Tuesday, January 31, 2012

go aluminium free

I was very happy to find this new organic, aluminium and chemical free deodorant by Harmoni's Kiss on the shelf at Woolworths ($4.95). Made with aloe vera leaf juice, witch hazel extract and scented with essential oils including lime, orange, lavendar, geranium and rose it has a wonderful fragrance and it works!

Between 1 October 2011 and 31 December 2012 fifteen cents from every sale is donated to the McGrath Foundation. “McGrath Foundation supports McGrath Breast Care Nurses in communities right across Australia and educates young women to be breast aware.” This is a fantastic, practical initiative. Every woman knows what the support of another woman means during hard times, and in the case of a woman with breast cancer to have a nurse that can answer their questions and support them emotionally is an initiative worth supporting. And educating young women about the importance of breast health and self-checking their breasts is important as early detection of breast cancer saves lives.

What's the fuss about aluminium in deodorant? While some medical articles argue there has been no conclusive evidence to show a direct link between aluminium in deodorant causing breast cancer, I would add - yet. While I believe there is no one single factor that causes cancer, I  believe in reducing the pollution, stress and chemicals we ingest and that includes not putting aluminium into my body.

If you'd like to share this post with the women in your life please go right ahead.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Book Review: Leon by Allegra McEvedy. Published by Conran Octopus 2008

Being a lover of cookbooks I was thrilled to receive this as a wedding gift, not only because it is a fab book but it is one I hadn’t seen before. Leon is now a favorite in my collection for its real food philosophy, recipes and for its beautiful, engaging design.

Since receiving the book I've learnt that before Leon the cookbook came Leon the ‘fast food’ chain with a difference. This is not fast food of the fat and sugar-laden variety, no this is "naturally fast food", the principle behind the business is “food that tastes and does you good”. Based in London, the vision of the owners of Leon is – “to change the face of fast food”. There are currently 12 Leon restaurants serving "naturally fast food" to over 100,000 people a week. 

The first half of Leon the book is ‘The Ingredients Book’ where fruits, vegetables, grains, meat, fish and dairy are given a good going over. This is a British book so the growing regions discussed are relevant to Europe, but don’t let that deter you because you’ll miss out on all the other interesting and useful information. Once you read your way through the origins and uses of ingredients ranging from artichokes to black-eyed beans to sumac, and on to which cut of beef, chicken and lamb cooks best which way, work your way through the cheese European cheese selection and brush up on which vinegar and oil to use for what and then you will be bursting to get cooking with the second half of Leon: ‘The Recipe Book’.

Each recipe has an introduction paragraph for your reading pleasure and the recipes are very doable, with the vast majority calling for ingredients you’ll have on hand – if you have a well-stocked real food pantry J

The 'starters, sharers and sides' chapter is one I delve into regularly for tasty bites such as sweet potato falafel, Sicilian grilled vegetables and the roasted garlic and pumpkin hummus.

On my Leon main course wish list still to try are ‘Tom (Really) Yum’ soup, Moroccan Meatballs and the ‘(Not very) Kashmiri Rogan Josh’.

McEvedy's recipes are flavoured generously with a vast array of herbs and spices, no fancy tricks or ingredients just good honest fare that you can enjoy just as easily for a midweek family meal and equally on the weekend when you have friends over. For instance, lemon, garlic, thyme, bay leaves, onion and white wine create the flavour base for chicken, asparagus and lemon cassoulet.

If you have a birthday party or celebration to make a cake for, turn to page 274. There you will find ‘Alex’s Henry the Hedgehog’. It is essentially a hedgehog style recipe that involves getting messy and shaping the mix by hand into a hedgehog complete with slivered almond spikes.

There’s a welcome touch of humour and cheekiness to be found in these pages, eating real food needn’t be all so serious as some books look and read more like a text book.

I stumbled across this article about Leon co-owner and cookbook author, Allegra McEvedy who is also a columnist for the Guardian newspaper. A number of recipes from the book follow the article including the outrageous decadent ‘Leon Better Brownie’ recipe. I love the quote from McEvedy's biography that spells out her personal philosophy to live and work by "that there are more ways for a chef to make a difference than by winning Michelin stars, and good food should be available to everybody".

Today with the rain here and an incredible harvest of tomatoes from our garden, Leon’s roast tomato, chilli and cumin soup is next on my list to try.

What are you cooking?

Monday, January 23, 2012

what are you weighting for?

Monday is D-day for many women. D-day? The day of the week they begin a ‘diet’. The fact is, you can’t ‘go on a diet’ because you are already on one. Albeit one that may not be providing the nutrition, vitality and body weight you desire.

I’m writing about this because weight loss is a recurring conversation among some of my friends and family. And I’m not talking about ‘those last 5 kgs’ I’m 20-30kg kind of weight loss.

If only weight loss were as simple as mastering the energy in, energy out equation. It’s not. If it were, income for Australia’s weight loss industry would not have been $789.6 million in 2010-2011 as reported by IBISworld market research.

So, what to do?

Here are a few tips and tricks from my own experience of being a woman in our image obsessed, food abundant society. I haven’t had to lose 30 kgs but I have managed to stay a size 12 for twenty years even through working as a restaurant reviewer and food writer, and having had two babies.

1. Keep a food diary for at least a week. I have done this and any of my friends who have ever done this have found it very helpful to work out when?, why? (bored, sad, lonely, frustrated, happy, celebrating) and how much? they are eating. Writing it down makes it real. You may not think you eat very much, or that you eat ‘healthily’ perhaps that’s true, the diary will show you the quality and quantity of food and from there you can change direction.

2. Read ‘French Women Don’t Get Fat’ by Mireille Guiliano. Regardless of whether you are wanting to lose weight or not if you are interested in real food this book is an excellent read, Guilliano’s writing is very engaging and the recipes appealing and straightforward. Her philosophy and tips are easy to incorporate into your life, it is not a diet it is a way of living and she is a big advocate of the real food way of life such as buying local produce, going to farmer’s markets, using spices to flavour food rather relying on salt and sugar.

3. Eat at the table, off your own plate only. The ‘off your own plate only’ is for mothers. We mothers are renowned for finishing what our children don’t eat. Put it in the compost, feed it to the birds, put it in the bin. If you don’t have time to sit down and eat, make time. Munching down food standing at the kitchen bench, in the car, while you’re working means you are not consciously eating. This means you can overeat and tell yourself the calories don’t count. They do.

4. Check out Cyndi O’Maera’s fantastic e-book Changing Habits Changing Lives 21 day weight loss plan ($22). Cyndi is an Australian nutritionist and author who doesn’t believe in low-fat, low-calorie diets instead she writes about changing habits – the what, when, how you eat and exercise – and provides a delicious collection of family-friendly recipes that won’t leave you hungry and feeling like you are ‘on a diet’ being punished. Great tips and inspiration for sneaking exercise into your day, turning off the TV and changing your life.

5. Change how you see yourself: NOW. Don’t wait until you lose the weight to accept yourself, love yourself, be kind to yourself, forgive yourself. Do that now.

And if you find in a months time the weight loss plan you are following is not working then stop what you are doing and REALLY change direction. Seek new ways, not fad diets, meaningful new ways that see you live differently from your heart not just what you eat.

Good luck to everyone who has losing weight on their goal list this year, perhaps a goal to add if you don’t have it on there already is being fulfilled in your relationships and creative pursuits. You may find being fulfilled in other areas of your life takes a weight off your mind and body J

Friday, January 20, 2012

snatch 'n' grab

Children are taught not to snatch and grab. I’ve decided the rules are different though for mothers. If I don’t snatch and grab TIME I will never accomplish a project, a phonecall, writing a card to a friend, exercise, sewing, gardening, reading…whatever it may be.

I’d been wanting to sew some pants for the boys but 3 days of heavy rain stopped me from driving 40 minutes each way to the fabric shop in Mornington. So when I decided to sew them out of fabric I had at home my next thought was “I’ll wait til Sol has his nap today". I got sidetracked and the making didn’t happen. Then I thought "I’ll wait til they’re asleep tonight" then it was late and still the time didn’t seem right. Another day passed and the pants were still annoyingly unmade, not even begun.

I decided it was TIME to snatch ‘n’ grab. Half an hour before the boys bedtime while they ran around me I laid out the fabric and began pinning on the pattern. The boys stopped playing to ‘help’. While Sol played with the sharp scissors and tipped the pins out onto the carpet, River and I continued pinning the pattern to the fabric. We’d made a start! Then, Sol tore the pattern in half. Ok, time for bed boys.

An hour later after I tucked them in and the house was quiet I returned to the pants. After sticky taping the pattern back together I was ready to cut them out. I’d made a start.

When the boys woke the next morning all I had left to do was put the elastic in the waist and hem them.

Ta da! They were done.

So I invite you to snatch ‘n’ grab some time. Don’t wait for that lovely long stretch of uninterrupted day or night. Get started on writing or reading that book, sewing that dress, painting that masterpiece, lifting those weights. The time is now. Just make a start.

You can find 15 minutes each day to dedicate to something you really want to make happen by the end of the week you will have devoted almost 2 hours to your task.

It works. Try it and see. I’d love to hear how it works for you, what you create.

Happy weekend everyone.

beach bliss

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

skin food

Over 2011 my husband Pete gathered a collection in our back garden of pots with aloe vera plants in them. They’re not in the garden for their good looks (though I do like the look of them); their purpose is skincare.

Long summer days in the sun feel good for the soul but sun-kissed skin can suffer. I remember as a child my mother smearing aloe vera gel onto my sunburnt skin at least once each summer. Now I’m all grown up and sun smarter, sunburn isn’t the issue but moisturising is a priority as I approach the grand decade of my forties(!). I was very happy using the exquisite rose skincare range by Weleda until Pete converted me to using the aloe vera (it took him a year).

Pete recently visited a local couple he heard had a great crop of aloe vera. This is what he came home with.

He also came home with new knowledge on how to use the plant. Instead of breaking off a piece of stem opening it, using the gel and discarding the piece, the grower suggested breaking off a long stem of the plant and vitamising it to create a green gloopy looking gel that you can store in the fridge and use as you would a moisturiser.

Aloe vera is a member of the succulent plant family and is hardy and easy to grow. The healing properties of aloe have been known for centuries. It contains vitamin C, vitamin E and zinc all nutrients that are nourishing to skin. It can be used for sunburn, minor burns and cuts or as an everyday moisturiser.

If you want to give it a go you can pick up a plant at your local nursery. Making the switch from commercial moisturiser, even the organic or natural ones, to your own supply of aloe vera saves you money, reduces packaging going into the environment and you'll have happy hydrated skin.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

happy (sugar less) birthday party

Happy Birthday Capricorns! My 5 year old arrived home last week from his friend’s birthday party with a box of lollies and a tummy ache. It isn’t the first time and probably won’t be the last time.

Children’s birthday parties don’t have to be sugar and fat fuelled to be fun.
I agree birthday parties are the time to enjoy celebration food, I don’t agree though that lollies, chips, chocolate, ice cream, cake, party-pies, sausage rolls and soft drink are all necessary at one party.

In my eyes, the 2012 children’s party menu includes real food options such as:

Homemade dips and rice crackers
Wraps with grated carrot and cheese cut into pinwheels
Home made ‘sausage’ rolls (vegetarian filling reduces the amount of saturated fat)
Chicken sandwiches
For older children have the party at lunchtime and make your own pizzas or have a simple pasta dish, penne with pesto
Homemade fish and chips
Roasted vegie ‘chips’
Mini quiche
Zucchini slice
Fruit kebabs
Popcorn necklaces

The cake

If you want to have lollies at your child’s party the cake is the place to do it. Rather than having bowls of lollies, putting lollies on the cake means that each child gets a few lollies on their piece of cake instead of helping themselves to handfuls. Most children do not want to eat rich cakes with cream and icing.
A simple cupcake is a great option.

The icing on the cake

To avoid food colourings use vegetable juices such as beetroot or carrot juice to give you pink or orange icing, a few drops of liquid chlorophyll for green, tumeric for yellow.

Send them home happy and sugar less  
It is the being with their friends that children love and remember. Set a new trend in your group of friends and change the menu. As for the lolly bag? The best take home party gift I’ve heard of were A Peter Rabbit party where each child was given a seedling to take home and plant.
Our children's childhood is an opportunity to be creative, fuel their imaginations.

One of my favorite party tips I learnt when I first started planning my son’s birthday parties is to invite as many guests as years the child is turning. You really don’t have to invite the whole class, really you don’t!

Below is a carrot cake recipe I’ve made for birthdays both as a round cake and cupcakes.

The inspiration for this recipe came from Jude Blereau’s incredible carrot cake in her book, Wholefood. Jude’s recipe calls for pineapple, sultanas and walnuts, here I make a simpler version. It makes a beautiful birthday cake or any time that calls for cake. The icing is rich so it is optional, the cake is just as lovely with a light dusting of icing sugar and served with vanilla yoghurt.

Carrot cake
2 cups spelt flour (can be white or wholemeal or a mix of both)
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ cup of brown sugar
2 tbsp maple syrup
½ cup coconut
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp nutmeg
4 cups grated carrot
½ cup almond oil (if you don’t have almond oil you can use 125g butter melted)
2 large or 3 medium eggs lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract

Cream cheese icing
250g cream cheese, room temperature
120g butter, softened
1 cup of icing sugar
juice of half a lemon

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.
Lightly grease a 24cm round cake tin (spring form or regular) and line the bottom with baking paper.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, and spices.
Stir in the sugar and coconut.
Add the carrot, oil (or butter), eggs, maple syrup and vanilla and mix well.
Scrape the batter from the bowl into the prepared tin and bake for 1 hour or until you can insert a skewer into the centre and it comes out clean.
Leave the cake to cool in the tin before turning out on to a wire rack.
Allow to cool completely before icing.

To make the icing, beat together the cream cheese and butter with the icing sugar and enough lemon juice to achieve a smooth texture.

This makes enough icing to cut the cake into two layers if you wish and ice the middle.

Happy Birthday.

Friday, January 13, 2012

forbidden fruit?

Cherries, peaches, plums and grapes, raspberries, blueberries, watermelon who can resist the cool fruits of summer? Well, since completing a 12 week detox under the guidance of Dr Zenon Gruba that excluded fruit from my diet I am re-thinking the best time of day to eat fruit.

Following the detox Dr Gruba advises eating fresh fruit only in hot weather and only before breakfast, never after a meal. The reason for this is the food you eat in a meal – meat, grains, vegetables etc; - take longer to digest than fruit and the fruit can ferment easily leading to bloating and flatulence.

In traditional Chinese Medicine fruit is said to be cooling, hence the recommendation to eat it in warm weather. In cool weather, Chinese Medicine practice is to cook fruits in season and eat them warm.

While we’re talking fruit, let’s talk about fruit juice. If you juice fruit at home pay attention to the amount of pulp you throw in the bin (or compost), that’s the fibre you are missing out on. Better to drink some water then eat the fruit.

Bottled fruit juice is almost a post on its own but I’ll cover it here, it is something I generally steer clear of and give it to my children only occasionally. Even if you can find bottled juice that is organic and contains no ADDED sugar, fruit juice still contains sugar. I hear you say ‘but its natural sugar’ sugar is sugar. Children are happy to drink water unless they are given juice from a young age then they will ask for juice, stick to water and protect your child’s teeth from tooth decay.

Fruit contains fructose, a simple sugar found in most plants. In our ancestors day fruit was scarce and strictly local and seasonal. Today fruit is picked early, ripened in a cool store and transported all around the country or world and often eaten out of season. A couple of pieces of fruit eaten on their own is not going to overload your system with fructose, however fructose is an ingredient in many processed foods (soft drinks, breakfast cereals, yoghurt, ice cream to name a few) so people are inadvertently overloading their bodies with fructose. Another reason to avoid processed foods. Our bodies are not designed for a high sugar diet. Fructose is processed in the liver and any overload is stored as fat. For more information about fructose and sugar and the effects is has on our health read this article .

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

are fussy eaters born or made?

In my opinion fussy eaters are made. From toddlers to teenagers (and some adults too!) food can become a power play that sees parents and children do a dance around the dinner table that ends in tears.

On paper the solution is simple: you decide what and when your children eat and they decide how much.

In action the solution can bring up emotions that are best kept in check.

Frustration and anxiety are not good for digestion. If you feel anxious about your child going hungry because they don’t eat the food you have prepared for them, remind yourself that your child will eat when they are hungry – even vegetables - and because we live is a country where food is abundant, if they don’t eat one meal there will always be another one to follow. If you feel frustrated, there's no point. Sorry for not sounding more sympathetic but if you let it go and get on with enjoying your meal you are showing your child exactly what you want them to do.

Focusing and becoming anxious about individual meals and what your child did or didn’t eat is not a complete picture. Consider what your child eats over a whole day or better still a whole week.

As for the when to eat, I stick to breakfast, lunch and dinner and depending on what’s happening on the day morning and/or afternoon tea. Children’s bodies are very busy growing, morning and afternoon tea can be good times to serve some nutrient dense foods that even those who fuss at mealtimes will go for, such as a fruit smoothie or homemade dip. Grazing or snacking all day means mealtimes won’t be fun because regardless of age, a good appetite is necessary to enjoy a meal and if you and/or the children have been snacking all day who really wants dinner?

To some, what I’m about to say may sound radical or mean but it is ok for your child to go hungry. There will be another meal and they will eat.

These are my top ten 8 tips for happy meal times

  1. Make time for meals. Sit together. No television.
  2. From a young age involve children in preparing meals and hand over one meal a week to teenagers to prepare.
  3. Give thanks for the meal.
  4. Grow some of your own food even if it is only herbs, one pot of tomatoes, one pot of strawberries anything to connect your child with where real food comes from.
  5. Offer fruit and vegetables many times not just once. Just because little Harry didn’t eat steamed carrots the first time they were on his plate at dinner don’t write them off totally. Present them many times.
  6. Use peer pressure to your advantage. Often when eating in a group  children will try foods they hadn’t before because their friends are eating them. This is an excellent time to present a variety of fruit and vegetables.
  7. Eat dinner early. This is good practice for the whole family so our bodies have time to digest before sleep. 5pm is good for toddlers and pre-schoolers, when children become tired they do not want to eat. 5pm may not be practical for teenagers or parents who are working but early as possible and if it is late then keep the meal light.
  8. Stay positive and don’t be pulled into negotiating. You are the parent. Telling your child ‘no’ is ok, tears are ok and feeling hungry is ok. Trust me they move through it quickly!

I’d love to hear your tips or experiences of raising happy, healthy eaters.

Monday, January 09, 2012

home brew

Chai and I have had a long love affair. I can’t remember where we first met or who introduced us but I’m glad we met. I first wrote about chai in Epicure in 2004 well before it was so readily available in Melbourne’s cafes and supermarkets, (or teabags?!).

For the uninitiated, chai or masala chai as is its true name, is the wonderful spicy tea that originates in India. Made with black tea, spices such as cinnamon, ginger, cardomom, cloves and black pepper and sweetened with sugar or honey in India the recipe varies from region to region, family to family. A chaiwala is India’s equivalent of a barista.

Here’s my recipe for caffeine free chai that I brew each afternoon. I make it with rice milk that has a naturally sweet taste so there’s no need to add sugar or honey and the spices give me the pick-me-up without the caffeine edge.

Caffeine free masala chai
Serves 2

12 cloves
14 cardamom pods
2-3 slices fresh ginger (or as much grated ginger as you like)
1 teaspoon aniseed
1.5 stars of star anise
½ teaspoon cinnamon powder
½ cinnamon quill
½ nutmeg
1 teaspoon rooibos tea

1.5 cups rice milk
half cup of water

Place all spices in mortar and use pestle to gently grind and release flavours. Add milk, water, rooibos and spices to a saucepan and simmer over a gentle heat for 5-10 minutes depending on how strong you like the flavours to be.

You can adjust the quantities and add or leave out spices as you wish.

For me the making is as enjoyable as the drinking. Enjoy.

Saturday, January 07, 2012


When I was growing up in the seventies homemade dip equalled a packet of powdered French Onion soup mix stirred into cream cheese. That, my friends is a fine example of not real food.

Dips are a popular snack and while there does exist a couple of decent commercially made dips containing real food and no additives, finding them requires close label reading, something I’d like to minimise for you.

In the time it takes to read the fine print you can make your own dip, know exactly what you put in and create a dip with exciting flavours.

Here are three super easy favourites:

Carrot hoummos

1 400g can organic chick peas
2 medium or 3 small carrots
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed
1tbs tahini
1 tbsp olive oil
½ tsp cumin
a pinch cayenne pepper
juice of 1 lemon

Steam the carrots until soft
Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend to desired texture, you may need to add a touch more lemon juice or water to create a smooth texture (if you don’t have either mashing with a fork will achieve the same result and give your arm a workout).
Place in a bowl swish a touch of olive oil over the top and a pinch of cumin.


1 cup natural yoghurt (definitely no added sugar)
1 small cucumber, grated skin on
2 tbsp fresh herbs of your choice, chopped (I like to use parsley and/or fennel)
1 clove garlic, crushed
a pinch of sea salt

Place all ingredients in a mixing bowl and stir until blended.


1 big avocado
Juice of one lemon
1 garlic clove, crushed
2tbsp chopped herbs, (coriander works in well)
1 small finely chopped onion (optional)
1 medium tomato, diced (optional)

Scrape flesh of avocado into a bowl and mash
Add the lemon juice and crushed garlic, stir in with a fork
If using, stir in diced tomato, onion and coriander.

A final word on dips – beware your dipping cracker of choice is not filled with trans fats, sugar and salt.

Best for dipping is of course fresh vegetable sticks. Rice crackers come in next best, more label reading required though to make sure they don’t have weird ingredients like ‘anti-caking agent’ another example of not real food, where does the ‘anti-caking agent’ tree grow I ask?

The rice crackers I like are EatRite brown rice seaweed – brown rice, seaweed and tamari. Available in the health food aisle of Coles and Woolworths supermarkets.

Happy dipping.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

twenty-twelve is your year

Happy New Year!!

To resolve – a firm decision to do something.

361 new days lay ahead. Beginning a new year fills me with inspiration and anticipation of the wonders to unfold: new recipes to create, new season vegetables from our garden, new friendships, new projects, places to discover and re-discover, endless new beginnings each and every day. All the while celebrating the ‘old’, the long standing, the familiar, the known.

I'm hoping 2012 is your year to make real food a priority and that I can inspire you with real food tips and recipes with a good dose of motherhood musings thrown in.

See you tomorrow with the first recipe to get you started.

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