This whole healthy living business is a bit of a two-steps forward and one-step back process for me – and I think for lots of people. It’s lovely to imagine that you can turn over a new leaf one day, lose your appetite for the ‘bad’ things in life and turn into a zen-yoga goddess, who not only prepares beautiful, nutritious food, but does it all in a spirit of gratitude and happiness.
Meanwhile, back in the real world, you’re desperate for a proper drink on a Friday night, totally sick of cooking and as far as relaxation goes, a box-set binge on the sofa (Narcos S3 here I come…) sounds just the ticket. So, in the absence of a personality transplant, you just have to do the best you can. For me, it’s a case of trying things out, and then I tend to stick with what makes me feel better. In the spirit of honesty, I thought that I’d fess up to a few failures and highlight some of what’s been working recently.
- The activated nuts investment. Firstly, there is absolutely nothing wrong with activated nuts, they’re lovely. Along with legumes and grains, nuts contain various substances, termed ‘anti-nutrients’ that are designed to keep them viable until the conditions are right for them to actually grow but which can interfere with mineral absorption and may make them hard to digest. ‘Activating’ them, gets rid of these. Another important fact about activated nuts is that they are really frigging expensive (like over £50 per kilo…). So, in a burst of enthusiasm, I decided that I would activate my own nuts which involves soaking them in salty water and then dehydrating them – simple.
All was well, until I discovered that my oven doesn’t go low enough to dehydrate them without also roasting them (delicious, but not right!). So…I decided to buy a food dehydrator (marketed as being useful for preppers, so now might be a good time to buy one) which did, after about 24 hours of irritating humming on my benchtop, dry out the activated nuts. It was all a bit of a faff and I confess that the dehydrator is gathering dust in the cupboard, and all recent nut consumption remains sadly of the inactive variety (which apparently is not a problem, especially if you are eating nuts as a snack away from other food).
- The aspirational ingredient purchases. These are the ones that seemed like a really good idea at the time (in those moments when I believed I COULD be a zen-yoga goddess of my kitchen), but have not yet made it into actual food. A brief rummage through my pantry reveals goodies such as chick-pea flour, coconut flour, buckwheat (I did actually try this, I even bloody sprouted it to try to make it taste nice!) a MASSIVE tin of brewer’s yeast (am feeding to Hector; his coat looks beautiful), and some dried out seaweed. Now, because I am stubborn, I will at some point do something with these foods, but really, I could manage perfectly well without them lurking on the shelves, reminding me of their presence.
- The occasional longing for a cigarette. I was never a massive smoker, certainly not after the kids arrived, but there are times, generally involving wine, when I absolutely crave a cigarette. I’d say that it’s about every 3 months when I crack and actually have one (or two…). The thing that annoys me the most is the strength of the desire and the fact that I have been unable to get on top of it completely. I absolutely take my hat off to everyone who has kicked the habit for good.
- My inability to come up with healthy snacks that my kids actually like. I think that the basic problem here is that in a fit of eagerness, I make something overly worthy, involving vast quantities of pumpkin and sunflower seeds, which they initially pretend to like and then beg me not to give them again. I then get pissed off because of the waste of effort and resort to bags of popcorn and Babybels. Really, if I just made something not ridiculously ‘right-on’ but homemade with normal ingredients, I suspect that everyone would be a winner.
- The 12 hour eating window. It’s taken over a year of hearing about how this is a really good idea for me to actually put it into practise. The idea is that you need to give your digestion and metabolism at least 12 hours a day without food in order for these systems to work at their best. There’s a good summary of time restricted eating here. My tactic has been just to not eat anything after 7pm which I thought would be hard, but actually, once I decided not to, has been surprisingly easy. One concern was that I’d feel weak at my 6am fitness class without eating a bedtime snack the night before, but in fact I can do a couple of exercises in the circuit for much longer than usual. I know that’s a classic piece of anecdata and largely meaningless, but I’m totally going to stick with this new habit.
- A return to daily meditation. Today will be the 30th day in a row that I’ve managed to meditate for 15 minutes and I am so pleased! Before I started up again, I’d been having weird anxiety-like symptoms, despite not having anything to be anxious about and feeling generally pretty good. These have now gone, and after each session, I think ‘I am so glad that I did this’. I do have to pick the right time as there are some times of day, like 9am and 3pm where I just fall straight asleep and find myself drooling in a rather un-zen-yoga goddess fashion, but most of the time it goes really well. I’ve looked into a couple of other online mindfulness/happiness programs like 10%happier and happify but still feel like Headspace is the best tool for me.
- More experiments in fermenting stuff. As I write, I have some big jars of kombucha, which is fermented sweet black tea, doing their thing in the cupboard. A lovely colleague on my course gave me the SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast – yum!) which works the magic, and if there is anyone local who would like a bit, or some kefir grains to start their own kefir, just let me know because these things multiply and I hate throwing them away. The reason that I enjoy the faffing of the fermented foods is because I associate them with a big boost in my energy and overall wellbeing, so in cost/benefit terms, they are totally worth it.
So there we have it. I’d love to know if you have any tips for using up my ‘aspirational’ ingredients, what your successes are, and if there’s anything wellness related that you struggle with. Drop me some comments!
Okay, I know that this is not the healthiest recipe in the world, and it does involve my kids’ nemeses – pumpkin and sunflower seeds, but….in the spirit of better options than shop-bought, it’s a goodie. It’s a Nigella recipe, and say what you like about Nigella, her recipes ALWAYS work… The sugar content is admittedly high, however, there’s some protein in the nuts to slow down the glucose spike, plenty of fibre and decent mineral content from the seeds.
Breakfast Bars – from Nigella Express
- 1 can (397g) condensed milk
- 250g rolled (not instant) oats
- 75g shredded coconut
- 100g dried cranberries
- 125 g mixed seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame)
- 125g natural unsalted peanuts (or other nuts chopped to ½ a peanut size)
Prep: Heat the oven to 130℃ and oil a baking tin 23 x 33 cms.
- Warm the condensed milk in a large pan.
- Mix together all other ingredients, then add them to the warmed condensed milk, stirring well.
- Spread the mixture in the tin, pressing it down well with a spatula or back of a big spoon until it’s even.
- Bake for 1 hour then remove from the oven. Let cool for 15 minutes, then cut into bars.