Hypochondriac? Me? With pears poached in mulled wine.

We have a challenging relationship with illness in my family. I’m not talking serious illness (at least at this point), but just your average, common-or-garden varietal colds, sore stomachs and aches and pains.

In my family, there’s a divide between my mother’s and my father’s sides of the family. My mother comes from a family of Scotsmen, which I guess sums up all there is to say about stoicism. Or damned bloody mindedness, for a more direct turn of phrase.

The general approach to sickness among our clan is to suck it up and get on with it. My mother’s approach to handling me as a unwell child was “go to school and see how you feel”. Code for “unless you have the plague you’re not staying home”.

When it came to my grandmother, her approach was benign, but as it turns out, deadly. She avoided going to the doctor at all costs, lest she be found malingering. She’d talk to the doctor about his personal problems, rather than her own (I should mention my grandmother was Scottish, white haired and under 5 feet tall. Like a miniature Mrs Doubtfire). Ultimately, a sore above her top lip, which she’d avoided having treatment for, developed into a malignancy which had to be cut out, leaving a nasty scar. She died far too young at 70, after complaining for months about breathlessness caused by issues with her legs. Her actual issue was that she was diabetic, and as a result had heart problems, which could have been easily treated. We didn’t find that out until after she died from a heart attack.

My father’s side of the family takes a completely opposing approach. My paternal grandmother lived to be 98 (albeit with dementia), unbelievably sound of body, if not mind. She walked, played croquet, worked in her garden, and took herself off to bed at the slightest hint of a tickle at the back of her throat. We were warned not to kiss her, unless we fell to “the Bot”. Not really sure what that’s short for.

My father has followed in her footsteps. Even a hint of illness warrants a doctors visit. Much to my mother’s chagrin. She sighs, rolls her eyes, and talks about his hypochondria. Dad is healthy as an ox in his mid-70’s, goes to the gym three times a week, plays sport, goes fishing, is generally active, and rarely unwell. Mum, has angina, polymyalgia (a kind of rheumatism), a high risk of bowl cancer and takes a raft of medication, which has subsequently given her kidney issues.

I should mention my father’s family were based in New Zealand in WW2, with all the opportunity that afforded. My mother’s family were in Scotland, and were far more exposed to nutritional and environmental challenges that shaped the way they thought and behaved.

The point of all this is how it affects the way I think. I am rubbish at being sympathetic when my kids are unwell. I have, embarrassingly, adopted my mother’s suck-it-and-see approach to sending kids to school when they’re feeling sick.

I feel terrible every time I do it and get the call later in the day from the school nurse.

I always feel like a fraud when I go to the doctor. I’ve recently had an allergic reaction which has resulted in a rash over most of my body. I tried, for 10 days, to treat it with antihistamines, until I finally caved and went to A&E. If I’d been more prepared to face a doctor before it became unbearable, I might have saved myself $100 by making an appointment with my GP. That allergy has become chronic urticaria, which if not resolved in the next week, will lead to visits to an immunologist.

So I’m not sure that taking the stoic approach is best. While I worry my kids are missing school, the alternative is to send them to school and have their potential virus spread like wildfire. An illness that could be easily resolved by getting onto it early can end up being something far more serious without treatment (as demonstrated by my late maternal grandmother).

Time to suppress the little voice in my head that says I’m a fraud, or that my children are pretending, or that my husband is a hypochondriac and take the time to look after ourselves. Better to live a long healthy life, with the odd day in bed recovering, than a short life, with head held high because I could “suck it up”.

PEARS POACHED IN MULLED WINE

Red wine, in small doses, is shown to have great health benefits. Good for body and soul. Here’s a recipe that makes great use of seasonal pears, which I’ve prepared for my friend Charlotte. Her blog A Beautiful Mind, to raise awareness of possible ways to prevent Alzhiemer’s Disease. Her blog this week is all about red wine, so make sure you go and have a read.

2 cups red wine 2017-05-27 08.37.26
1/3 cup sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
6 whole cloves
2 whole star anise
Peel of one orange
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
4 pears, peeled (I used buerre bosc)
200g mascapone
100g greek yoghurt

  1. In a medium saucepan, heat red wine, sugar, cinnamon sticks, cloves, star anise, orange peel and vanilla essence. Bring to a simmer and stir until sugar as dissolved.
  2. Add pears, bring to the boil, reduce heat, cover and cook for 1 hour, turning carefully to keep the pears evenly coloured.
  3. Remove from heat and refrigerate until cooled.
  4. Check red wine syrup for thickness. If sauce hasn’t reduced during cooking process, strain our spices and return sauce to the boil. Cook until desired thickness is reached.
  5. Mix mascapone and yoghurt together until evenly combined.
  6. Serve pears drizzled with red wine syrup, with mascapone alongside.
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10 weeks alcohol free: am I mad?

A few weeks ago Richard and I decided it was time to have some time off the booze. I have basically never taken more than a week off in my adult life, aside from when I was pregnant and I’m not sure that really counts. Well, it does, being important for a healthy baby and all, but you know what I’m saying.

Our reasons are simple:

  1. My liver needs a break. I had a poor liver reading at the doctor a year or so ago, and I really haven’t done anything about it. Now she wants to see me again, and I’m terrified of what she’s going to find!
  2. We’ve both gained weight. It’s crept up over time, and admittedly, I could exercise some more and eat a bit less, but it’s pretty clear that wine is a big contributor
  3. Our daily consumption is creeping up. We can manage one AFD a week, but not many more. We’ve tried to not drink during the week, but usually fall over about Wednesday. So we need to reset.

Essentially, we need a new normal. I have no ethical objections to a glass of wine a night, but for us it’s always more than a glass. I’d like to be the person who can go out for dinner and stop after a glass or even two.

The exception is that I’m heading to Sydney in a couple of weeks to catch up with some girlfriends. I have already explained to my lovely husband that there is NO WAY I’m not going to drink while I’m there. I have my limits!

So there we have it. Ten weeks stretching in front of me. I’m worried I may be insane, so I’m going to write about it (as I do), then you can decide if it’s a good way to go. I’ll be interested to see whether I actually lose any weight, sleep better, feel better, have better liver function. I’ll let you know.

Gut health in a bottle. Kombucha.

My good friend, Charlotte Devereux, runs a very important blog, beautifulmindnz.com. In this, she writes about her mother’s terrible and tragic battle with Alzheimer’s disease. She also provides advice and research into some of the simple things we can do in our every day lives to try to stave off this dreadful disease.

Anyway, her latest post is about gut health, and the relationship between the health of our gut bacteria and our brain (I’ve written about this in the past). She asked me to contribute a recipe for kombucha (which I’ve been making for the past year or so), and here it is.

I started my own SCOBY from scratch, using these instructions, but if you can’t be bothered waiting, look on line to see if anyone has a healthy SCOBY to give away.

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Charlotte’s beautiful daughter, India, with my kombucha (Photo: Jasmine Devereux Barnes)

KOMBUCHA

1. Heat 2 litres of water until boiling. If you’re not using filtered water, boil water for 10 minutes to burn off any chlorine.

2. Stir in ¾ cup of plain sugar until dissolved. This seems like a lot, but don’t worry, the bacteria and yeast will eat most of this during the fermentation process. You could also use brown sugar for a more caramel flavour, but don’t use honey or artificial sweeteners. Honey has antibacterial properties, and artificial sweetener won’t provide the food needed.

3. Add 2-3 teaspoons of loose tea or 4-6 teabags. You can use black or green tea, but don’t use earl grey tea as this will kill the bacteria necessary for fermentation.

4. Brew for 4-8 minutes depending on how strong you like your tea, then strain out tea leaves, reserving the tea.

5. Leave tea to cool until room temperature (22⁰C or less).

6. Stir through 200ml of unflavoured kombucha (store bought is ok if you’re just starting, but make sure you reserve some for your next batch)

7. Pour into a sterilised jar, and using clean hands, lay the SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast) into the tea. Cover with a fine muslin cloth or paper towel and secure to keep out any fruit flies or dust. Set aside in a cool dark place and wait for the SCOBY to do its job.

8. After approximately 7 days, taste the kombucha. If it’s still very sweet, it’s not ready. Taste daily until it has the right balance of sweet and sour, and has become fizzy. This can take up to 30 days depending on the temperature of your house (it’ll take longer in winter).

9. When the kombucha tastes the way you like, pour into sealable bottles (I use home brew glass bottles with strong swing tops), and set aside for the second fermentation. This is the point where you can add flavourings. The second fermentation should take between 3 and 7 days depending on what flavours you’ve added (see below for a few ideas, but don’t be afraid to experiment). When the kombucha is very fizzy, refrigerate until you’re ready to drink.

Flavouring ideas:

You can be as creative as you like with flavourings, especially as you become more confident with the kombucha brewing process. Fruit, herbs and spices are all great additions, particularly if you’re using fruit in season.

  • Ginger and kaffir lime leaf – add a large thumb sized piece of ginger, sliced, and 4 whole kaffir lime leaves to the water with the tea at step 3. At the second fermentation (step 9) add a slice of ginger and a whole kaffir lime leaf to each bottle before adding the kombucha.
  • Berry – at the second fermentation (step 9) add a handful of mixed berries (blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, fresh or frozen) to each bottle. If using fresh, lightly crush the berries to release some of the juice. Top with kombucha and leave to ferment.
  • Plum and thyme – at the second fermentation, add plum slices to each bottle, and a sprig of fresh thyme. Top with kombucha and leave to ferment.

Into the great beyond.

My son has a tendency towards perfectionism.

This in itself is not a terrible thing. We haven’t put him into therapy, he’s reasonably well adjusted, his room still looks like a grade 5 cyclone has torn through it. Aside from his need to line his shoes up in perfect rows.

The perfectionism comes out at school. He’s brilliant at maths, because there’s a very clear right answer. And conversely, a very clear wrong one. At least at this stage of his educational life.

The challenge comes when the answer is not black and white. When his own opinion comes into play. Then his perfectionism kicks into high gear, because he can’t operate if there is no “right” answer. His mind can’t make sense of the question, he starts to panic, he procrastinates, he runs out of time to answer the question, he forgets to ask for help.

The result is that he can be afraid to take risks. And it’s holding him back.

We’ve started talking a lot about the importance of being a risk taker. Both of my children’s schools place risk taking high in the list of qualities they desire in their pupils. I always struggled with this as a concept, until I saw how fear of new challenges played out in my own son. And I started to think about how my own fear of the unknown has impacted my personal development through the years.

I am, by nature, a people pleaser. I like people to like me, and become distressed when conflict arises.I try to avoid conflict by doing what’s expected of me, doing the right thing. While I am far from a perfectionist, my need to do the right thing results in the same situation as my son is experiencing – I’ve been afraid to take risks.

This has played out throughout my work life. I’ve been afraid to push myself forward professionally, until I felt that I completely possessed the skills needed. I was never prepared to step outside of my comfort zone, for fear of letting down my colleagues and my clients. That I might be “told off” for getting something wrong, creating conflict, and a view that I wasn’t good enough. Better to make safe decisions that keeps everyone happy, than take a risk and get into trouble.

It also means I can find myself in situations where I find myself being pushed by others to do something that I am not comfortable with. I don’t want to create conflict, so I go along, for fear of risking a relationship. Which made for some interesting times when I was a teenager!

Slowly, over the last 12 months, I am reversing the habits of a lifetime. The first step was quitting my long term career and stepping into the unknown, to pursue a career in food. The second was learning that risk taking is sometimes not as obvious as you think it might be. Sometimes, it’s sitting back and letting opportunities present themselves to you. To allow things to happen, rather than trying to control them. To be brave enough to let go, instead of trying to steer the plane. To jump and let things fall as they may.

I had no clear path when I left my well paying job. I have been asked to return many times, and have been tempted. My inner coward would rather return to the fiscal safety of permanent employment. Fortunately my new inner sky diving, bungy jumping, free falling heroine is becoming dominant, and is committed to pursuing the excitement of the unknown.

That said, I still feel fear. I still worry that I might not be good enough. That I am kidding myself. That my cooking isn’t enough, that my writing isn’t enough, that my photography is worse than average. Fear is ok. Fear prevents complacency. Fear drives improvement, a desire to be better. But it shouldn’t override bravery. It shouldn’t become a barrier to new challenges or new ideas.

I still have no real clear path and I’m ok with that. It took 6 months to start writing. Another 3 months to start writing about my emotional and physical wellbeing. I’m still evolving, and new opportunities are presenting themselves to me every day. I’m open to what the fates may offer, and finally feel brave enough to take the risks associated with the unknown.

 

I’m not keeping up

Keeping up with the Joneses.

The concept of trying to have as much money, as nice a house, be dressed as nicely, be as fit, successful, attractive as “insert-their-name-here”. Because there’s always someone wealthier, prettier, thinner, more stylish than you.

It’s a trap. A bit like being in a mouse wheel, running flat out, never managing to go anywhere or to stop. Running after something you can never catch. Because there’s always someone wealthier, prettier, thinner, more stylish than you.

We don’t just put this pressure on ourselves. We also put it on our children. Comparing our children’s performance in the classroom, on the sports field, on the stage, with our friends’, colleagues’, acquaintances’ children.

 

I can get totally sucked into that void.

But I’m trying to change that. The first step to moving away from “keeping up” was selling our house. It was a big house, on a large section, in a wealthy suburb. I’d installed a chandelier in the living room, an enormous mirror over the fireplace. The garden was planted with standard roses and box hedging. All obvious displays of our wealth.

Except that we had an enormous mortgage to pay for it. And both my husband and I needed to have high paying, high demand jobs to meet that mortgage. And I rarely saw the house (or my children). And the beautiful garden and enormous house needed so much work, which we didn’t have time to do because of said high paying jobs. And couldn’t pay someone else to do the work because of said enormous mortgage.

So we sold it. We moved to a townhouse in a nice, but slightly less wealthy suburb. We have a courtyard, rather than lawns and roses. Most importantly we have no mortgage.

Rationally, it was the right thing to do. I’ve been able to pull out of the high paying job to write about food and myself, which I rather enjoy. Besides, we have more money available to spend on life experiences, which tie nicely into my goals for 2017.

Emotionally, it’s been an interesting time. Because the Joneses keep knocking. I loved having people over to our old house. I was proud of the work we had done, and of how successful it made us appear. On the other hand, I also love our new house, its simplicity, its more manageable size, its proximity to the beach.

But I have to stop myself from feeling like its a step down. Like we are somehow less successful than we were. That we’re not keeping up.

It is impossible to keep up. Every time you think you’re the one in front, someone passes you. So where does it stop?

It stops when you reassess your priorities. When you realise that a house is just stuff. That having a thin body can be a road to physical illness (and possibly mental) and is impossible to maintain. That your children’s success at primary school is not as important as their happiness. That on your deathbed you won’t reflect on your life and say “thank God I had a bigger engagement ring than my friends”.

You’ll be reflecting on who you loved. The many experiences you had and the memories they made. The time spent with your children, watching them grow into amazing adults.

Recognising that success takes many forms. Embracing simple joys over material items. Living a good life and making good memories.

So I’m closing the door on the Joneses. They’re not my friends.

Brightly coloured hot milk in a glass

Turmeric and matcha lattes are a thing.2016-10-27 17.51.55-1 v1.jpg

Both have all the brightly coloured, antioxidanty goodness that you want in your hot drinks. They look pretty and taste good. And if you moderate the amount of sweetener you use, you can tick the less sugar box too.

Added bonus – matcha has caffeine, so mid-morning slump for you. Happy days.

One thing worth noting, the active antioxidant in turmeric, curcumin, can be boosted by adding black pepper. Read about the whys and hows here.

2017-01-09-09-21-26-hdr-v1
This is an iced matcha latte.

TURMERIC LATTE

Heat a cup of almond milk with 3/4 teaspoon turmeric powder, 1/2 teaspoon dried ginger and a couple of grinds of black pepper. Sweeten with maple syrup to taste.  Spicy and delicious.


MATCHA LATTE

Heat a cup of milk or almond milk. Stir a teaspoon of matcha powder with a small amount of boiling water to dissolve the matcha. Pour over heated milk and sweeten to taste with maple syrup or sugar.

An ode to holidays

I’ve never understood people who don’t take holidays. I’ve always lived for mine.

Every hour I’ve spent at work through the years has been punctuated with dreams of my next break, plans about where I should go, what I will eat, what adventures I’ll have. Every holiday I’ve taken includes time well spent planning the next one.

I’ve always used every possible second of my allocated annual leave, sometimes more if I could get away with it. I’ve always believed that the main reason we work so hard to earn the money we do, is to spend it on the things that make us happy. I’m happiest on holiday.

By “holiday” I don’t necessarily mean glamorous, international excursions (although I’ve had my fair share of those). I don’t mean days at sea, on the sand or on the slopes (although those have featured highly). I mean the holiday state of mind. The chance to slow down, take daytime sleeps, put your mind on quiet mode, feel your heartbeat decrease to a level that’s enough to keep you alive but not much more. Sometimes that’s miles from home, sometimes that’s in your own backyard. The effect’s the same.

In New Zealand we’re lucky enough to get 20 days of annual leave per year, minimum. That’s 4 working weeks. Excluding public holidays, of which there are another 11 days. So 31 working days holiday a year. That’s 12% of the total working year (Monday-Friday) that we get to take as a holiday. So why wouldn’t you take them all?

Compare our good fortune to our American counterparts, who only get 2 weeks per year. According to The Guardian, only 77% of Americans actually get this much annual leave. Of those that do, 4 in 10 do not use it all. And US companies are not obliged to roll over unused leave to the next year, meaning if you don’t use it, you lose it. Those who do take leave feel guilty about being away from the workplace, insisting on being connected to email throughout their supposed “holiday”. This pattern is repeated in Australia, the United Kingdom and right here in NZ.

The thing is, it’s important to take time off. Workplace stress becomes like a pressure cooker throughout the year, and without a holiday release valve, something’s gonna blow. It’s no surprise that workplace resignations soar on the return to the office in January. The more time you spend working without a break, the more likely you are to make major mistakes, be that leaving off a zero on a spreadsheet at one end of the spectrum, or running over your work colleague at the other. The flow on effect out of the office is far from insignificant, affecting our relationships with our friends, our partners and our children.

There’s a body of research that indicates that employees that have taken sufficient leave are likely to be more productive. This makes sense – an exhausted mind is hardly firing on all cylinders. Workplace stress is cited as one of the major causes of depression. Holidays go a great way towards alleviating that pressure.

I’ve always found my holidays to be a great time for reflection. To think about my life, what’s working and what isn’t. To disconnect from work and reconnect with my family, friends and myself. To relax, recharge and regroup. To prioritise my wellbeing.

Something that important takes time. So why wouldn’t you take every minute you can?

Source: The Guardian, Linked In

In season: cherries

In New Zealand cherries are synonymous with Christmas. They arrive from Central Otago in their cardboard boxes, looking like festive gifts, the fruit itself just like Christmas baubles. Except far tastier.

They are most definitely a treat. With a retail price generally close to $20 per kilo, buying cherries is out of the reach of many, but I think they’re worth every penny.

How good are cherries for you?

I’m focusing on sweet cherries here. Tart cherries are equally amazing, but I haven’t seen them fresh in New Zealand, and since this series is about what’s in season (and available fresh)…

Once again, the colour is the giveaway with deep red cherries. They’re high in antioxidants, which have cancer preventative properties. As they ripen, the colour darkens, producing more antioxidants, so they get better with age. Alongside that:

  • They’re high in potassium, which helps to control blood pressure.
  • They’re packed with polyphenols, which aid our digestive bacteria (and which I harp on about endlessly).
  • The anthocyanins in cherries have anti-inflammatory properties, to offer health benefits for gout, arthritis, fibromyaglia and sports injuries
  • They’re high in melatonin, which regulates circadian rhythms and sleep patterns.
  • They’re high in fibre, and low calories. Their sugar content is high, but this is offset by the fibre.
  • They’re high in vitamin C, which aids in the formation of collagen, and helps the body absorb iron.

So how can I use them?

I have to say, you’re in a very fortunate position if you have a glut of cherries at your disposal. At the price they’re currently selling for, I’m buying them in small quantities and eating them as is!

That said, not everyone lives as far from Cherry Central as I do, so here’s a few thoughts on how to handle your fortuitous excess:

  • Make a trifle with layers of sponge, cherry jam, fresh, stoned cherries, custard and cream. Drizzle kirsh over the sponge if desired.
  • Make a cherry compote by cooking stoned cherries with some sugar (at a ratio of about 5 to 1 by weight, cherries to sugar), lemon juice and kirsh or brandy. Remove the cherries and reduce the juice until thick.
  • Steep stoned cherries in brandy or vodka for a week or so to make a delicious liqueur.
  • Make a Black Forest Eton Mess by mixing together whipped cream, crumbled meringues, chopped dark chocolate and fresh cherries.
  • Make a Black Forest gateaux, by drizzling kirsh over your favourite dark chocolate cake, and layering with halved, stoned cherries and cream. Google images to find true 1970’s cake decoration inspiration!
  •  Add cherries to a red wine, beef jus. Cook until the cherries are soft, and serve with duck, venison or beef.
  • Melt vanilla ice cream until very soft (not liquid), and stir through stoned, chopped cherries, slivered almonds and chopped dark chocolate. Return to the freezer to reset, then serve.
  • Make a salsa with cherries
  • Halve cherries and toss through a green salad

Or try this cherry cheesecake recipe:

UNBAKED VANILLA CHEESECAKE WITH CHERRIES

125 g crumbled malt biscuits
75 g butter, softened
300 g cream cheese
60 g icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp lemon juice
250 ml cream, whipped
500 g fresh cherries, halved and stones removed
100 g sugar
100 ml vodka
100 ml lemon juice
250 ml cream, whipped to serve

  1. Line a 20cm springform baking tin with tinfoil.
  2. Put the biscuits and butter in a food processor and pulse until well combined
  3. Press the biscuit mixture into the bottom of the tin. Put into the fridge to set (approx 20 minutes)
  4. Using the food processor again, pulse together cream cheese, icing sugar, vanilla extract and lemon juice until well combined and smooth
  5. Transfer to a bowl, and fold through whipped cream.
  6. Pour cheese mixture over the biscuit mix, and return to the fridge to set (approximately 3 hours or overnight)
  7. Put the cherries in a saucepan with the sugar, vodka and lemon juice. Bring to the boil and cook until cherries are beginning to soften.
  8. Remove cherries with a slotted spoon and set aside. Continue to boil juices until thick.
  9. Cool and add cherries back to the pan. Refrigerate until needed.
  10. To prepare the cheesecake to serve, remove the cake from the tin. Top with extra whipped cream and cherry compote. Garnish with a few fresh cherries and serve.

 

Source: eatingwell.com, nutrition-and-you.com, Best Health Magazine, Nigella Lawson, Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall, Al Brown, Peta Mathias, Kylee Newton, orchardfresh.co.nz

Work for your lives!

I’ve written before about my previous life in advertising. About the stress that punctuated my life on a virtually daily basis. There were peaks and troughs, but stress was a consistent presence in an inconsistent working life.

Being under stress pretty much all the time is a bit like having Stockholm Syndrome. Although you’re its prisoner, you begin to feel a weird sense of pride in how stressed you are. Catching up with work colleagues became a game of who’s the most strung out. Basically if you didn’t tell everyone how busy and out of control you were, you clearly weren’t working hard enough.

And without the pressure, it’s impossible to keep working that hard. Your body becomes fueled by Adrenalin. You’re fighting for survival. If you stop, you die. Which sounds dramatic, but that’s exactly what’s happening.

At a primal level, our body thinks that when stress hormones kick in, there must be a life or death reason for this to happen. Adrenalin and cortisol are the hormones that make us feel stress and are supposed to be released when we are in serious, imminent danger. Fight or flight as they say.

Which is insane when you think about it. The same hormones that helped us to escape from animals that wanted to eat us 10,000-odd years ago, are now kicking in at work. We’re reacting to our email inbox in the same way as if we had a tiger standing on our chests. Which is not good.

What is especially “not good” about my former work life is that those email/phone call/meeting pressures are daily and hourly. A tiger breathing down your neck would have been an irregular occurance I would have thought, by comparison. Which means stress hormones are coursing through your veins pretty much all the time. In my case, for the better part of twenty years.

The way the body experiences stress is pretty complicated. Most interesting is that the role of stress hormones is to signal the body to get ready to run, which tells the liver to release glucose into the blood stream for energy. Unused glucose is generally dissipated once the crisis is over, but during periods of continual stress, it can lead to increased risk of obesity and type II diabetes. Prolonged stress can also cause:

  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Increased risk of infection
  • Skin problems
  • Infertility
  • Insomnia

Next week marks a full year since I left advertising. A full year later, and I still am not as fighting fit as I need to be. I still find myself reverting back to my old stressed self – it’s an automatic response to even relatively low levels of duress. I have trained my body to switch to survival mode, to behave as if every situation is a worst case scenario. It’s not good.

Source: Wikipedia, American Psychological Association, psychcentral.com, healthline.com, womentowomen.com

In season now: Eggplant

Or Aubergine, depending on your preference. I’m going with eggplant.

Local eggplants appeared on shelves quite early this year. I know from personal experience that garden grown varieties are not fruiting in any useful way until after Christmas, and as this hasn’t been an unusually warm summer, my guess is these are hot house grown (not much of a stretch to make I know).

Eggplants of different shapes and sizes feature in many of the world’s cuisine’s, through

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Eggplants, Vietnam

Turkey, Greece, Italy, France, and Africa (broad definition there) down through Asia in Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Thai and Vietnamese food. Amongst many others I’m sure. Unlike, say, apples, which look much the same and are pretty universally recognisable, eggplants range from the large, dark purple beasts we see on supermarket shelves, down to tiny, green creatures that bear only the vaguest resemblance.

They are universally delicious though, both cooked very simply, of as a vehicle to carry other more robust flavours.

nutrition_facts_eggplantSo how good are eggplants for you?

The brightly coloured skin of an eggplant contains a great deal of the many antioxidants this fruit has. So it’s worth eating this alongside the meaty interior.

  • They’re high in fibre. One cup of eggplant provides 10% of your daily requirement.
  • They’re high in anthocyanins, which is a kind of flavonoid (a powerful antioxidant). These reduce our risk of heart disease, and reduce blood pressure.
  • They’re high in polyphenols. Anyone who regularly reads this blog knows how much I love this antioxidant. Polyphenols are good for intestinal health, and have anti-cancer benefits
  • They’re high in nasunin, another antioxidant. This one protects brain cell membranes and so aids cognitive function.
  • They’re low in calories. One cup is only 35 calories, and this combined with high fibre makes eggplants fantastic for weight management.
  • They’re high in iron and calcium with assists with bone health and protects against anaemia.

How do I use them?

The first tip I would give, is that the days of needing to salt eggplant to remove the bitterness are gone. These days, breeding techniques have removed the bitter quality from commonly available fruit, making them far easier to work with.

The vast range of cuisines they’re used in means there’s a vast number of ways they can be used. Here’s a few from me:

  • Make a simple Thai vegetable curry with red curry paste, onion, eggplant, and red
    12047046_10154763895547228_8228444962595024156_n
    Eggplants and herbs, Vietnam

    capsicum. Cook until vegetables are just cooked and curry is fragrant. Pour over vegetable stock and coconut cream. Bring to the boil, then season with equal parts fish stock and lime juice. Stir through a couple of sliced tomatoes, cook for a minute or so, then sprinkle over generous amounts of coriander.

  • Slice eggplant into rounds, brush with olive oil, and season with sumac. Grill over high heat on barbecue or griddle pan until cooked.
  • Make a babaganoush
  • Mix together 1/2 cup miso paste, 1/4 cup mirin, a tablespoon of sugar and 2 tablespoons of water. Halve asian eggplants lengthwise. Glaze with miso mix, and cook in a moderate oven, adding more glaze as you go, until eggplants are soft and caramelised.
  • Replace pasta sheets for thin slices of fried eggplant in your favourite lasagne recipe.
  • Make a simple wheat free canneloni by rolling ricotta mixed with steamed, chopped spinach, and a pinch of nutmeg up in this panfried eggplant slices (sliced lengthwise). Top with a good quality tomato passata, sprinkle over liberal amounts of parmesan, and cook in a moderate oven until bubbling and golden.

Or make a simple Caponata.

CAPONATA

2 Tbsp olive oil
2 eggplants, tops removed, sliced into wedges
1 onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic
Pinch chilli flakes
1/2 cup white wine
2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes
2 Tbsp capers, drained
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
Salt/pepper
Large handful basil leaves, torn
Extra virgin olive oil

  1. Heat olive oil over moderate heat.
  2. Add onions, garlic and chilli and saute until onions are soft
  3. Add eggplants, stir to combine and cook for 5 minutes
  4. Add white wine, allow to bubble up, then pour over tomatoes.
  5. Bring to the boil and cook, uncovered, until liquid has reduced and sauce is thick
  6. Stir through capers and balsamic vinegar. Cook for another 2 minutes to soften vinegar slightly.
  7. Season to taste, stir through basil and drizzle over extra virgin olive oil.

Source: Medical News Today,  whfoods.org, care2.com, organicfacts.net