I get annoyed by the amount of smoothie bowls and chia seed puddings on Instagram. There, I’ve said it. Every other account seems to promote ‘wellness’, clean eating’ and the like, often accompanied by nauseous hashtags (#goddess). Whilst I don’t doubt that eating healthy food is good for you, I feel that too many people take it too far, and ‘healthy’ has come to mean ‘lets ban everything apart from fruit’. Oh, and the famous chia seeds.
I have gone through phases in my eating past of being pretty much vegan, a decision which was undoubtedly a product of all of the media hype surrounding this being the most ‘healthy’ diet choice you can make. And whilst I know many people who adapt well to a vegan diet, for me it made me feel listless and depleted. But I ploughed on, assured that this was ‘healthy’ and ‘natural’, so pretty soon my body would adapt and I would feel great. But this didn’t happen. I went to a nutritionist, who recommended eating more protein, so I started eating meat again. Organic, free range meat from a local butcher, but yes, meat. More protein, coupled with lots of veg and small amounts of dairy, for me felt healthy.
I know that what feels heathy is different for everyone, and many people are vegan for ethical reasons which I entirely respect. But I think it’s work reexamining what healthy means for you on an individual basis, and for some of us that involves the odd steak, glass of wine or bar of sea salted caramel chocolate. With this in mind, the following recipe has meat, cheese, eggs, cream and butter in it. Hallelujah.
I have recently moved into a new house. A desire to do a bit of nesting, coupled with just having bought yet another cookbook, the baking book Honey and Jam, led me to make a cake.
Whilst trying to orientate myself in the surrounding streets of very similar grand Georgian terraces, I popped into the local corner shop. I went in with pretty low expectations, banking on just getting milk and eggs. However, I was confronted with quails eggs, cashew nuts and several different types of brie. So I bought some duck eggs, my favourite brand of local butter and some cashew nuts for good measure.
The flavours in this cake were inspired by some ice cream I had recently at Swoon Gelato: caramelised fig and mascarpone. The duck eggs gave it a richness, and the butter tinged it yellow, and I added some ground almonds to the sponge. I topped the cake with sliced figs, fig jam and mascarpone cream.
Well hello, 2016. As far as ‘resolutions’ go, I try not to make them. The threat of failure, coupled with the incessant nagging at the back of my mind that I must do whatever it is EVERY day, otherwise there’s no point making them, leaves me feeling downtrodden by the 5th January. Instead, I noted down aims to keep in mind as I set off into the new year, and made a resolution to not beat myself up if I forget about them for a day or two.
This year, I decided to focus on eating mindfully (i.e. not standing in the kitchen shoving whatever came to hand in my mouth without a second thought), doing one deliberate thing every day to reduce stress (yoga, meditation, turning off all screens by 10pm) and to move more (which, given my desk-bound job, won’t take much). The mindful eating has so far (10 days in) been the most influential, as I have noticed how much of the eating I do is a result of stress or tiredness. Just noticing this pattern and being aware of it has helped massively, and reminding myself that food isn’t always the answer. Usually, a cup of tea and a lie down is.
I noticed that I was getting blood sugar drops around 3pm each day at work, when it would feel like the world was going to end and the only thing that would get me out of this state was something insanely sugary. I spoke to a nutritionist friend, Ellen, about this, who said that the solution was not to let it reach this stage, by keeping my blood sugar level. To do this, she recommended eating every 2 hours or so (hallelujah!). But it was crucial that the snacks I was having didn’t contain sugar, so wouldn’t cause a spike in blood sugar followed by a crash. So, I made these flapjacks sugar free, using stewed prunes as a base (Ellen’s idea) and a bit of honey to help stick everything together.
For more information about Ellen and naturopathic nutrition, click here.
I have recently decided to jump on the gluten-free bandwagon. Going ‘gf’ seems to be all the rage at the moment. I feel sorry for people who genuinely are coeliac, as there seems to be a surge in people suddenly and miraculously developing a gluten ‘intolerance’ overnight. Consequently, I’ve found that telling people you don’t eat gluten is often met with an eye roll and an accusatory ‘yes but you’re not actually allergic, are you’.
Anyway, I thought I’d give it a go, as I’ve heard so many positive accounts of what avoiding gluten can do. The first hurdle was baking. I made some relatively successful gluten free (and dairy free, just to give myself a challenge) cookies, using rice flour and coconut oil. So next I thought I’d try a cake. Lemon polenta cake is one of the easiest things to make gluten free, as the polenta acts as a good substitute for the flour, and gives the cake a pleasant grainy texture. I topped the cake with some ricotta whisked with honey, and scattered over some blueberries.
I am firmly in the camp that believes as much butter and sugar as humanely possible should be shoved into brownies. My favorite brownie recipe – from the one and only Nigel Slater – requires a whole block of butter and an eye-watering amount of sugar. The resulting brownies can only be eaten one at a time (unless things really are getting tough) as they are so rich.
I thought this was my brownie recipe of choice for life, until I stumbled across this these sweet potato brownies. This recipe is from the queen of vegan smugness, Ella Woodward, who writes the blog Deliciously Ella. Once you get past her insufferable writing style, waxing lyrical about how ‘awesome’ quinoa is, the recipes on her blog are actually pretty inspired. This recipe uses sweet potato and dates to give the sweetness to the brownies, and, to add to their virtuousness, they don’t contain any butter. Ella calls them ‘gooey bites of heaven’. But she would.
The texture is not quite what you’d expect from a brownie, and they don’t have that melting ooziness that copious amounts of butter provides. But they are pretty convincingly brownie-like in taste, and if you need an excuse to eat a whole batch of brownies in one go, these might just be the ones.
My friend Ruby has recently moved to Australia. One of the things on the to do list before she left England was to have the quintessentially English experience of a cream tea. Unfortunately, this presents a slight problem when you are allergic to dairy. So I took on the challenge of making a dairy-free cream tea.
The scone part was easy – I just replaced butter with margarine – then added some blueberries to jazz things up a bit. However, trying to make something that vaguely resembles clotted cream without using anything that comes from a cow was more challenging. In the end, after lots of trawling through vegan food blogs, I stumbled upon the suggestion of using coconut milk. This, as it happens, makes relatively successful cream-like substance, when whipped and combined with margarine and more sugar than I would like to admit.
I ended up making two ‘creams’ – a one flavoured with vanilla, and a chocolate one, in an attempt to mask some of the coconut taste. The chocolate worked well with the blueberries, and with the plain Even though I’m devoted to clotted cream like only a Devonian can be, this cream tea was a much lighter, and I think equally delicious, alternative.
My friend Kristel recently came to visit. She’s from the Netherlands, and we met in our first year at university in Sheffield, when we lived a few rooms down from each other. Despite there being countries (and sometimes continents) separating us, we have stayed in touch, and I went to visit Kristel in Boston last year (read more about that here). So then it was her turn to visit me, and we spent an enjoyable week ambling around Bristol. Baking was also inevitably going to be on the agenda, and when trying to decide what to bake on a rainy Sunday, there was only one option.
This apple tart is always going to provoke incessant bouts of nostalgia for us, since it was one of the things Kristel made during our first year at uni. We were living in a flat with nine people, most of whom had some sort of dietary requirement, from vegan to lactose intolerant. Therefore, as you can imagine, group meals were somewhat difficult. Being committed to the cause of group bonding, however, we managed to rustle something up that would suit everyone.
Our group meals usually consisted of pasta with some sort of vegetable based sauce, and this apple tart for pudding (because yes, there had to be pudding). The version that Kristel made originally was vegan, involving the genius use of tahini instead of egg to bind the pastry together. This recipe is not vegan, as it uses butter in the pastry and egg yolk to glaze the top, but we retained the tahini for old time’s sake.