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!

X

What’s the dealio with dairy?

We pour it on our cereal, splash it in our tea, our coffee, eat it as an after dinner dessert or slice onto crackers with chutney for a mid-afternoon snack. Dairy in all its forms is something we have been brought up on. In the western world we are told as soon as we stop breast feeding to drink our milk, so much so that is an integral part of most peoples’ diets.

Memories of a glass of warm milk before bed as it helps to send you to sleep, that minuscule red wheel of Babybel cheese you fished out of your lunchbox daily, and squeezy yogurts that you stuck in the freezer to make into ice lollies on those (more frequent back then) days of stuffy summer. Frubes I’m looking at you! Dairy, seemed to be a fundamental part of the diet.

Marketing campaigns encourage parents to feed their children dairy products, enforcing the fact that without it they won’t get enough calcium to grow and have strong bones, ‘it will make you strongerer’. The fear of rickets is probably on most parents minds, so if the guidelines say to eat dairy, the children will eat it. What if they were lactose intolerant though? Around 10-20 years ago the only option you had as a dairy alternative was fortified soya milk. Probably sweetened. Most likely a bit gross. There wasn’t really much development in terms of dairy free milks, yogurts and cheeses, and the free from aisle…what free from aisle? If you were lactose intolerant you either gave it up cold turkey, or suffered the consequences.

I can’t pinpoint when exactly, but here in the UK, let’s say 5 years ago? Something triggered a small amount of the population to go dairy free. We also became more aware of the effects of soya on the environment and how it disrupts hormone levels (particularly for us women). The dairy free market was steadily growing, the occasional almond and coconut milks were accessible, still didn’t taste that good- mainly water and emulsifiers – so the need for creamy dairy wasn’t ever satisfied. You know it’s become a thing when Starbucks catch onto the trend and almond and coconut milk become an optional extra, with a 30p charge of course. Soon the media channelled into it spreading the word that dairy is the devil, it leads to cancer and causes osteoporosis, and every other ailment under the sun.

Around the same time, another tribe of people were touting that low fat dairy should be avoided at all costs. You can still eat your cheese, yogurts, milk and butter, but ensure that it is full fat. The higher the better for some, swearing off high fat – low carb diets. Bulletproof coffee (that is indeed coffee blitzed with butter to supposedly give a creamy drink without the crash from the caffeine), full fat yogurt, choosing cheese over dessert and searching out raw milk if possible. Totally contrasting to the dairy free crowd, making it utterly confusing to us consumers.

There doesn’t seem to be a definitive answer to this problem for the time being. The government guidelines include dairy as part of a healthy balanced diet, it’s a good source of protein and calcium ensuring that you stick to lower fat varieties as the amount of saturated fat can be high. Personally, I find a happy ground in between all this conflict. I eat full fat yogurt (organic if I can, Yeo Valley is my go to), spread salted butter liberally on my toast and eat cheese when I want. I enjoy dairy. Cutting it out from my life would make me miserable and being unhappy doesn’t contribute to a healthy lifestyle. If you’ve ever experimented with removing or reducing your consumption of something, you will have realised that it penultimately ends up in being substituted with something else. The best dairy substitute by far is nuts, healthy though they are, you can always over do it. Need some cream, use cashews, spread nut butter instead of butter on toast, make cheese from cashews herbs and garlic, and milk from, yet again, more nuts.

Nuts aren’t the only culprits in the dairy free gang. Rice milk has been a favourite for many for years as it’s naturally very sweet, and coconut milk too for something a bit creamier and richer. Oat milk hailing from Sweden and even hemp, quinoa and tiger nut milk can all be spotted. If you’re wanting to switch up your milk routine and try something new here’s a list of dairy free milks that I would always choose. They are tried and tested, all of them with a different flavour which lends themselves to different things.

  • Oatly – Oat Milk

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A personal favourite, creamy milk which tastes as delicious chilled from the fridge as it does on your morning muesli or stirred into your porridge. Also note that it is one of the best dairy free milks for using in tea and coffee as its foams well and doesn’t separate. I tend to choose the blue Oatly carton as it is fortified with calcium, vitamin D, B12 and riboflavin and it is also cheaper than the organic version.

  • Rude Health

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I’m a huge fan of the company Rude Health, having sampled all of their range of milks (many times I may add) they still are a firm staple on my shopping list. Their almond, hazelnut and coconut milks all are made with a base of brown rice so are delicately sweet, perfect for those of you wanting some sweetness without adding sugar, and when blended into smoothies or lattes have a nice subtle flavour. Then there’s the ultimate almond for the purists – with a heftier price tag – and a higher percentage of nuts and none of the rice. The cashew milk too, which I’m highly fond of, purely made from cashews and water, it is the creamiest of the lot and makes a mean turmeric or matcha latte. All of the Rude Health milks have the added bonus that there are no emulsifiers or stabilisers so they do require a good shake before pouring. However if you’re worried about missing out on certain nutrients when you cut out milk, none of these are fortified so you may want to opt for another brand for the everyday use.

  • Alpro – Unsweetened roasted almond milk

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Alpro is well known by the masses notably for soya products, which has a bit of a bad rap. This almond milk though is the best of the lot they offer. Unsweetened and fresh, it’s the sort of milk that fits into your everyday life. More cost-effective too at the cheapest on offer, but with a very low content of almonds and quite a neutral flavour it may not be the most exciting for your tastebuds.

  • Califia farms – Unsweetened almond milk

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New to the UK and currently found in Sainsburys, Califia Farms is a bit of a game changer in terms of almond milk. Carageenan free, no added sugars and utterly delicious I have to add, this one is something to hunt down. It’s so good I enjoy drinking it as is, from a glass (and when I’m that desperate straight from the bottle) and that’s that. Also brilliant for use in hot drinks as there is no curdling and it isn’t thin so you won’t require half a carton to get your tea how you like.

Now what’s my stance on dairy? I love the stuff and have tried (vow to never again) giving it up, and believe that if you aren’t allergic or intolerant and most importantly you enjoy it, don’t deprive yourself. Dairy is high in saturated fat but as long as you don’t overdo it, there will absolutely be no problems. Here’s some of the dairy products that I like to eat, I always try to stick to organic if possible and mix it up by consuming not only cows milk, but sheeps, goats and buffalo too. You will be surprised how many of your favourite cheeses aren’t actually made from cows milk.

 

  • Yeo Valley – Natural yogurt, Greek style yogurt and salted butter

 

I love this brand as all of their products are organic the cows are fed on luscious grass and made in Somerset . I always return back to their natural yogurt, or the greek style if I want something richer, as it has a good tang and you can find it in most supermarkets and even corner shops. The butter too is lovely, a bright marigold yellow with a little salt, spread it on sourdough. That’s what you call heaven.

  • St. Helen’s farm – Goats yogurt

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This may be a dividing option. It’s rich, but with a salty savouriness that balances all out. The flavour too is much stronger than a cows milk yogurt so a little goes much further. Dolloped on a crumble, topped with strawberries or strained to make a labneh. Perhaps keep it real simple with just a drizzle of local honey and a little pinch of salt, bloomin’ marvellous!

  • Feta cheese

The most famous of offerings from Greece. That salty crumbly cheese that none of us can get enough of. It makes every meal better, whether that be avo on toast, a mundane salad, a sandwich or a pile of broccoli. Add feta and automatically it is elevated. Traditionally feta is made only from goats milk so try to opt for one of those, searching in your local Aldi or Lidl should do the trick.

  • Halloumi

Halloumi tends to be the vegetarians’ choice (and eaten by all the carnivores too) particularly when BBQ weather rolls along. You Nando’s aficionados will know the drill. Squeaky cheese, as my mum refers to it, takes on flavours well so when marinaded and griddled to leave blackened scorch marks, that rivals any sausage or chicken drumstick. Another cheese which traditionally is made from goats or ewes milk and found in the Mediterranean sunnier climes of Cyprus.

  • Longley Farm – Crème Fraîche

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From a dairy local to me comes this crème fraîche. Alongside many yogurts, butters, milk and creams they produce, this is the better than any supermarket version. If anyone knows in more detail, please back me up on this, but supposedly this is the only variety of cream available to buy in France. Crème fraîche goes through a fermenting process to give it that tang, meaning it lasts longer in the fridge and is better for our digestion than cream.

  • Godminster – Organic Cheddar cheese

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Having worked a stint in a farm shop and on a cheese counter, a good few chunks of cheese came my way. Blue, Cheddar, Lancashire, Cheshire, Brie, goats cheese, I like them all, but when it comes to making a cheese board I know that a good cheddar will always be the first to disappear and everyone fights for the last slither. This Cheddar cheese from Somerset is mature and punchy enough to stand up to any chutney, but still creamy and lingers on your palate…until the next piece. Available to buy in the UK at many delis by the slice or in individual truckles. Grated into a cauliflower cheese or sliced in a cheese sandwich, guaranteed it will be the best you have ever made.

To wrap it all up, I still don’t think there’s an outright decision on whether we should be eating dairy or not. Do what works for you. I do try to limit my dairy consumption, so that means substituting dairy milk for a plant based milk instead, for environmental reasons mainly as methane production is one of the main causes of global warming. Milk is something in the western diet that is consumed at least once a day, particularly for us Brits – we’re all rather partial to a cuppa – very swiftly by switching that up you’ll be eating and drinking much less. Yogurts, cheeses, butter and cream don’t tend to be an everyday thing. Also yogurt and crème fraîche (and some butters if they’re french) are all fermented or cultured. They’re beneficial to our guts and if you’re not a huge fan of other fermented products such as sauerkraut, kombucha and kimchi they are a good way of getting those good bacteria into your diet.

Do what’s right for you, your lifestyle and your budget. As long as we’re all ensuring to eat as many vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains, mainly plant based, then that cheeseboard and a glass of vino, it’s there to ENJOY!

Until next time

X

May Memories 

I’m saddened by the news recently. All these traumas and terrible events, that seem to not be a reality as they happen so far away, have been brought close to home.

I always go through life in a bubble, trying to shield myself from the news as I don’t want to accept that these horrors are true. Yet of course they are, and when it happens in your city, you can’t ignore it. I had plans to write my usual monthly musings, but waking up to the news of a terror attack at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, it’s made me think differently.

Going about our everyday lives as if nothing has happened, that’s not an option. Of course we must be aware, make others aware and send all our love to the families of the people affected. We can all take a moment of quiet to think, but we must not let it stop us from living our lives. You can’t allow things like this to prevent you from travelling and exploring this mad world, or even stepping out of your front door. We were all put on this earth to live our lives to the fullest they can possibly be.

As northerners we will stand strong and together to get through it. We have done in the past so we won’t stop now. I thought I would cease all the food pics and recipes and mindless chatter for this week. Showing you what I had for breakfast isn’t really relevant, not in times of grief. However on second thought, I will carry on. Stopping our lives in our tracks is what the people causing the hurt want. And we can’t allow that.

So, here are a few things which have made a mark on my month. The little things that make me truly grateful for the life I am living, healthy and surrounded by people I love. Please do comment, start a conversation, I’d love to hear from you. Just the little perks that make you smile and glow brighter.

Stay safe out there.

#1 Brazil nuts

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More than a bit obsessed with these. Everyday for the past few weeks I’ve tried to include 3 Brazil nuts, whether it’s part of a snack or breakfast, there they have been. Nuts are great for us, such a good source of fibre, vitamin E (think dewy skin), plant based protein and healthy fats, but Brazil nuts in particular are abundant in selenium. Selenium is a good mineral to fill your boots with, it’s an anti-inflammatory, aids with thyroid function, acts as a mood enhancer, supports your immune system to help wounds heal and you only need 3-4 to get 100% of your daily needs. Not a bad deal right?

 

#2 The Natural Deodorant Co.

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Finding a good natural deodorant. It’s harder than getting your hands on a ripe avocado after the post-work supermarket dash. And don’t even try bothering with a sweet potato past 7pm. If you’re wanting to venture into a healthier lifestyle, it’s not just the food you put into your body that you need to consider. Your skincare and makeup, along with all other toiletries are absorbed into your blood stream just as readily. One of the main issues is deodorants and antiperspirants all of which tend to contain aluminium, a heavy metal which we want to avoid as best we can. Our underarms are one of the most sensitive and absorbent parts of our bodies, so this area is one we need to look after. I’ve tried the salt sticks which you just dampen and rub on. No good. And various other natural deodorants which were also no good. Then I found The Natural Deodorant co, a London based brand which is natural and scented with essential oils. It’s not an antiperspirant, so you will still sweat but it does prevent any smells, even after a sweaty yoga sesh. Available in 3 varieties, clean, gentle and active, within that three different scents so you will find the one for you. It feels a bit odd at first to rub a cream on your pits instead of a quick spritz, but it’s a habit that’s easy to get used to. Order online from their website, at £11 a pot which will last you a good couple of months, its a product that I will keep turning back to.

 

#3 John Masters Organics, shampoo and conditioner

 

Another beauty fave. I’m on a mission to make as much of my toiletry bag as natural as possible, it’s difficult and expensive at times but I have found many lovely brands and products along the way. Visit online shops like Naturisimo and Content Beauty and you will see the array that there is to offer (and even that’s only a very small selection). On the search for a shampoo and conditioner, minus the silicone, SLS and parabens, it wasn’t an easy task. We’re so used to using shampoos that form a good lather due to the SLS (sodium lauryl sulphate) and when washed away your hair feels silky soft and smooth as the silicone has coated the strands. You don’t get those feelings when switching to natural shampoos, which is an odd experience to get used to at first.

After hearing good things about John Master’s Organics hair products I got the spearmint and meadowsweet shampoo for Christmas. It’s minty and tingly, a super refreshing shampoo that wakes you up in the morning. Made of natural ingredients and plant extracts and essential oils, it’s gentle enough to use on colour treated hair and there’s different shampoos to suit your hair type. The only downside it is rather pricey, so I only buy it when I’m either severely fed up and need to treat myself or add it to my Christmas and birthday lists. At the moment I’m using the lavender rosemary shampoo and the lavender and avocado intensive conditioner, both deeply relaxing and leave my hair super shiny and smelling pretty good too. 

 

#4 Roast tamari mushrooms

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Mushrooms don’t tend to be one of the vegetables that I buy very often. I absolutely love them so I don’t quite understand my reasoning behind that….something has to change. Did you knooowwww, mushrooms are very high in vitamin D, something which we are severely lacking in here in the UK. Next time they’re on your shopping list, try leaving them on the windowsill for 1-2 hours turned upside down. This supercharges the vitamin D content in the mushrooms by the UV rays in sunshine. Safety specs put aside, mushrooms are pretty tasty things. One of my favourite ways of preparing them at the moment is slicing, tossing with rapeseed oil and tamari (or soy sauce) and roasting them in the oven on around 180C until crispy on the edges. Maybe throw in some chopped garlic and chilli flakes, even better!! Marvellous as a snack akin to jerky, tossed through a salad or used to scoop up some creamy dip.

 

#5 Reformer classes at Frame

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When you think of Pilates what tends to come to mind? Pelvic floor? Lying down on your back for 1 hour? Exercise for after you have given birth? Ok, ok. I get it. Pilates tends to have a bad rap. Along with yoga people believe that as they’re not coming out of the class drenched in sweat, it’s not exercise. Let reformer Pilates change your mind! I’ve gone a few times to reformer Pilates classes at Frame in London. There are 4 venues across the city all which provide such an array of classes. I love how at Frame, they don’t make you feel intimidated when you walk in, it’s not cliquey and you will work your socks off whilst having the best time. After your class you can pick up a post-workout smoothie or a bite to eat, or if you arrive early have a peruse around their shop or flick through a cookbook. So reformer Pilates, all the Pilates exercises that we know of aided with weights and resistance. Your legs will be quaking when you leave I can guarantee. After my class the other day, I couldn’t lift my arms above my head afterwards and the walk home was slightly juddery. Frame offer a membership card where you have to put on at least £50 and then you get a discount off every class you go to (motivation to go to the gym or what?!), or you can pay as you go for whenever you feel the need to get moving.

 

#6 LoveRaw, Cacao and Cardamom drink

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This. This milk is good. Like really really good. Brought to us by the recently relaunched (Manchester!) brand are three plant based milks. Cacao and Cardamom, Cold Brew Caffe Latte and Turmeric Chai Latte. All dairy free and utterly delicious. I’ve only tried – so far I might add – the cacao and cardamom, an almond milk drink sweetened with date syrup and spiced up with some cacao powder and cardamom, drink cold for a sweet pick-me-up, or heat up for a hot chocolate to wind down your day. Thoughts of adding a shot of espresso to the milk, for a take on a mocha, that would be mega. On ice too?? Now you’re teasing !You can grab one from Sainsbury’s and many health food shops across the country. Do add one to your trolley if you spot it, or do as I do and hunt one down.

 

I want to finish this post sending love to all who were affected by the attack in Manchester earlier this week, and share a picture of the most recent addition of street art in the Northern Quarter. The Worker Bee is the symbol of Manchester, representing the hard-working class during the industrial revolution. It can be seen everywhere throughout the city, on the bins, on the Palace Hotel clock face, in the stone work of buildings and now proudly in Stevenson Square.

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XXX