Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Paleo Chicken Laksa

Full of coconutty goodness and the wonderful health benefits that come with it (think easily burned as fuel medium chain triglycerides, B, C and E vitamins, iron, selenium, phosphorous, calcium and magnesium) vibrant chilies and their potent antioxidants, fragrant flu fighting ginger and garlic, green vegetables and mung beans, chicken laksa really is the perfect winter dish. 

I made this recipe the other day for my flatmates and I, it fed the three of us (2 grown men and me - I eat more than them) with seconds and leftovers for lunch the next day. It also won't break the budget if you already have a decent collection of spices in your kitchen ready for whipping up dishes like these. 

What you'll need: 

For the paste
2 medium sized chilies, crushed
3 large cloves of garlic, crushed
4cm thumb of garlic, grated
1tsp cumin
1tsp turmeric 
1tsp paprika
1tsp rubbed coriander
1tsp sweet basil
1tbsp brown sugar
3tbsp fish sauce
1/4tsp salt

Combine all of the paste ingredients in a small bowl/mug and mix up until you get a thick and fragrant paste. Set aside.  

For the rest
1 whole organic free range hot roast chicken (the one's from the supermarket deli)
1L chicken stock
1 400ml can coconut milk
1 400ml can coconut cream
1 large brown onion
1 head of broccoli
1/2 packet of mung beans.. about 1c 
2 handfuls fresh spinach
2 limes
Handful of fresh coriander
Handful of fresh parsley 

What you'll do: 

Heat a large cooking pot to a medium heat, add a generous dollop of coconut oil (or your preferred cooking oil)
Dice your onion, throw the paste into the pan and fry it off for about a minute to release the flavors. Add the diced onion and saute until onion is nearly clear, 2 minutes or so
Pour in the coconut cream, milk and chicken stock, bring to the boil and leave it to simmer and reduce
Throw in a handful of teared up fresh coriander and parsley 
While your sauce is bubbling, pull all of the chicken off the bones and set aside in a bowl
Chop up the broccoli into bite sized florets, rinse the spinach and mung beans and have them ready to go when your laksa base is ready
After about 15 minutes of bubbling away the sauce should be starting to thicken and be reduced a bit, throw in your chicken and leave it to simmer for a further 15 minutes, absorbing all of the sauce and flavors
Squeeze over the juice of one lime 
About 5 minutes before you are ready to take the laksa off the heat add in the broccoli and mung beans (you don't want to overcook these)
Remove from heat and throw your spinach on the top, leave it to wilt into the sauce while you prepare your serving bowls 
Serve with a generous amount of fresh coriander and parsley, squeeze a 1/4 of a lime over the top and enjoy!


Monday, 17 June 2013

Coconut and Date Macaroons

Finding new ways to get my sweet tooth feeling looked after without resorting to spoonfuls of table sugar is one of my favorite hobbies at the moment. Last week I had a bit of a play around with one of my favorite healthy ingredients, coconut, and this recipe from what is quickly becoming my go to website for easy sweet treat ideas. 

Coconut has rare nutrional properties in that they are high in lauric acid, a substance which has a myriad of health benefits for the body. Lauric acid can lower cholesterol, fight fungus, bacteria and viral diseases and is non-toxic, making it an effective natural medicine. Coconut oil is the richest food source of lauric acid available to us and as an added bonus, increased consumption will improve the condition of your skin, hair and nails. 

Coconuts are also made up of medium chain triglycerides (MCT's), a form of saturated fat that are easily broken down by the body's metabolic system. They can quickly be converted in ketones and used to fuel the body's many functions. MCT's have also been shown to cross the blood-brain barrier easily, improving cognitive functioning. This is particularly beneficial for people with type one diabetes who need a quick spike in energy without the risk of elevating blood glucose levels.  

While I was whipping up my little coconut treats I realized that I didn't actually have the required ingredients to follow the recipe to the tee, no matter: I improvised and substituted maple syrup for dates and added coconut milk to wet the dough slightly. They came out of the oven moist, sweet and delicious, the coconut and date flavors doing more than enough to kill my sugar cravings.  

Coconut and Date Macaroons 

What you'll need:

1/12c Desiccated coconut
2tbsp Coconut flour
2tbsp Coconut oil (melted)
10 Dates (chopped)
1/4c Coconut milk 
1tbsp Vanilla extract 
Pinch of salt

What you'll do: 

Pretty simple, throw all of your ingredients into a blender or food processor, alternatively use a bowl and wooden spoon if you don't have either (I broke my blender making cheesecake the other day, rough) and pulse until you get a nice dough. Add a bit more coconut milk if you have to get all the ingredients to stick together a bit more. 

Roll into balls in the palm of your hand and spread out on a baking tray, bake at 180C for 8-10 minutes until the tops turn golden brown. Eat them warm with a cup of tea - bliss!


Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Blueberry Raw Vegan Cheesecake

Holy mother of all things good, I thank the universe for whatever vegan genius thought up the raw vegan cheesecake. Fresh, fruity, nutritious, and delicious, this toe curling dessert is an essential to your whole food making repertoire. 

I chose to make a blueberry one today, for no other reason than I had a whole lot of organic frozen blueberries in my freezer and why not? They taste amazing and are packed with antioxidants. Previously I've made this vanilla and raspberry layered cheesecake which was just as delicious, the beautiful thing with this recipe is that you can choose to flavor it however you fancy. Next time around I think I'll experiment with mint, lavender and coconut flavors for a more sophisticated approach. 

The basic cheesecake filling utilizes soaked cashew nuts as the main ingredient. Cashew nuts come from Cashew trees that are native to Brazil's Amazon rain forest. The nuts are encased in a 'cashew apple' and require roasting to destroy the harmful phenolic resin called urushiol which covers their exterior, before they are extracted and consumed. 

Cashew nuts are rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, contain loads of minerals: manganese, potassium, iron, copper and selenium as well as high levels of B vitamins. They protect our heart health, prevent deficiency diseases and help the body break down fats, protein and carbohydrates on a cellular level. 

The cheesecake is packed full of goodness, low in carbohydrates, grain free, dairy free and refined sugar free. So you can enjoy it guilt free! 

Blueberry Raw Vegan Cheesecake

What you'll need:

1c Dates
1c Walnuts, almonds or pecans  
1/4c Desiccated coconut

2c Raw cashew nuts, soaked overnight or for at least 5 hours 
Juice of two lemons
Seeds of one whole vanilla bean
1/3c Coconut oil, melted
1/3c Organic maple syrup, raw honey or agave nectar 
2c Fresh or thawed blueberries

Another cup of blueberries to decorate 

What you'll do:

Using a very powerful blender or food processor, throw all of your base ingredients in and pulse until everything starts to stick together. Pour into a 9" spring-form cake tin and press firmly into the bottom. You want the edges to be nice and firm and the base to be relatively even. Rinse your blender/food processor well. 

Add all of your filling ingredients aside from the blueberries together, blend on high until the mixture is creamy and smooth. If you want to make a layered cheesecake, separate out about half of the mixture and layer it on to your base, smoothing out with a spatula. Add the blueberries to the remaining mixture, blend until smooth and you reach an awesome purple colour. Pour over the bottom layer and smooth out with a spatula. 

Alternatively, add the blueberries to all of the vanilla mixture and create an entirely blueberry flavored filling. I chose this option because, well, I love blueberries. And I love their vibrant colour. And it turned out beautifully. 

Place the whole thing in the freezer until solid. Before serving, pull out and thaw for at least 30min. 

I decorated mine with an extra cup of blueberries, feel free to add different fruit or even whip up some coconut cream for extra decadence. 

And voila! Enjoy with a smile of ultimate enjoyment. 


Paleo Flaxseed Bread

Last night I was lucky enough to have my flatmate cook us all dinner, he made a beautiful goulash type stew that simmered away all afternoon, filling the house with the delicious aroma of fresh garlic and spices. Before it was ready he apologized to me for getting ciabatta bread for everyone, he'd forgotten that I was gluten free and had he remembered, he would have gotten me something of my own. No worries I said, I wouldn't eat store bought gluten free bread anyway but it was a lovely thought. 

 What I did decide to do was whip up some home made bread using ground linseed as the main ingredient, and what a wholly satisfying and delectable treat it turned out to be! It had a nice nutty flavor and comforting aroma while remaining fluffy and moist, it was the perfect complement to our goulash and mopped up all of the leftover sauce like a dream. 

Flaxseed itself packs a powerful nutritional punch. Since it is low in carbohydrates and high in good fats, it is an ideal choice for baking and cooking when avoiding starch or sugars in the diet. It is high in most of the B vitamins, manganese and magnesium and even better; contains an abundance of omega 3's, fiber and phytochemicals. 

Omega 3 fatty acids help to fight inflammation, particularly when balanced correctly with omega 6 fatty acids. Inflammation is slowly being proven to be the villain in a host of diseases that effect us in today's society: heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, asthma and even some cancers. The fiber is both insoluble and soluble and plays a key role in our bowel health, balancing blood sugar levels and even lowering cholesterol. Phytochemicals, including a number of antioxidants, fight free radicals that cause disease and balance female hormones. 

So, what's not to love about this easy, quick and delicious bread? Since making it yesterday I've had it with our goulash, used it underneath my poached eggs this morning and made bruschetta this evening. The wonderfully subtle nutty taste makes it incredibly versatile for any kind of bread requiring dish you can think of. 

Paleo Flaxseed Bread 

What you'll need:

2c Ground linseed or golden flaxmeal 
5 Eggs
1/2c Water
1/3c Olive oil 
1 1/2tsp Baking powder
1tbsp Organic maple syrup
1tsp Sea salt 

What you'll do:

Preheat the oven to 180C
Combine the flax meal, baking powder and salt in a large bowl
In a serperate bowl, whisk together the eggs, oil, maple syrup and water
Mix well into the dry ingredients and leave to stand for three minutes or so until the batter thickens
Pour into a smallish loaf dish, say 9 x 13 inches (the one I used was slightly large so I ended up with long slender slices of bread, it didn't effect the taste at all though) 
Bake for about 20 minutes or until knife comes out clean

Do with it what you will - I followed Elana's lead for my bruschetta and made a fresh parsley, garlic and olive oil topping to go underneath some sliced tomato and feta cheese. 



My Life My Playground - Benefits of Exercise in it's Many Forms

The view on my Milford-Takapuna beach run 
Queen’s birthday weekend, awesome weather, an extra day to play. I took the opportunity to get outside as much as possible and spent the weekend running, cycling and running some more, mainly around the beaches we are so lucky to live close by to. Monday morning saw me out at Piha doing a 10k barefoot beach run (my calf muscles now hate me) thinking that it really doesn’t get much better than being able to workout with fresh salty air in your lungs and your toes in the water. Just before the weekend started a friend of mine had asked me, what is a better form of exercise when you want to lose weight – cardio or weight training? I found myself pondering the question during my workouts over the weekend and decided to write an article that better explains the complexities of each type, as well as the benefits any exercise will bring to you as part of a balanced lifestyle.

Before answering a question like this one it must be said that as with all parts of health and wellness, the hundreds of variables involved make different approaches work better than others for different people. Exercise is no exception to this. While the science behind cardio, weight training and also interval training (which I will go into as well) may show that one burns more calories or stored fats than the other, finding the right exercise approach is a decision that must mesh with your lifestyle and be something that you can feasibly see yourself enjoying and committing to, particularly for beginners. After all, you can read all you like about different approaches but if you don’t actually apply what you learn on a daily basis then you’re not going to see any results at all.

The term ‘weight loss’ is one where a lot of people go slightly wrong. When you are aiming to lose weight what you are really trying to do is reduce your body fat percentage, not your overall body mass. This is an important distinction to make because lean muscle mass weighs more than fat and an effectively designed exercise program will encourage the development of lean muscle mass at the same time as reducing body fat. Those people who are using traditional methods like the bathroom weight scales to monitor their progress are often met with confusion; improvements in their general body make up, shape, size and tone will not be reflected in the number between their toes. For this reason I discourage anyone on a path to reaching a healthier weight from using scales, a far more effective method is to measure your body fat composition (any personal trainer or doctor can show you how to do this, or even some scales will so automatically), take your waist, hip and bust measurements or just use the ‘look and feel’ test of seeing how your clothes fit, the way you look to yourself in the mirror and other indicators like vitality and energy levels. This is also why the commonly used ‘Body Mass Index’ equation is a poor indicator of health – if we were to measure the BMI of the All Blacks for example, they would all be considered obese.

So when you are attempting to reduce your body fat and improve your overall body composition, the goal should be to create a calorie deficit and force your body to burn stored fat for fuel. You’ve gained weight as a result of consuming more energy than you need, leading your body to store the excess energy as fat in your thighs, hips, stomach and butt. For most people, a typical day will involve too much sitting and not enough movement; introducing exercise allows you to counteract the negative effects of this and burn your stored energy. Different forms of exercise will access your stored energy in different ways, this is what leads to the debate on what form is better for weight loss or weight management long term.

Cardio, aerobic or endurance training requires oxygen to fuel your muscles over a long period of training, usually more than 20minutes of continuous activity and ideally at least 50. To get enough oxygen to the working muscles in your body your breathing and heart rate will increase, allowing your heart to pump enough oxygen-carrying blood around the body to all of your working muscles. During the first few minutes of cardio your body will use the small stores of glycogen that are kept in the liver and muscle tissue to fuel the activity, called anaerobic exercise. When your brain senses these stores depleting it will slowly convert the energy pathway over to aerobic fueling, which will then start to access stored fats for energy. The more cardio based training you do, i.e.: running, swimming, rowing, cycling, elliptical training, the faster your body will respond to it’s oxygen needs and switch over to burning fat for energy. With endurance training like this you will eventually be accessing and burning high levels of stored fat for fuel rather than overall calories, one of the reasons why traditional weight loss advice has always recommended you hit the pavement for fast results.

Weight training will burn calories from a different source, your stored glycogen in the liver and muscle tissue. For the first 10-15 seconds of intense work you will be drawing upon your adenosine triphosphate phosphocreatine (ATP-PC) which pulls energy from stored fat as the ATP-PC replenishes itself. However during weight training you will generally hold your muscles under load for longer than 15 seconds and therefore switch over into anaerobic fuelling, burning more total calories from glycogen. This will still contribute to creating a calorie deficit and lead to a reduction in body fat, with the added advantage of increasing your metabolic state at rest through increasing your lean muscle mass. Meaning you will burn more energy during your normal day-to-day activities like working or just generally vegging about with no additional effort from you whatsoever. Weight training also allows you to benefit from excess post exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), where your oxygen consumption remains elevated after a workout and thus your caloric expenditure does too.

Finally, interval training is a form of exercise that has demonstrated amazing benefits in both the body’s aerobic and anaerobic capacity. Interval training involves short, intense bursts of work followed by rest periods that allow your heart rate to come back down closer to normal; examples are sprinting for thirty seconds then jogging for one minute repeatedly, hill sprinting or tabata sets. Research has shown that interval training gives you the same benefits as longer endurance type training in a shorter time frame: improved ability to access fat stores, high overall calories burned, greater lung capacity and heart stroke volume, improved fast and slow twitch muscle fibers and depending on the type of interval training, increased lean muscle mass. It improves both the anaerobic and aerobic capacity of your body. The most promising part of this kind of training is that all of these benefits can be gained from just 20-30minutes of work a day, rather than it’s more time consuming counterpart of 50 minute+ endurance exercise. The only negative is that 20minutes of hard core interval training will have you begging for the pain the stop – it’s not for the faint hearted.

When it comes to deciding what type of exercise will get your weight loss results the fastest, there is no one answer. Most trainers will recommend a combination of cardio exercise (be it interval or endurance) and weight training, and studies have certainly backed this method up as being the most effective. Personally I would always encourage a mix of both over varying sessions each day that keep your training sessions fresh and interesting. There are also other kinds of exercise that I haven’t touched on in this post which have their own set of benefits for the body – things like yoga, pilates, walking and different sports. Every kind of movement plays a part in promoting your overall health and wellbeing.

What I can’t tell you is exactly what kind of training will work for you – which I think is a good thing. With so many options out there it is up to you to get experimenting, try different things, educate yourself and ultimately decide what it is that fits into your lifestyle. You have to enjoy the things you’re putting your body through and find something that you know you can commit some of your time to each day, only then are you going to see any real results from incorporating exercise into your lifestyle.

As the title of this blog implies, I try to make life my playground. As a mainly paleo eater (with the odd dairy exception) and lover of all things natural and good for both me and the planet, my focus at the moment is in attempting to mimic our ancestors in creating an active lifestyle most of the time. Since I’m not quite able to apply this to my life 24/7 (yet, the dream will happen), right now I’m walking to work and home again, I spend the weekends at the beach running, walking the dog, cycling, hanging out with my sister, I’ll run, interval train, do a yoga session or an hour of body weights each day and generally attempt to keep up a low to moderate activity as much as possible. I try to make every little opportunity count; being outdoors and moving around is particularly inspiring for me to keep up a happy and healthy mind frame and lifestyle.   

If you’re new to your fitness journey, I wish you luck! Don’t get discouraged if something doesn’t work for you; move on until you find something that does. For those of you who are already on your way to fitness, keep it up! What's your favorite way to work out? 


Thursday, 30 May 2013

Banana and Vanilla Protein Pancakes

Wow, I seem to be on a bit of a banana streak this week. But I'm not sure there's anything all that wrong with this... along with awesome levels of potassium, magnesium and vitamin B6, they contain plenty of antioxidants, fiber and vitamin C which help to fight free radicals and promote health digestion. Besides from this, does breakfast get much better than pancakes? And healthy pancakes at that? It's almost too good to be true. 

I served my pancakes with about 3/4c of defrosted organic blueberries. When it comes to anti-oxidants, you can't get much better than blueberries. Packed full of poly-phenolic anthocyanidin compounds and flavanoid anti-oxidants, these super berries will fight off oxygen derived free radicals, protecting the body against cancers, aging, degenerative diseases and infections. 
They are also low in total calories and best of all - taste amazing. The perfect topping for my 
banana and vanilla pancakes on a cold winter morning. 

One thing I've (sadly) had to make myself conscious of is that bananas are a high-carb fruit, with about 27g of simple sugars in one medium sized banana. If you're watching your daily carbohydrate intake closely then a meal like this one would probably take up the majority of your daily allowance. But not to fear, with it you are getting plenty of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, making the treat a worthy sacrifice in my books. They'll also keep you going for hours; I had mine at 8:30am this morning and wasn't hungry until around 3pm, and even then I only needed a light meal to keep me going through the afternoon. 

Banana and Vanilla Protein Pancakes 

What you'll need:

2 Small-medium bananas 
2 Eggs
1 Serving of vanilla protein powder, try and use an organic and 100% natural product like Nuzest 
1tsp Cinnamon 
1tsp Vanilla essence
Splash of coconut or almond milk - add a couple of tablespoons at a time to get the consistency right 

What you'll do:

Super simple, I used a blender but you can utilize whatever baking tool you prefer - throw all of the ingredients together and blend/mix until well combined. You want a nice even consistency, runny enough to be able to pour smoothly into the frying pan
Heat a large non stick frying pan to a medium heat and throw in a decent dollop of butter
P:our your mixture in to make small pancakes, I went for slightly larger than pikelet sized because I wasn't sure how delicate the mixture would be. I think you could get away with making larger pancakes, although then you wouldn't be able to make a nice pretty stack that is super satisfying to cut through when y

ou're eating them!
Flip them over once the bubbles have risen and popped, cook until golden brown on both sides and repeat the process until the mixture is used up

Serve whichever way you prefer, I love blueberries or whatever other mixed berries I can get my hands on along with a small amount of organic maple syrup... yum! 


Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Banana and Date Loaf

Another Sunday, another baking experiment, another cozy warm afternoon treat for my family and I. This week, with a few aging bananas sitting in the fruit bowl just begging to be mashed and little help from Elana's Pantry, we decided to whip up a banana and date loaf. 

Bananas are an excellent source of potassium, magnesium and vitamin B6, meaning they promote brain, heart and organ health, contribute to the production of antibodies, look after nerve function and help to fight osteoporosis and high blood pressure. 

Dates are an excellent alternative to using processed sugars to sweeten food, while still being high in glucose and fructose (like all sugars) they come with added benefits of fibre, potassium and magnesium. Fibre is essential for healthy bowel functioning (just don't eat too many !) and will help to boost heart health. 

Elana's recipe did not call for dates but with a nice fresh bag sitting there we decided to throw them in anyway, I prefer to use them as a natural sweetener when possible. We didn't need many, bananas are quite a sweet fruit and I didn't want the loaf to be overwhelming. I also suggested we add walnuts, but unfortunately the ingredients hunter gatherer (me) forgot to buy them, so we were left without. I still think they would have been great though. 

The feedback on the loaf from Charli (my eleven year old sister) was that she liked the bananas, the warm loaf, the texture, she just would have preferred us to use maple syrup instead of dates for the sweetener. Despite the fact that I made her try some before we added them to the mixture and she said "they taste like caramel!". Kids. 

Banana and Date Loaf (Grain-free, of course) 

What you'll need:

3 Bananas, mashed
3 Eggs
6-8 dates (depending on how sweet you like things), chopped 
1tbsp Vanilla Extract
1/4c Coconut oil, melted
2c Almond flour/meal
1tsp Baking Soda
Pinch of salt

What you'll do: 

Preheat the oven to 180C Bake 
Using either a food processor or electric mixture, pulse together your bananas,eggs, vanilla and coconut oil until smooth
Mix in the almond flour, baking soda, salt and dates
Pour into a lined loaf tin and bake for 55-60 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the loaf bounces back when you press with a finger 

Pull it out, slice it up, add lashings of your favorite kind of butter and devour with the cup of tea your mum makes you. Heaven.