Seasonal adjustments

As the Scottish winter draws in, the days get short and the cold sets in, I’ve noticed that my usual food routine hasn’t been working so well. So to address this, and a massive dip in my energy levels which coincided with the clocks changing (plus a fantastic and beertastic minibreak in Berlin…) I’ve had to make a few adjustments to get things back on track. I’ve also taken the opportunity to focus on a few foods, herbs and habits that can really support wellbeing at this time of year.

Absolutely not salad weather…
  1. Replace cold and raw vegetables with warm and cooked ones. This is so obvious, but having extolled the virtues of my daily salad bowl, I found myself sitting at the table with zero desire to eat one. In traditional chinese medicine, raw vegetables are seen as very cold and damp, and at this time of year, these are the characteristics that can turn you off them. So, in order to get your 8 portions of vegetables a day, it’s time to turn to soups, big trays of roasted veggies, using seasonal greens to make pesto or wilting them into some miso soup. I’m not always great at batch cooking, but do tend to make more of an effort at this time of year.

    A perfect winter lunch.
  2. Think about Vitamin D levels. In the UK, between October and March, even if you sit in the sun, the UVB rays that we need to make vitamin D, are not strong enough to do this. The NHS recommends that all children under the age of 5 take supplemental Vitamin D and suggests that adults should also do this through the winter months. There is a huge range of supplements available, with sprays  and drops a great option for little ones who don’t like taking tablets, and also those combined with complementary nutrients like Vitamin K. Vitamin D is such an important nutrient, not just for our bones, but also our immune system, our metabolism and cardiovascular health so keeping levels optimal can make a huge difference to how you feel.

    Sunshine; it’s in short supply round here.

3. Make the most of mushrooms. As they are in season just now, you can get hold of lovely wild mushrooms, but even standard supermarket white cups have a raft of health benefits due to their mineral, antioxidant and fibre content, and their positive effects on the immune system – which needs all the help it can get as the cold and flu season approaches. Fittingly, to get the maximum benefit from mushrooms they need to be cooked, and their amazing umami flavour is of course brilliant in casseroles, stews and soups. In order to get them past my children, I have taken to blitzing them in the food processor before adding them to whatever I’m cooking – they haven’t noticed. I’ve also started experimenting more with dried mushrooms like shiitake which I love because they just sit around until you are ready to use them.

Don’t underestimate the power of fungi.

4. Warm with herbs. If you think about the sort of flavours associated with Christmas, like cinnamon and ginger, it’s quite clear that these have a seasonal relevance. (By the way, the latin name for ginger is Zingiber officinale – how great is that? I sense a little ginger kitten in my future called Zingy….). As well as ginger and cinnamon; black pepper, garlic and cardamom all share that lovely warming effect. Fresh ginger tea, in which you just grate and steep the root in hot water is a simple way to get it on board. A great side effect of many of these herbs is that they have a strong anti-inflammatory effect on the body, and cinnamon is also known to increase our sensitivity to insulin – so if you must have apple pie, give it a generous sprinkling of cinnamon.

5. Be kind to yourself. I find it much harder to get up and go in the winter, which I think is normal, so am trying to build in a bit more time for sleep, for taking lovely Epsom salt baths, and for a bit of gentle decluttering and fluffing about the house. When the sun does shine though, it’s great to get into it and it’s thought that a bit of regular daylight through winter can help to stave off the winter blues. If you can do this with friends and family, even better!

Make like a snow monkey and enjoy lots of lovely warm baths. Add epsom salts to get your magnesium in.


Bone Broth.
There are lots of people who roll their eyes at the mention of bone broth (like the Angry Chef – entertaining, but I totally disagree with him on many fronts) because it’s such a staple of wellness bloggers and sounds like a total faff. My opinion is that it is not just a new term for ‘stock’, that it is absolutely worth making, and that personally, as I have a cup, I can just feel it doing me good. The reason for people raving about it is that the long cooking and the addition of apple cider vinegar to break down the bones, releases lots of nutrients into the broth, including easy-to-absorb minerals and supportive substances like gelatin and glutamine. These have great healing properties for the gut wall. Again, if you think back to old traditions, giving chicken soup as a healing food is common to loads of cultures around the world and research has confirmed it’s health benefits.

First, choose your saucepan.

At this time of year, it’s such a handy ingredient to make soups and great tasting dishes from. I wouldn’t suggest making it from non-organic bones though, and if you don’t have organic bones handy (I usually freeze chicken carcasses after each roast and then make a massive pot of broth with 2 or 3 of them), you can get them via mail order, and the supplier that I tend to use is Coombe Farm Organic. If you have a slow cooker, you might want to use it as you can leave it cooking overnight, also, pressure cookers are fabulous as they reduce the cooking time significantly. 


  • Bones – either chicken carcasses, or beef or lamb bones.
  • 2 tbsp of apple cider vinegar
  • 1 onion
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 stick celery
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 6 peppercorns or a good grind of black pepper
  • Bay leaf if handy
  • Water to cover the bones


  1. Add the bones to the pan. If you are using beef or lamb bones, brown them in the oven first.
  2. Cover the bones with water and add 2 tablespoons of apple-cider vinegar. Leave to sit for 30 minutes.
  3. Add all of the other ingredients to the pan and bring to the boil.
  4. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook for 12 hours at least. If using a pressure cooker, cut the time to 3 hours, and if using a slow cooker, use the ‘high’ setting for up to 24 hours. If using a normal hob, as per the instructions from the doyennes of bone broth, the Helmsley sisters,  ‘when you’re home and in the kitchen, bring it to the boil and reduce to a slow simmer. When you need to go out or to bed, just turn it off and let it cool without lifting the lid. Tell people not to take a peek! This means you have a heat seal and keeps bacteria out until you resume cooking it. This works in a cool kitchen, out of direct sunlight. Don’t leave it for more than 8 hours between simmers. Complete this process within 24 hours.’
  5. Let the broth cool, and strain into containers. It freezes well and will keep in the fridge for 3-4 days, or, if there is a good unbroken seal of fat on the top of it, for up to 1 week. I am generally paranoid about it going off after all of the love and affection that has gone into making it so I just keep what I will use over a couple of days in the fridge and then freeze the rest.
  6. Enjoy! Add salt to taste – you can have a mug before your meal, or before bed, or use as a base that will make any soup or stew taste brilliant.

Book Recommendation:

Super Herbs by Rachel Landon.  Thanks to Dee who flagged up this new arrival in the library! I’ve been reading through it and the information is accessible but with plenty of depth and the recipes for foods, medicines, lotions and potions really make you want to produce them. Just for fun, I’ve included the recipe for a ‘Skin Clarifying Face Mask below – I am frankly terrified of trying it as have visions of walking about with a golden yellow face for a week, but she assures us that the turmeric will come off with olive oil on a cotton pad… go on, you try first…

Skin Clarifying Face Mask – Turmeric is high in antioxidants and helps to clarify and cleanse the skin, leaving it bright, smooth and even.

  • 1 dessertspoon of good quality honey
  • 1 dessertspoon of natural organic yoghurt
  • 1 teaspoon of turmeric

Mix ingredients together and apply a good layer to your face, avoiding your eyes.
Wash your hands and relax with cotton wool pads soaked with cold rosewater on your eyes for 20 minutes.
Rinse with a face cloth and warm water. 

Activating my nuts and other failures

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.


  1. 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.

    Active, inactive, who knows…

    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).

  2. 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.

    Hector and his lovely, brewer’s yeast enriched coat.
  3. 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.

    Intention vs reality. Sums up my approach to smoking.
  4. 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.


  1. 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.

    Me with the big ropes in the gym after my time restricted eating experiment.
  2. 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. 
  3. 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.
I can totally make my kombucha look as pretty as this.

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.


  1. Warm the condensed milk in a large pan.
  2. Mix together all other ingredients, then add them to the warmed condensed milk, stirring well.
  3. Spread the mixture in the tin, pressing it down well with a spatula or back of a big spoon until it’s even.
  4. Bake for 1 hour then remove from the oven. Let cool for 15 minutes, then cut into bars.

    What they should look like…

The brilliance of brassicas.

Although not the sexiest members of the vegetable world (with the glorious exception of romanesco broccoli), brassicas, also known as cruciferous vegetables, are nutritional powerhouses that deserve a place on our plates every day.

A super-sexy romanesco.

I’ve been trying to find out if there’s any difference between brassicas and cruciferous vegetables, but the two terms seem to be totally interchangeable – if you know different, please tell me! Here in East Lothian, it’s brassica central, with the fields full of cabbages and brussels sprouts so I feel duty bound to make the most of what’s on the doorstep.

Brassicas – my top 10 (a more comprehensive list here)

  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage – all varieties, green, red, savoy, chinese/napa.
  • Radish
  • Rocket
  • Kale
  • Pak Choi (and Chinese greens in general).
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Watercress
  • Cress
  • Kale

    Not sure what this is, but I’d bet my house on it being a brassica.

The great thing is that they’re such a broad group that whatever season it is; whether you are in soup or salad mode, there’s always something that you can go for. One item not featured in my top 10, which I feel slightly guilty and unpatriotic about, is the humble turnip. Anyone got any good recipes for neeps that don’t necessarily include haggis and tatties?

What’s so brilliant about them?

  1. They contain cancer-protecting compounds called glucosinolates. These contain sulphur and are responsible for the strong ‘cabbagey’ taste of brassicas. As these compounds are broken down in the body, they create more active substances which have been shown in animal studies to hinder the growth of cancer cells. Studying their effects on humans hasn’t given such clear cut results but there’s an almost £4,000,000 research project underway on this right now so watch this space (and in the meantime, I’ll keep eating my cabbage).
  2. They can help balance oestrogen in the body. As I’ve been studying, it’s become clear that as far as hormones go, what we want to do, is use them for what they’re designed for and then get them out of the body pronto, before they are reabsorbed or start to meander down potentially harmful metabolic pathways. Brassicas not only help us to do this, but can also block oestrogen receptors in cases when there’s too much oestrogen in the body. MEN – this is not just relevant for women – males can also be affected by excess oestrogen, so there’s no excuse for you to avoid your brussels sprouts…

    Have you tried them roasted? They actually taste good!
  3. Their bitter taste stimulates the gall bladder. This might not sound like a big deal, but anyone who has experienced gall-bladder pain will know how excruciating it is when things go wrong in this department. Without a good squirt of bile to break down our fats, cholesterol levels can rise, our digestion can go awry and gallstones can develop. If you already have a gallbladder problem, I certainly wouldn’t suggest eating a cupful of radishes before each meal as it might stir things up too much. But for the rest of us, a handful of rocket leaves or a couple of radishes before dinner, especially if it’s a rich one, will prime the gallbladder and help us digest.(An aside: On holiday in Austria earlier in the year, after ordering some lovely sausages in a bar, little dishes with grated ‘stuff’ appeared alongside them. Presuming that the ‘stuff’ was cheese, we encouraged the kids to get stuck in, only to discover that it was grated horseradish, to help the wursts settle nicely in our stomachs. The boys were horrified, but this was a great illustration of the benefits of brassicas!)

    Beautiful St Johann. Home of the wurst/horseradish combo.
  4. They assist with detoxification. As well as helping to get rid of spent oestrogen; the substances made when brassicas break down in the body help support the super-busy cells of your liver with detoxification in general. Cress actually contains the highest concentration of the compound that does this, so if you’ve got out of the swing of buying those random little punnets of cress in the supermarket, get them back in your basket and on top of your food – they’re the cheapest and most powerful sprouts that you’re going to find in the shops.
  5. They’re full of fibre, vitamins and minerals. The key vitamin components are Vitamins A and C and folic acid (B9) and there’s lots more information about micronutrients in brassicas here.

An important note about brassicas and the thyroid gland:
For people with thyroid problems, there’s a suggestion that a big intake of brassicas could make things worse. From the reading I’ve done, it seems that you need to consume huge amounts of raw vegetables to have any impact on the thyroid gland, and to stay on the safe side, light cooking can prevent any ill effects.

Eating them.

Loads of brassicas, like broccoli and rocket are just part of the weekly shop and however you prepare them at home, it’s worth remembering that chopping them up and giving them a good chew both help to get the good components out of them. (Something like the coleslaw from last week’s blog  is great for this). I reckon that I usually have at least one portion each day, and recently, have loved getting back into things like radish which I never thought to buy, just because it didn’t occur to me. I really am determined to learn to love turnip, and get up to at least 2 portions of brassicas daily.

Radishes, my new favourite. The hotter the better.

Also, I was reading in James Wong’s lovely book; ‘How to Eat Better‘ that if you add a bit of mustard powder to your cooked brassicas (or horseradish, or grated radish) you can reactivate enzymes in the cooked vegetable that make it just as nutritious as the raw version. With this in mind, he has a recipe for a fab mustard dressing. This is great to know because I don’t always feel like chomping my way through a big bowl of raw vegetables, especially now we’re coming into winter up here in the frozen North.

James Wong’s Magic Mustard Dressing.

  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp mustard powder
  • Big pinch of good salt
  • 1/4 tsp dried dill
  • 1/4 tsp clear honey

Whisk together. Et voila.

Finally, another tip from the lovely Mr Wong (he really is quite lovely) , is to go for the darkest or brightest coloured versions of any vegetable as these ones contain the most phytonutrients. So broccoli totally trumps cauliflower, and purple-sprouting broccoli trumps regular broccoli.

Now here’s a recipe from me:

Somewhat Asian Savoy Cabbage

  • 1 savoy cabbage, outer leaves and core removed and shredded
  • 4 grated carrots
  • 1 inch ginger, grated.
  • ½ a red chilli chopped finely
  • 1 teaspoon or 1 tablespoon tamari/soy sauce according to taste
  • ½ a tin of coconut milk


  1. Get a saucepan with a lid, fill it with about 2cms of water and bring to the boil.
  2. Throw in the cabbage and carrot, put the lid on and leave to cook/steam for about 6 minutes.
  3. Drain the cabbage and carrots very well.
  4. Throw all of the ingredients back into the saucepan and stir them together briefly over the heat.
    (If you want to reactivate the enzymes using the tip above, just add grated raw radish or shredded rocket leaves right before eating).

You could have this along with some brown rice and pan-fried fish for a really easy dinner, it’s very quick and painless to make. (Note: no claims made as to child friendliness)