Friday, July 10, 2015

Embracing my space

Last year I bought three wooden planter boxes after getting inspired by Janet Luke's gardening book, Embrace Your Space. The boxes grew me a lovely assortment of vegetables for many months, but when I tried to replace the dead plants with new ones, my wee boy thought it was so he would have something to dig up with his nifty green space.

I planted more seedlings, and he raced to dig them out too. What a fun game. (I was crying on the inside.)

I gave up and left the boxes sitting empty for several months.

Then a couple of months back I found some King Seeds packets in my garage that I had bought at the same time as the planter boxes. I already had them so I though I may as well sprinkle them into the boxes and see if any plants would take hold before the boy pulled them out.

And now I have this... the best crop of coriander I've ever grown, with some carrots coming through underneath.


I've been enjoying the most beautiful salads this week, with freshly picked coriander packing a flavour punch. And tonight we had a gorgeous Thai Beef Stir-fry featuring more coriander from my garden. It might not seem like much of a garden, but it has helped me reconnect with my earthy side, which has been sadly neglected this past year. And it's reminded me just how much I love growing and eating my own food.

In one of the other planter boxes I've got a thriving self-seeded Italian parsley, which was just such a lovely surprise.


The parsley featured in a recent Moroccan Chickpea Salad I made, following the divine Revive Cafe recipe. I am so addicted to this salad. I also threw some coriander into it, just because I could.

How are your gardens growing?

Monday, June 22, 2015

Low-carb, gluten-free coconut wraps


OK, before you get your hopes up, this is not a coconut wrap recipe (although it would be super cool if anyone has one they want to share in the comments below).

This is just a review of a great product I found at Food Compass that I thought might interest some of my gluten-free, low-carb, Trim Healthy Mama friends out there.

The product is called Pure Wraps and it's a pack of four small tortillas/wraps made out of coconut meal and sea salt.

If you can see in the photo above, I filled mine with basil pesto, tuna, cottage cheese, cucumber and tomato.

That's a pretty wet mixture, which would usually turn my tortilla or mountain bread wrap into a soggy mess, but the cool thing about these Pure Wraps is that they are almost glossy, so the liquid doesn't penetrate. The Pure Wraps hold up really well and are beautifully pliable.

They do have a slight coconut flavour, understandably, but I didn't find it interfering with the taste of the wrap filling. I more noticed it in the smell and as a coconutty aftertaste.

The only improvement I would suggest to the manufacturers is to increase the wrap size, as they are a little on the small side.

Have you come across Pure Wraps before? What did you think of them?

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Dark chocolate brownie - a grain-free recipe


I've discovered a wonderful NZ online provider of specialty health foods, called Food Compass.

If you're having trouble tracking down specialty ingredients for a recipe, try your luck at Food Compass. You can shop the specials or new arrivals, and you can even filter your searches to make them gluten-free, paleo, nut-free, etc, depending on your dietary requirements.

Food Compass recently sent me a box of goodies to experiment with, so the following is the recipe I came up with. It's an airy, grain-free, dark chocolate brownie that could also work as a gluten-free cake if baked in a cake tin.

If you're after a denser chocolate brownie, try adding 1/2 cup - 1 cup of dark chocolate chunks, although this would increase the sugar content, which I've kept low by using dates and coconut nectar instead of sugar to sweeten.

*Update, the brownie does become denser as it cools. I think it's even nicer after 24 hours.

Ingredients

Method
  1. Preheat oven to 180°C / 350°F.
  2. Place dates, water, cocoa butter, coconut nectar and vanilla essence in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Simmer for about 5 minutes, or until the dates have softened enough to mash and the cocoa butter has melted.
  3. Tip contents from saucepan into a food processor and whiz on high speed until smooth.
  4. Add cocoa powder, almond flour and baking soda to the food processor and mix on a medium speed until incorporated.
  5. Add the eggs, one by one, mixing after each addition until incorporated.
  6. Pour batter into a greased baking dish and spread to edges.
  7. Bake at 180°C / 350°F for 18 - 22 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.
  8. Slice into rectangles and serve warm or cold with a dollop of vanilla ice cream, whipped cream or Greek yoghurt. 

This recipe makes 15 pieces and freezes well. It's a perfect Thermomix recipe, as the dates and cocoa butter can be melted directly in the Thermomix bowl, saving on dishes.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

On saying goodbye to chocolate


Two months ago I said goodbye to chocolate.

It was one of the most difficult things I've ever done. Chocolate has been my best friend for as long as I can remember, yet it was a friend with an edge.

I was addicted to it, and my addiction was getting worse. I couldn't eat a piece without immediately wanting another, and then another, and another.

No amount of chocolate ever satisfied my craving for it, and I realised no amount ever would.

I despaired over my chocolate addiction until it finally dawned on me that I could just cut it out all together.

Since no amount of chocolate would satisfy me, I realised I could be just as unsatisfied with none as with a whole block.

I may as well eat the none, and be better off for it. So the next time I did the grocery shopping, I skipped the chocolate aisle. Paul didn't think I could really restrain myself, so he was just as surprised as I was when I came home with all the groceries and no chocolate.

The first three weeks without chocolate were hard! Really, really hard.

I was depressed. Life wasn't worth living anymore since I couldn't have my favourite thing in it.

I was depressed and didn't have my favourite thing to comfort me.

I felt lonely and worthless and pointless and pathetic. Unloved and unloveable.

This amazing whirlpool of emotions came to the surface - emotions that I had been previously burying under chocolate. I didn't know what to do with them all; with myself.

Fortunately, in my darkest hour I was blessed with a conversation with one of my oldest, dearest friends, who also happens to be a counselor. She let me talk and cry (in the middle of a cafe), while I tried to figure out what was going on with me.

She gave me wise counsel, including the words, "Be gentle with yourself. When you feel yourself heading down a path of self torment, just remember to be gentle with yourself."

She also encouraged me with the idea that there are support networks out there. That change is possible. That life can be better.

I think she gave me hope.

I've dwelled on our conversation a lot over the past few weeks and it has helped me to change my mindset about myself and life.

And as the weeks have passed, I've found that I don't miss chocolate anymore. I can walk past it in the supermarket without batting an eye. It has lost its hold on me, for the moment at least.

Still, I am aware that chocolate is to me what alcohol is to an alcoholic. I understand that I will always have to keep it out of my home and my life if I am going to live any kind of sane life.

Now that I'm living without chocolate, I realise that this is a better way to live.

Mentally, I think I'm stabilising. When I feel an emotion now, I try to think through where it's coming from, what's causing it, and whether it is based on the truth or a lie. There's no running from the pain anymore, so I've just got to tackle it head on. And I am. And I can! Who knew?

I also feel less hungry for food in general now. I use to crave any kind of sugar like crazy in the evening, but now I find that I'm so full from dinner, I don't need anything else until morning.

Physically I have more energy and am unleashing that energy in constructive ways, like exercising and cleaning.

In general I feel empowered by the fact that I could do it. I could say goodbye to something that had held me in its tight fist my entire life. I had the willpower. Me! The weakest of the weak.

What else am I capable of?

Monday, March 16, 2015

The journey from unschooling to school

Playing at Auckland Zoo.
A while back I mentioned that I was captivated by the idea of unschooling and was planning to test how it went with L.

L turned five in September last year, which is the age that most Kiwi kids start school. By that time, we had been playing around with the idea of unschooling for most of a year and knew that there were upsides to doing it for a little bit longer, but that ultimately L would be better off in school.

In New Zealand, children are eligible for 20 hours of free preschool education until they are six-years-old, which is a big part of the reason why we delayed starting L at school when she turned five.

We were able to continue L at her excellent preschool for three days a week, which gave her access to friends, arts and crafts, toys and other teaching resources. It also left us with two week days to go on family adventures and do activities like gymnastics and swimming.

I loved the freedom and flexibility we had with this approach. We could go on family holidays whenever they suited our family, rather than waiting for school holidays. If it was a nice day, we could head to the beach or the zoo. It was a lovely, relaxed time for our family.

However, I came to realise that I am not passionate about teaching, so L was going to miss out on learning if I kept her at home for much longer.

I think to do unschooling well, you need to be able to prioritise it above other things. But for me, housework and cooking always come first.

I find it hard to sit down and read stories,  play games or do puzzles with the kids when the house is a mess. And with kids home all day, the house is always a mess. The three days when L and S were at preschool were my sanity days, as they gave me time to properly clean the house and get a bit of breathing space in my day.

Being a 50/50 introvert/extrovert, I need alone time to recharge my batteries. So having kids around all the time is incredibly draining for me. Once L turns six, those three pre-school days come to an end and I would never get that much-needed down-time.

I also realised that I didn't want to be the only/biggest teaching influence in L's life. I see L one way - through my eyes. And often my insights into her are wrapped up in how I see myself, how I think she reflects on me as a parent, how I was parented, etc, and those aren't always good things. I don't want to unconsciously damage or limit L by my own preconceived notions.

I like the idea of her being mentored and taught by a variety of different teachers throughout her school life. Teachers who are passionate about teaching, who know how to teach, and who will not take things so personally when they go right or wrong.

For all these reasons, we enrolled L to start school at the beginning of this year. We decided it would be beneficial for her to have a full Year 1 (instead of waiting till she was six and starting her in Term 3). This gives her a full year with the same teacher and classmates.

The first couple of weeks were a shock to the system for L, as she realised her play-time would be severely limited at school.

Now, however, she is into the groove of it. She knows what the routines are, what's expected of her, and she has made some lovely friends. Her teacher is fabulous - incredibly on-to-it and passionate about teaching.

Already L is bringing home so much knowledge, and it's nice for me to know that there is a system and logic to the way L is being taught. It's not higglety pigglety bits of learning here and there like she would get at home with me, but learning that builds on itself and makes sense to L.

We had parent/teacher interviews recently and L's teacher told me L is the type of girl who is made for school, and school is made for her. She asks great questions, participates well in group activities, manages herself and her belongings well, and is engaged in her learning.

That was a lovely reassurance to me that we have made the right decision by sending L to school instead of keeping her at home.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Cooked play dough recipe



My three-year old is a play dough fiend. She loves it and makes amazing creations out of it so I'm trying to be better about keeping a constant stash in our house.

I like cooked play dough best because it has a great texture and lasts really well.

This is the recipe we use.

Ingredients
  • 2c flour
  • 1c salt
  • 2c warm water
  • 1T cream of tartar
  • 2T oil
  • Few drops food colouring

Method
1. Mix flour, salt, warm water, cream of tartar and oil together in a pot on a medium heat.

2. Keep cooking and stirring until the play dough solidifies, comes away from the side of the pot and loses its stickiness.

3. Remove from heat and add a few drops of food colouring. (At this point we like to split the play dough out into two different bowls and make different colours that will look nice together after being mixed in the kids' play dough creations, eg. red and yellow, green and blue, pink and purple. You can even add essential oils or glitter, to make scented, sparkly play dough for a special treat.)

4. Mix with a wooden spoon until the play dough is cool enough to knead with your hands. Knead until the colours are fully incorporated. Your play dough is ready.

5. Store in an airtight container when not in use.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Fresh Reviews - My Food Bag

Photo credit: www.myfoodbag.co.nz

If you follow Craving Fresh on Facebook, you might have seen that our family has been trialling My Food Bag for the past three weeks.

I signed up in a moment of desperation.

I was feeling exhausted by the endless chore of cooking for the family every night, only to then have to cajole them into eating it every night. The range of dinners we were eating was becoming quite limited, as I wanted to make food I knew the kids would eat - but that list was so short.

To get myself out of the rut, I joined My Food Bag and promised myself to cook and serve whatever recipes and food that gave us.

In case you haven't heard of My Food Bag, it's a New Zealand service that provides all the ingredients and recipes you need to make dinners for five weeknights.

The head food chef is dietician, Nadia Lim, so meals are designed to be well-balanced and healthy. (My personal feeling is that the meals rely too heavily on the traditional food pyramid idea of a healthy diet, so feature too many starchy carbohydrates while limiting fat content. However, the free range meats and wide variety of vegetables help compensate for that.)

I've been doing My Family Food Bag, which is designed for young families. Other options are My Classic Food Bag, which is for families with older children, or My Gourmet Food Bag, which is for couples, and only provides four nights' worth of food.

It's been fun and the children have eaten suprisingly more than I expected, although they have turned up their noses at many of the vegetables.

The meat is spectacular. Each week there has been such a range, and over the three weeks we have eaten fish, free range chicken, beef, lamb, pork and turkey, all from gourmet New Zealand companies.

Dinners feature a lot of different vegetables, which is great and has got me and Paul eating many more than we normally would.

The recipes are seasoned with simple, yet delicious combinations of herbs and spices.

My only complaint is that many of them include wheat/gluten, which is something I try to avoid at dinner time as the kids end up having so much of it at other times of the day. Several of the recipes have included bread crumbs, tortillas, Lebanese wraps and pastry.

We always have leftovers, so there has been plenty of food for my lunches the next day.

Sadly, our time with My Food Bag is coming to an end this week, as it is taking too much of our weekly grocery budget. I would love to continue it and think I might do the odd week here and there as I need inspiration during the year.

Have you tried My Food Bag? What did you think of it?