Saturday, May 31, 2014

Healthy additions to my store cupboard

I'm always on the lookout for tasty helathy ingredients. Here are some I found this week:

Chicory Cup

A healthy and gluten free alternative to coffee. Most other coffee substitutes on the market seem to contain gluten, usually in the form of barley. This just contains ground chicory root. It doesn't taste quite like coffee but has a similar bitter taste. Probably the nearest thing I have tried. It is possible to buy coffee blends which have chicory added to this is not an entirely strange idea.  

Health benefits: Chicory root has a long standing reputaion as a cleansing medicinal herb. The Ancient Romans used it to help purify the blood and the Ancient Egyptians also consumed the root as a blood cleanser and liver detoxifier.
It aids digestion, and in particular helps with fat digestion by increasing bile production (important for me since I sustained major liver damage in an accident and lost my gall bladder). It boosts the immune system and helps reduce inflammation. It helps regulate blood sugar and aids elimination of toxins. It can also help with constipation. And of course, unlike coffee, can be drunk any time of day with no caffeine to cause insomnia.

I do find I prefer it with coconut milk (my milk substitute of choice) and a little sugar. Now, of course sugar is not the healthiest ingredient, so on to my next find...

Coconut Palm Sugar

An alternative to regular sugar, it looks and can be used like brown sugar, though it has a delightful sweet taste which is hard to describe.  It  performs pretty much exactly like regular sugar in baking etc.

Health benefits: It contains the minerals Iron, Calcium, Zinc and Potassium as well as some antioxidants. It contains inulin which helps regulate blood sugar by slowing down absorption of glucose. Studies, so far, suggest it has a lower GI than regular sugar (less likely to cause blood sugar spikes).

It is performing very well in use so far. I have some recipes to share shortly.

Chamomile and honey tea

OK, not really a new product, I have been drinking chamamile tea on and off for quite a while, but I'm impressed with the huge range of herbal and fruit teas available now. I find the Twinings range to be very tasty and good value. Definitely helpful for relaxing at bedtime.


Finally, one for the supplements box.  Chlorella is a simple algae plant. You can buy it in powdered form to add to smoothies, which I sometimes do. But in between times I like to take a couple of tablets to keep me topped up.

Health benefits: It is rich in vitamin B12, vitamins C and K, and folic acid. Studies have shown it offers protection from, and elimination of, certain environmental pollutents, particularly heavy metals such as mercury. It helps to clear dioxins from the body, a toxin often sadly found in breast milk.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A'kin shampoo and shower gel

There are lots of natural products that I like and then there are some I love. A'kin Lemongrass natual shampoo has just become a definite favourite.

After a serious accident and illness I actually had most of my hair fall out. It has started to grow back but the condition of it is appalling while at the same time my scalp is quite greasy. I had abandoned all hope of having hair I could even bear to put my fingers through.

After using this shampoo my head feels so clean, my hair is so soft, and I feel that much more human. I only use quite a small amount. This doesn't produce loads of lather, but if you are a fan of natural shampoos you will know that lather doesn't necesserily mean cleaner - most supermarket shampoos are full of Sodium Lauryl Sulfate which makes masses of lather - but is a skin irritant and really not the best thing to clean your head or hair. There are lots of studies linking SLS to a whole host of health problems - have a google then make your own mind up. And if you don't think putting things on the outside of your body matters, think about drug patches, nicotine patches etc...

Ok, back on topic, off my soap (shampoo) box!  The shampoo has a lovely natural fresh citrussy smell, feels great, makes my hair squeaky clean, but soft, and I really do rate it. It costs about £8-9 a bottle which is outside my price range for everyday use but is definately on my treat list.

So of course I had very high hopes for the A'kin lavender body wash. Well. I'm not  as keen on the scent of lavendar as I am on the lemongrass but that's just personal preferance. It smells like lavendar which is ok. It does the job in the shower, in so much as it makes me feel clean and doesn't irritate my, very sensitive, skin. It's O.K. But at about a tenner for 225ml I rather wanted it to be more than OK.  I like to be quite generous with bodywash so it's not going to last me very long either. I wouldn't turn my nose up at it if I got some more as a pressie but I don't feel it is something I would buy very often.

Verdict - the body wash is OK but pricey. The shampoo is fabulous.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Liz Earle Cleanse and Polish

I'm a big fan of natural products and my daughter is too, and she introduced me to this one. 

I wasn't sure if I liked it the first time I used it as it has a rather strong scent of eucaluptus and rosemary. However the smell has grown on me. I was also a little concerned as it has a warming sensation on the skin and having a very senstitive skin I was worried this might herald the start of a bad reaction. However I soon realised it wasn't causing me any problems.

Having used it a good number of times now I really like how fresh and clean it makes my face feel. Over a period of time it genuinely seems to have made an improvement to my dull complexion and large pores. However, I do find it a tad drying and need to follow it with a good moisturiser.

I have now got into a routine of using it a couple of times a week and using some other natural cleansers that don't dry my skin for the rest of the week. This seems to be working well and I'm happy at the improvements in my skin since I started doing so.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

A couple of handy gadgets

A few months ago I had a bad accident and broke, amongst other things, both bones in one wrist.  Even after I had the pot removed my ability to use it was still pretty restricted.  Anything that involved using two hands and twisting was a real problem - such as opening jars and bottles and using a can opener. A kind friend loaned me a couple of handy little gadgets that I found incredibly helpful.

Firstly the JML Handsfree Can Opener. You just pop it on top of the can, lining up the wheels with the edge and press the button. It is held in place by a magnet and it just does the job for you. It does open the can slightly differently to my usual can opener so the first time I used it I didn't realise it had actually worked. The only drawback is that it won't work if you don't line it up properly which can be very slightly tricky. As my eyesight is also poor (something I would imagine to be common among elderly people who might find also this helpful)  I occasionally misjudge this, but it's really no huge deal as a second attempt does the job.

Secondly, the Culinare one-touch. Pop this on top of a jar and press the button and the bottom grippers grab the sides of the jar whilst the job grippers grab the lid and twist. Then 'pop', the lid is undone. Magic!

The tin-opener takes 4AA batteries and the jar opener takes 2.  My pal kindly brought them with batteries already in and months of use later I haven't had to change them yet.

For anyone with hand/wrist injuries, pain or weakness I really do think these are a great help.  I would imagine either would make a very welcome gift for an elderly relative.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Juicing ideas

For those of you lucky enough to have a juicer:

Raw 'lemonade'

A very simple juice, with ingredients that are probably to hand most of the time. The trick with this is getting the balance right so it's not too sweet and not too sour. This combination works well for me:

1 medium lemon (peeled)
2 large or 3 small apples
1 medium pear

Ginger Zinger

2 apples
1 lemon - peeled
1" root ginger

Lovely fresh tangy juice - great to wake you up.

Colon Calmer

I wanted a tasty juice that included cabbage, as I do suffer from bloating and cabbage juice is purported to be great for any bowel problems, from bloating, to IBS etc.

Fist sized piece of red cabbage
3 apples
2 beetroots

Tastes a lot better than you'd think - sort of sweet coleslaw flavour.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Tip: How to crack a coconut

I'm a big fan of coconut - from coconut oil to coconut cake, but as I'm trying to eat more fresh raw food I have been buying fresh coconuts.  I hadn't actually had any for years until recently, not since I was a kid. My dad used to open them, though it eludes me how. So I have tried a few methods, and have finally settled on what I think works best.

Firstly, to get the lovely coconut water out (very good for you):
You will see the coconut has 3 eyes on one end. One of these will be much softer than the other two. Simply try pushing a screwdriver in - when you get the right one it will yield fairly easily. 

As the hole made isn't huge, and there isn't another hole to let air in, it will trickle out quite slowly when you upend the coconut.  I don't have a great deal of patience so I balance it on a glass and leave it to get on with it until it stops dripping.

Next to crack it open.  If you consider the eyes of the coconut to be the top then it has a weak seam around its middle.  However, when I say weak, it still needs a bit of force to open it. Place the coconut in a plastic bag, take it outside, and knock it firmly onto the edge of a step or wall, keeping the eyes at the top and knocking the middle.

It may take a couple of firm whacks but it should break fairly cleanly in two.

And voila, lovely fresh coconut ready to enjoy.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Recipe - easy creamy raw vegan chocolates


2 oz / 60g  cacao butter
1/2 oz / 15g cacao powder
11/4 oz / 45g lucuma powder
1/2 tsp vanilla esence
50ml Sweet Freedom liquid sweetener

Melt the cacao butter in a bowl over a pan of hot water  (doesn't need to be on the stove).

Stir in the powders and beat with the spoon until smooth and shiny. Add the vanilla and sweetener and stir in. Pour into chocolate mould.

If you don't have a chocolate mould you can use an ice cube tray if it's a flexible one. It is rather hard to get them out of a stiff one. Alternatively pour into the bottom of a loaf tin to make a bar of choclate. Once set you can pop the bar out by easing a palette knife under one corner,

Leave in a cool place for a few hours or overnight then pop out of the mould and enjoy. The lucuma gives them a mild 'caramac'-like  taste.

Monday, May 5, 2014

May in the Garden - Apple Blossom, Aphids and soapnuts

The weather has been very pleasant the last few days here in Yorkshire. I have got up to date with the general weeding, dead-heading, pruning and tidying in the garden. The seed beds are raked and the first of the vegetable seeds are in, but not much to see yet.

We bought two small apple trees a couple of years ago. And despite them being tiny the James Grievs tree is looking fine and healthy and provided us with a couple of pounds of apples last year. There were more on but we thinned them out quite a bit to give the tree a chance to get growing.

The Cox's Pippin is still much more immature and has not done well so far. Last year it succumbed to apple frogeye leaf spot. I vigilantly removed all the affected leaves and pruned it back. It does seem to have recovered from this but is still looking small and sorry for itself. A careful inspection revealed a thriving colony of aphids.

Being keen to stick to natural organic gardening methods, despite all the nasties that I seem to have to battle with, I made a solution of soapnut liquid and gave the tree a really good spraying.

If you are not familiar with soapnuts they are a great thing to have around.  Also knows as soapods, they are actually nut shells that are natually high in saponins (soapy stuff).  I mainly use them for washing the laundry. You put half a dozen or so in a small muslin bag (or old sock) and throw it in the washing machine with the clothes, instead of using detergent. Each batch can be used about 5 times before being replaced. So gentle and natural, brilliant for eczema sufferers like my hubby and daughter, and so much cheaper than washing powder or liquids.  You can also boil the soapnuts up to make a soapy liquid which can be used for various cleaning jobs - and to kill or deter aphids.

I did notice a ladybird on the gooseberry bush - the ladybird being the natural predator of aphids - and was very careful to make sure I didn't spray any ladybirds. Hoping she brings some friends to munch away happily. Here's hoping you are enjoying your garden, if you have one, and for more lovely weather!