Food


Are you into chia seeds? Along with quitting sugar, chia seeds are having their moment in the spotlight. I’ve heard of them but wasn’t really aware that Chia is a species of flowering plant in the mint family and is grown commercially for its seeds.

Chia seeds are packed with health benefits – high in antioxidants; good for digestive and heart health; contain calcium and boron (both essential for strong bones); and low-carb.

I really like chia seeds and love to have them in a pudding. Basically, you take one cup of coconut milk and soak a 1/4 cup of chia seeds in the milk (for about one hour). The chia seeds absorb the milk and bulk up. Then grab whatever fruit you like – some stewed apples, raspberries, blueberries, sliced banana.

Get some dessicated coconut and nuts. Any nuts you like but I prefer walnuts or almonds. Mix them up and add some sweetener if you like – agave or maple syrup. You can toast the mixture too in the oven if you want crunch.

Get a fancy serving glass (or a jam jar like I used) and start layering – fruit, then the coconut and nut mixture, the chia seed and coconut milk mix. Decorate the top with anything you like: maybe a date or two; or some more nuts.

Then enjoy (because you will).

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Remember I told you recently that I’ve quit sugar? Well, I don’t actually have sugar in tea or coffee but there is so much hidden sugar in food these days – we are all eating far more than we should. Especially if, like me, you don’t mind the odd cake or biscuit.

I’ve been cooking from five cookbooks that feature recipes with no sugar. The sweet stuff is substituted with agave syrup, rice malt syrup, maple syrup or honey. But even these ingredients have too much sugar, so I usually ditch them. Some days it’s really easy to go without anything sweet; other days, not so easy.

This week will be a challenge as it’s El Hubs’ birthday. He has requested a birthday cake with no sugar and I’m planning doing some sort of coconut or carrot cake. Not majorly exciting but it’s the gesture that counts isn’t it!

I regularly whip up bread that uses almond meal as a substitute for flour. Wheat is the most common base for flour and modern wheat has a little something called gliadin protein that is addictive. Wheat is even called an opiate these days, so I’m trying to steer clear of it.

Not having toast for breakfast or a sandwich for lunch forces you to get creative. I make my own muesli that contains dessicated coconut, sunflower seeds, pepitas, cashews, almonds and chia seeds and I prepare almond or coconut milk from scratch. For lunch, I often whip up a batch of sunflower crackers or a loaf of bread to have with some cheese and salad. A favourite bread is chia and flaxseed.

So I’m progressing quite well with the no sugar, no wheat thing. I’m even eating dessert at nights – like apple crumble or vanilla custard. Plain stuff my mother and grandmother used to whip up and I’m enjoying the less rich food. I’ll get a photo of the cake I will bake for El Hubs but, in the meantime, here’s my fav chia and flaxseed loaf.

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No, I’m not quitting this blog. But I have quit sugar and wheat. I’ve never noticed any adverse effects from my lifelong love affair with all things sugary. I have a sweet tooth; I admit it. I can blame my mother and grandmother for this. My mother used to hide chocolate in the top drawer of her dressing table in her bedroom. This was when she lived with us for the two years before she died in 2007 at the ripe old age of 90 years. In fact, she was one week short of 91.

My father wasn’t into sugary things at all. He far preferred cheeses, which I also love. My grandmother (my mother’s mum) had a super-sweet tooth. So cake, biscuits, desserts and chocolate were all part of the eating regimen as I was growing up. I’ve been reading though how food way back when was less sugary and meals were more simple. When I think back to my own childhood, that’s true. Food was plain: meat and three veg; or a plain vanilla custard with stewed pears for dessert; or baked apples with a dash of cinnamon and real full-fat cream.

Then along came the low-fat diets and (in my view) the false belief that saturated fats will make you fat (you should steer clear of trans-fats though). I’m no doctor or nutritionist but, if I look at my own family, my grandparents and my mum put lashings of real butter on their bread; they roasted lamb in dripping (aka animal fat); they drowned desserts in full-fat cream; they scoffed cheeses; and didn’t shy away from full-fat milk either. They all lived well into their 80s and early 90s.

Recently, we’ve heard that saturated fats are (gasp) good for you and sugar is the culprit. Largely because there is so much hidden sugar in our food these days, especially in the heavily-processed foods we have come to rely on in our busy lives. Sugar is now called the sweet poison. So given this mounting evidence, I’ve given up sugar.

And I’ve given up wheat. Why? Because wheat isn’t what it used to be, say back in the 1950s. It’s now referred to as FrankenWheat – a scientifically-engineered shorter, stockier dwarf wheat that is far removed from the einkorn wheat our ancestors used to eat. There’s something in modern wheat called gliadin protein that is addictive.

How many times have you had toast for breakfast and, a few hours later, you’re hungry? Or you’ve eaten a pasta dish but want more. During my research, I came across two books by a US cardiologist, William Davis, and what he has to say about wheat makes perfect sense to me.

So now I prepare food according to three cookbooks – I Quit Sugar; My Petite Kitchen; and Wheat Belly. Frankly, I’m eating really well and not hungry at all. The My Petite Kitchen cookbook has become a personal favourite. I dislike spending hours in the kitchen preparing recipes that have a thousand ingredients. This cookbook offers up VERY tasty recipes using few ingredients and no nasty sugar.

Below are a few recipes I’ve whipped up this week. Beyond this, I’ve baked some granola biscuits, walnut loaf made from almond meal and some cauliflower mash. I occasionally miss rice and pasta and I do crave sugar every now and then. But so far; so good!

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Cream of broccoli soup with butternut pumpkin dish.

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Butternut pumpkin with olives and basil.

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Sesame crackers – no wheat.

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Paleo bread made from almond meal.

 

I was watching the Badminton Horse Trials (UK) the other day. Even the most experienced of riders fall off horses and it seemed there was spill after spill at Badminton. My own riding instructor came off her horse in spectacular fashion a little while ago and she’s been riding for years. That’s the nature of riding…..no matter how good you are as a rider, the horse is an unpredictable animal and somewhere, somehow you’re bound to come off. I’ve never met a single person who rides that hasn’t taken a tumble or two.

A couple of weeks back, I flew off one of my horses. Well, wasn’t THAT dramatic but I did smack my left rib cage in pretty good fashion. So much so that I spent the first few days not really able to sleep properly and if I coughed…ouch!

Thinking about it, I was pretty certain that it was inflammation of the muscles and cartilage around the ribs. And what is good for inflammation? Turmeric. In fact, turmeric has AMAZING health benefits that you can read about here.

I make up turmeric treats for my horses and dogs so I thought I’d give it a go. Fortunately, turmeric is a spice I’m partial to – it reminds me of a cross between orange and ginger with a bit of spicy pepper thrown in. Just as well I like it because I downed it three times a day – one teaspoon of turmeric mixed with a few grinds of black pepper. Why add black pepper? Black pepper contains piperine and this boosts by 1,000 times turmeric’s bioavailability (the rate at which it is absorbed by the body).  Mix it all up with a little water; enough to make it drinkable rather than just a paste. Then scoff it fast; in one gulp. Do this three times per day. Turmeric is completely safe, although I always say check with your doctor (especially pregnant women).

Don’t swan down to the supermarket and buy any old turmeric from the spice shelf. You’ll need to go to a health food shop and obtain the very best quality turmeric.

Within 24 hours, my left side was almost back to normal. No more pain when bending or lying down. After three days, no pain or tenderness. A wonder spice for sure!

I also used another miracle product – Zen Pain Relief Herbal Liniment by Martin & Pleasance (Aussie company founded in 1855). The Zen spray is chock full of ingredients with pain-relieving properties such as Arnica and Angelica. These ingredients are also anti-inflammatory. Spray the affected area and within seconds it acts to numb the pain. Combined with the turmeric, I healed pretty quickly.

I’m actually planning to take the turmeric/pepper combination daily. Just once a day rather than three times. Taking turmeric regularly may help to offset Alzheimer’s disease, which begins as an inflammatory process in the brain and turmeric also possibly has anti-cancer properties. Heck, it can’t hurt so I’m taking it.

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Just mix one teaspoon of turmeric with a few grinds of black pepper – then add enough water so you can drink it.

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Miracle spray!

 

One of the things about living in rural New Zealand is the opportunity to enjoy beautiful fresh produce. Most people around here grow their own vegetables. We grow herbs – lemon balm, parsley, thyme, basil – and lettuce, tomatoes and zucchini. We’ve had grand visions of having a LARGE vege garden but that hasn’t eventuated yet.

Probably because we can buy fresh stuff at the local Farmer’s Markets on Sunday or because we are sometimes given homemade goods or veges. Like recently: as a thank you for allowing a young girl to ride one of my horses, I received a box of luscious produce plus some flowers from the garden; homemade tomato sauce and homemade chilli sauce. The tomato sauce is fantastic and it’s truly amazing how richer tasting homegrown veges are when compared to supermarket crap.

The area that we’re thinking of moving to in the North Island is well-known for its organic markets. I’ve already found a place where I can go to workshops and learn how to pickle and make chutneys and jams. Meanwhile, there’s plenty of veges and organic stuff around here to enjoy.

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Okay, so the dedicated reader would know that I spent around five weeks in Bhutan recently (in the capital, Thimphu). In my posts from there, I said that I wasn’t overly keen on Bhutanese food. It’s all about red rice, some sort of bitter-tasting buckwheat pancake, lots of chillies and cheese. I found it rather bland to be honest. We did find an Indian restaurant (Chula Restaurant), which is in Norzim Lam (main street of Thimphu), but compared to the Indian food we get in Australia, I found it less than tasty.

I did find some good cafes and small eateries though. My favourite was Karma’s Coffee in the Zhamling Building on Phendey Lam and operated by Karma (not my horse but a chap whose first name is Karma LOL). It’s not located on Norzim Lam and is a bit out of the way. When you see the general area and the building, you wonder how on earth a decent coffee shop could exist there. Karma’s Coffee is on the second floor of the Zhamling building and has a lovely (if somewhat dark) ambiance. The menu isn’t vast but, if you’re after a decent coffee, a good chocolate brownie or a hearty breakfast, then this is the place.

And speaking of their breakfast, they offer up an all-day breakfast that I’m sure featured Spam. As a kid, my Dad used to do a fry up of spam with eggs. They also serve what looks like melted butter to plonk on your toast. A bit odd but tasty nonetheless. Service was prompt, friendly and there’s also free wifi. The owner of the cafe, Karma, told us he learnt all about coffee in Melbourne. One thing I didn’t get about Karma’s is the smoking room at the back of the cafe: tobacco is banned in Bhutan but I guess it’s especially for chilips (Bhutanese word for foreigners).

My next fav cafe was the Art Cafe, which is located behind the traffic circle, up the stairs leading to the Swiss Bakery and to the left of the bakery (Doebum Lam). Oh but don’t bother going to the Swiss Bakery – it used to have a great reputation apparently but has gone downhill. We walked in and walked straight back out!

First thing I’ll say about the Art Cafe is you’re not going to get decent coffee here unless you love instant coffee. Second thing is – the service isn’t all that friendly. However, you’ll get a good toasted sandwich with fries, decent soup and some great cakes (especially the Banoffee Pie). I have no idea why it’s called the Art Cafe as there’s not a hint of art in the place. Unless one considers a cow milk jug and a few kitsch signs to be “art”.  You can sit outside and watch people pass by but I preferred to be inside, especially to watch a loaf of bread being baked on top of the oven in the cafe itself.

Also good was Ambient Cafe, which is upstairs in a building right near the traffic circle. Letho, the owner, is very friendly and the cafe is bright and tastefully decorated with a large window overlooking Norzim Lam. You’ll bump into many chilips here and we all enjoyed the great cappuccinos, milkshakes and food over free wifi. I really liked the vanilla cappuccino (although a little too sweet) and I could cheerfully have eaten the granola with yogurt and banana for breakfast every day. Letho told me he makes the granola himself and it’s really fresh on Tuesday (the cafe is closed on Mondays, so you hotfoot it to Karma’s). His lovely wife makes the cakes and the best one is a chocolate and peanut butter combo. The menu is better at Ambient Cafe than Karma’s but I preferred the quiet, relaxing atmosphere of Karma’s just a bit more and I think the coffee was better.

These three cafes we hung out in most, although we did try Cafe Italia located upstairs in the Dewa Khangzang Building on Chang Lam. I found the decor a little too bland although the Illy coffee was good. We had a small pizza for lunch one day; it was so-so. We never did get into Cafe Klein, which is directly behind Druk PNB Bank. You can reach it by descending the stairs to the left of the bank, then turning right and the cafe is a few doors down. It was always closed when we tried to go there.

For restaurants, a standout was the Upstairs Restaurant (located in the new supermarket called MyMart on Chang Lam). It is literally upstairs and over the supermarket, which is a tad odd but the restaurant offers great pizza – better than those at Season’s Pizzeria in my view. I also enjoyed their penne pasta and Marsala tea, whilst gazing at the commanding views of the eastern Thimphu mountains.

Actually, a vivid memory I’ll always have is one night, whilst eating at Upstairs, Thimphu suffered an electricity blackout (a reasonably regular occurrence). The staff brought out little candles for the tables and this provided that dreamy kind of atmosphere. As I looked out the windows towards the large Dzong (or Buddhist monastery) on the Western bank of the Wang Chu river, I could see it was all lit up. Presumably, it has its own power supply. What a beautiful sight. Darkness all around except for the twinkling lights of the commanding Dzong in the distance.

There is an outdoor terrace at Upstairs Restaurant but, since it was Winter, we didn’t get to sit there. I imagine it would be wonderful in Summer though. The menu is quite varied with Asian food and you can enjoy a Lavazza coffee (although I was obsessed with the Marsala tea so didn’t try the coffee). Service was very friendly and you could stock up on essential items at the supermarket downstairs on your way out.

A newish restaurant that we also tried twice was Mezze, which is located on the second floor of the building to the left of the Druk PNB Bank (and diagonally opposite Ambient Cafe). This is where you go if you want a more upmarket experience and pay a higher price. But the menu and service is excellent. I really liked the Risotto con Funghi and the sago dessert (forget the name of it).

We did try out the Bhutan Kitchen upstairs in a building on Gatoen Lam. Here you sit on cushions on the floor and sip the traditional sud-ja (butter tea). Obviously, you get Bhutanese food here so it’s all red rice, chillies and buckwheat pancakes (and the fried potatoes were excellent). Bhutan Kitchen is more for tourists in my view and I found the food and service average.

If you really want to sample authentic Bhutanese food, then the place to go is the Folk Heritage Restaurant (Pedzoe Lam, Kawangjangtsa). It’s about a five minute drive (if that) from the centre of Thimphu and here you will find locals, not so much tourists. The restaurant is located in an impressive, traditional Bhutanese building on the grounds of the Folk Heritage Museum. I found the buckwheat pancakes here very bitter but enjoyed the rest of the Bhutanese food. We visited this eatery in our first week in Bhutan, so I wasn’t yet sick of Bhutanese fare!

Should you be in Thimphu for an extended stay, you can certainly visit all the cafes and restaurants and enjoy variety. And if, like me, you adore cappuccinos, you won’t be disappointed if you head to Karma’s or Ambient Cafe.

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Letho, the owner of Ambient Cafe, is on the right.

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Food menu – Ambient Cafe.

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Coffee, tea and drinks menu – Ambient Cafe.

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Interior of Art Cafe.

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Can’t recall what this cake was but it was a good one – Art Cafe.

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You don’t quite get sarcasm at Art Cafe but the service isn’t the friendliest.

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Cake counter at Art Cafe.

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Toasted sandwich with fries – Art Cafe.

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Giant cups at the Art Cafe. Plus Banoffee Pie – delish!!

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Chocolate peanut cake combo – Ambient Cafe – delish!!!

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You can sit outside the Art Cafe.

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Interior of Karma’s Coffee.

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The all-day breakfast at Karma’s Coffee – is that fried Spam? The menu says ham but it tasted like Spam to me.

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Melted butter to plonk on your toast – Karma’s Coffee.

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This was great – Karma Coffee’s signature chocolate brownie with vanilla ice-cream.

So you know I recently visited Dunedin and Oamaru. I’ll post some photos of Dunedin soon. It’s a quirky little city and I had one of the best desserts EVER. El Hubs and I ate at Two Chefs bistro on the Sunday night we arrived. Unfortunately, I managed to drop my iPhone on the floor as my main meal was served – it hasn’t been the same since and I didn’t get too many photos of the bistro or food.

Two Chefs has a Parisian theme going on and is tastefully decorated. Since it was a Sunday night, we basically had the restaurant to ourselves. For my main meal, I chose the vegetarian tasting plate. I simply can’t remember what that plate was all about – I was too busy fretting over my iPhone. But I can tell you that it was yummo although, for NZ$30.00, I did think the serving size was a tad on the small side and the price a bit hefty.

But forget the main meal, Dear Reader, because the dessert was sensational! I had panna cotta with burnt caramel icecream, frangelico and coffee syrup, with popcorn crumble. They should have called this dessert OMG. Smooth. Creamy. Sensual. Just three words I’d be using to describe this dessert. The popcorn crumble was very subtle but added great texture. All the flavours worked together and resulted in the best dessert I’ve had in ages. A decent sized serving for NZ$14.00 too.

El Hubs had the dark chocolate and cardamon tart with Cointreau icecream and Turkish Delight jewels. Turkish Delight jewels? Turned out these were little bits of chewy Turkish Delight sitting on top of the tart. El Hubs declared the dessert to be rich but nowhere near as good as my panna cotta, which I had to fiercely guard after he decided to taste it.

Service was very good and the wait staff friendly. I did notice that the bistro was a little on the cold side but this wouldn’t deter me from returning, simply for the panna cotta dessert. I can thoroughly recommend Two Chefs in Dunedin.

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Vegetarian tasting plate.

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Dessert menu.

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El Hubs’ dessert.

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The OMG dessert.

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