Recipe: Sicilian Paleo Caponata

caponataThe aubergine, majestic in its dark purple robe, glistens invitingly, beckoning innocent shoppers to buy with promises of rich meaty textures, vibrant colour and general all round deliciousness……

Well to be honest previous experience of this vegetable has not been promising…at all.  Bland, pulpy and flaccid with a taste about as interesting as candle wax, my previous aubergine experiments have been studiously ignored by all three children and even placed out on the lawn for the birds by Mike where it remained for a period of three days till the rains came and took it away.

But then I took to the books and observed two new principles: First aubergines love oil!  Second aubergines hate water, tomato juice, wine and any other liquid ingredient unless they have first soaked up enough oil to fire up the QE2.  Failure to observe these two principles results in a tough slightly bitter tight skinned piece of rubbery ness.  Get it right, though and aubergines are really quite special!  And they are a really good economical way to bulk up any family dish.

Try them cooked in coconut oil with tomatoes and garlic, leave to stew for a couple of hours, add cinnamon, salt, pepper and sprinkle with parsley and salty white cheese before you serve.  This is a great accompaniment to meat dishes and gives them that sort of “middle eastern” flavour. Yum.

For a lighter different type of meatball you could use half and half cooked chopped seasoned aubergine and minced lamb or add cooked aubergine to a hot fragrant coconut broth laced with subtle thai spices.

 In a Scilian caponata, aubergines provide a great base for a “sweet” and sour partnership which is traditionally made with celery, tomatoes, capers and vinegar.

 This paleo caponata is delicious served with a thick layer of goat’s cheese ( if you don’t do dairy on your paleo journey don’t add this in )

Ingredients

 1/2 cup virgin olive oil

1 large onion, chopped 

3 tablespoons pine nuts 

1 tablespoon hot chili flakes

2 medium aubergines, cut into 1/2-inch cubes 

1 teaspoon cinnamon

2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves 

1 jar of tomato sauce (no added sugar) 

1/3 cup balsamic vinegar 

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Method:

1.  Fry the onions and pine nuts in the olive oil for about 5 minutes or until soft.  (Traditionalists will add a handful of currants at this point but this dish work well without the additional sweetness).

2.  Add the chopped-up aubergine, chili flakes, cinnamon,  thyme and balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper.  

3.  When everything is soft , add the tomato sauce.  

4.  Bring to the boil and then turn down the heat and simmer.  

5.  Serve piping hot.

6. Enjoy!

Notes on aubergines:

Aubergines are a great source of B vitamins which aid brain and nervous system function and folate which helps prevent birth defects.  They are rich in useful minerals: potassium, manganese, copper and magnesium and they provide lots of soluble fibre which helps to slow down the rate at which sugar is released into the blood stream – useful if you are susceptible to dips in mood due to low blood sugar although you will find eating a paleo diet will even this out for you.

The Empire Strikes Back: Does the “Jenny Craig” diet work?

Does the “Jenny Craig” diet work?  Let’s ask Carrie Fisher

August last year and we shared an article about Carrie Fisher who had lost three and a half stone on the Jenny Craig diet…..the piece was simple and to the point: it wouldn’t last.  It couldn’t last because the diet was based on conventional wisdom: eat less (much less) of the same food that made you overweight in the first place and exercise more.  This morning this picture appeared in our paper:

carrie-fischerWell, may be it’s an unfortunate angle but for many of us this will strike a deep chord.. the fact is, diets don’t work.  And to all those diet groups out there like Jenny Craig who pedal “small portions” of biscuits and pasta and low-fat, high sugar “food” we say again…get real!  This is what made you fat in the first place, carefully manufactured “food” designed to de-sensitise you taste-buds and knock out your natural ability to tell when you have had enough.

And when the diet ends (as any one who has ever embarked on a restricted calorie diet knows it inevitably will), tell us…what’s changed?

To tackle weight issues once and for all you have to clean up your diet.  Anyone who tells you any different is being economical with the truth.  Period.

Some of us labour under the illusion that we are broken.  Wrapped up in our stories we forget the first rule of life: which is that we are all alive now  and really just how much of an very big adventure it is!

For many our experience of life is being compromised by the poor quality “food” we eat and the devastating impact it has on our mind, body and soul.  It can numb us and makes us less then our real Selves.

The answer?  Stop using food to avoid life.  Stop inventing reasons why you can’t do it too!  Therapists and counsellors will sit with you for hours turning over your childhood to come up with valid reasons to make you less than.  Don’t fall for it.  Keep it simple, keep it real.  Change the food you eat.  Learn what you can and can’t eat in order to find your natural weight (and we’ll give you a clue..paleo…) and stick with it, for life.  In this way you have practical tools: a compass and guide to focus on to get you out of the place you find yourself and better still you’re doing it for yourself!  Keep walking forward, don’t look back.  Why does it work?  Because you are eating real food combined with satisfying healthy fat that will keep you feeling well and content.

In the meantime, we wish Carrie well and invite you to share your thoughts on conventional dietary wisdom and the affect it has had on your life.

Paleo Breakfast with Asparagus

Healthy-Paleo-Breakfast-Asparagus-Prosciutto-Fried Egg-Pecan Halves

Healthy Paleo Breakfast with Asparagus Wrapped in Prosciutto, Fried Egg, and Raw Pecan Halves

Sun’s up!

Went down to the park early this morning chasing tree branches…have you done that recently?  Jumped up and reached?  really stretched your body to reach up..feels good when you make it.  We ran slowly warming our bodies up then ran fast (like tigers were chasing us),  hiding behind trees to catch our breath peeking round corners then chasing each other until forced to stop due to laughing too much.  Then back home for breakfast.

Children still asleep, love that moment when peace fills the house and all is well.

We are cooking breakfast together.  Easy and delicious.

We have asparagus, bacon, pecan nuts and eggs.

Asparagus …if ever a vegetable was made for indulgence this is it!  And no need to get fancy.  We British like our asparagus green, grown in full sunlight.   Other European countries prefer it white with characteristic purple shading and yellow tips.  Before we imported the stuff (and made it available throughout the year) asparagus was an eagerly awaited spring food, grown in the Vale of Eavesham, East Anglia and Cambridgeshire (think wide open spaces, glorious sky lines and fens)  and the customary start date for the asparagus season?  Why 1st May!

Recipe:

Asparagus

Bacon

Eggs

Pecan Nuts

Method:

Lightly rub the asparagus with coconut oil and roast gently in the oven for a matter of minutes until tender.  Wrap with the cooked bacon and top with a fried egg.  Add a few pecan nuts on the side and enjoy!

PS.Some Nutritional Notes on Asparagus - this vegetable is packed full of the good stuff!

It’s rich in beta-carotene which is good for healthy skin and vision; folate which protects against birth defects; soluble fibre which slows down the release of sugar into the blood stream and potassium which helps to balance blood pressure and rutin which protects the body from infection.  It is also a bit of a diuretic and was used in olden days to treat a sluggish digestion and fluid retention.

Do you have any good asparagus recipes?  We’d love to hear..

Recipe: Golden Harissa Dip (with Squash)

pumpkin-harissa-dipBuilding on what we made yesterday…this addictive dip is delicious and uses the tasty harissa.  If you want more of a kick, add more harissa.

Serves: 4-6
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes

You will need

1 large butter nut squash or pumpkin (around 750g-800g)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp caraway seeds
1 tsp Moroccan spice mix
1 large garlic clove, crushed
1 tsp harissa, or to taste
Bunch coriander, washed
3 tbsp lemon juice
Salt, to taste

Method

1. Peel and de-seed the pumpkin/squash. Chop the flesh into large chunks, place in a pan and cover with water. Bring to a gentle simmer, cover tightly, and allow to cook in its own juices, until tender. Drain and set aside.

2. Heat the oil in a pan and fry the caraway seeds and spice mix, stirring occasionally, until fragrant and aromatic (around four minutes). Stir in the garlic and fry for one minute, then add the pumpkin or squash, mashing with a fork, before adding all the remaining ingredients. Stir well to combine then remove from the heat. Let the dip cool before serving.

Recipe: Delicious Harissa!

harissa-pasteThis is a fiery North African paste that is orangey-red in colour. It’s a mixture of peppers, dried red chillies, garlic, caraway seeds, ground cumin and coriander, salt and olive oil. It can be used as a condiment or as an ingredient in cooking and provides a real boost as an accompaniment to a tomato sauce, stirred into soups or stews or added to a variety of meat dishes

Makes: 150ml jar

Preparation time: 15 mins

Ingredients

1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp caraway seeds
2 tsp cumin seeds
200g red chili peppers, roughly chopped
1 small red bell pepper, roughly chopped
1 garlic bulb, peeled and roughly chopped
1/2 a bunch of fresh coriander, roughly chopped
1 tbsp dried mint
1 tbsp salt
olive oil

Method
Roast coriander, caraway, and cumin seed in a dry pan for about 2 minutes and ground in a pestle and mortar. (The smell of this will be incredibly fragrant!)
Put the ground spices, all the other ingredients, and about 2-3 tbsps of olive oil in a mixer or food processor. Blend until you get a thick paste. Fill into a sterilized jar and put a bit of olive oil on top to prevent drying-out. Keep in the fridge!

We are always looking for ways to add spice to our lives – what is your favourite spice recipe?

Top Five Regrets of the Dying

bonfireThe Top Five Regrets of the Dying

Big subject, big challenge but as we write here of embracing life and optimal health perhaps this is also a timely reminder for us that “in the midst of life we are in death.”  And especially today as we mark the passing of winter..

So below are listed the top five regrets of the dying.

(And there was no mention of sex or parachuting, fast cars or loose women)!

How do we know?  We read it in a book (of the same title) written by an Australian palliative care nurse called Bronnie Ware who cared for people in the last 12 weeks of their lives and recorded their dying “epiphanies”.  And what Ware sees is the phenomenal clarity of vision people gain at the end of their lives.  And what Ware notes is that “when questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently,” she says, “common themes surfaced again and again.”  And we can learn deeply from this:

Here are the top five regrets as witnessed by Bronnie Ware:

1 I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

“This was the most common regret of all.  When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled.  Most people have not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.  Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.”

2.  I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

“This came from every male patient that I nursed.  They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship.  Women also spoke of this regret but as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners.  All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.”

3.  I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings

“Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others.  As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming.  Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.”

4.  I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

“Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down.  Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years.  There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved.  Everyone missed their friends when they are dying.”

5.  I wish I had let myself be happier. 

“This is a surprisingly common one.  Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice.  They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits.  The so-called comfort of familiarity overflowed into their emotions as well as their physical lives.  Fear of change had them pretending to others and to their selves that they were content, when deep within they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their lives again.”

Makes you think, doesn’t it?

What would your biggest regret be if this was to be the last day of your life?

Paleo Meals for a Week

It’s Sunday and it’s raining…again!

This article details a full week of our paleo meals: it gives an idea of what we are eating now with our family of three children – that’s those still living at home!

Saturday:  Breakfast

paleo-breakfastFried in coconut oil: sausage (for children, gluten free) , bacon, egg, asparagus tomatoes

Lunch: Bacon, beetroot, walnuts

Tea: Supper out – dinner date: Bluebell Inn

Sunday Breakfast:

Bacon, egg, mince, fresh herbs, mushrooms, tomatoes courgettes onions (leftover from fridge)

Lunch (children only) chopped walnuts, yoghurt (greek style), banana

butternut-squash-wedgesTea: Roast chicken, roast butternut squash, sweet potatoes, spring greens cabbage and paleo friendly gravy

Monday: Breakfast:

Liver, bacon bits, fresh green herbs

Lunch : (children only) omelette, bacon bits cheese, butter

mince-and-butternut-squashTea: minced beef, cooked with tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, ginger, garlic chilli served with slices of roast butternut squash topped with cheese, grilled lightly and sprinkled with herbs

Tuesday: Breakfast:

Chopped liver fried in coconut oil with tomatoes/mushrooms/herbs

Lunch: leftover mince and veg (nuked at work)

beef-and-cauliflower-cheeseTea: Roast beef and paleo cauliflower cheese, purple cabbage

Wednesday: Breakfast

Fried in coconut oil: tomatoes, mushrooms and strawberries: liver and bacon

Lunch: chicken salad, dressing (olive oil and drops of balsamic vinegar)

Supper: scrambled eggs, roast pork and spicy stir fried cabbage

Thursday: Breakfast:

Left over veg; tiny bit of steak; eggs fried in coconut oil

Lunch: tin of mackerel and small handful of walnuts

shredded-beef-and-jacket-sweet-potatoTea: Slow cooker shredded beef, jacket sweet potatoes, buttery cabbage, squash

Friday:  Breakfast

Scrambled eggs and mushrooms with butter

Lunch: Coffee

roast-pork-and-cracklingTea: Roast pork, crackling, spicey cabbage, broccoli and roast ginger

Make it simple, make it real.

Healthy Vegetables

Wild-Rhubarb

Rhubarb in the Paleo Works Garden

Supermarkets would have us believe that variety is being able to walk into a store and buy any and every agricultural product you can think of day in, day out 365 days of the year.

The problem with this is…it becomes boring.  Food becomes monotonous (again).  The variety of food never seems to change and inspiration can easily fade.  This is not the way nature intended.  Food variety should be driven by the seasons.  This is how we used to eat.  We would fill up on produce in season, eat it and bottle in and can it and store it and eat it again to the point where we thought we would never wish to ever eat it again and then the season would turn and a new variety would ripen and the cycle would begin all over again.

In this way food becomes exciting and our meals become invigorating.  Our diet is continually changing and we are feasting on foods that suit that time of year and the weather.

Like purple blackberries in autumn, fresh green asparagus and fiery watercress in spring, pumpkins, squash and fennel late summer and the sweet orangey tang of clementines at Christmas.

Last night we noticed this out the window of our back kitchen!  All through the winter months it has tended itself and kept hidden only to push through in April to provide a bumper crop for the next weeks.  And as we write, the cycle continues.

Shop local, keep to small-scale producers and independent food.  Check out your local veg box supplier.  In this way you will get back in touch with the seasonal quality of food.  The way nature intended!

In May, look out for elderflowers, outdoor rhubarb, asparagus, beetroot, radishes, wild rocket and watercress to season and flavor your foods.  In June the season is turning through to summer and you will find blackcurrants, cherries, gooseberries, loganberries, carrots, cucumber and turnips to add to May’s delights.

And keep it real!

How to Escape the Diet Trap

Yo-yo-diets

It's Time To Do Things Different.

Deep in thought with friends last night, the conversation turned to Jenni Murray and the open letter published yesterday morning. That letter was written in direct response to a dilemma which is familiar the world over to literally millions and millions of people: yo- yo dieting.

It is a very real concept a very real diet trap and it keeps millions of us unhappy and pre-occupied and, well, generally missing the point of life.

As each new commercial dieting program comes to us (Dukan, Atkins, Weight Watchers, Slimming World, Cabbage Soup, High-fibre, Low-fat, Zone, the list is endless), we sincerely believe it will make a difference to our mal-nourished bodies. And we try again for weight loss. What we forget, time and again, is that diets don’t work. At best, they are always a short term solution: most of us can lose weight if we set our minds to it but how many of us manage to sustain the weight loss? Short term gratifications (new clothes, new shoes, new hair cut, new man, new party) seduce us down the diet path but what is it that you want, long term?

If your long term wish is to be free to live life fully, to enjoy each day without waking up and venturing into battle with your self, to be “normal” around food and to understand food and the response it can trigger in our bodies then take a little education.

Take a look at the article Fat Storage Machine and learn about the relationship of sugar and insulin  and the response it has on your body. Further reading here on exactly how our modern diet is fuelling the obesity epidemic and try this excellent item Bad Fat – Good Fat to open your eyes to thebenefits of eating saturated fat in our diet. Challenge your current behaviours, think Human Shaped! Be radical. Eat bacon. Stand up, stretch and take a look around. If you keep doing what you’ve always done you will continue to get what you’ve always got.

Do your reading, do your thinking and make good choices. Every day what you do defines who you are. Get a few recipes under your belt, understand what you can and can’t eat for optimal health , use our ancestors as your point of reference (did they eat it,  would they recognise it as food) and never ever forget the fact that it is the food that is making you fat NOT some lack of will power or failing in you. It is the food that causes addictions and triggers behavioural responses such as overeating. Not you. It is a biochemical response. Chemistry. Not you. Clean up your diet and the bio-chemical reactions go, the behavior triggers go and now you have a fighting chance to achieve those long term goals.

And so, now we read that  Jenni Murray has opted for Weight Watchers.

Do you think this is the answer?

How Stress Can Make You Fat

stressWe seriously underestimate the effect on stress on our lives and how stress can make you fat, period.

And we especially underestimate the effect of stress on our bodies and our diet and the impact this can have on maintaining weight loss.

Here is an example.  Not long ago some friends of ours were forced to down size, losing out on a car.  This forced a re-think on how to get to work.  Luckily this did not take too long as the only possible answer was to walk.  Ever a glass half full person, this enforced “walk” was entered into with a positive mind set and a belief that the additional exercise would help sustain weight loss.  To arrive at work on time at 8.30 am it was necessary to leave at 7.45am.  The upshot of this was the family’s three children had to be woken up earlier and fed breakfast (a good healthy paleo style meal) much earlier than had been the previous case.  OK, anyone out there tried to wake up three hormonal teenage kids around 6.45 am?  Kind a stressful?

There followed the long 45 minute walk (down hill all the way in the morning), a full day’s work and a very long walk back up a very long lonely hill, carrying heavy shopping bags in the evening before cooking a supper for the family and dealing with all the other items that come along with well, just having a family really: homework, clothes washing, (mum have got PE tomorrow and no kit) and the ubiquitous letter produced usually around bedtime requesting “Johnny” attend school tomorrow in Mexican fancy dress as we are learning about south american food – oh and if you could also supply a selection of Mexican food to snack on (no nuts) that would be greatly appreciated.   You guessed it, more stress.

And stress has a curious effect on the body.  We have an in-built stress response.  It’s called fight or flight: stand your ground or run – a complicated set of physiological reactions that ultimately keep you alive in a dangerous situation.  For our ancestors this was an absolute necessity. Imagine a sabre-toothed tiger coming at you.  For us, stress produces a reaction in our bodies which can be boiled down to one single thing:  a desire to over eat. Huh?  Here’s the how and the why

Now combine this with our friend’s experience of walking to work.  A steady cardio workout – only it wasn’t really – it was draining, exhausting and stressful right through winter in any  weather: rain, snow, sleet or shine.  And this coupled with the very real financial difficulties, the boiling sense of resentment against those who had cars, the sheer physical exhaustion from walking one and a half hours everyday out of necessity not choice caused a depressing reoccurrence of overeating and weight gain.  Because the bottom line is: cardio exercise, steady raised heart beat (and it often was due to the run to get to work on time when late and the physical effort of trawling those bags uphill) made her hungry.

What we write here is not earth shattering more common sense.  We simply re-direct the mirror for you to shine into your own life and discover where you might be experiencing stress.  The average person swims in a sea of small stresses every day.  As a result, that fight of flight response is constantly being triggered.  Cortisol levels become chronically elevated and blood sugar is constantly mobilized for energy.  And when you don’t burn that sugar and you over eat to feed that craving for sugar triggered by the hormonal response and drop in blood sugar that has followed the adrenal rush ……you know the answer already, it gets stored as fat.

So to shift the fat, shift the stress.  Take a note book and pen and make that journey easy for yourself.  Make an action plan, go on , now: do it.

And our friends?  Well it’s not been a straight forward path to lose that regained weight.  Life is a constant journey of renewal and movement forward but never forget the joy a quick peak back can bring to remind you of just how far you’ve come.

So we wrote a plan together: putting my friend first.  The children were given alarm clocks and told it was their responsibility to get out of bed and find breakfast.  Food choices were left out the night before and there was no chasing.  The husband was given a shopping list along with the car and asked to bring the items home with him from work or the shopping was done the night before.  If anything was forgotten it was forgotten: life goes on regardless and just like that, life found its own balance for each of them.  And the good news?  Well we heard from our friend only the other week.  A new job brought with it a higher salary and both stopped by last weekend to show us her new car!

paleo-sexy
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