Sunday, 19 April 2015

50 Things to do Before You're 11¾: Getting Kids Back Into Nature, National Trust Style

Have you ever camped in the wild? Built a raft? Canoed down a river?

Many of us have fond memories of our childhoods, and I'm willing to bet that many of those memories involve nature in some way. Kids are naturally drawn to animals, rivers and mud - we are all born ready to learn as much as we can about our natural environment, so that we can learn how our world works (and perhaps how to survive).

Sadly, kids these days spend more time in front of TVs than in front of campfires - I saw Mark Sears from The Wild Network speak recently, and he told his audience that children today only spend 3% of their lives playing outdoors. Most time is spent sleeping, at school, or in front of a screen of some kind.

Delicious Beetroot, Pepper, Mango and Blueberry Salad with Lemon Juice

Who said salad had to be boring? Here's a delicious, fresh and fruity salad with some slightly unexpected ingredients - and better still, it doesn't need any sugar-filled dressing to make it taste good! Let your sunny days start with the Beetroot, Pepper, Mango and Blueberry Salad:

To make this particular bowl of delight, I used:
A handful of mixed salad leaves + lettuce
2 tsbp sweetcorn
1/4 a beetroot, grated up (this WILL turn your hands and grater red - beware!)
1/4 a red pepper, cut into chunks
1/4 mango, cut into chunks
A handful of blueberries
1/2 a fresh lemon, squeezed on top!

The tangy zest of the lemon, the juicy beetroot, the fresh crispness of the peppers and the sweetness of the fruit make this an exciting and delicious salad. Enjoy for breakfast, lunch or even as a starter!

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Root Veg Risotto

When I received my first organic veg box from Riverford, I realised two things - one, that I didn't really know what to do with root vegetables; two, that I now had a lot of root vegetables in my house. The root vegetables in question were parsnips, carrots and Jerusalem artichokes (which I had never heard of before) - but other root vegetables include potatoes, sweet potatoes, swedes, turnips, yams etc. These were the vegetables that my parents used to persuade me to eat, and as a result, some of the last vegetables that I came to like as an adult.

Trying to find a recipe more interesting than stew (which was my go-to thought for root veg), I came up with the Root Veg Risotto:

Filling, tasty and full of goodess (for example - carrots are great for your eyesight, and are thought to be great for your skin, gums and to prevent a lot of diseases), the risotto perhaps isn't the most obvious use of root vegetables... but after trawling around on the net for a while and taking inspiration from various recipe pages, it was what I ended up with - and everyone* enjoyed it!
(*Myself, my husband and one friend who came over for dinner)

To serve 4, you'll need:
1 carrot
1 parsnip
Half a sweet potato
2 Jerusalem artichokes
2 cloves of garlic
Vegetable stock cube (or just a bunch of herbs/spices)
Brown rice (2-3 handfuls per person)
A pinch of coriander
A drizzle of honey
1 tablespoon of pumpkin seeds
Optional: A splash of white wine, a little grated cheese

1) Peel your carrot, sweet potato, parsnip and Jerusalem artichokes. Cut them into little cubes or, for a bit of variety, continue peeling and use thin strips of the vegetables rather than chunks.

2) Place the chopped vegetables onto a foil tray and drizzle in olive oil. Place in an oven at around 170C (338 F) for 20 minutes or so. To check if they're ready, prod the sweet potato with a sharp knife. If the knife sinks through without resistance, the vegetables are ready.

3) While the vegetables are in the oven, bring your rice to the boil and leave to simmer for as long as the instructions state. I measure the rice in handfuls as I find that 2-3 are enough for one person, however you are free to make as much or as little as you like!

4) Sprinkle the stock cube into the boiling water/rice pan while it's simmering.

5) Once the veg is ready, heat some oil on a frying pan. Add some garlic (crushed or finely chopped). You could also add some onion or shallots here - it would be nice! I actually added cherry tomatoes, but only because they were going off in my fridge.

6) Drizzle some honey into the frying pan with the vegetables and stir.

7) Drain the rice and pour into the frying pan with all the vegetables. Add the coriander and any other herbs and spices you may feel compelled to add.

8) Optional - if you're feeling a bit fancy, add a splash of white wine and/or a little grated cheese into the mix!

9) Serve and enjoy!

I made it a second time, adding sundried tomatoes and spring greens. To be honest, you can add whatever you want in here - risotto is a great way to use up those vegetables that might be going off!

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Are you Getting Enough Nature?

Last year, I spent a little time helping out some lovely folks at Project Wild Thing. David Bond, director of the documentary, was worried that his children would rather sit in front of their screens than go outside. Realising that the beautiful scenes outside their homes had to compete with the shiny advertising for Angry Birds, he set himself up as the Marketing Directing for Nature.

I'd strongly recommend checking out the film if you can, and looking at their website:

Getting outside can be tough, and it's especially off-putting when you're faced with grey days and rain (as we so often are in the UK). With late mornings and early evenings, there isn't a lot of daylight to catch - and if you're at work during those hours, it's even harder. Still, it might turn out that getting outside a little more could be the secret ingredient to your happiness.

Here are some facts that might get you thinking. Children who regularly play outdoors have a stronger immune system, lower levels of stress, better imagination and creativity, higher self-esteem and respect for others, better vision and motor function, and better social bonds.

On the other hand, children who have 2 or more hours of daily "screen time" are at a higher risk of obesity, have less regular sleep patterns, delayed language acquisition, more hyperactivity and attention problems, lower levels of creativity and more trouble forming social bonds. Yet 64% of babies and toddlers are, on average, watching 2+ hours of TV a day. If you think I'm just making things up, my sources are the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood and the National Centre for Physical Development and Outdoor Play.

It isn't just children who are affected by too much screen time and not enough green time. Adults who don't spend enough time outdoors are just as likely to be overweight, irritable, depressed and anxious, and those who spend a lot of time outdoors are generally happier and healthier. Sometimes you don't even have to be outside - even having a view of green space from your office can make you more productive than workers with a city view or no view at all! The book Your Brain on Nature: The Science of Nature's Influence on Your Health, Happiness and Vitality is full of information about studies looking into the relationship between humans and nature.

What is it that boosts our well-being? It might be that fuzzy feeling you get when you look at a beautiful scene, which can be calming or exhilarating. It might be the feeling of being part of something greater and wonderful; a feeling you don't get in an office cubicle or your apartment. It might be a chemical reaction brought on by the fresh air or something in the soil. Whatever it is, I know I certainly feel better when I spend some time outside. I get sick less often, I feel calmer and better able to face life's stresses, and it reminds me that - in the grand scheme of things - any little problems I have are fleeting. We're all part of something much bigger, and those hills have been there for thousands of years and will continue to stand there long after any of us.

So, do you think you get enough nature? What barriers prevent you from it? Where are your favourite green spaces?

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Making Your Own Honey-Roasted Peanut Butter

Mmm, peanut butter - great for spreading on your toast, bagels or crumpets, throwing into cake recipes,
Find out how to make this below! Mmmm
even just spooning out of the jar when you're feeling a bit naughty (come on, haven't you?). It can also be an interesting addition to curries and soups. Whatever you do with your PB (we won't judge you), you may be wondering what's in the jar. I've broken down the ingredients in just 3 of the easily available brands from my town.

Sun-Pat Smooth Peanut Spread - boasting 95% peanuts, it turns out that the other 5% is made up of: stabiliser (E471), cane sugar, peanut oil and sea salt.

Slightly bad news for vegans or Muslims - E471 is mainly produced from vegetable oils, although animal fats may be present. There is a chance of pork fat also being present; so E471 is best avoiding when you can't know for sure that it is entirely from from vegetable oil. There's sugar, which may or may not really need to be in there, but the good news is there's no palm oil!

Marks and Spencers' Crunchy Peanut Butter - only 91% peanuts in this one, with the rest being from sunflower oil, palm oil, cane sugar and sea salt.

You may remember that palm oil is best avoided as it causes massive environment destruction and human rights abuses, so I wasn't too thrilled when I noticed this!

Tesco Value Crunchy Peanut Butter, by far the most delicious (I think) and cheapest, contains only 87% peanuts, sunflower oil, dextrose, vegetable oil and salt.

Dextrose is another name for glucose, and is a type of sweetener made from plant starch. Vegetable oil could also be palm oil, as there's no requirement to label palm oil as such.

Of course, there are some brands of peanut butter that contain 99% or more peanuts, which you can find pretty easily online (for example, Holland and Barrett stocks Meridian peanut butter, which is £5.99 for a 1000g tub), but I decided to test out my new food processor and make my own!

What you need:
Peanuts (ideally unsalted, in their skins)
A drizzle of honey
Optional - a splash of peanut (groundnut) oil

Step 1: Spread the peanuts onto a baking tray. DON'T use foil, as I did, because the peanuts will stick to it
and take ages to remove! Drizzle some honey on them and place under a grill at around 120C for 10-15 minutes.

2: Remove and let cool for 5 miutes.

3. Throw into the food processor and switch it on! As with Cashew nut butter, the trick is to leave the food processor on for a minute or so, turn it off, scoop the peanuts back onto the blades and keep going. It will seem to take ages but eventually your mixture will start to become a little less like powder and more like butter. 

4. If you're struggling, add a splash of peanut oil. This will make the blending process go a little more smoothly.

5. Pour into a cleaned out jar and enjoy! This particular peanut butter was smooth but a little gritty, which I came to really like. If you're struggling to spread it, you can add a little more oil or honey.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Mindfulness in Nature Workshop and Seminar, March 14th!

On the 14th of March I'm running a workshop and seminar about the value of spending mindful time in nature in Lifeways Centre, Stratford-upon-Avon.

Both Mindfulness and spending time in nature have been shown to reduce stress, increase feelings of wellbeing and meaning in life, improve health and increase energy. People who have spent a lot of time in nature often say that it was one of the most meaningful experiences of their lives.

These days, people spend around 90% of their lives indoors, often staring at a screen of some form. This is not the way we evolved. Too much sitting, too many screens, too much time indoors makes us feel ill, disconnected and unhappy. 

In my workshop, I hope to show you some of the science behind the benefits of spending time in nature. I also plan to do some basic mindfulness exercises, then to go into the Lifeways garden (which is beautiful) and practice some mindfulness in nature, so you can begin to see for yourself how this simple practice can transform you.

We are at a point of crisis, ecologically - we are living beyond our means as a planet and, according to around 97% of scientists who contributed to the International Panel on Climate Change report (2014) we need to act fact to change our ways if we want to survive. Yet, if we don't truly and deeply care for nature, or understand it, we can't be expected to make those changes. We will also talk about the implications of this and how we might be able to use mindfulness in nature as a tool to bring about positive changes in how people interact with the environment.

Also, its free! Come along! 

If you don't know where Lifeways is, check out this map! You can get to Stratford-upon-Avon by train from London Marylebone or Birmingham quite easily, but please contact me if you're not sure.

Crispy Kale Chips with Vegan Cheese

Kale. I never really knew what it was, but I knew that it was good for you. Whenever I looked up healthy,
clean recipes or vegan food, kale would pop up. In salads. In smoothies. Everywhere. I'd never really seen it before, and all I really knew about it was that it was healthy and, that if I wanted to get on the "healthy" bandwagon, I'd have to try it sooner or later.

After Christina used it in a smoothie and in a delicious quinoa dish  I figured it was time for to finally give in.
So... I bought a bag from Tesco for £1. It's like a dry, crispy lettuce. I threw it in with some pasta, peppers and pasata for a tasty dinnertime snack, and it was all right.

Still hungry, I remembered that one of my prettiest recipe books - Honestly Healthy - had a recipe for "cheesy" kale chips. This book tends to be pretty complicated, but when I looked at the recipe I saw that it mostly involved coating kale in some kind of cheese substitute and leaving them in the oven for a while (it also mentioned a "dehydrator", but I figured an oven would do for most of us). It just so happened that the Lemon Cashew Basil "cheese" that I'd just made was pretty close to what was called for, so I experimented and was greeted with a delicious snack.

Be warned... they're really moreish! The good news is, they're much healthier than Pringles...

You'll need:
Half a bag of kale (or however much you want, really)
2 tbsp of Lemon Cashew Basil cheese

1. Spread the kale out on a baking tray. If using foil, use the non-shiny side!

2. Rub the "cheese" onto the kale until it's all coated.

3. Leave in a fan over on the lowest heat for 30-45 minutes, or until the kale is sufficiently crispy.

It reminded me a little of the crispy seaweed that you can get at Chinese restaurants. Either way, this snack was so good I made a second portion!