Thursday, July 29, 2010

Recipe: Pumpkin Fries

I make these in a similar manner to the Butternut Squash Fries from Nutty Kitchen. I've tried 'frying' a range of veggies, but pumpkin is certainly my favourite, short of sweet potato.


1 pumpkin (I like Kent since it's available locally from an organic farmer, but most kinds work.)
2T or so lard, coconut oil, or olive oil
Spices such as paprika, chilli flakes, cinnamon, garlic power, and cumin
Dried herbs such as basil, thyme, parsley, and sage.


Preheat oven to 200°C. Line a baking tray with aluminium foil.

1. Peel and chop pumpkin into fries - I go for a 1cm x 1cm thickness, but shoestring would still work (be gentle!) as will bigger wedge-style cuts.

2. In a medium bowl, toss fries with oil.

3. Sprinkle with selected herbs and spices, tossing to coat.

4. Place fries on tray in a single layer, and bake in oven until golden and slightly crisp on the outside.

Serve hot!

Recipe: Spinach & Cashew Pesto

It's topped almond-crumbed salmon, sunflower sesame crackers, and now a chicken caesar salad... Is there anything it can't do?!


2 cups freshly chopped spinach
1/2 cup chopped basil
1T coconut oil
2T cashew butter
1 or 2 garlic cloves, minced or finely chopped

For a chunkier pesto, try adding 1/2 chopped red onion, and a handful of chopped cashews

Makes about a cup of pesto


1. In a small saucepan, gently heat coconut oil and sauté garlic (and onion, if using) until fragrant.

2. Add spinach and basil, and stir until coated in oil. Continue to stir as the spinach wilts and reduces.

3. Reduce heat to low. Add cashew butter, and stir carefully until all ingredients are combined and pesto comes together smoothly. Add chopped nuts if using.

Serve while warm. Can be stored in an air-tight container and re-heated before use.

I need to take some more photos of this one, but it never lasts long and is best served while fresh. It received rave reviews from the beau's family in Canada, and it may be my new way to enjoy healthy fats. Mmmmmmm...

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Social Experiment - No Sit!

One of the latest study sets that has been popping up the media frequently over the last year has been the observed association between sitting for significant periods of time every day and all-cause mortality. I'm not a scientist, but my mind leaps to all of the other possible variables that these findings suggest, i.e. that office workers spend a lot more time indoors than the average 'active/standing job' worker (farmers, spots people, etc), that they tend to work in cities and are thus exposed to a lot more pollution, etc etc etc.

However, let's pretend that the true root of the sitting = earlier average death is, in fact, the lack of activity that just sitting instead of standing or walking around during those hours would bring. We can also think of the other 'dangers' that come from our seated lifestyle - deep vein thrombosis, for one.

An obvious solution? Don't sit down!

But how feasible is this in today's society?

Office workers can get one of those oh-so-nifty standing-up desks.

Mark Sisson listed a bunch of solutions for those who can't necessarily splash out on such a furniture item.

At my school, both teachers and students are forced to sit at low tables & desks, usually for the entire lesson. As a Drama teacher, I can easily break that mold for myself and my students, but what about in English lessons?

Today was my first no-sit experiment at school. From the moment I woke up, until the moment I sat down to write this blog post (if I had my laptop I could feasibly still be standing) this evening, I did not sit down except to briefly tie my shoes. I try not to sit on the toilet, but I was wearing heels at work. During Drama classes, I stood at all times, which is not that unusual except that I was aware of it. My senior English Language class posed more of a problem, as the students worked at their desks and I couldn't sit on chairs to help them. I do tend to rest on tables when I teach though, since I remember being distracted as a student when my teacher would hover over me. Today, I determined that kneeling beside students was legal, as was briefly sitting on the floor with my Drama students in order to use my laptop to record assessment of group performances.

To outline my day:

* Woke, dressed, sat down to put on my VFFs, and walked to work.
* Arrived at my desk, sat to swap shoes, put laptop on filing cabinet to use whilst standing.
* Drama class #1 - went through physical activities with the kids, stood to give instructions whilst they sat on the floor, rested laptop on pile of gym mats to mark roll and mark books.
* Drama class #2 - same as #1, but with 3 minutes of sitting on the floor to face performances and assess with my laptop.
* English Language class - stood and walked around the room whilst delivering the lesson, knelt by students to give individual help, and was painfully aware that they were all but confined to their own seats.
* Returned to desk and changed shoes, ran a few professional errands, and then walked home.
* Swapped bag and walked to the organics store to pick up raw milk and cream plus other good things for upcoming recipe posts, walked home.
* Finally gave my tired body a rest by plonking down at the computer with a bowl of frozen blueberries topped with a little Nola and raw cream (spontaneous ice cream!)

Experiment results - it is possible for me to complete the requirements of my employment without sitting for extended periods of time, although changing the system of behaviours restricting the movements of students is a tougher ask. At home, I sit to use the computer, but could create a temporary rise for my keyboard and screen if I so desired.

In case you know someone who will respond to these ideas by thinking 'oh, but you & your students get some measure of activity each day, you'll be right', then you should read the recent post on Health Habits detailing a study that showed prolonged inactivity is not significantly offset by occasional daily activity (like a workout at lunchtime breaking up an eight-hour sit-fest). As noted in a recent article on The New York Times website:
Regular workout sessions do not appear to fully undo the effects of prolonged sitting. ‘‘There seem to be different pathways’’ involved in the beneficial physiological effects of exercising and the deleterious impacts of sitting, says Tatiana Warren, a graduate student in exercise science at the University of South Carolina and the lead author of the study of men who sat too much. ‘‘One does not undo the other,’’ she says.

No, like all things, it's what you do frequently and consistently that really matters in the long term.

But what to do about the students that end up sitting at their tables for seventy minutes, four times a day? They will be tomorrow's guinea pigs in my on-going social experiment! In the meantime, I've had enough sitting (though my tired-from-yoga bod is really quite appreciative of the rest!) - it's time to get cooking!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Recipe: Bacon-Wrapped Mini Frittata

Because everything is better wrapped in bacon..!


Per mini frittata -

1 middle bacon strip
2 medium eggs
1T diced fennel
1T diced capsicum (bell peppers)
A few baby spinach leaves
1t finely chopped basil
1/2t minced garlic
1T chopped/diced meat (I used smoked salmon, but ham or cooked chicken would work well)
Optional - 1T diced cheddar cheese or feta cheese

Of course, you could make a vegetarian version of this by removing the meat (inc bacon wrapping, so sad!) and adding more veg, and conversely a carnivorous version by getting rid of the veggies entirely. The flavours are totally up to you.

I used a mega-muffin tray, and didn't trim my big slices of middle bacon at all. Perfect proportions.


Preheat oven to 175°C.

1. Line edges of muffin tray holes with bacon - you can trim the length to fit exactly, but overlap doesn't hurt. If your bacon still has it's rind, make sure it is along the uppermost edge so it crisps beautifully.

2. Line the base of the muffin pans with spinach.

3. Combine veggies, meat, herbs and cheese in a bowl. Mix well so ingredients are evenly mixed.

4. Gently spoon mixture into muffin pans, layering spinach leaves (but don't cover the layers completely, as the egg mixture needs to travel between the leaves) as you go.

5. In another bowl, beat eggs briskly. Pour egg mixture into muffin pans, filling 3/4s of the way to the top.

6. Bake in oven until the frittata is golden on top and is firm to the touch. For me, this took around 30 minutes.

7. (Optional) Remove frittata from muffin tray, and place onto a baking slide. Return to the oven and raise the temperature a little in order to crisp up the bacon shell. Watch carefully for burning. I recommend this step if you want to enjoy the frittata cold.

A winner for me, taking me through dinner last night, and cold breakfast and lunch today! Very low in carbohydrates and not too shocking when calories are considered, especially given the satiety factor. Next time I'm going to get even more fiddly and try cutting up bacon to fit in my mini-muffin tray! Bite sized wonders!

Avoid Cliches Like The Plague

Apparently I have pushed through to the dark side...

For a long time, my friends and family would see me and see my progress and ask how I had achieved the visible improvements to my body and energy level. Sometimes they would notice that I'd brought nothing but a hard-boiled egg and some butter to work for lunch. They might hear my alteration requests at a restaurant.

These scenarios usually lead to a discussion of the information I had and have been engaging with, the changes I made to my lifestyle, and - not that I guided the conversation towards my conversation partner - towards what they could also be doing to improve their health. I always felt uncomfortable at this point, since that's when you start feeling like you're passing on a dogmatic view. Anyone who has been reading my blog for any period of time would know that I'm not about endorsing any one set of rules, but encouraging individuals to tailor their lifestyle to their own personal goals, priorities and bodies. Do what works for you.

However, of late, it seems like some of my social network has slapped me with the label of 'the healthy one'. Whilst I don't reject that label per se, I have noticed that certain people now imagine that I judge them on their food and lifestyle choices. They feel guilty about acting against their own understanding of health anyway, but they see me as an embodiment of their doctor/nutritionist/etc - I remind them of the potential harm they could possibly be doing to themselves. I don't have to say anything. I don't even look at them. God, half the time I wouldn't have even noticed if they were shooting up heroin. But my presence sits there in their subconsciousness and brings up those years of the mass media stuffing health warning and scientific (and some not-so-scientific) findings down their throats.

Now, I do notice when people I care about make poor choices, or when they are not offered a healthier option - especially when trouble is taken to ensure that option is provided to me. I've had 18 months of practice so I'm comfortable making my preferences known, but the pressure to avoid offense in the average social situation is stifling for everyone else. We've grown up being told to 'eat what we're given', resulting in a bizarre world of fake food allergies and artificial medical conditions whipped out at gatherings to avoid humiliating the host when they offer you that slice of birthday cake. Everyone knows that sugary, gluten-filled birthday cake is not healthy, yet to refuse a slice on general wellness grounds would be akin to pissing in the pool. When I have commented in the past that I felt horrible watching my loved ones politely eating food that they knew wasn't good for them (and in one case, would cause them digestive discomfort later on!), the response has been that others are just as able as I am to make their preferences known. This attitude completely ignores the social pressures of accepting and eating whatever is given to you. I have even seen cases where an individual has spoken up about a particular preference, and been harassed for having been rude and unappreciative. It's lose-lose.

When I throw dinner parties, I do what I can to remove the social pressures of eating.

1. I always ask about dietary preferences (stressing the preferences angle, not 'needs').

2. I inform my guests that the meals will be sugar-free, wheat-free, and will not involve any artificial foods such as refined vegetable or seed oils.

3. I make a range of dishes, always including something to cater for vegetarians, unless there has been a detailed discussion beforehand.

4. a) I would encourage a buffet-style serving arrangement if it can be performed quickly without the food changing temperature significantly.

4. b) However, I tend to serve directly onto plates (except at larger gatherings) and I overload the plates. My reasoning: guests can choose not to eat a particular aspect of the meal without going hungry or having to publicly reject one of the dishes; guests with large appetites avoid the awkwardness of going 'back for seconds', and; the aesthetic appeal of the meal can be controlled by me, rather than sloppy spooning from platters. Never underestimate the importance of aesthetics.

5. Dessert is always tricky, but I always make a healthful dessert. The large portions give the guests a feasible 'I'm too full' excuse, and I try to make desserts that can be portioned by the individual. If I'm not going to have the dessert, I consider not making one - not to be selfish, but to avoid my guests feeling guilty!

It's a tricky tightrope to navigate safely. Social events continue to be centred around food. Acceptance or rejection of food is seen as acceptance or rejection of the host/chef. It is a ridiculous scenario.

I you accepted the invitation to my dinner party or weekend away or whatever, that's the signal to me that you like me. If you like the food that I make, wonderful, but I don't take it personally if you don't. If you think it could use more of this or that, tell me and I'll know for next time. My brother was once embarrassed to tell me that he wasn't a fan of coconut oil. He could have avoided coming over when I invited him to avoid having to eat food cooked in coconut oil. Or he could tell me that he wasn't a fan of coconut oil. If he's a guest, I know now not to use coconut oil. It's not a big deal. And it's easier to make everything the same way than serve him up his own special portion of coconut oil-free veggies. If one of my guests was allergic to almonds, I wouldn't use almonds in anything. Minimise the social discomfort, maximise the options and enjoyment.

It's no accident that I'm in one of the nurturing professions. I loathe to see people suffer or struggle. I worry when I see someone behaving in ways that may cause their future suffering. I am powerfully driven to help people. I teach Drama because I was social awkward as a child (and still am, in certain situations such as meeting new people or staying afloat when faced with conflict), and I want to help others find effective means of communication. I teach both Drama & English because I only know who I am when I'm being creative, and I want to help others find their creative talents and learn how to extend them. Growing up, I always attracted the misfits and always took them under my wing. I have never been one to judge others on anything except their treatment of others. Even then, I can usually see the subtext of their actions and forgive that as well. I write this blog for the readers, since I know from my life how important it is to find someone who feels the same way as you do, to give you validation for your efforts and ideas to help you extend your achievements. Even though the blogging medium is a broadcast situation with minimal dialogue (though I do respond to comments), I imagine you sitting there, reading my words, responding with your own experiences, empathising, shaking your head when you don't agree, and adding my text to the marvelous inter-text against which you derive your understanding of health, well being, and the world at large. If I didn't think you were out there, I wouldn't do this.

Even when you/I feel like we're the person sitting at the table wearing the invisible "The Health Nut" name tags, imperceptibly impacting upon the way our associates think about themselves and their actions, we can think about all the others sitting around the global cyber-table, with similar interests and knowledge, quietly encouraging each other and supporting our efforts, not selfishly condemning us for it.

Don't cross over to the dark side. Don't let your psyche fall into the trap of finding pleasure in the schadenfreude of that carboholic friend breaking out in zits on her wedding day, or struggling to suppress an eye-roll as your colleague polishes off a Subway sandwich as a 'healthy lunch' after his lunchtime jog around the block. Don't damage your own self-confidence by wondering whether your social circle is quietly pleased that you've regained a bit of weight, or that the caterers forgot your gluten-free order and now you'll have to go hungry.

Do what works for you.

NB: Whilst this post has been inspired by recent interactions with people in my life, it is not intended to criticise anyone in particular, but to reflect on general society's connection to food and ego/acceptance, etc. I'm not trying to make anyone feel bad for being products of their society, but instead I'm reflecting on how primal folks find themselves at risk of offending in social situations when we reject food, and how difficult it can be to make healthier choices or even stick to personal preferences in situations where it's difficult to do so without drawing awkward attention to yourself. This blog is anonymous and should be treated as such.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Writing Home

I'm back Down Under, after two long-yet-too-short weeks over in rainy-then-finally-sunny Canada. We ended up with some blissful weather whilst staying at the family cottage in Quebec, lounging lakeside and soaking up the Vitamin D. The weather wasn't a big deal to the Aussies in our company, so we delighted in watching panicked Canadians setting up Emergency Cooling Stations in downtown Ottawa in order to survive the scorching 33 degree heat! Bwahahahahaa...

I don't have an in-depth report to make on Canadian farming practices and whatnot since my plans to visit Dobson's Grass-Fed Beef farm fell through, and when we arrived at Bearbrook Game Meats, we were greeted with a bunch of freezers and a cashier who clearly had little idea about the food she was selling. So much for the contact I had arranged via email. I still bought up a range of products to sample, but overall it was over-priced and not terribly fresh. Dobson's beef was pretty good, equal to the standard of grass-fed beef I get from Farmer Dan. I also tried some lamb from Canreg Station Farm & Pasture Dairy via their stand at the Landsdowne Market in Ottawa, but it really wasn't impressive. It also cost the same amount as a family meal deal from a pizza restaurant I saw advertised on TV whilst I was eating the lamb chop for breakfast. Not nice. But hey - at least Ottawa is heading in the right direction. If only the majority of stand operators at the market would lose their smug holier-than-thou attitudes and learn some actual customer service skills - but I guess that's what you can get away with when you're one of only a few suppliers feeding a growing demand.

Photo time!

Some of the colourful haul after the market in Ottawa and the trip to Bearbrook Game Meats:

I took over the kitchen a couple of times to make some delicious primal meals. My famous curry made an appearance, as well as a frittata (shown here before being topped with whipped up eggs and baked)

and some almond-crusted salmon fillets with an improvised Spinach & Cashew Pesto sauce (yum!!), served with a sauteed salad with chorizo slices.

I tried frogs legs for the first time - meh.

The view on the way into Bearbrook Game Meats:

We popped over to Vancouver for the last couple of days of our holiday, spending time with family on Bowen Island. Gorgeous weather, and gorgeous people - I've missed small town living! Before leaving the mainland I stopped in at Capers Whole Foods Market - I am in love! I think I could live in Vancouver - it is just like Melbourne, after all! I just might have to fly back to Australia when it started getting too cold though...

Back in chilly Melbourne (though we managed to neatly avoided the longest 'cold snap' in Melbourne's history - yay!), school has resumed, I'm trying to normalise my body clock, and I'm doing yoga twice a week to make up for the missed sessions (though I was moved out of the beginner's room and into the main studio last night, and now I am SORE! Their Sun Saluation regime is intense - I was sweating in under 2 minutes - and to whichever yogi thought up 'The Archer' seated series: my buttocks want to punch you in your beatific face).

I have a lot of reading to catch up on, although it seems like most of it is based on the latest debunking of The China Study, as though any of us were still paying attention to the biased report on epidemiological studies from the past... But hey, if it helps bring more attention to the dangers of wheat, at least, then that's not going to hurt anyone. I'm still sharing any articles I think everyone should read, so if you do subscribe to my shares, there's a flood of stuff coming your way!

A recipe for my Spinach & Cashew Pesto Sauce will be coming your way when I get a chance to make it again, since my photos sucked (bloody iPhone) and I've forgotten the proportions I used of each ingredient. Any excuse to make it again, huh?

And now that I've been thinking about salmon, I'm going to have to make some sashimi for dinner... Good night!