Plummy Blueberry Cherry Cake

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s been a while since I’ve made one of my famous raw cakes, much to the distress of my poor husband, who then has to resort to junk-food sweets to stave off his inner sugar-monster. Part of the problem has been my new blender. I was kind of dreading facing the reality of having swapped out a seriously mean machine for a pathetic piece of you know what.

It’s part of being a mum. When your son says how much he loves and misses the blender (after he moves out) and you know he probably won’t eat fruit otherwise, it’s hard not to resist giving him the mean machine. The things that love does. Sigh.

So I went shopping for a new blender/food-processor and was mildly traumatised to discover they no longer stock Ninjas. Honestly, what is wrong with these people?! The best they could come up with was a Nutribullet, and me, not knowing any better, bought it. To be fair, I LOVED the book and recipes that came with it, but that ‘thing’ is completely incapable of whizzing a frozen banana, even when you chop the banana into small pieces… which takes all the fun out of fruit smoothies for me.

Sauces, though, it can handle with fair aplomb, and I’m eternally grateful for the lemon tree in my back yard, which, when added to any nut, with a dash of salt and some water, makes for a delicious sauce, cream, dressing, liquid cheese, (whatever fancy name you want to give it) depending on the consistency, ratio of ingredients and what herbs you add. My favourite herb to add is basil (think pesto) but I made a pretty good pasta sauce the other night using tofu, macadamia nuts, lemon, salt and fresh mint.

Cakes. What about cakes? That was the big question and I wasn’t feeling confident. I told myself to try whizzing the dry ingredients first, but as usual I was multi-tasking and force of habit got the better of me. Before I knew it, all the ingredients were thrown in, which would have been a non-issue if I was using a Ninja (I really miss that thing).

Before I started, I raided my fridge, freezer and cupboards for possible ingredients. Then I sat down with pen and paper and mocked up a plan. I put my ideas in the left column and left space in the right column for the inevitable modifications. Impatient as I am, I’m a complete sucker for a three-layered raw cake. I decided to use less dates because even my sweet-tooth husband says my cakes are too sweet, and the end result has been a resounding success.

I was grumpy about the whizzer not being able to blend properly without me adding a lot more liquid than I’m used to using, but the resultant consistency was lovely. My cakes are usually freezer cakes, pulled out for 5-10 minutes to defrost slightly, but we’ve decided this one is best stored in the fridge, because the softness of the top layer is fantastic at that temperature. Obviously they won’t store as long in the fridge, but this will be polished off within days anyway!

Here’s the recipe below. If your blender is pathetic like mine, you might need to add more non-dairy milk if you want a smoother finish. My husband and I prefer a more chunky consistency because we enjoy the different textures and flavour surprises. A chunky base is particularly satisfying, so I never over-blend the base.

BOTTOM LAYER

1/4 cup of oats (skip this, obviously, if you are sensitive to oats!)

7 x medjool dates, pitted

1 cup of almonds

1/2 cup of walnuts

1 tablespoon of coconut or any other non-dairy milk, or water

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABlend your ingredients together. You can actually use any nut, these are just my favourites. If you have a brilliant whizzer-upperer, you don’t necessarily need any liquid, but if you do, using creamy liquids like coconut milk or nut-milks, often makes for a better consistency than adding water. I used coconut as my liquid throughout each layer. Decadent bliss!

Spread your blended mix into the bottom of a dish. If you want to, you can press whole blueberries into this later, like I did. It can help to put the dish in the freezer while you are making the next layer, to firm it up a little.

MIDDLE LAYER

1/2 cup almonds

1/2 cup of macadamia nuts

6 x medjool dates, pitted

1/2 cup of coconut or any other non-dairy milk, or water

1/2 to 1 cup of blueberries

Blend everything up! Use more liquid if the consistency isn’t as smooth as you’d like it to be. An optional extra might be a dash of vanilla essence, or if you love vanilla beans like me, the inside of one vanilla pod.

Pop the dish back in the freezer while you make the last layer.

TOP LAYER

1/2 cup of walnuts

1/2 cup macadamia nuts

1 plum, chopped into pieces

1/2 cup of cherries

And however much liquid (non-dairy milk or water) you need to blend

In essence, I was just using the fruit I had available in my fridge and freezer! I also added a ‘secret’ ingredient which I felt really made a different to the flavour: 1 heaped teaspoon of dried hibiscus, rosella and rosehip petals from my dried herbal tea collection. As a herbalist, I LOVE adding dried herbal teas to my raw cakes! This ingredient isn’t imperative, but any one of these three herbs would be fine, if you can get hold of them.

Blend everything up, and spread this mix over the existing two layers. Top with blueberries and sprinkle with chia seeds and dried flower petals, if you have any.

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Ta-dum! Keep your raw cake in the fridge, covered, and consume within days. If you aren’t going to gobble it all up this quickly, keep it in the freezer. We often like to freeze to a certain firmness where it’s easy to cut into portions which can later be removed and defrosted as needed.

 

 

 

 

The Super Hero

I had a lovely morning talking with my daughter and she has inspired some blogs. Here’s the first one, before I forget everything she told me!

“I don’t understand. You get these people who go vegan, but they haven’t done their research and they aren’t eating properly, and they get sick, and then instead of fixing up their diet, they just decide veganism is bad for them and they stop altogether. Where’s the sense in that?

It’s like being a super hero and burning out because you are saving too many people and doing it all night when you should be sleeping. So you go to the doctor and you ask him for advice and he says ‘Oh you should stop being a super hero, it’s bad for you’.

If you really loved helping and saving people, you wouldn’t accept a lame kind of response like that. You’d think ‘This doctor is useless. If he was a decent doctor, he’d say ‘Let me help you organise your time and energy better, and set some limits on how much work you do and when, so that you can keep doing what you love’.” Continue reading

Injury healing and tissue repair – Part 1

 Managing inflammation

Inflammation is often what causes pain but it’s important to understand that inflammation is the bodies attempt to repair a wound and resolve or prevent infection. When there is a broken bone or broken skin, inflammation is the magical process that helps knit everything back together again.

A little bit of inflammation is natural and helpful, but quite often when it comes to healing, it can help to dampen the inflammation process slightly, because our Western/modern diet and lifestyle tends to tip inflammation into overdrive or to steer it in unhelpful directions that hinder rather than help healing.

In some scenarios, inflammation is a natural response to irritation and friction. For example, in osteoarthritis the loss of friction-avoiding, shock-absorbing cartilage means that bones start to touch and rub against each other. This causes inflammation. Friction-based inflammation can occur on a day-to-day basis when we neglect our posture, put too much pressure on the musculoskeletal system by being overweight or ignore injuries and continue to aggravate them rather than resting and getting help to recover properly. One of the most important things you can do to prevent inflammation is to avoid sitting too much, pushing your body too hard, and engaging in repetitive physical movements that result in wear and tear of specific muscles and joints. Continue reading

Probiotics, prebiotics and gut flora

Taking a probiotic or fermented food can be helpful to our gut flora but only to an extent. They really don’t survive long if they aren’t being fed and the quantity of microbes in the tablets or fermented food compared to the the population in the gut itself…. well, think of it as being a bit like asking one doctor to service an entire hospital. A mere drop in the ocean so to speak!

Probiotics and fermented foods can add new strains (species) but they don’t do a lot to really boost numbers. What really makes a difference is your diet. Within days of changing what you eat, your gut flora changes too, because it’s your diet that boosts or starves each strain. And the healthiest bacterial populations in our gut feed on plant foods (indigestible fibre) so this is what we need in order to nurture and build a thriving healthy gut environment. Animal products don’t contribute to this healthy population because they don’t contain fibre. In fact, by having too much animal foods in your diet, you risk starving your healthy gut flora, and as I’ve pointed out previously, this can lead to inflammation both in the gut and the body as a whole. Continue reading

Enhancing Iron Absorption

When we source iron from animal products and/or supplements, our body isn’t able to intelligently modulate uptake. The iron is absorbed, whether we need it or not, and this can put us in danger of iron excess. Iron is pro-oxidative and hence damaging to DNA and other molecules.

Iron excess is associated with a broad range of chronic illnesses such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, arthritis, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and colorectal and other cancers. Chronic (long term) iron overdose can result in aggressive behaviour, fatigue or hyperactivity, gut damage, seratonin imbalances, liver damage and so on.

When we source our iron from plant based foods, our body automatically adjusts how much we absorb based on what we need, which means we are in no danger of iron excess. If we need less, we will absorb less; if we need more, we absorb more. Vegans and vegetarians typically develop lower ferritin stores and this optimizes their absorption of iron.

WHAT ENHANCES IRON ABSORPTION?

You can dramatically enhance this absorption process by making sure you have vitamin-C rich foods with (or around about the same times as) iron rich foods. Most fruits and vegetables contain vitamin C, but some of the richer sources are broccoli, cabbage, kale, parsley, capsicum, black currants, guava, kiwifruit, mango, orange, pineapple, rockmelon, and strawberry. The citric acids in citrus fruits also enhance absorption, as do the beta-carotenes in yellow, red and orange foods. Continue reading

Diarrhoea

I’m writing this blog to answer a question in the Ask the Vegan Naturopath Facebook group. The question is about chronic diarrhoea, with a known gluten sensitivity. While the person I’m answering has had medical testing done and was able to provide a fair bit of information, I’m answering this in a more general manner for the benefit of others who may be suffering from diarrhoea without the benefit of having done this investigation:

First, make sure you have fully researched all gluten sources. Make sure you haven’t missed anything. And double check the ingredients labels on everything he is eating. Has this been medically diagnosed? I’ve seen children who appear to have diarrhea but it’s actually constipation with loose stool running out around this blockage.

If it is diarrhea, ask yourself if there is too much raw food or fruit in his diet. These can lead to diarrhea in some people. Loose stool in Chinese medicine is often thought to be due to weak or deficient spleen-pancreas qi, or if it gets really bad, deficient digestive fire. These people can have a pale tongue with a thin white coating, tend to be tired, have food sensitivities and other digestive troubles. They advise reducing excessive raw vegetables, fruit (esp citrus), sprouts, cereal grasses, tomato, spinach, tofu, wild blue-green microalgae, seaweeds, salt, dairy, sweets and vinegar (eg fermented foods). Helpful foods to add or increase are: sweet potato, pumpkin, carrot, parsnip, turnip, garbanzo and black beans, onions, leek, ginger, cinnamon, fennel, garlic, nutmeg, and fruits cooked rather than raw. Food needs to be chewed well! Continue reading

Vegan Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding doesn’t work out for everyone, but if you can do it, there are some wonderful bonuses.

For the baby, breastfeeding provides food in its ideal form, just as nature intended, with all macro and micronutrients in perfect ratio to one another. Besides being filled with all of these nutrients, human breast milk also contains plant chemicals that boost health and protect your baby against disease, along with powerful gut-flora and immune boosting gifts from the mother’s body such as antibodies, cytokines, anti-microbials and oligosaccharides. Breast-fed babies are less likely to develop colds, ear infections, asthma, allergies and stomach upsets, and later in life, they are less likely to suffer from diabetes, heart disease, obesity, or childhood leukaemia. It’s amazing to think that there is this incredible symbiotic relationships between the mother’s body and the child’s, with the composition of the mother’s breast milk adjusting itself constantly in response to the babies changing needs. Continue reading

Eating disorders and vegan/vegetarian diets

I’ve been meaning to write this blog for a while, and now feels like the right time. Essentially, what I’m doing here is simply sharing some brilliant information from the “Weighty Matter’s” chapter of one of my favourite books, ‘Becoming Vegan’, written by vegan dieticians Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina. It really does pay to source vegan dietary support from people who actually specialise in this field, and these two women are two of the best! Brenda is a leader in her field and an internationally acclaimed speaker. Past chairperson of the Vegetarian Dietetic Practise Group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Brenda has written more than eight books and is the lead dietitian in a diabetes research project in Majuro, Marshall Islands. Vesanto taught nutrition at the University of British Columbia and Bastyr University in Seattle, co-authored the joint-position paper on vegetarian diets for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and Dieticians of Canada and is a consultant to the government of British Columbia.

As the authors point out in their “Weighty Matter’s” chapter, there are many experts who believe that vegan and vegetarian diets can increase the risk of eating disorders and some treatment centres will force a reintroduction of meat into the diet as part of the recovery process. These ideas are based on data from 1997-2009 that reported significantly higher rates of disturbed eating among the vegetarian population in comparison to non-vegetarians. And the statistics are significant: approximately 50% of adolescents and young women with anorexia nervosa eat some form of vegetarian diet whereas only 6-34% of their non-anorexic peers eat a vegetarian diet.

The problem with these statistics lays in the way they are interpreted: we can’t look at them and simply assume that vegan and vegetarian diets lead to anorexia. Quite the contrary, research has shown that people with eating disorders adopt vegetarian diets, “using them to facilitate calorie restriction and legitimise the removal of high-fat, high-calorie animal products, and processed or fast foods made with these products.” In other words, the vegetarian or plant-based diet becomes a ‘front’ and can easily mask an existing eating disorder. This has been referred to as “pseudo vegetarianism.” Continue reading

Lavender Fudge Cheesecake

2015-07-19 14.43.13BASE

1 cup macedamia nuts

1/4 cup toasted buckwheat groats

1 tablespoon of unhulled tahini

8 pitted medjool dates

Put all of these ingredients in your food processor and crush/blend until the mix looks like cooked cake crumble or fresh bread crumbs. To check whether you need more dates, pinch some of the mix between your fingers to see if it squeezes together and holds together if you roll it into a ball in your hand. A taste test at this stage helps too! Is it sweet enough for you?

“Why do they have to be medjool dates?” my husband asks.

“Because they are THE dates. Manna from heaven!”, I replied. They aren’t just sweet, they make everything stick together. It’s got to be sticky enough to firm a fairly firm base in the bottom of your dessert dish, without being too sweet. Add coconut oil or prunes for extra moisture if your food processor isn’t powerful enough to pull this off. Not water- that makes the cakes icy instead of creamy. These are freezer cakes, so keep in mind that they won’t shrink and pop neatly out of a cake tin when you turn it upside down, so be clever about the dish you choose to put your mix into.

MIDDLE

1/2 – 1 *banana

1 cup of walnuts

1 cup of cashews

12 pitted medjool dates

Vanilla essence or seeds (a splash or 1-2 seedpods)

*Bananas are surprisingly strong in aroma and taste, so their use needs to be careful, if you don’t want it to over-power other flavours, but they do give you more bulk without needing extra nuts. If you don’t like the taste of banana in this cake, replace the banana with another cup of nuts

Blend everything in the food processor. Keep going until it clumps together and becomes fairly smooth. I actually prefer texture in most of my meals/dishes, so I don’t make it completely smooth. More moisture does help with smoothness so if you prefer your cakes this way, add coconut oil or use cashew butter instead of cashews.

Remove 1/4 of the mix and put it aside (in the freezer) to use as the base for the ‘icing’ (the top layer).

Now add 1 tablespoon of cocoa or cacao powder to the remaining mix and blend again (Use even more if you really love chocolate and your food processor is tough!) Yum! Spread this mix over the base layer and put your dish into the freezer.

TOP

1 tablespoon of melted cacao butter

1 tablespoon or more of lavender flowers

You can adjust the lavender quantity and add more, but lavender is powerful, so a little bit goes a long way. Stir these ingredients into the 1/4 mix you had set aside in the freezer. If you want some more vibrant colour in this layer, mash/stir/blend in some blueberries.

Spread this mix over the middle layer of your cake and your cake is finished! Put your cake in the freezer over-night and serve the next day. These cakes can last months in the freezer, but do keep them covered.

My daughter (the tea-tasting expert) suggests having a cup of lavender or cocoa husk tea with this cake. We love cake with tea! The flavour balancing is so much fun!

Enjoy

Love Om

Agar Agar

IMG_0468Agar Agar (also known as agar, or kanten) is the mucilage content drawn from several seaweeds. As a herbalist, I’ve always been fascinated with mucilaginous herbs and foods. The action associated with mucilage content in an ingested herb or food is referred to as ‘demulcent’. If used topically on the skin, the action of mucilaginous herbs is referred to as ’emollient’. Emollients and demulcents are soothing, cooling, moistening and calming for body tissues they come in contact with.

This is a mechanical more so than a chemical action; mucilages are sticky, gooey, and almost mucous-like… hence the name! This consistency is what provides soothing to irritated tissues. The bit that always intrigued me during my naturopathic training was the idea that these mucilage-soothed tissues could send a kind of ‘calm and happy’ message to other mucous membranes in the body. Realistically, ingested demulcent herbs only come into contact with the digestive lining, and yet, their soothing effect can be felt in the lungs and the urinary system. No one knows for sure exactly how or why this is so, but it is possible that calmed nerve endings in in the gut-lining send a nerve-reflex ‘message’ to mucous membranes elsewhere. Continue reading