December 7, 2013
Earlier in the week I made these to take to a charity event called Free to Shine, that my friend Shakti Grace from The Holistic Chef invited me along to. She gave a brilliant and inspiring talk on the energy of food and had the whole audience captivated, which started with a lovely grounding meditation for the group. We had a little stall selling a bunch of goodies and the proceeds went to this wonderful charity to help get disadvantaged girls in Cambodia into school. They specifically aim to help these girls escape the grips of the sex trafficking trade by putting those who are high risk into uniforms, giving them pens and books, and sending them off to school. So far they have enrolled 127 girls and built two houses, but still have a target they need met by the end of the year. If you would like to donate to this beautiful and empowering cause, you can make a donation here.
Back to the cookies. These are raw, vegan, grain free Christmas gingerbread cookies. They are made with freshly grated ginger and a bunch of spices, and have a good dollop of one of my favourite sweeteners, organic blackstrap molasses.
Molasses doesn’t seem to get as much love as other sweeteners, but he’s definitely a favourite of mine. Thick and syrupy, it is made from processing sugar cane or beets until it has thickened and crystalised. Although it is not raw, I like it because it is a far less processed version of sugar, and actually has many health benefits.
Namely, it is a very rich source of iron, important for healthy and happy red blood cells. A two teaspoon serving will give you about 13% of your daily requirement for iron.* It also contains vitamin B6 and has a high mineral profile thanks to it being minimally processed – it contains calcium, copper, manganese, magnesium and potassium and zinc. Potassium is actually extremely beneficial for heart health, while zinc is supportive for men’s health.
Blackstrap molasses also has a low GI which means it won’t send your blood sugar levels crazy.
Look for organic and unsulfured blackstrap molasses when you go to purchase (sulphur is added to ripen green sugar cane up in order to speed up the process for harvest – it is a harsh chemical and best avoided).
Raw Gingerbread Cookies
Makes 24+ (not sure exactly – a lot of cookies went missing along the way!)
10 big, juicy Medjool dates, pitted*
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
½ cup coconut flour (simply blend desiccated coconut till extra fine)
2 tablespoons flax meal (to help bind)
3 tablespoons blackstrap molasses
2 tablespoons 100% pure maple syrup
½ teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of cardamom
Pinch of nutmeg
2½ cups fine, white almond meal
- Roughly chop your dates, then add everything but the almond meal to a food processor and blitz till a paste forms – it might be a bit sticky – that’s ok
- Transfer to a large mixing bowl, and add the almond meal
- Kneed the almond meal into the paste until a nice dough forms
- If it is still a little sticky to work with, pop it in the fridge for an hour or two
- Roll dough out onto a dehydrator teflex sheet ½ cm thick
- Cut little shapes out
- Press in some goji berries down the centre if you used a gingerbread man cutter
- Dehydrate at 115˚F till dry. Yes you can put these in the oven on low.
*If your dates are dry, soften by letting them sit in warm water for 15 minutes. Make sure you drain them well before use.
December 4, 2013
Are you stressed stupid?
Funnily enough, today I am writing about stress – and I am writing from a chic little local café because I have not one, but four diggers across the road from my office excavating some land, as well as a team of arborists pruning the most magnificent old oak tree (sniff!) on top of garbage tracks clashing and clanging down the street! So as you can see, I am a little bit stressed myself this morning! (And now – I’ve just ordered my tea, and a small crane has turned up in the car park next door. Oh I give up!).
The Fight or Flight Response
Back to my stress post. Many of us have heard before, the consequences stress has on our physical bodies. To recap, in the ‘fight or flight’ response, a stressor occurs, and triggers a series of reactions in our bodies. The hypothalamus in the brain, senses the external threat, and stimulates the Master Gland – the pituitary – to release adrenocorticotropic hormones into the blood. These hormones travel through the body to the adrenal glands, where the ‘fight or flight’ hormones are then secreted. The secretion of these fight or flight hormones throughout the body over rides all other commands, and changes start to occur.
Your breath may be shallow and quick, your heart will start to beat faster, and a re-distribution of blood occurs. Blood is taken on a detour – away from your visceral organs and away from the digestive system in the centre of your body (you’re not going to need to digest last night’s dinner when you’re being chased by a tiger now, are you?). It is now being pumped into your extremities, your arms and your legs, so that you can either run away or stay and put on a good fight.
The problem with being stuck in fight or flight
These changes can be potentially life saving – what a clever body you have! But, they can actually serve to cause us harm if long term, we are stuck in this mode and can’t re-set to our equilibrium. We may not have to run from tigers anymore, but we have pitches, presentations, long working hours, traffic, global environmental disasters… the list goes on. Chronic stress like this is not treated any different by the body, you still switch into the fight or flight mode and often at your detriment, stay there.
So we know long term, that under chronic stress, our bodies aren’t really functioning as they should. Your vitality is being compromised as energy is now being spent protecting yourself rather than letting your tissues and organs grow and go about their daily life-sustaining duties.
Stress stifles brain activity
But the other interesting thing, is that this fight or flight mode doesn’t just stifle this growth process within the body’s tissues and organs, it does so in the brain too.
(Ahh – finally – the crane has left – I finally have peace! Cartwheels!).
Research has shown that the activation of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis as we discussed above, actually interferes with us thinking clearly. The adrenal stress hormones constrict the blood vessels in the part of your brain that deals with logic and reasoning, diverting attention instead to the part of your that controls life-sustaining reflexes.
In the process – the neurons in that part of the brain can actually shrink and lose their spark.
Again – your body sees no use in reason and logic when running from a tiger – you need quick reflexes to be on your game! Highly beneficial in the short term – although if you are under constant chronic stress, the pay off is reduced intelligence.
In fact, constant, chronic stress is so detrimental to our health long term, that it has been linked to almost every major illness.
How to reduce the harmful effects of stress on body and mind:
Well, according to Dr Bruce Lipton (cell biologist, author of The Biology of Belief), it isn’t enough to just eliminate the stressors (that will just take us back to a neutral set point) – we also need to seek love and joy to enrich our lives and fully thrive.
How do we do that? Here are a few examples;
- spend time in the company of loved ones
- laugh more
- listen to music (there is a great article here by Dr Mercola on Food Matters on how music is the only activity that actively engages ALL parts of your brain!)
- cuddle a pet
- get out in nature
This list is not exhaustive – there are so many small ways we can enrich our lives and help shift the gears back from stressed to neutral to thriving – you can check out my top 55 ways to cultivate Joy here.
Another significant way we can contribute to a life less stressed, is to remove any nutritional stressors (processed and refined foods, chemicals, flavourings, colourings, toxins, stimulants) and replace them with healing whole foods. You can browse through my recipes page for a few ideas.
Finally, getting deep, restful, restorative sleep is essential for stress management. This is when our bodies get a chance to repair. There are a number of things you can do to be a Sleeping Beauty. You can try taking a relaxing Goddess Bath before bed (read more on that here) or even use a beautiful herb like valerian to help slip you into slumber.
The Biology of Belief, Bruce H. Lipton, PhD. 2008.
November 29, 2013
The other day I got a little email from Comvita asking if I wanted to take part in their 30 day Super Antioxidant Challenge, by simply making like a Mediterranean and taking some of their lovely Olive Leaf Extract each day for a month. Um…yes please! First of all, I have always thought Olive Leaf Extract to be a highly beneficial addition to your diet in terms of extra support when you are run down. But secondly, my family are from the Mediterranean, and my Nana is from the island of Korcula in Croatia. She is 85 – and is still full of beans and sharp as a tack – her kitchen is affectionately known as ‘Sally’s Café’ because she bakes for, oh, just the entire neighbourhood! If any of us can get let in on her secrets – we’d be doing well! But in this context, we are specifically talking about the world’s Blue Zones…let me explain…
Blue Zones and The Mediterranean Diet
Scientists have been madly studying the ‘blue zones’ of the world – which are the areas in which the most long-lived people are thriving, free from disease. Sardinia, a little island off the coast of Italy, is one such place (the other four are Okinawa in Japan, Loma Linda in California, Nicoya in Costa Rica and Ikaria in Greece).
The Sardinians eat a Mediterranean diet, which is largely plant based, and contains an abundance of fresh fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains and olive oil. Sheep and goats milk is drunk on occasion and meat, if eaten, is more of an accent than the starring act – and certainly not something that would be eaten three times a day. It is one of the most scientifically studied diets in the world, and it’s health benefits are thanks to its richness in antioxidant compounds. These antioxidant compounds – the phenols and polyphenols – are highly concentrated in a range of Mediterranean foods such as grapes, olives, berries and red wine.
In general, they are happier, more relaxed people that often live to be centurions. So is their secret really in the food? Maybe…
Comvita think they may have just bottled this secret, with their polyphenol-rich Olive Leaf Extract grown here in Australia.
Lucky for me, they sent me out a bottle to try for a month as part of their Super Antioxidant Challenge. To take part in the challenge, you have to take your Olive Leaf Extract of choice (the original Olive Leaf Extract, the extract with additional cardiovascular support, or the extract with blood sugar support) and simply have a shot of it every day for 30 days. Attached to my bottle was a little card where I can track my health improvements as I go along, which I think is a great idea – how many times do you buy a supplement or super food, and take it for a certain period of time, to not notice any difference. Such a waste! I love that this lets you track some tangible results. Hopefully by the end of it, you may notice improvements in asthma, blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, cold sores, energy, fatigue and skin health among others.
Benefits of Olive Leaf
Olive Leaf Extract – from the freshly picked leaves of the humble olive tree – is an age-old symbol of peace and happiness. Here is an interesting insight to its super powers – the victor in the Olympic games used to be crowned with its leaves! It is most renowned as a cardiovascular tonic, immune supporter, and source of antioxidants.
Olive leaves have traditionally been considered a fantastic heart tonic. They have a beneficial effect on the blood vessels, and can help to lower blood pressure and bad (LDL) cholesterol in the blood.
Olive leaf extract is fantastic for the immune system as it is effective against nearly all of the viruses and bacteria on which it has been tested.1 It has long been regarded by people in the Mediterranean as nature’s finest and safest antibiotic.
It has the special ability to interfere with viruses in the body to inhibit them from reproducing and taking over other cells. Great to help fight herpes and influenza, sore throats, and bacterial infections.
Freshly picked olive leaf extract here in Australia has an antioxidant power 40 times that of a high quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil and 400% more powerful than vitamin C. Antioxidants are really important for keeping our cells healthy and in tip top shape, protecting them from free radical damage.
How you can join in:
Check out their gorgeous site here to join in the challenge with me, to enjoy all the super health benefits without moving to Sardinia!
Other ways to live a more vibrant, Mediterranean inspired life:
While there is definite evidence that the Mediterranean Diet kicks butt, there is also something to be said for the way these lovely people go about their lives in general. Although the five Blue Zones around the world are miles apart, they have some very similar traits, which we could all learn from in order to adopt a more fulfilling life;
- Respect your elders and put family first. Family are valued and held close, and all generations, young and old, are included and together in family celebrations. They have meaningful relationships with their partners, and invest quality time with young ones
- Dance in the streets late at night. Those who can boast longevity are active and have daily movement. This often comes in the form of good old fashioned labour – toiling the garden or hiking winding paths. But it also means getting up to enjoy yourself, and enjoy festivities with the rest of the community – at my brother’s 21st, I was long gone – tucked up on the couch asleep – while my Nana was one of the last ones standing on the dance floor!
- Watch the sun rise. Everyone experiences stress in their lives – but those in the Blue Zone seem to know the value in taking time to smell the roses, or admire the sun rise, or have an afternoon nap, to keep them nice and balanced
- Have a laugh with friends. Having a tribe of close friends that you can call on and share experiences with is so important to a vibrant, healthy life. Happiness is contagious! If you ever get to one of the little islands in the Mediterranean, you will most probably see a bunch of gossiping grannies out very late at night, having the time of their lives!
- Prescription for Nutritional Healing. Fifth Edition. Phyllis A. Balch, CNC. 2010.
November 27, 2013
These things are divinely good – like a macaroon but better – there is a sneaky dollop of passionfruit curd hiding inside the centre, and a creamy coconut frosting holds the two cookie halves together. These would be great to give as a little Christmas gift, and of course, are super healthy. No dairy, eggs, wheat, gluten or sugar – the only sweetener is the beautiful coconut flower nectar which tastes like butterscotch and has a low GI. I’ve been making a few recipes with coconut milk of late – the organic Coco Quench from Pure Harvest – it works really well. Have fun!
Raw Coconut Passionfruit Kisses
Makes 12 (24 halves)
1 cup cashew flour
1½ cups fine, white almond meal
½ cup coconut flour
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon fine Himalayan rock salt
2 tablespoons pysllium husk
2 tablespoons passionfruit juice (simply strain the pulp of a passionfruit through a sieve and discard the black seeds)
½ cup coconut milk (I’ve been loving Pure Harvest’s Organic Coco Quench recently)
½ cup + 2 tablespoon coconut nectar (I’ve been using Loving Earth’s – it tastes like butterscotch – yum!)
- Process everything in a food processor till well combined
- If the mixture is a little too sticky to work with, set in the fridge for a little while so it firms up
- Spoon a tablespoon of mixture onto a teflex sheet and flatten into a cookie shape, repeat till you’ve used up the mixture
- Dehydrate at 145˚F for a couple of hours, then turn the temperature down to 115˚ and continue to dehydrate till dry (at least a day)
- Flip the cookies half way through this process
Yes – you can totally put these on low in an oven – they’ll be yummy but they will no longer be raw!
Yields ¼ cup
2 tablespoons passionfruit juice
1 heaped tablespoon coconut butter
1 tablespoon lacuma powder
1 tablespoon psyllium husk
1 tablespoon coconut nectar
- Gently melt the coconut butter over a bowl of hot water till it has liquefied
- Whisk in the rest of the ingredients, let cool a little
- Spoon into a plastic zip lock bag or piping bag and set aside
Yields 1 cup
½ cup coconut butter
¼ cup coconut milk
2 teaspoons coconut nectar
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Couple of pinches of fine Himalayan rock salt
- Gently melt the coconut butter over a bowl of hot water till it has liquefied
- Whisk in the rest of the ingredients, let set a little in the fridge, keep an eye on it so it doesn’t turn rock hard
- Transfer into a zip lock plastic bag or piping bag ready for use.
- Pair the cookie halves together making sure they are of equal size
- Pipe the coconut frosting around the outer edge of the flat side of one of the halves
- Pipe a small dollop of passionfruit curd into the centre
- Place the second cookie half over the top and repeat till finished
- These are best enjoyed right away or else stored in an airtight container – just be aware that in hot weather the coconut frosting may be prone to melting.