Low-sugar acai bowl

My Instagram feed has been LOADED lately with smoothies. Smoothie bowls, açai bowls, ‘nice’ cream, basically blended up cold things, with toppings for crunch.

Don’t forget the toppings!

Out of all the breakfast foods (OK perhaps not the avo toast as that is the ULTIMATE in photogenicity) the smoothie bowl photos rather well. Thick and creamy in a vibrant green or purple – or brown if you use spinach – a good nut butter drizzle and the generous overflow streaming down the sides. It’s cool, similar to ice cream so surely is the perfect candidate for summer breakfasts when porridge most definitely isn’t the answer.

Why is it then that every time I make a smoothie, it just doesn’t float my boat. I’m not sure whether it’s that a liquid meal just doesn’t satiate my appetite? Or perhaps that I’m conscious of not adding too much fruit so instead it ends up tasting of pond, never mind resembling one? I just can’t figure it out. SOS (save ones’ smoothies).

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Now I’m sure we’ve all heard of the açai bowl. A street snack from Brazil which is a deep purple berry frozen and blended and then topped with toppings galore. Bananas, granola, berries, coconut, seeds, you name it, you can top it. Here in the UK the açai berry isn’t as abundant so we have to rely on frozen bananas for the texture and then freeze dried açai powder or little frozen sachets of the açai pulp for the taste and colour. If you’re then centering your toppings around granola, banana and berries it’s not a very balanced breakfast. Meaning spiked blood sugar levels and a grumble in your belly by 11am. Breakfast preferably wants to contain a good balance of slow and fast release carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats so we need to rethink our smoothie bowl making rituals.

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Something else that has been trending lately. Fruit-free and low-sugar smoothies. Yuppp that’s right, ones that supposedly don’t taste like salad, are filling and all add up to that much needed 5-a-day (or is it now 7, or 10? I’m not sure it keeps changing). Frozen banana is the fruit of choice when it comes to smoothies, but have you ever considered steamed and frozen cauliflower? Or courgette? Or butternut squash? Thought not. Me neither. The furthest I ever roamed into vegetable territory was spinach or kale , the odd bit of avocado – that’s technically a fruit so doesn’t count!

Steamed to make it gentler on your tummy and frozen to keep the smoothie chilled, vegetables are a wondrous addition. Paired with ground flaxseeds, a spoon of plantbased protein powder, some berries, maybe a cheeky half a date as I’m just not that hard-core, milk and any funky powders you like, you’d be none the wiser that it contains some cruciferous vegetables. A spoon of oats or soaked buckwheat blended into the mix would be ideal if you need it super filling, or a generous sprinkle (*ahem* handful) of granola or muesli…leftover cookies in my case.

Maybe this smoothie bowl is the one that will change things forever? It was good. I’m not going to lie. But I am still ever faithful to my porridge/toast/muesli/overnight-oats rotation. The girl knows what she likes. -\_(‘~’)_/-

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Maybe I haven’t landed upon the perfect granola yet? Not too sweet, plenty of crunch. The sort that you just can’t get off of your mind. Saying that, this one was mega, it hasn’t escaped my mind. Maybe I’ve found the one?!?

If you’re after some more smoothie bowl inspiration and recipes, all low sugar veggie-centric and drool worthy may I add, head to these blogs and Instagram accounts. These girls are killing it in the smoothie game.

Low-sugar açai bowl

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup steamed and frozen cauliflower
  • 1/2 cup steamed and frozen courgette (zucchini)
  • 1/2 cup berries (I used a mixture of strawberries and blackberries, any fresh or frozen would work)
  • 1/4-1/2 cup milk
  • 1 heaped tbsp açai powder
  • 1 tbsp protein powder (I used hemp)
  • 1 tsp ground flaxseeds/linseeds
  • 1/2-1 date depending on sweetness preference

Topping ideas

  • Granola (try to use a low sugar one)
  • Muesli
  • These crumbled up cookies
  • Pumpkin or sunflower seeds
  • Hemp seeds
  • Fruit such as strawberries, blueberries, banana, kiwi
  • Bee pollen
  • Cacao nibs
  • Chopped Nuts
  • Nut or seed butter (I used a roasted almond, cashew and hazelnut)
  • Yogurt
  • Coconut flakes
  • Puffed rice, buckwheat, quinoa or amaranth

Directions

  1. Add all the ingredients for the smoothie into a high powdered blender, starting with 1/4 cup of milk.
  2. Blend until everything is blitzed smooth and you have a thick smoothie with the consistency of ice cream, adding more milk if necessary. A high powered blender will work best here, I use a nutribullet. One less powerful will struggle to blend the frozen fruit and vegetables and it will be lumpy.
  3. Spoon into a bowl (watch your tongue on that blade I know you’re licking it clean!)
  4. Choose your toppings, add as many or as few as you wish.
  5. Dive in whilst it’s still cold, and don’t forget that picture for Instagram!

Enjoyed al fresco basking in the morning sunshine listening to the birds whistle their tunes. That’s the ideal breakfast situation. Not achievable most of the time I know, but on the one day that it appears, make the most of it. Embrace it with both hands, the smoothie bowl included, and DIG IN!

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Chocolate and banana granola clumps

Let’s start this post with a quiz. Name for me a breakfast food that one might consider ‘healthy’?

I’ll give you a few seconds to think about it…

Was granola one of the first ideas to come to mind? A deep bowl of fat free yogurt, chopped fresh fruit, and a generous smattering of granola. Not forgetting the drizzle of runny honey.

I’m not going to get into the debate here of clean vs dirty. Healthy v unhealthy. As is there really an unhealthy food? A slice of cake someone may think of as unhealthy however when you take a look at your diet as a whole if it’s sandwiched in between lots of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes, surely that constitutes as a balanced diet? Kale and quinoa may be ‘healthy’ but if they don’t make you happy, are we living as well as we think. Cake, cookies, brownies and the sweeter things in life are as necessary as kale. That is fact.

Back to the granola, I’m sure there are many brands we grew up eating or still tip into our bowls each and every morning. Maybe you only bought some boxes believing they were healthy, perhaps better than your favourite Cornflakes, but didn’t really take any pleasure from eating them. Words such as natural, free from refined sugars, organic, low fat, whole, all suck us in to the belief that we are making the right choices. Go and take a closer look at almost any box of granola on the supermarket shelves. Take a real close look. HINT, look at the sugar content.

I know I’ve mentioned before about my thoughts on sugar. I’m not a nutritionist, a dietitian or anyone who has the scientific plain facts, so I suppose what I say should be taken with a pinch of salt. Nonetheless, it’s evident that as a nation we consume far too much of the sweet stuff. I’m not just talking caster sugar. Maple syrup, honey and agave I’m looking at you too.  Our recommended daily allowance currently stands at 30g per day, that’s 6 tsp. Take a regular can of coke for example, when that contains 35g (7 tsp) you can see how the numbers stack up.

Anything which contains more than 5g of sugar per 100g is said to be high. As sugar or a syrup is the ingredient in granola which brings the crunch, it is going to be higher than say a box of muesli or shredded wheat. There are granolas on the market which have much lower sugar content and are GL (glycemic load) tested, so won’t cause as much of a spike in your sugar levels. That being said, if like me you have tried this one in particular, will know that it resembles a certain food for our feathery friends. Bird food. Dry, floury, not much crunch and rather bland, food for fuel not for enjoyment.

No one needs that. Life isn’t made for boring breakfasts.

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I’m sure many of you have seen this recipe before from one of my favourites, Green Kitchen Stories. Their banana granola is a bit of a worldwide phenomenon. My New Roots has a recipe also. In fact it’s far from a new concept. Google banana granola and the posts are numerous. Hundreds and thousands of them. Hello innovative blogger over here! But you can never have enough granola recipes.

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Yet again I had a few bananas, well past their best, festering in the fruit bowl. Usually that always means banana bread, but no eggs and so far no success with a vegan version of said bread, I just wasn’t going to take the risk. Banana granola was on my mind. Sweetened with fruit and just a little maple syrup to bring the crunch. Thoughts of baking low and slow to ensure no burnt bitter ends and using up some brown rice puffs hiding in the back of the cupboard, well obviously my brain on that particular day was fully functioning. Clumpy granola, lightly sweetened, boulders of crunch to munch whether it be for breakfast or as a snack. It was a result.

This one. A heavy dousing of raw cacao, a big pinch of salt is essential, and some peanut butter too. Cos’ why not! Chopped nuts, coconut flakes, oats, raw buckwheat and puffed rice mixed well with some cinnamon for that sweet spice. It’s simple as you like, low in added sugar and one to use up whatever is going in your cupboards.

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I can’t forget to mention that it’s dad approved. From a dad who likes his breakfasts of Crunchy Nut Cornflakes, granola, Shreddies and Weetabix on rotation, and that is that. But this stuff by the handful, he was more than happy. Take it as you like. In a bowl drowned with your milk of choice, ice cold. Or some yogurt, whether it’s coconut, cows or almond topped with a big handful and some fruit. That açai bowl or smoothie that was begging for a bit of crunch, here’s your answer. As a topper for porridge, toast, overnight oats, a vessel for scooping up nut butter or just popping into your mouth… You got it!

Plus it’s chocolate flavoured. How can you go wrong?!?!

Chocolate and banana granola clumps

  • Servings: Makes a small serving which can be doubled easily ( just divide between two trays and rotate them halfway through baking)
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Ingredients

Dry ingredients:

  • 40g almonds
  • 40g walnuts
  • 40g flaked coconut
  • 50g puffed brown rice
  • 25g raw buckwheat
  • 75g rolled oats
  • 1 1/2 tbsp cacao powder
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 big pinch of salt

Wet ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 tbsp rapeseed oil (olive oil or coconut oil will work too)
  • 1 tbsp peanut butter
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 1/2 tbsp water
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 very ripe banana

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 160°C/140°C fan. Line a baking tray with baking paper or a silicone baking sheet.
  2. Chop the almonds and walnuts roughly and add to a bowl along with all the other dry ingredients and stir together.
  3. In a saucepan mash the banana to a purée then add all the other wet ingredients and heat gently until everything has melted and combined.
  4. Pour the banana mixture into the oat mixture and give it a good stir until there are no dry bits left and everything is mixed well.
  5. Transfer to the baking sheet, pat into a thick layer and put in the oven for 20 minutes.
  6. After that time, give the granola a stir by folding it over trying not to break the clumps up too much. Rotate the tray and place back in the oven for another 15-20 minutes. Checking the granola every 5 minutes, stirring the outside edges into the middle to ensure they are not burning.
  7. Take out of the oven when deep brown and smelling delicious. It will firm up even more as it cools.
  8. Leave the tray to cool on a wire rack, whilst the scent of chocolatey banana bread wafts through the house, so hide away from wandering hands! Store in a Tupperware at room temperature where it will keep for around 1 month.

Hope you enjoy this one. It sure is a winner. I’ll be off now, I’ve just eaten a mouthful of granola and I want some more!

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Carrot and oat chocolate chip cookies

I love the gap in between meals. I love snacks. Particularly cookies for a snack.

mmmmm cookies 

When I was younger I always loved the occasional trips with my mum to a shopping centre, bags gathered in hands with the excitement of new shoes and holiday gear. (Shoes which according to my dad should be saved for my holiday, by which time they were too small as I was the never-ending-child). We always made a detour on the way out by the Millie’s Cookies stand. Anyone also from the UK will have similar fond memories. I’d have a pick of two cookies, guaranteed white chocolate chip and the other a milk chocolate and toffee, my mum’s the oatmeal and raisin, all wrapped in a paper bag to nibble on on the car journey to my Nanan’s to bridge-the-gap before dinner.

Nowadays my cookie preference nods towards a more grown up flavour. Ideally a crispy on the outside and really gooey in the middle, the under baked kind with a good butterscotch caramel tone. Either with oats for a chew and plump raisins, or studded with dark chocolate chips (85% plus), more chocolate than cookie, and some nuts for crunch. Not forgetting that sprinkle of flaky salt. You can’t forget that.

Inevitably, eating cookies everyday isn’t going to do you any wonders. Perhaps your mental health, chocolate is known for its calming effects (I’ll take that as an excuse!!), but they are very high in sugar and fat. Sadly we do need to keep those added sugars down from day to day. On the odd occasion though, there will be no holding back.

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For the every day 4pm slot, THIS recipe has been my recent nibble. Usually I’m a fan of the two-ingredient banana and oat cookie which, as I can’t be that minimalistic, morphs into an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink cookie. They’re sweet, gooey and as we always have overripe bananas in the fruit bowl, waste-free too! (BONUS). I found this version, full of add-ins for texture, crunch and goo, on The First Mess blog, her photography always does wonders there’s no surprise that I was drawn in. I am always on the hunt for the perfect specimen of a snacking cookie. Maybe now I’ve found it?!?!

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It wouldn’t be a recipe of mine on this blog without the little tweak here and there, and this cookie is no different. I like my snacks to not be too sweet, wholesome and tasty yes, but sickly no. Initial ideas of subbing the mashed ripe banana for an equal amount of finely grated courgette, great. However the last courgette I had just put in the oven to roast, so it wasn’t going to happen after all. Next best option? Carrot. Naturally sweeter, why didn’t I think of that in the first place!

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Made with finely grated carrots, oats, toasted coconut, roasted chunks of almonds (or pecans), some cinnamon and turmeric and not forgetting the dark chocolate (that’s the important part). Make sure to under bake these, they still will feel really soft from the oven, but bear with me here. Leave them to cool fully on a rack and store in the fridge ready for a week, or two (if you’re lucky), of snacking success. Note they’re vegan, with only a little bit of added maple syrup, I’d reckon they’re good enough for breakfast? Well they were good enough for me!

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Carrot and oat chocolate chip cookies

Ingredients

  • 70g (1/2 cup) raw almonds or pecans
  • 40g (1/2 cup) coconut flakes
  • 80g (1 cup) rolled oats
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp ground psyllium husk (if you can’t get this use ground flaxseeds or linseeds instead)
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt, plus extra for topping
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 110g (1/2 cup) finely grated carrot
  • 60ml (1/4 cup) + 2 tsp milk, I used oat milk but water works too
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil, melted
  • 1 tbsp almond butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 90g (1/2 cup) chopped dark chocolate (my favourite is 85%)

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan.
  2. Chop the almonds or pecans into small chunks and put in a tin and roast in the oven for 8 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile chop the coconut finely and after the 8 mins add the coconut and the oats to the tin and put in the oven for 4 more minutes.
  4. Pour the almonds, oats and coconut into a bowl along with the cinnamon, turmeric, salt and psyllium husk and mix well.
  5. Put the grated carrot, milk, coconut oil, almond butter, maple syrup and vanilla extract in a small bowl and whisk together.
  6. Add the wet ingredients to the dry along with the chocolate (but reserve a little and put aside) fold until combined and everything is incorporated.
  7. Line two baking sheets with baking paper, or silicone mats. With an ice cream scoop place mounds of dough on the baking sheets until you have used all the mixture.
  8. Flatten to a pattie shape with damp hands, as they won’t spread in the oven. Squish the reserved chocolate chips into the top of the cookies and sprinkle rather generously with flaky salt.
  9. Bake for around 15-20 minutes, until the edges are golden and firm but the middles are still soft. I found 15 mins was perfect.
  10. Cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes then transfer to a rack until completely cool and store in the fridge for up to two weeks.

 

But Seriously? We all know they won’t last that long.

Big hugs and sunshiney love

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June Joys

Hello my friends. Yet again it is the end of another month, we’re half way through 2017 too. Gosh it sure has sped by these past six months. Here in the UK we’ve had a tumultuous first half to the year. First getting our heads around Brexit, then yet ANOTHER general election, the Manchester attacks, the Borough attacks, the Grenfell fire, that’s just to name a few, but of course there has been some happy times. Too many of those to recall! And i’ts those moments that we have to be grateful for everyday, just to keep everything in perspective.

With the scorchio summer weather we experienced for the grand total of one week (the hottest in 40 years!!!), that meant BBQs galore, picnics, not turning the oven on because it was just too hot to cook inside and everything over ice to cool us down. Nevertheless it has been a food filled month, grilled corn slathered in butter, salad-ing everyday, British berries all permeated by the smell of smoking coals, a few of the things i have been enjoying. Birthdays too, there always seems to be loads in June so that meant the odd meal eaten out and lots of cake and birthday treats. I wasn’t complaining!

Also I’ve been back at home these most recent weeks, as usually I’m based in London. I feel like I thrive when back in greenery, fresh air and hills and my own bed helps towards a more restful sleep which is definitely beneficial. On another plus point, my own kitchen means lots of cooking and experimenting, the chance to shoot things for my blog (hiiiiii you guys) and do the thing that truly nourishes my soul. I can’t even explain how not having my food processor and condiments like miso, sauerkraut, hot sauce and all my pretty bowls, it’s a struggle. REAL LIFE STRUGGLE. Ok I do cope, it just means instead of homemade hummus we have to cope with shop bought for a while. It’s fine. Really it is.

So. June. Lots of fun things this month. Products I really think you should try and get your hands on. ASAP! Here’s to more sun (keeping all my fingers toes and limbs crossed), less rain and a joyful summer full of new experiences and memories. It’s begun so lets see where it takes us all!

Happy summer my loves!

 

#1 Califia Farms, Unsweetened Black and White Cold Brew Coffee with almond (Find it in Sainsburys)

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All my USA readers will be well aware of this brand of milk. I’ve seen post after post about it on all my favourite food blogs, only to be disappointed that it wasn’t available in the UK. A carageenan-free range of plant based milks, almond unsweetened, unsweetened vanilla, espresso and almond, black and white cold brew, cold brew with cacao, coconut, and toasted oats and almonds. All I can tell you is how mind-blowing delish they are. I’m not usually a coffee drinker, and when I do I tend to stick to a flat white with whole milk, but this cold brew is LIFE CHANGING. The coffee has a nice little kick and the almond milk is delicate and nutty. Ever tried making a coffee or tea with plant based milk before and it separates? Yep looks pretty disgusting. But there’s no separation here. None at all my friends. Plus it’s unsweetened, even better. Just what’s needed for the 11am dip. Try it. Try them them all!!!

 

#2 Coconut Collaborative Yogurt

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If you’ve read my blog in the past, you will know that I don’t restrict myself to anything. I eat dairy/gluten/wheat, I’m not paleo, vegetarian or vegan and I try not to use many unearthly powders and things that resemble frog spawn. Sometimes it’s just too expensive and you know what…they don’t taste that great. BUT, one thing I like to mix up is my yogurts. I LOVE YOGURT. Whether it be cow, goat, sheep, coconut, almond, you name it, I will have consumed it. Apart from soya, not down with that one. In the supermarkets the range of yogurts has expanded exponentially, extending way past one aisle, yogurt now lines both sides and the ends. Coconut collaborative is one of those new brands. Available in natural, mango and passion fruit, blueberry, vanilla and strawberry, with natural being my favourite. It’s fresher and not as thick and rich as other coconut yogurts. Of this one, I can manage a whole pot, perhaps that’s a bit more dangerous on your purse, but it’s so lovely do you even care!? Find it in Sainsburys, Tesco, Co-op, Morrisons, Wholefoods and Planet Organic. Basicallly. EVERYWHERE!

 

#3 Montezumas Absolute Black 100% Cocoa 

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Hi I’m Thea, and I’m addicted to chocolate. I don’t know what’s happened lately, but I just can’t get the stuff off my mind. There’s a few rules, it must be dark, like 85% plus. Actually that’s about it. I tend to stick to Co-op Truly Irresistible Fairtrade 85% as in the past I’ve only ever found one 100% chocolate that I really loved. Every other one was always too bitter, in a cocoa powder way, all in all not that great. I came across Montezumas 100% on a hungry snack search late one night at the train station. Their darkest chocolate they sold previously was only 73% which doesn’t quite cut it for me, really really good (so good i could easily eat the whole bar), but it doesn’t have that kick. This however does. Deep and dark in cocoa notes, but still creamy, minus any of the sugar to fit my after-dinner-snack-situation brief. Perfect.

Try dipping it in peanut butter, with a pinch of flaky sea salt. You will never look back.

 

#4 Cowherds Popeye Juice

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A juice company based in Salford in Manchester, Cowherds are providing juice for the northern masses. They contacted me and sent some of their juices to try (post on this coming soon!!!!) and the Popeye juice was my favourite of the lot. A mix of spinach, celery, cucumber, lemon and hemp protein, no fruit, just how I like it. I’m not a big juice drinker but when i do I enjoy a green juice, a proper one. I sipped on this after my workouts alongside some brazil nuts and some strawberries or over ice basking in the sunshine. You can follow Cowherds on Instagram @cowherds_cafe or see their website here. you can also find all their juices stocked in many independent cafes and shops across Manchester.

 

#5 Iced Tea, using Green tea pomegranate from the English Tea Shop

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Have I mentioned it’s been hot. I’m talking 30ºC PLUS. You lot in the southern hemisphere may think noting of this, as ‘it’s the norm’. However for those of us who live in the arctic, temperatures in that range become a bit unbearable. So in order to cope, hot tea was off the menu and in came homemade iced tea. When I was younger, a certain Liptons Iced Tea used to be my drink of choice. In either the peach or mango flavor, give me a bottle chilled and I would drink it all up. Nowadays I prefer my iced tea to live up to its title and actually contain some tea, in the form of green tea is preferable. So I now make it myself. Using my favourite green tea and pomegranate, brewed strong then poured over ice and topped up with water. Kept in the fridge for whenever the need to hydrate arises. You can add sweetener if you like, but it doesn’t need it, mix in chunks of orange, mint, berries which will all add a natural sweetness.

 

#6 Butterscotch Blondies, The Violet Bakery Cookbook (or visit the cafe to try them there!)

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I mentioned birthdays earlier. One of those was my Dads. I always like to bake something for birthdays and this year was no different. As a family we’re not the biggest cake fans, and my dad swears blind that he ‘doesn’t do sweets’. But give him a chocolate brownie and he’ll polish off the whole batch. I wasn’t feeling the brownies, the number of times I’ve made that recipe I know it off by heart (see Lorraine Pascales recipe, I just emit the Oreos). So I flicked through one of my favourite baking books at the moment, The Violet Bakery Cookbook by Claire Ptak to find her recipe for Butterscotch Blondies. Famous from the bakery of the same name, surely you can’t go wrong? Shards of almost-turned-burnt caramel, chunks of dark chocolate all set in a cookie-brownie hybrid with that generous sprinkle of flaky sea salt. In the words of my father, ‘these are the best things you’ve ever baked’, well surely that says it all? Or the fact that after we had eaten them all I was quite upset, persuaded yet? Go on, be a devil, here’s the recipe

So that’s that again for this month. I have a few exciting posts coming up, a certain cookie that you should make. MUST make. It’s family approved and polished off within a day or two. Stay tuned!

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Coconut Overnight Muesli

I get it. We don’t always have time to prepare meals ahead, eat Instagram worthy breakfasts every morning, occasionally a proper meal doesn’t even get a look in. In reality breakfast is porridge splodged into a bowl dripping down the sides, and lunch on the go comprises of an apple and a bag of almonds. For those desperate times convenience food is called upon, whether it’s Pret, M&S, Itsu, ‘insert name of food place here’, they’re easy, offer lots of choice for all diets and appetite, however it sure can all add up.

The past few weeks I’ve been here there and everywhere. Last minute jobs and changes of plans resulted in throwing clothes in a bag (not forgetting the toothbrush) and making a dash for it. Packed lunches went out the window, dinner and mealtimes completely thrown all over the show, mouthfuls taken in between hair plaiting and foundation applying. At times like these food is fuel, not eaten mindfully and enjoyed as it should.

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When I know I’m going to have a crazy busy day, no scheduled mealtimes and the lunch option only centres around curled up sandwiches and party sized bags of Haribo, I ensure to have a really good breakfast. One that’s enjoyed slowly, peacefully as a moment to myself. I cherish those moments. Something with a good mix of slow release carbohydrates, healthy fats, protein and a bit of sweetness. Overnight oats pretty much ticks all of those boxes. Plus, the added extra that it can be made in a jar ready to pick up on your way out via the fridge, and eaten on the train, in your car whilst stuck in traffic or al desko. WIN WIN.

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I’m having a bit of a moment lately with muesli. The textures and sog that you get when it’s been soaking in milk for a brief sitting and every mouthful is just that little bit more different than the last. Yet again in the summer months I do enjoy a little fling with overnight oats. Porridge’s cooler friend, the one that was just thrown effortlessly together, walks with a breeze and without a care in the world with a touch of prepped smugness. I’ll have some of that please.

Grab your favourite muesli, I lean towards Rude Health’s Super Seed muesli, favouring more grains and seeds rather than dried fruit to control the sweetness levels. Prepared in the same way as we would overnight oats, stirred up with ground linseeds, yogurt, milk, cinnamon and a pinch of salt. We all have time for that surely? Prepare a large batch for the week ahead and divide into individual jars ready for the morning dash.

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To make it super thick and creamy, yogurt is a necessity. It adds a tang along with soaking the grains so they are more easily digested. An organic full fat yogurt with probiotic cultures, such as Yeo Valley, is an accessible choice found in most supermarkets here in the UK. I love yogurt, and eat dairy so that isn’t an issue for me, however I do enjoy mixing things up a little. On the odd occasion going for a coconut yogurt such as Coyo or Coconut Collaborative, some goats yogurt or almond or cashew yogurt. We’ve had a sudden influx here of alternative dairy products, Nush and Abbot Kinney are both coconut, almond and cashew yogurt brands which have recently appeared on the shelves. I even spotted a rice milk yogurt the other day. Don’t get me started on oat yogurt, a variety I have been desperate to try for AGES, Oatly my favourite oat milk brand from Sweden are yet to bring the yogurt to the UK. I am waiting, fidgeting, not patiently at all, but waiting all the same. Yes, alternative yogurts are more expensive, but it’s enjoyable to try new products and discover what you like, even if it is only very occasionally as a payday treat.

This particular day I had an opened tub of natural Coyo (if you have ever tried the salted caramel flavour, it is so good it’s just plain wrong!). Coyo is a lusciously thick coconut yogurt, more like coconut cream, so you don’t need much to be satisfied. That’s why I manage to stretch out one pot to a few servings. This overnight muesli could be made with any yogurt as a substitute, whichever you have open or is your favourite.

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I like to top this with fresh fruit, berries particularly are wonderful, or some mashed banana or grated apple stirred through just before serving to add a nice sweetness. A spoon of nut butter and some more seeds on top (you can never have too many) for crunch and bee pollen, because why not. If making your breakfast look pretty nourishes your soul, then go on and have a field day.

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Coconut overnight muesli

This makes just the one serving but you can double, triple or multiply the quantities as many times as you need to make a jar for breakfast every weekday. Eat on the train or whenever you get a chance to breathe and enjoy, and DON’T FORGET THE SPOON!!

Ingredients

  • 45g muesli
  • 1 tsp ground linseeds (ground flax or chia seeds work too)
  • Small pinch of salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 (large) tbsp coconut yogurt
  • 1/4-1/3 cup of milk (nut, oat, rice, cows, they all are good)
  • Berries to serve
  • Bee pollen
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Almond butter

Method

  1. Mix the muesli, salt, cinnamon and ground linseeds in a bowl.
  2. Add the yogurt and stir until evenly combined.
  3. Starting with a 1/4 cup of milk mix well, if it is still quite thick add a splash more until the thickness of pancake batter, remembering it thickens up overnight. Place in the fridge until the next day or whenever it is served.
  4. At breakfast, give it a good stir add more milk if you like it thinner and top with berries, a sprinkle of sunflower seeds and bee pollen, of course the almond butter too.
  5. If preparing for a few days ahead divide evenly into jars and add the toppings that you like where they will keep for 5-7 days, ready to be taken as and when needed.

I’m ready now for some much needed chill time. No more meals out of tupperware. Sitting at a table eating with a knife and fork (not plastic ones), perhaps a small glass of wine surrounded by my family. That’s what food should be about. And I cannot wait.

Hugs and kisses

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Asparagus and Jersey Royal Spring Salad

A month or so ago the first of the British asparagus hit my local greengrocers. Little bundles of the tufty spears piled high, all in need of a quick steam and toss with golden salted butter. All for the reasonable price of £4.20. I think not.

It’s something I’m yet to get my head around, paying such a premium for produce from our own country, when you can buy a pack from Peru or Mexico for a mere £2.

Where’s the logic in that?

I just had to practice my patience for a little longer, only a week or two, and now of course it will feature in every meal possible up until the end of June. I know it’s available to us year round, but when trying to eat seasonally there’s nothing more exciting than the first encounters of our British grown produce. It marks the new season, along with the newborn tiddly lambs and daffodils sprouting everywhere, asparagus means spring really does feel official.

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It’s such a versatile veg too, and if you’ve never tried it, you’re missing out. Along with your buttered soldiers try some asparagus to dive in your dippy egg. The nooks and crannies in the spear grips onto that golden yolk, and not forgetting it’s one of your five-a-day already in the bag. The first arrivals tend to be thinner, perfect for serving simply with a crack of black pepper and sea salt. Shave with a speed peeler or mandolin (watch those digits!!!) and serve as a tangle in a salad. Towards the latter end of the season it starts to become woodier, so lends itself to being grilled or roasted for some charred tips and smoky edges sitting perfectly beside some protein like salmon, steak or chicken or in a big veggie bowl with a dip.

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The week following Easter I spent some quality time with my mum, doing what we do best – coffee shop crawls and a bit of clothes shop perusing (the big venture for a dress for my mum for a wedding). The weather was a bit grim and grey but to make the most of a bad thing off we went out for a scone with clotted cream and raspberry jam and a pot of chamomile tea. The tea rooms we visited are set deep in the countryside, surrounded by rolling green hills, I cannot imagine how beautiful it would be on a bright sunny day. To kill two birds with one stone (so they say) we also went to a nearby farm where they have a shop selling all homemade produce which I’ve been meaning to visit for a good while (in the past I just sent my dad). A haven for homemade sausages, bacon and black pudding all using local, free range, rare-breed pork, smoked fish (all smoked themselves), eggs, jams, chutneys and smoked cheese. It really is in an old cow shed – as the name suggests – but there’s so many magical products nestled inside. I managed to bag a couple of boxes of eggs, all of which are mixed colours and sizes coming from the different breeds of chicken (and of course the yolks are golden), a couple of packets of sausages and some smoked peanut butter (I’m thinking sticky satay chicken wings or aubergines!). Sadly I missed out on the wild garlic pesto. I know, I’m annoyed too. I had dreams of smothering it over pasta with some roasted tomatoes, rocket and Parmesan. But it only means I have to go back soon. Not really sad about that. Not. At. All.

I had plans that night for a super chill meal for my mum and I. Ideas of a salad, but warm, hearty and full of veggies, felt necessary. Also I fancied a bit of stodge, so new season Jersey Royals were a no-brainer. The asparagus was roasted, and the potatoes boiled whole then both tossed in a nutty herby dressing whilst still warm to absorb the oils and flavour. The dressing was a kind of pesto/salsa verde mash up, loads of watercress, parsley, mint and dill, capers, lemon and toasted pistachios because you can’t have enough green. I reserved two of the asparagus spears and shaved them into thin ribbons, mixed with cress, watercress and some jammy yolked eggies, this truly was the ultimate spring salad.

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Asparagus and Jersey Royal Spring salad

If you don’t have all the herbs for the dressing just use extra watercress and up the amounts of the ones you do have. Some wild garlic would be an excellent addition, some basil too – if it’s looking a bit sad. If you’re struggling to get hold of some asparagus, purple sprouting broccoli (broccoli rabe I think it’s called in America), tenderstem or your bog-standard broccoli would even do the trick at a push.

Ingredients

Serves 2

  • Jersey royals – around 8 or 10 depending how hungry you are
  • Bunch of asparagus
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 packet of cress
  • 1/2 bag of watercress

Dressing

  • 1/2 bag of watercress
  • Small handful dill
  • Small handful parsley
  • Small handful mint
  • Fennel fronds (optional)
  • 2 tbsp capers (in brine, rinse if in salt)
  • Handful pistachios (without shells
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 Lemon
  • Extra virgin olive oil

Method

  1. Turn the oven to 180 C
  2. Wash the Jersey Royals and place in a pan of cold water with a big pinch of salt. Bring to the boil then turn down to bubble for around 20 to 30 mins until tender.
  3. Meanwhile boil the eggs. Bring a pan of water to a vigorous boil, add some salt, then dip the eggs in the water briefly, remove and then fully submerge and leave to cook for 7 minutes. When the timer is up, stick the eggs in ice cold water to stop them cooking further.
  4. Reserve two asparagus spears for later, and with the rest snap off any woody ends and put in a roasting tin with a drizzle of oil and some salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for around 10 to 15 minutes until tender and crisp on the edges.
  5. To make the dressing, finely chop the watercress and the herbs and place in a bowl. Next chop the capers and mix in with the herbs. Squeeze in the juice of half a lemon, add 2 tbsp of olive oil, the mustard and red wine vinegar and a little water to make a thick dressing, the same consistency of a pesto. Check for seasoning and add more lemon or vinegar if you think necessary.
  6. When the potatoes have cooked, drain the water and leave to steam dry for a minute or so. Slice them in half and place on a platter with the roast asparagus and half the dressing. Toss together until everything is coated.
  7. With the reserved asparagus get a speed peeler or mandolin and shave thinly, put on the platter along with the watercress and cress. Toss again and dot the remaining dressing all over.
  8. Crack the eggs and peel them, they should be cool enough to handle. Slice into quarters and place on top of the salad.
  9. Serve and enjoy!

If you’re ever in the Peak District area do make a visit to The Old Cow Shed in Chisworth and The Woodlands Tea Rooms in Charlesworth for a traditional afternoon tea or lunch using locally sourced produce.

I’d love to hear if you’ve managed to get your hands on some wild garlic or how you make the most of asparagus when it’s back in for the ever so short season.

All the love

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Stumped about sugar?

Sugar. White and ‘processed’, dark brown, golden syrup, maple syrup, sweets, honey, toffee, caramel, fruit, dried fruit, coconut sugar, Stevia, molasses. Whatever your mind conjures up when I mention this buzzword, we have all been paying particular attention the past year or two to this meddling carbohydrate.

The word refined-sugar has been thrown around by health bloggers, newspapers and the media, a term supposedly describing types of sugar that have gone through a form of processing and had all ‘goodness’ removed. Countless recipes stream down your Pinterest feed that are labelled refined sugar free. Millionaire shortbread bars, brownies, cakes, cookies, all our favourite sweet treats made allegedly healthier. So eating the whole batch in one go is fine, because its not made with sugar right??

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Along with clean eating, gluten free, dairy free, low carb, all these diets which are becoming the norm, refined sugar free is another which has been added to the extensively long list. We are told day after day that sugar is the devil, no longer fat as we used to believe. That it causes cancer, diabetes, obesity, the main ailments that are  putting such a strain on our NHS and healthcare services. Of course sugar is a main ingredient in things such as fizzy drinks, sweets, cakes and biscuits, but does everyone think to look on the back of packets of sauces, ready meals, condiments, flavoured nuts and crisps? Take a flick through your cupboards and I’m sure you will be surprised at how thinly sugar manages to spread itself.

First things first, sugar isn’t all too great for us, just to put it straight. It’s found naturally in most foods like fruit, vegetables, grains, dairy, its very high in energy which in turn gives us energy to move, breathe and basically live. The thing we need to watch out for is added sugars or free sugars as you may often see it written. This term defines products where sugar has been added and isn’t found there naturally. Think of syrups, fizzy drinks, the sugar in your tea or coffee and even in fruit juices. When it comes to free sugars we have the choice of whether to add them or not, unlike total sugars such as lactose in milk and ones found in fruits and vegetables. For adults it’s recommended in the UK that we consume no more than 30g of added sugar every day. That 30g is quite difficult to picture in your head, so think about it like this, 7 tsp/sugar cubes MAX, and for children this number is obviously lower.

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In 2016, Jamie Oliver started the Childhood Obesity Strategy, in a ploy to crack down on increasing obesity rates in the UK. Some of many things he was campaigning for, a sugar tax, a ban on junk food advertising pre-watershed, clearer labelling including a visual sugar content, and reduction in manufacture for excessive sugar. If you watched Jamie’s Sugar Rush you will have seen the impacts that it is having on us all across the world, especially those consuming a typically ‘western diet’. After his petition going to debate in the commons, the government failed to accept the majority of his pleas, only compromising with the sugar tax with no given amount as of yet.

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We are all more aware now of the sugar content in things. I think we’re heading in a good direction, eating more consciously and lower sugar the majority of the time and eating the odd brownie if you fancy it, HELL why not! Of course it’s not going to do you any damage. That REAL brownie is surely going to satisfy that craving more than a sweet potato one full of maple syrup or agave syrup. My main issue is the group of people calling a sin on refined sugar-white caster sugar or soft brown sugar-meanwhile pouring bottles of maple syrup on their 2 ingredient pancakes or baking cakes with coconut sugar as it contains lots of minerals so its better for us.

I’m not a nutritionist or a dietitian, but I know well enough that sugar is sugar. No matter what you want to call it, our body sees all types of sugar in the same way. Whether it’s raw honey, agave syrup or caster sugar, it gives us energy, any extra is stored as fat and doesn’t give us any health benefits. It is true that maple syrup contains potassium, magnesium, zinc and calcium. It’s also true that coconut sugar contains electrolytes and vitamin C along with loads of other minerals, and yes raw honey is antibacterial (perfect if you have a sore throat) however you would have to eat a ton of any of these to reap any benefits. The amount of sugar consumed would obviously then outweigh the ‘good for you’ label.

Another group of people are the sugar free crusaders, shoving all types of sugar containing foods aside, including fresh fruit. That means no syrups, no apples, bananas, possibly the odd portion of berries because they’re ‘lower in sugar’, no dried fruit, juice only if its green made completely from vegetables. You see, I went through this phase, thinking I was doing the right thing. In the sugar free phase, I found I was opting for lots of nuts, seeds, cheese, yogurt, avocados, things quite high in fat to fill in that sugar free hole. It wasn’t a great time, and seriously what is wrong with fruit?!? NOTHING, EXACTLY. Fruit contains fibre and lots of it, and if you’ve read my blog before you’ll know all too well that we need a lot of roughage in our diets. Dried fruit too contains lots of fibre, prunes have a reputation for a reason, so sprinkle them on your breakfasts and include them in your diets.

Happily now, I’ve managed to bring myself to a middle ground, keeping my overall added sugar levels to a minimum, but not putting a big red cross over it for the rest of eternity. There is nothing wrong with a little of the sweet stuff. No matter the source of origin your body will recognise it as glucose or fructose-just organic molecules-they aren’t separated into groups whether they came from a medjool date or a sugar cube. Remember those 7 tsp of added sugar to keep an eye on daily, and if you’re a lover of a sweet cuppa perhaps its a good time to start reigning it in. Take it slowly, stretched out over a few weeks and your taste buds will soon adjust.

Changing the odd daily habit will make a huge benefit to your diet in the long run:

  • When baking reduce the quantity of sugar by a third in recipes. It’s the maximum amount of sugar to remove without it affecting the structure and texture of the bake, but the flavour is still just as good.
  • Buy natural yogurt instead of sweetened and add your toppings and mix-ins to your own taste.
  • Instead of having jam or marmalade with butter on toast every morning for breakfast, try a spread of peanut, almond or even cashew butter with some sliced banana. The combination of high protein nut butter with the sugar from the fruit and carbohydrates from the bread will keep you going until lunchtime.
  • If you’re a big fan of fizzy and soft drinks, and water just is tasteless and boring, try infusing jugs of water with fresh fruits, citrus, herbs or vegetables. Things like mint, lemon, lime, orange, cucumber, berries, melon, as good as it sounds!
  • That chocolate bar is the only thing which gets you past 4pm? Banning it is not necessary, if you can learn to love dark chocolate. Preferably 70% or above, the higher the better, as it is lower in sugar and due to the deep intensity a few squares is usually enough.
  • If dairy free milks are your jam, check on the ingredients list. On many of them, sugar will be the second or third on the list. Opt for the unsweetened varieties, or ones made with rice for some natural sweetness.

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Let’s put a stop to this term refined sugar free. It’s defunct. Its all the same stuff. Sprinkling coconut sugar on your Rice Krispies sure ain’t no better than sprinkling white sugar on. So save those extra £££s (that stuff is expensive) and stick to a bowl of porridge!

Thanks for reading my little rant, if you have anything else to add or want to join in the conversation please do comment below.

Until next time, love and sweet blessings

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