown rice flour (I make my own by blending brown rice in the Thermomix)
Oat flour (I make my own by blending oats in the Thermomix)
Wholemeal spelt flour*
Almond meal* (I make my own by blending almonds in the Thermomix)

Extras: quinoa flour, coconut flour*

*spelt: some individuals who react to fructans might not be able to tolerate large amounts of spelt. I don’t seem to have any issues with it.
* almonds: I use almond and other nut meals sparingly because I cannot tolerate tree nuts in large amounts.
* Coconut flour: dried coconut is fructan-containing. I can only tolerate small amounts.

NUTS & SEEDS (all raw)

pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
sunflower seeds
flax seeds
chia seeds*
sesame seeds
pinenuts
almonds*
pecans
macadamias*
walnuts*
cashews*
LSA meal (ground linseed [flax seeds], sunflower seeds & almonds)

*most nuts and seeds contain moderate amounts of fructan, some much more than others.  Now that I’ve built my tolerance up more, I stick to small portions at a time (the equivalent to a small handful). Cashews and macadamias seem to stir me up more than the others.

SPREADS

Natural peanut butter (I love good ol’ Sanitarium)
Almond butter*
Tahini (I use Mayver’s brand)

Extras: Mayver’s cacao-peanut butter spread, Mayver’s coconut-peanut butter spread, Mayver’s Energy spread (almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts, chia seeds, sesame seeds, brazil nuts, cashews and spirulina), pumpkin seed spread

OILS

EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)
Cold-pressed coconut oil
Macadamia nut oil
Garlic-infused EVOO
Sesame oil

Extras: flaxseed oil, grapeseed oil, raw cacao butter

SWEETENERS

Rice malt syrup (I use Pure Harvest brand)
Pure organic maple syrup (various brands from supermarkets. Health food/organic stores will try to rip you off BIG TIME for the same brands – don’t pay more than $8!)
Coconut sugar (Loving Earth)
Glucose syrup (for those with FructMal ONLY! Not ideal, but I’ll have a few teaspoons of this if I’ve accidentally eaten something I might react to. The glucose helps to carry the excess fructose molecules across the small intestinal wall, thus facilitating absorption. Ya gotta do what ya gotta do!)

SEASONINGS, DRESSINGS & NATURAL FLAVOURINGS

Bragg’s apple cider vinegar
Tamari (gluten free soy sauce)
White wine vinegar
Balsamic vinegar
Bragg’s All Purpose Seasoning
Pure vanilla extract
Raw cacao powder
Himalayan pink rock salt

Extras: pure coconut essence, pure orange essence,  rose water, vanilla beans, natural vanilla powder

DRIED HERBS & SPICES
(all grounded unless specified otherwise)

Oregano leaves
Mixed herbs
Rosemary leaves
Curry leaves
Bay leaves
Coriander seeds
Cinnamon
Cardamom
Nutmeg
Ginger
Paprika
Cayenne pepper
chili powder
Cumin
Garam Masala
Sumac
Saffron
Turmeric
Black pepper

TREATS

Pana chocolate (the ones not sweetened with agave)
Loving Earth chocolate (coconut mylk)
Alter Eco dark chocolate (I LOVE the one with puffed quinoa!)
Dark-choc coated goji berries
Coyo ice cream

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Toasted Almond, Coconut & Chocolate Granola

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Granola is just one of those foods that makes me salivate.

The
 warm flavours, the sweetness, the wonderful texture and, of course, that irresistible crunch. It just gets me every time.

I think I was in year 7 when my mum first brought home the newest addition to the Kellogg’s breakfast cereal range, Crunchy Nut Clusters. Those peanut and ‘honey’ (sugar, molasses and vegetable oil) coated cornflakes teamed with deliciously crunchy clusters of oats, puffed wheat and coconut (and yep, more sugar, molasses and vegetable oil) became not only my brekkie bowl filler, but also my mid-morning, afternoon and pre-bedtime snack by the handful. I had every right to go through four boxes of this golden blessedness a week because Crunchy Nut Clusters were clearly less sugary than the Froot Loops and Frosty Flakes many of my friends still ate, and they were made with healthy ingredients like corn, oats, honey and nuts. I was so on my way to getting healthy and losing all my puppy fat quickly, all while eating something so damn tasty. YEAH!

Much to my horror, the so-called puppy fat not only stuck around, but started to soar. Thankfully, I slowly grew older and wiser. I learned that just because something is manufactured from a vegetable, that does not necessarily make it healthy (but what do you mean vegetable oil and High Fructose Corn Syrup aren’t good for you?!)  and I began reading labels (why doesn’t the front of the box mention anything about the cereal being covered in sugar, molasses and oil as well as honey?!)

It took a while, but I started to become aware of marketing gimmicks and misleading advertising. After a year, my beloved Crunchy Nut Clusters were replaced by Sultana Bran Crunch after a year. Ah, the ignorance. Still, it was a move in the right direction, and at least I wasn’t eating Honey Joys disguised as a breakfast cereal anymore.

For those of you who are more or less like me, buying packaged granola poses two main problems:

  1. Mainstream granola brands packed with different forms of sugar, preservatives and other additives and provide little to no nutritional value.
  2. They’re very rarely fructose-friendly: pre-packaged granola always contains either loads of honey, dried fruit or both, which makes them indigestible for my fellow fructose malabsorbers. Even the ‘healthier’ granola alternatives available at health food stores are made with with high-fructose sweeteners like agave and dried fruit.

I’ve been avoiding pre-packaged granola and toasted muesli for several years now. The thought of sweet, crunchy clusters of puffed grain heaven still excites me, but I’ve never come across one that’s healthy enough to eat regularly. And so, I’m more of an egg gal these days.

The other week, however, my love for granola was reignited. I was in the cereal aisle of Coles, looking at Carman’s muesli for my sister when I saw them. Carman’s Crunchy Clusters with Honey Roasted Nuts. I was immediately taken back to my mornings in early high school when I’d eat two bowls of candied greatness and drink the leftover pool of sweet milk afterward. My salivary glands started going mental as I viewed the large oaty clumps and golden roasted nuts through the heart-shaped plastic window on the box. I threw the box into my trolley without giving it a second thought or reading any labels. My sister just had to try it. Not me, my sister. I was getting it for my sister.

I ripped open the box the second I got home and started shovelling handfuls of the stuff into my mouth as if it were popcorn. Everything about the granola was lip-smacking. The wording on the box was spot on: I absolutely did “adore these crunchy muesli clusters with almonds, hazelnuts and pecans, buzzing with trickles of honey and a hint of vanilla!” The granola was also “fruit free, Low GI, high in fibre and full of wholegrain goodness”. It all sounded too good to be true. I soon realised it was, but it was all too late. After my snacking straight from the box for three days, the box was empty. I don’t think my sister ever got to touch it. I read the label more closely just before I threw the box into the recycling. I was shocked.

Carman’s is usually one of the more wholesome and cleaner cereal brands available at supermarkets. They usually sweeten their products with a little honey instead of sugar, and while this makes their products unsuitable for most FructMal sufferers, at least it’s better than nearly all other cereal boxes for most people. This is why I was shocked when I read the Carman’s Crunchy Clusters ingredients list. After the oats and nuts, raw sugar comes in as the third ingredient, making it even more predominant than supposed primary ingredients like puffed rice and pepitas! And that’s before the honey is added. That’s a lot of added sugar! I did some quick calculations and became aware that I’d consumed just shy of 70g of added sugar over a few days from the granola aloneThat’s nearly EIGHTEEN teaspoons of added sugar, which equates to almost NINE teaspoons of pure fructose! No bloody wonder why it tasted so good. I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised. Carman’s would rightfully argue that you’re not supposed to eat the entire box over just a few sittings, hence their “serves 11” guideline. I would argue that if you make something taste that freaking awesome, you’re asking people to eat the entire box over a single sitting.

Healthy or not, I’d gotten a taste for granola again. I tried so hard to forget about it, but we all know that telling ourselves not to crave something usually leads us to craving it all the more. The human psyche is a treacherous beast. To crush my cravings once and for all, I came up with this scrumptious granola recipe, and I can’t believe I didn’t think of it sooner. My Toasted Almond, Coconut and Chocolate Granola has all that wonderful crunch, so much full-bodied flavour and just the right amount of fructose-friendly sweetness. If Coco Pops and Crunchy Nut Clusters decided to have a lovechild and it were born healthy, this would be it.

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Toasted Almond, Coconut and Chocolate Granola

Serves 12 (1/2 cup servings)
Dietary Information:
wheat free, vegan-friendly, refined sugar free, dairy free, fructose-friendly, low FODMAP. Contains gluten (Oats – see notes for GF alternative) and nuts.

Ingredients

Muesli mixture:

  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup unsweetened shredded/flaked coconut
  • 1 cup puffed brown rice or rice crisps (I use 1/2 cup of each for varied textures)
  • 1 cup activated plain buckinis (activated buckwheat. I used Loving Earth brand)
  • 1/2 cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
  • 1/4 cup chia seeds
  • 1 cup of your favourite raw nuts, roughly chopped (I use a combination of almonds, walnuts, pecans and macadamias)
  • 1/4 cup cacao nibs (optional – If you’re not a fan of cacao nibs, don’t use them because their flavour can be quite dominating)

Chocolate mixture:

  • 1/2 cup melted coconut oil
  • 1/3 cup pure maple syrup
  • 15-20 drops liquid stevia, or to taste
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tbs pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup raw cacao powder
  • 1/4 tsp  Himalayan sea salt

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 150*C and grease a large baking tray with a little coconut oil.
  2. In a large bowl, combine all “muesli mixture” ingredients, except the shredded coconut.
  3. In a small saucepan, melt the coconut oil over medium-low heat. Add the maple syrup, cacao and cinnamon and stir until all combined. Bring to the boil and remove from heat. Add the vanilla and salt and stir until the liquid is fully incorporated. Sweeten further with stevia to taste, if needed.
  4. Pour the chocolate mixture over the dry muesli mixture and stir gently until all dry ingredients are evenly coated. There should be enough ‘wet’ mixture to completely cover the muesli.
  5. Spread mixture evenly over the greased tray. Bake in oven for 15 minutes, then remove and stir. Add the dried coconut and return to the oven for a further 10 minutes. The granola will continue to crisp up after you take it out of the oven, so don’t worry if it’s still a little wet or soft.
  6. Allow to cool completely before transferring to air-tight containers or large glass jars. The granola will remain fresh for 1-2 weeks if stored in a cool place, away from sunlight.
Notes and serving suggestions: 
  • For an indulgent weekend treat or breakfast entertaining, serve with cinnamon-grilled banana, organic full-fat or coconut yoghurt, fresh berries and a large drizzle of chocolate ‘sauce’, as pictured. To make the grilled banana, simply cut a large ripe banana length-ways, sprinkle with a little ground cinnamon and place under an oven grill. Grill until the natural sugars in the banana start to caramelise and bubble. Remove immediately and serve while still hot. To make the ‘sauce’, combine 1 tsp natural smooth peanut butter, 1 tsp raw cacao powder, 1 tsp melted coconut oil and a few drops of liquid stevia.
  • Use the granola to make a layered Chia Pudding Parfait, another quick, easy and effective breakfast entertaining idea.
  • For a nourishing breakfast, serve with organic full fat or coconut yoghurt, your choice of milk (I love Pure Harvest’s coconut-rice milk) and fresh strawberries.
  • Serve on top of healthy banana ‘ice cream’ (frozen banana blended with a little natural peanut butter) for a great post-workout meal or snack.
  • Portion into little snap-lock bags for a super tasty and nourishing trail mix to nibble on between meals and satisfy late-arvo chocolate cravings.
  • For a gluten-free version, simply replace the oats with 1 cup extra puffed brown rice or rice crisps, 1/2 cup extra shredded coconut and 1/2 cup extra plain buckinis.
Happy Nourishing!
Ax

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Don’t forget to stop and smell the cinnamon

“It’s a terrible thing, I think, in life to wait until you’re ready. I have this feeling now that actually no one is ever ready to do anything. There is almost no such thing as ready. There is only now. Generally speaking, now is as good a time as any.”
– Hugh Laurie

IMG_2396Year after year throughout my early-mid adolescence, my New Years Resolution was to stop biting my fingernails. 10 years on, I still have the hands of a prepubescent boy. I even bit my French-polished acrylics off when I tried the whole girly manicured hands thing in year 10.

I’ve always been of the opinion that New Years Resolutions are ridiculous. It’s just so easy to verbalise a commitment to something when you don’t have to actually act on that commitment just yet. I become irrationally peeved when I overhear statements like OMG I’m gonna get sooo fit next year/I’m waiting until the new year to start my new savings plan/New Years Day is when the DIET begins/Next year, I’m going to focus on finding the positive in all situations.

Why next year? If I feel that a particular mindset, action, hobby or change of habit is going to better my life, I’m not about to wait for the New Year to roll around before I embrace it. Why delay it? Why not start NOW? (unless it’s a diet. Never start one of those). In my opinion, New Years Resolutions are security statements for people whom I label the ‘Gonna But Neverers’: people who continuously propose they are Gunna get shit done, but Never get shit done. Of course, I’m a big fat hypocrite here– just look at my fingernails. We’re all Gunna But Neverers at various times, but some are just more inclined to the Gunna But Never grand plans than others.

It’s funny how you become more and more aware of your strengths and weaknesses as a human as you get older. Critical self-awareness is a coming-of-age thing, I think. Late last year, for instance, I began realising that I’ve never been ‘present’ enough, ‘in the moment’ enough; I’m always in limbo, fretting about the past and the future and landing somewhere in between as a result, somewhere in between which is still not quite the present moment– the now. And I’ve realised that I’m not okay with this anymore. So, after several years of abandoning the whole new-year-turns-over-a-new-leaf theory, I decided to go against the grain and make a resolution of sorts. Not a New Year’s Resolution, but a Life Resolution: To Be Present; To acknowledge every. single. moment; To stop living in the past and the future realms, the what could have been and the what will be, could be, won’t be, should be, shouldn’t be; to stop obsessing over the thoughts, feelings and doings of others. Because when your mind is stuck the realms it has no control over, it’s impossible to appreciate where you are at this very moment in time. And what moment in your entire life matters more than right now as you read this? Absolutely none. Your thoughts NOW and what you do NOW determine more than any past or future thought or doing can.

My 2014 mantra? Don’t forget to stop and smell the roses…

IMG_2415IMG_2411 Everyone’s heard it, it’s one of the oldest in the book. My Dad always said it, and I always rolled my eyes until recently. I thought he was merely telling me to appreciate what I’ve got. I suppose he was, but I never appreciated its deeper meaning until now.

These days, we have so many distractions which manipulate our awareness and ‘force’ our minds into all the realms but our very own. Take beloved Instagram for example: how many times do you scroll through your feed a day? Probably more than you’d care to admit. Probably even subconsciously sometimes. The amount of times I’ve found myself automatically scrolling through my notifications when all I’ve taken my phone out to do is check the time is alarming.

You look at photos of your friends’ whereabouts, check out Fitspo images of bodies you’d just die for, you drool over fashion you can’t afford and excessive lifestyles you’ll most likely never lead and you’re constantly reminded of all the places around the world You’d Rather Be by the People You’d Rather Be. All of a sudden you’re not as satisfied with your life and your position in society as you envisioned you would be. Your life suddenly seems ordinary –uninspiring and, well, a bit of a let-down. Who’s wouldn’t when every second image we look at makes us ponder If Only.

Instagram and modern lifestyle diversions alike pull us farther and farther from our own reality, sucking us so far into the realm of What Could/Should be until we’re aware of everything on earth we’re missing out on, while totally out of touch with the moment we’re breathing in. How can we possibly be honestly happy, truly satisfied with our lives and content with the beings we were born to be, if we’re living in a lifelong limbo between what we want and what we have?

I’ve suddenly realised why my back injury over the past year has been every bit as emotionally impactful as it has been physical: all the fitness pages I follow on Instagram were powerful motivators when I could literally do whatever exercise I wanted to, whenever I wanted to and how hard I wanted to. Which was all the time, mind you, and it was always HARD. Now, they’re cruel, cruel reminders of everything I can’t do. They pump me up and make me want to work my ass off, and then I’m left teary and deflated when I remember that I’m injured. Instead of using the present moment to be proactive about my injury and focus on what I’m going to do right now to heal by body, I’m perpetually disheartened by what all these girls can do and achieve, which I cannot. It’s bullshit and it’s pathetic, and it has to stop.

It’s so incredibly important to focus on the moment and be present wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, otherwise your life will become a manifestation of bottomless What Ifs and If Onlys. Which brings me back to Hugh Laurie’s quote at the top of the post –it couldn’t be more fitting. One of the best things you can do for yourself this year is realise how important NOW is, and act on that realisation NOW. 

Here’s 10 things I’ve been doing this past month, and plan to do this year, to increase my Now-factor:
  1. Eat breakfast outdoors every morning possible: soak up that morning sunshine, breathe in fresh air and listen to singing birds. It’s so grounding.
  2. Be near the ocean as much and as often as I can. Nothing brings me back to earth quite like salty air and vast waters.
  3. Listen more, talk less.
  4. Leave my phone at home more often, especially when out with my boyfriend or family.
  5. Get serious about meditation.
  6. Read while on the bus to and from work instead of scrolling through my Instagram/Facebook feeds.
  7. Take time out every day to write notes: thoughts, feelings, goals & to-do lists.
  8. Go for technology-free walks: no watch, no phone, no music– just me and the outdoors.
  9. Swim more, gym less.
  10. Make a conscious effort to check Instagram less, and decrease the amount of ‘fitspo’, model and celeb accounts I follow: Fierce aspiration inevitably leads to motivation, but constantly striving for what others possess cannot be healthy for the human psyche. Social media has become a part of our lifestyle. Looking at images, videos and blog posts about what others have has formed one of our daily habits, as natural to us as eating, sleeping and exercising, whether we can admit it or not. You’ll find that you instantly become happier and more satisfied with exactly who you are and where you’re heading in life if you decrease your exposure to all the things you ‘want’ and ‘need’ in other realms, those realms being the lives of others: their wealth, home, car, holidays, physique, face, hair, relationship, friendship circle, humour, confidence, intelligence, career path etc. Start using your inherent passions and values to create your own dreams.

Rant officially over.

So, here’s your little challenge for this coming weekend: wake up, spring out of bed and make this guiltless version of a not-so-healthy breakfast favourite. Take it outside with a great book, bask in the Summer morning light (if you’re in Australia) and Enjoy.Every.Mouthful. Oh, and don’t forget to stop and smell the cinnamon… 😉

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Vanilla & Cinnamon French Toast
Serves 1

Ingredients:

  • 2 free range organic eggs
  • 2 pieces wheat-free bread of choice, the thicker the better (I’m loving anything by Healthy Bake at the moment. I used their Organic Pharaoh & Linseed loaf for this recipe which was lovely)
  • 1/3 cup milk of choice (I used Pure Harvest’s coconut milk drink, which is a combo of coconut and brown rice milk)
  • 1 tbs rice malt syrup or pure maple syrup
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2-1 tsp cinnamon, depending on how cinnamon-y you like it
  • 6-8 drops liquid stevia, or to taste
  • tiny pinch of salt
  • Coconut oil, for cooking
  • Toppings of choice (I used banana, fresh berries, five:am organic natural yoghurt and a sneaky spread of violet & raspberry jam)

Method:

  1. In a small dish or shallow bowl, lightly beat the eggs with a fork. Whisk in the milk, syrup,  stevia, vanilla and salt.
  2. Dip the bread in the egg mixture one slice at a time, pressing the bread lightly to make sure all that eggy goodness goes right through it. Allow each slice to soak for 2-3 minutes.
  3. Heat a little coconut oil in a FLAT non-stick frying pan or skillet over medium/low heat. Add the soaked bread to the pan, cooking until golden brown, around 3 minutes. Flip and cook on the other side. Take extra care not to overcook it, because you will end up with a horribly dry and bland brekkie; French toast is supposed to be MOIST! (Sincere apologies for using that adjective from hell).
  4. Remove from heat, transfer to a plate and top with organic full-fat yoghurt (or coconut yoghurt) and fresh fruit. It’s super special with a finishing drizzle of maple syrup, too!

Happy Nourishing!
Ax

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Shhh! Don’ tell them it’s raw vegan: Banana & Coconut Cream Tart with a Coco-Nutty Chocolate Crust

IMG_0729Even the jolliest of Christmas bellies will never know that this tart is healthy, let alone raw vegan…

Nothing makes my mouth water like the thought of 1pm on Christmas Day. Each year’s Chrissy spread seems to get more momentous than the last, as the demand for Donna Hay magazine-worthy food grows, and my efforts in the kitchen move further from a helping hand and closer towards a zealous control freak.

Whatever the elaborate new additions are, I’ll never go past my family’s festive classics: Mum’s turkey with pistachio & cranberry stuffing, fig and maple-glazed ham, gourmet cheese boards and her sweet fried noodle and bok choy salad; Dad’s succulent lamb, herby roast veggies; and seafood platters; Nanna’s famous plumb pudding and Christmas Cake with all the dolloping trimmings; Aunty Kate’s choccie mouse and her Best-In-The-World-Meringues with Peppermint Crisp and raspberries.
These dishes are always served with bittersweet nostalgia and a whole lot of calorific Christmas cheer as all bona fide festive feeds should be.

But how do you do it, without overdoing it? Most unfortunately for us Aussies, December brings to us an itching issue: festive season coincides with bikini season. Because my exercise regime has been so restricted all year due to a perpetual injury, I’ll admit this problem has been playing on my mind. When all the Chrissy and New Years mayhem is over, I can’t as simply run, box and grapevine* the excess pudding** and vodka off as I could last year.

*The ‘Grapevine’ is the term used by indoor aerobics-enthusiasts to describe a particular move
** I’ve developed fructose malabsorption since then.There will be no pudding. But I can smash meringues, so that’s alright.

While I might not be able to exert as much control as I’d like over my family’s Christmas lunch, I had more luck with my girlfriends this year. And they were 100% on-board. Late each December, my best girlfriends and I try to catch up for one last ‘Soul Sistah’s’ dinner for the year. This year, instead of going out for our Christmas dinner, we decided to do have a picnic. We also decided that it should be somewhat healthy, anticipating that the fortnight ahead certainly won’t be. The spread was wonderful: we feasted on Christmas ham and turkey, a range of fresh salads (mine included spinach, cos and herbs picked from my veggie patch), raw veggie sticks with yummy cashew dips, ginger and strawberry punch, fruit platters and a raw tart which I whipped up in a last-minute frenzy, but actually turned out pretty awesome. So, I thought I’d share it with you. It’s sweet without being sickly, rich without being heavy and oozes festive decadence without being unhealthy. The fact that it tastes unhealthy makes it even more appealing – your pav-and-whipped-cream-loving fam will never know it’s healthy, let alone raw vegan. This tart amakes a great addition to the usual Chrissy spread, because it means you have something delicious to turn to when the pudding and brandy custard come out. Plus it looks pretty with a pop of fruity colour, which never hurts… IMG_0722IMG_0721IMG_0723 IMG_0728 IMG_0724 IMG_0725 IMG_0720IMG_0727 IMG_0714 IMG_0726

Banana & Coconut Cream Tart with a Coco-nutty Chocolate Crust

Dietary/allergen information: free from wheat, gluten, grains, dairy, soy, egg and animal products. Fructose-friendly. Contains nuts and some FODMAPs (cashews, almonds & dried coconut. If you can’t tolerate a large quantity of nuts in the one sitting or at all, please avoid this recipe).

Ingredients (serves 10)

Tart shell:

  • 2 cups raw almonds
  • 1 cup unsweetened dried coconut (I used Loving Earth’s shredded coconut)
  • 2 tbs flax seeds (optional)
  • 7 tbs raw cacao powder (I used Eco brand)
  • 2 tbs vanilla extract
  • 5 tbs pure organic maple syrup (for a strictly raw version, use rice malt syrup)
  • Cold-pressed coconut oil, melted
  • Stevia

Tart Filling:

  • 2 large ripe bananas
  • 1 cup raw cashews
  • 1 cup dried coconut
  • 2/3 – 3/4 cup full-fat coconut cream
  • 4 tbs pure organic maple syrup
  • 1 tbs vanilla extract
  • liquid stevia

Fresh berries, cherries**, figs**, pomegranate seeds** and mint leaves, to serve.

Method:

  1. To make the tart crust, whiz all dry ingredients in a high-powered processor until it forms a rough crumb.
  2. Add the vanilla and maple syrup and process until combined.
  3. Add coconut oil, tablespoon at a time, until the ingredients all come together and form a mouldable, sticky ‘dough’. I used roughly 12 tbs. Taste mixture and add stevia until you reach your desired sweetness.
  4. Remove from processor and press evenly into a tart tin.  Make sure you press very firmly, packing the mixture in tightly around the base and up the sides. I trimmed the excess sides with a sharp knife and place in the freezer  while you make the filling.
  5. To make the filling, process all filling ingredients (except one banana – only use one), until a thick, smooth consistency forms. Taste and adjust sweetness with liquid stevia.
  6. Remove the tart tin from the freezer and allow to stand for 5 mins. Carefully remove the tart shell from the tin and place on a large plate.
  7. Slice the second banana thinly and arrange on the base of the tart shell. Dollop filling over the banana to fill the tart shell. Store in refrigerator until 30 mins before serving*. Top with fresh berries, cherries**, quartered figs**, pomegranate seeds** and mint leaves upon serving. Will store in the fridge for up to 4 days (see notes below).

*Because of the banana, the filling will begin to brown within four hours of making it. This tart is thus best made the day of serving if entertaining. The ‘brownness’ doesn’t affect the flavour of the cream, so leftovers are fine kept in the fridge
**Fruits contain excess fructose, and should only be consumed in small amounts by those with fructose malabsorption.

Happy Nourishing!
Ax

A smashed avo recipe that doesn’t taste like regurgitated avocado…

This post comes with a proceed-with-caution warning: my inner food snob is about to unleash. If you didn’t already know that I’m a  food snob, you’re about to. Chances are that if you’re reading this, you’re probably interested in food, cooking, health, wellness or all of the above anyway, so you’ve probably got a wee bit of food snob in you as well. And if you don’t, then I’m going to sound like a total brat. But that’s ok because I feel that my brattiness is well-justified, as all brats do.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I’m the world’s greatest cook – not by any means. I stuff up recipes and make hideous meals all the time – I just don’t take pictures or blog about them. And given that I’ve only been cooking properly for the past two to three years (before that, all I cared about was eating), my culinary opinion doesn’t come with much authority. But I’ll never hesitate to offer it anyway…

I’m becoming increasingly frustrated with restaurants’ efforts when it comes to the most basic dishes. I believe that anyone and everyone paying for food has the right to be a food snob. If I were charging people real money for my food in a commercial landscape, everything about the entire experience would have to be pretty great: the presentation, the service, the ambiance and, most importantly, the food. I couldn’t live with myself otherwise. When eating out, which is probably far too often mind you, I always ask myself this: “Could I have easily made something that tastes and looks better than this?” If the answer is yes, then I’m not happy. Isn’t the whole point of “eating out” to relish in the pleasure of eating something you don’t have the ability, time or inclination to produce yourself? I’m sick of going to pretentious restaurants with snooty waiting staff and prices to match, then being totally underwhelmed by the food and leaving knowing I could have whipped up something a whole lot better myself for a fraction of the price.

I could ramble on with a thousand examples, but you’d probably never return to my blog again. So I’ll share one grievance that’s becoming more and more frequent, and less and less well-tolerated: down-right crappy breakfasts. Melbourne prides itself on its top-notch brekkies, and competitive trendy cafe-filled areas such as Richmond, Hawthorn and Collingwood even more so. So when you take regular trips to Urban Spoon’s top-rated Melbourne brunch joints and the breakfast menus display prices that equal those of standard restaurants’ dinners (20-30 bucks), it’s your right as a generously paying customer to expect a pretty shit-hot breakfast. Yes, I made a punny.

But when the waiter takes 20 minutes to ask if you’d like something to drink, then the chef is less than accommodating of your food intolerances, insisting that “no menu items can be altered or cooked without garlic and onion” and you’re left with poached-eggs-and-your-choice-of-sides for the gazillionth time since you developed this crappy intolerance, then you’re getting pretty annoyed. Then, when your family receives their delectable Spanish baked eggs and gourmet breakfast burgers, you’re thinking: those $12 poached eggs better be hot and cooked medium, that $9 side of smoked trout or salmon wouldn’t want to taste like a fish market smells at 4pm, those grilled tomatoes better be all juicy and herby (and not be covered in minced garlic so you don’t have to send them back), that spelt sourdough should not be soggy, the sauteed spinach shouldn’t leave the rest of your plate swimming in oil and, for heaven’s sake, that $7 “smashed avocado” better not taste like the chef chewed up an avocado and spat it out on your plate…

Far too often lately, I’ve been served a cold plate of under or over-done poached eggs, overly fishy fish, tasteless tomatoes, soggy bread, super oily spinach and what I now coin ‘regurgitated avocado’. A lover of fresh, whole produce, I believe that basic is best – real food sings for itself. You don’t need complex cooking methods and a million ingredients to make food taste wonderful. A little always goes a long way in the kitchen, but a little love is still needed to give any dish pizzazz, even if it is only breakfast. And why should breakfast be less delicious than any other meal?! When you’re paying premium price for food, or any price for that matter, you have the right to expect to get what you pay for. 

So, here’s my take on ‘smashed avocado’: it’s super tasty, quick and easy and calls for minimal ingredients with a whole lotta taste. It can be used to add some spunk (and a bunch of nutritional benefits) to any breakfast, and it’s great as a spread, salad topping, guacamole or even a healthy dip alternative. I served mine on organic spelt sourdough with poached eggs and smoked salmon. Nourishing, simple, cheap and, most importantly, YUMMO!
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Simple Avo & Bulgarian Feta Smash

Serves 3 as a side
Ingredients:

  • 1 large ripe avocado*, skin and pip removed.
  • 40g Bulgarian feta (you could also use Danish feta, or Goats for dairy-free)
  • Juice of 1/4 – 1/2 lemon (to taste)
  • 1 small handful fresh coriander, roughly chopped
  • 2 large spring (green) onions, chopped (green part only for those with FructMal), or 2 tbs chopped chives
  • Cracked black pepper, to taste
  • Himalayan pink sea salt, to taste

Method:

  1. In a small bowl, mash avocado and half the feta with a fork. Don’t worry about getting it totally smooth – the chunkier, the better.
  2. Add the juice, coriander and green onion and stir to combine. Add the pepper and salt to taste & add more lemon juice if needed. The lemon juice will also delay the avocado’s natural browning process (handy side tip: you can use fresh lemon juice to prevent sliced fruits like banana and apple from going brown, too!).
  3. Add the rest of the feta and stir until just combined. Use immediately. Leftovers will keep covered in the fridge for the rest of the day, but will begin to brown after a few hours.

*I’ve recently started introducing more avocado into my diet. At the beginning of this year, I couldn’t tolerate more than a spoonful. I can now tolerate much more. If you’ve got FructMal and you’re not sure of your tolerance to avocado, just be careful. As always, tolerance to FODMAPs varies greatly from individual to individual and the best way to ensure a happy gut is to test your own tolerance.

Happy Nourishing!
Ax

It’s my birthday, I’ll eat (an entire) cake if I want to.

IMG_4487So I’ve been MIA lately (sorry about that), but I do have a very viable excuse: 21st Birthday celebrations. I’ve gotta be honest, though: it’s not really my birthday. I actually turned 21 back in July, but with over fifty close friends exploring abroad and a home in the midst of renovations and landscaping at the time, it made perfect sense to hold off celebrating until later in the year when all my pals would be home and my house would be party-ready. Just a quick side note: for anyone who’s planning a milestone birthday party in future, birthdays and parties in close proximity to one another are totally overrated. I highly recommend having your party 4-6 months after your actual birthday – it literally feels like you have two birthdays in the one year!

Anyway, I had the most incredible time laughing, dancing and going bonkers until the wee hours of Sunday with over 200 brilliant people. I almost slipped ‘memorable’ in there with ‘incredible’, but I’d be lying because the entire night is a monumental blur. A monumentally glorious blur, but a blur nonetheless. I do, however,  remember that the night went far too quickly as all eagerly-anticipated celebrations do, and I also remember that the night was absolutely perfect in every way. I’d give almost anything to relive those hours on the dance floor again. On the contrary, Sunday’s whopping hangover is something I’m happy to farewell. It’s Thursday as I write this, and I still haven’t recovered fully. Nor has my digestive system…

Sunday and Monday, I ate birthday cake for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Technically speaking, I didn’t eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but rather with breakfast, lunch and dinner, with numerous candy bar leftovers (hello, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and white chocolate raspberry bullets!) in between. My family couldn’t believe my bizarre lack on self-control as I scoffed my two-tiered moist-white-chocolate-mudcake-with-strawberry-swirl by the handful. I usually turn down one slice of cake — opting for a mouthful of someone else’s instead– let alone eating three kilos of the stuff over two days. The thing is that I wasn’t even trying to control myself. I didn’t want to. If I can’t eat every delicious ounce of refined, fat-forming and fructose-fueled food under the sun during my 21st birthday celebrations, then when the hell will I?! It’s my birthday, I’ll eat whatever, whenever and however much I want to.

Come Monday night, I was feeling thoroughly flat. I hadn’t eaten a full days’ serving of vegetables in three or four days. My daily three litres of water came in the form of vodka and champagne punch. I’d been forgetting to take my vitamin supplements and my excitement I hadn’t had a decent sleep in weeks. AND I’d been shoveling FODMAPs and fructose into my gob like nobody’s business (can you imagine how mortified I was when I receieved the 20 kilos of candy I ordered for my candy bar, only to realise that 90% of it was sweetened with the only thing worse than pure fructose itself: HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP?!?!?!?!?!). I’m almost ashamed to say that this did not stop me. Almost…

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Refined food has an evilly addictive nature, and I’ve got an awfully addictive personality, so it took a lot to quell the devil in my head who was telling me just one more chunk of white mud cake wasn’t going to kill me. My abdominal cramps and impertinent gastrointestinal symptoms suggested otherwise. I told myself enough was enough. I needed serious nutrients, but lacked the motivation to move, let alone cook. So I did a quick brainstorm and whipped up a perfectly healthy and positively delicious Summer dinner in 25 minutes. I cheated a little bit, but my family couldn’t tell, and neither will yours!

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This meal is jam-packed with A-grade quality proteins and complete amino acids, complex carbohydrates, antioxidants, minerals, a range of vitamins and essential fats including the amazing benefits omega-3. I started eating salmon at the start of last year, I haven’t looked back since. My eczema and dermatitis have improved ten-fold since incorporating essential fatty acids into my daily diet. I eat one large salmon fillet once a week, and small amounts of raw and smoked salmon throughout the week.

Crispy-Skinned Salmon with Lemon, Thyme & Mint Quinoa

Serves 5
Ingredients:

  • 5 boneless salmon fillets, skin on (200g each, wild if possible)
  • 2 Packets Celebrate Health Lemon & Thyme Quinoa
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken/vegetable stock
  • 2/3 cup water
  • Leaves from 2 large rosemary sprigs, chopped
  • 2 large handfuls baby spinach leaves, torn
  • 1 small handful fresh mint leaves
  • 1 tbs fresh thyme leaves (optional)
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • 200g green beans
  • 1/2 cup flaked almonds, lightly roasted
  • Juice and grated rind of 1/2 small lemon
  • EVOO (extra-virgin olive oil)
  • Sea salt flakes

Method: 

  1. Place quinoa, stock and water in a large saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to the boil (uncovered). Reduce heat to low and cover, allowing the grains to absorb the liquid for 15 minutes. Remove from heat when all the liquid is absorbed and the quinoa is fluffy.
  2. In the meantime, place salmon, skin-side up, on a large plate. Drizzle skin with EVOO, sprinkle skin and sides with chopped rosemary leaves and rub a little sea salt flakes into the skin. Heat a non-stick fry-pan over medium-high heat. Place the salmon fillets skin-side down on the pan (if it’s hot enough, it should sizzle and spit, but not burn). Cook for around 4 minutes until the skin is crisp. Flip, then cook for a further 4 minutes on the other side. Remove from heat and cover with foil. Move quickly, as the the salmon will continue to cook. Cooking times will always vary depending on the thickness of the fillet, but this will generally ensure a medium-rare centre that flakes away and melts in your mouth. I love my salmon a little pinker in the middle, as pictured. Adjust cooking times to suit how rare or well-done you like yours.
  3. Transfer the quinoa to a mixing bowl and toss through torn mint leaves, thyme leaves, spinach, avocado and a little grated lemon rind. Drizzle with a little EVOO.
  4. Arrange green beans on plates (I served mine raw for textural and nutritional purposes –not because I was just feeling lazy, of course 😉 — but you could lightly sautée them in a tiny bit garlic-infused EVOO if you wish). Top beans with quinoa salad and salmon fillets. Drizzle each plate with a little lemon juice and sprinkle roasted flaked almonds on top. Bog in.

Happy Nourishing!
Ax

Melbourne Cup Day: slug poo, gardening and a riverbank picnic

IMG_4303IMG_4306 In typical ‘me’ tradition, my Melbourne Cup Day (a Victorian public holiday for you non-Melbournians) was a lot more about food than horses. In previous years, I’ve always been enlivened with all things Spring Racing Carnival (all things bar the actual horse racing), but with a crazy work schedule, social events up to my neck and 21st party planning eating up any spare time, another expensive outfit, another pair of shoes, another cab fare and another day on the bubbly couldn’t have sounded less appealing. So instead I opted for a day spent out in the gorgeous Spring sunshine with my parents, planting our new veggie garden and fruit orchard, followed by a balmy evening feasting along the Yarra riverbank at Studley Park with my boyfriend.

Since this post isn’t dedicated to a specific recipe, I thought I’d use it as an opportunity to share my favourite green smoothie combinations with you. Like anything seen to be a fad, there’s a lot of ridicule surrounding green smoothies and green juices. My family stopped screwing up their faces after three or so months of me carrying them around the house, but my work colleagues still grimace at the sight of my daily dose of “slug poo”, as they’ve coined it.  I don’t care what green-smoothie-cynics say – I’ve been hooked on them since my first one, and I can confidently say that I’ll be drinking them daily for the rest of my life. Getting 5+ FULL servings of vegetables in a day, and ensuring that they’re mostly raw, can be a tough gig. Now I don’t know about you, but munching on a large mixing bowl full of nothing but spinach leaves, lettuce and celery sounds ghastly, not to mention time consuming. It’s for this reason that I swear by green smoothies: they help you to effortlessly and painlessly reach your 5+ veggie servings a day, and they can account for all your raw servings!

The truth is, slug poo tastes a whole lot better than it looks. In fact, so long  as you’ve got the right combinations happening, it’s perfectly refreshing and delicious. The thing I love most about green smoothies is how I feel physically healthier and rejuvenated with every single gulp. Whenever I’m feeling sluggish (pardon the pun) or not quite right, I can always rely on a green smoothie bursting with nutrients to reenergise me. What’s more, ever since I began incorporating green smoothies into my daily diet, my skin has a more consistent glow and my random bursts of dermatitis and eczema have stopped altogether.

As more and more health cafes and juice bars include green smoothies on their menus, I become more and more outraged at their prices. One day last week, I hadn’t had enough time to make my green smoothie in the morning, so I prowled the cafes of Melbourne’s CBD in search of one. I ended up at an organic health eatery in one of Melbourne’s most famous foodie alleys. Given my past experiences there, I shouldn’t have been surprised at the lack of customer service. Let’s just say that the snooty hipster waitresses there have “I don’t want to take your order and I’m way too cool for your mainstream corporate attire-wearing self” written all over their frown-wrinkled foreheads. Anyway, although I didn’t show it, I was taken aback by the $9.50 I was charged for the stingiest, most tasteless green smoothie I’ve ever had. It tasted like mouldy celery blended with muddy water. I was not impressed, and I remembered why I always make my own green smoothies: they actually taste good, they don’t cost me the earth, and I don’t walk away seething.

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My all-time favourite green smoothies

A few things to note:

  • All recipes serve one large glass, or 2 small.
  • The first 2 recipes are great as breakfast meals, and the second two are great to drink in-between meals.
  • The coconut-rice milk used is Pureharvest’s Cocoquench coconut-rice milk.
  • While it’s true that you can pretty much throw whatever you want into a green smoothie, remember that green smoothies have the word “green” in them for one reason: they are supposed to be comprised mainly of veggies! To keep my sugar intake in check, I stick to using 1-2 full servings of fruit in my green smoothies (e.g. 1 medium banana or 1 cup berries = 1 serving fruit). If you’ve used a fair bit of fruit and are still struggling with the taste of the greens, try adding some liquid stevia to increase the sweetness without increasing the sugar.
  • There’s no doubt about it; the secret to a thick and silky green smoothie is BANANA! Of course, you can make your green smoothies without it (avocado is also a great thickener!), but if you’re after a lovely thick and smooth texture, you can’t go past the old ‘nana. Besides, bananas taste awesome and they mask any of the bitterness that the leafy greens may have – if you close your eyes, you’ll never know you’re drinking a salad.
  • A note on cucumber: I used to add cucumber to all my green smoothies, however, it’s been giving me bad indigestion and reflux lately so I’ve stopped. If it’s not problematic for you, then use it.
  • The amount of fruit, coconut water/milk and chia seeds I put in my smoothies always depends on whether I’m having it as a meal (i.e. for breakfast), or a snack between lunch and dinner. If it’s only a snack, I use less fruit (more berries than banana as they’re lower in sugar), and half a cup of coconut water/milk + 1/2 cup water.
  • Feel free to add in superfood extras like spirulina, Vital Greens, etc.
  • Green smoothies are always best enjoyed immediately. 8-hour old slug poo tastes pretty putrid, trust me…

To make:

Start by add liquids to the jug first, followed by frozen solids and then add the other ingredients on top. Process in a high-speed blender for 1-2 minutes, or until the consistency is smooth and silky. I find that even in a blender as powerful as my Thermomix, green smoothies really need at least a minute to break down all the fibrous greens and give you that silky smooth texture. If you don’t blend it for long enough, it will separate, or be stringy and chunky.

Green Piña Colada

  • 1 cup coconut-rice milk
  • 1 frozen banana (or 1/2 large)
  • 1 thick slice pineapple
  • 3 handfuls leafy greens (baby spinach leaves + cos + bok choy)
  • Small handful fresh mint leaves
  • 1/2 cucumber
  • 1 tbs chia seeds
  • 2-3 drops liquid stevia

Very Berry Breakfast Greens

  • 1 cup coconut water
  • 1 frozen banana
  • 1 cup berries (strawberries, blueberries & raspberries)
  • 3 handfuls leafy greens (baby spinach leaves + cos + bok choy)
  • 1 small handful fresh mint leaves
  • 1.5 tbs chia seeds
  • 1 heaped tsp freeze-dried acai berry powder (optional)
  • 2-3 drops liquid stevia

Ultimate Greens 1

  • 1 cup coconut water
  • 1 thick slice frozen pineapple
  • 1-2 kiwis, peeled (I eat the skin separately. YES, I eat fury kiwi skin!)
  • 1 large handful baby spinach or bok choy
  • 1/3 cucumber
  • Small handful mint leaves
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • 3 drops liquid stevia
  • Ice

Ultimate Greens 2

  • 1 cup coconut water
  • 1 large handful spinach
  • 1 large handful cos lettuce
  • 1 large handful bok choy
  • 1/4 avocado
  • 1/2 cucumber
  • 1/2 celery stalk
  • 1 small handful continental parsley
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 thumbnail-size piece fresh ginger
  • 1 tsp Spirulina
  • 4 drops liquid stevia
  • Ice

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Sweet Cinnamon Omelette Filled w/ Stewed Summer Berries

Sometimes you just have those days when you know you need to go a little easier on the carbs, like after the AFL Grand Final weekend, for example. You know that dreadful feeling after eating your body’s worth in weight, when you could swear your digestive system is going to cark it and you feel as though you won’t be able to eat for a week? Well, that was me last Sunday, after a post-granny banquet at one of my all-time favourite restaurants, Red Spice Road. The truth is, I hadn’t eaten there since last year, because I was convinced that my fructose malabsorption would render any menu item out of the question. So, I was utterly shocked (and overwhelmed with joy) when the kind waiters said that they’d do a tailored banquet for me, separate to that of my fellow diners. Now, it sounded excellent in theory, and the food was just as orgasmic as ever, but there were three issues:

  1. There were 9 courses. NINE BLOODY COURSES.
  2. Naturally, Urbanspoon’s top rating Melbourne restaurants are very competitive. This generally means that when they have another-pain-in-the-ass-customer-with-an-intolerance in their restaurant, they want to please them, because if you’ve got your eyes on the prize in this day and age, you don’t want to risk seeming unaccommodating and getting a bad review by an over-reactive intolerance sufferer. SO, rest assured, top-notch restaurants will FEED you, and they will FATTEN you up. I’m not talking nine bite-sized courses here, I’m talking nine full-sized freaking DINNER servings.
  3. I felt obliged to clean every mammoth-sized plate and bowl that was thrown under my nose, almost to the point of licking them clean, because I didn’t dare offed any of the lovely waiting staff or, God Forbid, the chef, after being so considerate and generous. This is a major concern when 10% of each meal could have been considered clean, and that’s only because they were covered with fresh coriander and chilli.

So, if I’m going to be really honest to myself here, I’d have to say that I ate three days’ worth of main meals in one sitting. Fully aware of this, I was adamant that I wasn’t going to eat anything but green tea the next day. And the day after that…

Yeah right.

Surely enough, I awoke at 8am the next morning, hungry. I tried telling myself that it wasn’t real hunger, that my mind was on food first thing in the morning out of habit. After two hours of doing everything in my power to avoid the kitchen, I crumbled. I just had to eat. I was genuinely hungry. How? with the equivalent of twelve meals in my gut from the day before? Not to mention a litre jug of ginger Mojito? I’ll never know.

Needless to say, I needed something light. The thought of mushy, heavy oats was enough to make me dry-reach, and I knew that I needed something relatively low-carb to avoid feeling –and looking– even more pregnant with a 10-pound food baby than I already did. Incidentally, and no doubt due to the amount of foods with high glycaemic loads I’d demolished the day before, I was craving sugar. For me, sweet breakfast cravings generally come in the form of oats, healthy pancakes, smoothies and yoghurt bowls. But I needed protein. So, I whipped up a simple sweet omelette, and filled it with a combination of stewed and fresh berries.

I’ve always been a little skeptical about sweet omelettes, much the same as the thought of French toast used to scare me. Sweet eggs just never really appealed to me (except in the form of egg tarts at Yum Cha, something I ate a little too frequently in my earlier years). Needless to say, I didn’t think a sweet omelette was going to do it for me, but I’m glad to say it did. Please bear in mind that this recipe won’t taste like a pancake or French toast because it is still an omelette, after all. The filling doesn’t have to be limited to berries either – you can fill it with whatever you like. Just make sure you’re getting some form of complex carbohydrate, healthy fats and lots of vitamins and minerals in there. Grilled banana and Coyo (coconut yoghurt) is next on my list.
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Sweet Cinnamon Omelette Filled w/ Stewed Summer Berries

Ingredients:

  • 2 large organic free range eggs
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp pure organic maple syrup
  • approx. 4-5 drops liquid stevia
  • 3 large strawberries (organic if possible), sliced
  • 1 cup mixed blueberries & raspberries (organic if possible), fresh or frozen.
  • 1 tbs favourite pure & unsweetened nut butter (peanut, coconut-infused peanut, almond, cacao-almond, cashew, ABC, hazelnut etc.)
  • 1 tsp coconut oil

Method:

  1. In a bowl, whisk eggs lightly using a fork. Add cinnamon, maple syrup and stevia, and whisk until combined.
  1. Melt coconut oil in a small non-stick pan over medium-low heat.  Pour in egg mixture. Leave to cook for around 4 minutes or until the omelette has started to set and isn’t as runny on top.
  2. When the omelette easily comes away from the pan with a spatula, flip onto the other side and allow to finish cooking. This will take less than a minute. Remove omelette from the pan and transfer to a serving plate.
  3. In the meantime, add the blueberries and raspberries to a small pot on the stove over medium heat. Cook until berries are tender, warm and a juicy compote has formed.
      1. Note: If you’re pressed for time, I’d recommend eating the berries fresh as opposed to microwaving them, but it’s entirely up to you. Microwaves are dangerously convenient, but bear in mind that the more you cook fruit and veg, the more its nutritional value decreases full stop, and microwaving does this by ten-fold.
  4. Spread the omelette with your favourite nut butter, layer with fresh sliced strawberries and top with the stewed blueberries and raspberries. Fold over, and enjoy with a cuppa and an inspiring morning read.

Happy Nourishing!
Ax