Smooth Operator – Easiest Almond Chocolate Milk Ever

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Almond Tree Growing in Portugal

For some years now I have been told by many health practitioners and vegan friends that drinking dairy is bad for my health and that cow’s milk is for calves and not humans.  Mostly I’ve ignored this advice, because I really like the taste of dairy products, primarily butter and cream.   It has also been convenient for me to ignore the fact, that milk products may be bad for me or the planet,  as they are such a cheap commodity these days and really delicious. I have bought the odd bit of almond or rice milk in the past, but have found the commercial varieties quite watery and over priced.  Then a few months ago I decided to cut out cheese and yoghurt for a while (I was already consuming very little milk), and found that I was actually feeling better.

This got me thinking more about this dairy dilemma and I came to the conclusion that it is far more complex an issue than I ever thought.  The research on whether dairy is good for our health is pretty much divided, you can find arguments for as well as against everywhere you look. You really have to ask yourself “Does dairy work for me? What is my body telling me?”  However, for me, whether to dairy or not to dairy is ultimately an environmental question.  The fact is that the amount of dairy products we are consuming presently, is completely unsustainable for the planet. Furthermore the practices in large-scale factory style farms are often cruel to animals and many nutrients found in milk can be easily found elsewhere.

In steps the humble almond, queen of nuts .  This queen has surely got it going on! Almonds have so many health benefits I don’t even know where to start.  There is already a large body of evidence supporting many cardiovascular benefits of eating almonds. Every handful eaten daily was associated with a 3.5 percent decreased risk of heart disease ten years later. Almonds are already known to help with weight loss and satiety, help prevent diabetes, inhibit cancer-cell growth, and decrease Alzheimer’s risk.  Growing almonds also puts less stress on the earths resources, using much less water and power to produce.  Whats not to like?

Admittedly we could also run into strife here, as most almonds are grown in very dry, even drought stricken regions like California (82% of worlds almonds are grown here) and Spain.  Almond consumption has skyrocketed in the last decade and production won’t be able to keep up with demand if this trend continues. Fear not I say, everything in moderation.  Almonds can be enjoyed in small amounts and don’t have to replace whole food groups like dairy and flour.  I often despair when whole food groups get completely replaced by one product.  The key to a healthy planet and a healthy diet, in my opinion, is variety, moderation and eating seasonal.  Listen to your body, tune in and follow its cues. Your body will tell you when and what to eat, its your guru.

I still eat (and love) dairy but I consume much less than I used to.  I mainly eat raw organic milk and cheese and when I have time I will make my own kefir.  I try to buy local produce as much as I can, although I’m also a bit partial to french cheese.  Homemade almond milk has now become a firm favourite of mine.  Its luscious and velvety smooth and because it’s so filling, it really is satiating. I often have a bottle of this chocolate milk in the fridge to drink,  as a little sweet pick me up that’s good for the heart and the soul.

Almonds and a shot of Almond Chocolate Milk

Chocolate Almond Milk

Ingredients (this makes approx 500-700 ml depending on how much water is used)

  • 1 cup soaked raw almonds (soak almonds in filtered water for 8-12 hours, this will activate them)
  • 11/2 – 3 cups water (less water will make the almond milk more creamy, I usually use 2 cups)
  • pinch of salt

Method

  • put all the ingredients into a high powered food processor like a vitamix, (a normal, less powerful food processor will work too.  It will simply leave a more coarse pulp) and process for about 30 s
  • strain the mixture through a fine muslin cloth or a nut milk bag and collect the almond milk.

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    Almond Milk straining through a Milk Nut Bag

  • store the milk for up to 3 days in the fridge or continue with the chocolate milk recipe below

To make chocolate almond milk simply add 2-3 teaspoons of cocoa (use less if your sensitive to stimulants), 2 soaked dates and 1 teaspoon vanilla essence to 500ml of almond milk. Put it all back into the food processor and process until the dates are completely incorporated. You can also use less almond milk and add more water for a thinner drink.  Consume straight away or chill, I personally like it cold.  If you like your milk a bit more spicy try adding 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and the contents of a cardamom pod when your blending it.

This milk is delicious just on its own or try adding seasonal fruit and honey or dates instead of chocolate.  You can use this milk in baking etc just as you would normal milk.  If your milk separates in the fridge, just shake it before using it.  Experiment and make it your own best flavour.  I absolutely adore this chocolate version.  I serve it nice and cold in a small glass in the afternoon or after dinner.

 

With Love xx

 

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Breakfast is served – Sourdough Pancakes

11986370_10207644305602682_8532946972547432128_nBreakfast can be a time of great nutritional misinformation and in fact because it’s often so time pressured we do tend to go back to old, tried and true staples.  Breakfast need not be a headache, with a little bit of planning, food can be easily made in 10-20 min.  I’ve got the luxury of not having to rush out of the house, so I can make my family a healthy breakfast most mornings.  However, even if you do indeed have to join the commuter rush, there is always time for fruit, porridge or a piece of sourdough toast with almond butter.

In our household there are some firm breakfast staples and mostly I’ve banned any kind of boxed cereal.  Although when my husband needs to rush to work he will eat flakes and my kids consider corn flakes a treat. We like poached eggs on sourdough bread, kefir smoothies, eggs and soldiers, omelette and the well liked sourdough pancake.  With the last of the berries ripening now, you could forage for some blackberries and serve them on these delicious pancakes for a special Sunday morning breakfast.  Mind you sometimes my kids eat these for an easy dinner combined with a simple soup.

Sometimes I make these pancakes savoury and grate some courgettes or other vegetables in or leave them plain and serve them to dip into a stew.  The batter is incredibly versatile, very light and easy to prepare.  Once you’ve got your sourdough starter you are set.

bubbling sourdough - simplyirina

Bubbling Sourdough Starter

The reason why I favour my grains fermented, is because the fermentation process pre-digests the grain.  This means that the lactobacilli gobble up carbohydrates in the flour and turn them into nutrients we can assimilate more readily in our bodies.  Enzymes in the grain are activated in this acidified environment and break down anti nutrients like phytates. As a result the dough contains more B vitamins, folate and lactic acid (which makes the dough sour). Non fermented grains, made using yeast,  are not particularly good for our digestive system and have potentially lead to many digestive diseases we hear of today. A fermented grain is basically been left in an acidified, warm moist environment for 8-24 hours.  The longer you leave it,  the more sour it will get, and the more nutritious too.  I like to ferment my grains between 8-12 hours in most cases, making the taste only slightly acidic.

Although sourdough is often referred to as gourmet or novelty food, I like to remind people, that until 130 years ago all flour products were made this way: water, flour, leaven and time.  A leaven or sourdough starter is simply a slurry of water and flour which has been left out in the warmth to naturally ferment.  A starter can be maintained for a life time and can be passed on for generations.  Fear not, in the likely event that you kill your starter, a new one can be made just as easily.

Sourdough Starter

Ingredients

Flour, water and patience

Method

  • In a 500 ml jar mix half a cup of flour and 1/2 cup of water to make a fairly runny slurry. If the batter is too thick or thickens up over the course of a day, just add some more water .  Its important to use filtered water and I favour organic rye flour, although any flour will do.
  • Leave in a warm place with the lid off, covering the jar with a paper towel or muslin cloth to keep flies out.
  • Keep stirring the batter several times a day and look out for natural bubbles developing
  • After 2-3 days add 2 tablespoons of flour and some more water, keep stirring.
  • Once the batter is bubbling vigorously (after 3-7 days), add another 1/2 cup of flour and water. Leave the starter out for 3-4 hours and then use it or keep it in the fridge with the lid on until your ready to use it.
  • Everytime you use some starter, simply replace the amount you have used (so if its 1/2 cup of starter then add 1/2 cup of flour and enough water to make a slurry) and leave the jar to ferment some time in the warmth, after that it can go back in the fridge until you need to use it again.

Sourdough Pancakes

Ingredients

  • 11/2 cups flour ( I love spelt or kamut flour)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tbsp sourdough starter

 

  • 1 egg (optional)
  • 1 ripe banana mashed (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • coconut oil for frying

Method

  • Mix the flour, water and sourdough starter thoroughly in a bowl and leave for 8-12 hours, preferably in a warm spot with a lid on the bowl. If you don’t have a lidded bowl simply drape a tea towel over it. I usually leave it over night to make pancakes for breakfast.
  • Once its been left to ferment you then add the egg, banana and baking soda just before cooking.  The baking soda will neutralise the acidity in the dough and make it nice and fluffy.  Make sure that both the egg and banana are well mixed into the dough.
  • Use coconut oil for frying (butter and ghee are good too) and cook small amounts of batter in batches.  I use a cast iron skillet and am quite generous with my coconut oil.

I make small pancakes, roughly the size of the palm of my hand, and you should get roughly 18 pancakes from this amount of flour.  If you want to make this vegan, just omit the egg and it will still taste very nice. Serve with any topping you like, fresh fruit, yoghurt and coconut syrup is our favourite way.

sourdough pancakes and fruit

sourdough pancakes and fruit

 

With love xx

Easy like Saturday Morning – Chocolate Chip Cookies

11751439_10207305567134432_5913152121547736348_nI love rituals and rhythms, particularly around food. I think they help ground me but they also give my family an anchor, like a ship being gently moored in a bay.  It says be present, stay a while and smell the roses.  It means we can drop our fight and flight and settle into a quality of being where we can expand a little.

So one of my rituals on a saturday morning is to make these cookies, or a variation of some sorts.  Since they contain chocolate they are a huge hit with everyone.  They happen to be gluten-free, but you could substitute the rice flour for normal or spelt flour if you like.  I have my opinions about gluten-free, but will reserve them for another post.  In short no one in our family is a celiac but we try to eat most of our grains fermented, if I’m using a recipe where that’s not convenient I will use gluten-free flours instead.

I do however stay away from refined sugars, in fact at the moment I’m staying away from all sugar for a while.  Sugar really affects my body so after years of fine tuning I know which kind of sweet treats I can tolerate without going into a sugar coma.  In this recipe I’m using Rapadura sugar, which is the commercial name for dehydrated cane sugar juice. It has a wonderful rich, caramel like flavour and closely mimics sugar in its chemical properties, without upsetting the body. Do be careful though, in large quantities this may just have the same effect as regular white sugar.

 Im not going to tell you that these are guilt free, what does that even mean? Eat as many or a little as you feel is right for you and experiment with the amount of sugar in the recipe.  I find that if I eat something sweet, a healthy dose of fat (butter in this case) and protein (almonds and hazelnuts) helps my body chemistry to stay stable. I also tend to eat sweets after a meal so that there is something else already in my stomach to absorb the sugar.

Last but not least I do realise that the ingredients in this recipe are fairly pricey and that eating these on a daily basis is not really realistic.  Which is why I make them on a Saturday to last the weekend and once they are gone, they are gone. After all that is why they are called treats, right?

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup whole hazelnuts
  • 1 cup almond meal/flour
  • 1 cup rice flour
  • 2/3 cup rapadura sugar (Coconut sugar works as well)
  • 1/2 cup soft butter or coconut oil
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • pinch of salt
  • 1-2 tablespoons water
  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped dark chocolate chunks ( I use Lindt cooking chocolate) plus some pieces to decorate the cookies or you can use any other cookie decoration

Method

  • Put hazelnuts into the food processor and grind to a coarse meal
  • Add almond and rice flour, sugar, butter, salt and cinnamon and process until well mixed
  • Add water to bring it all together, it should be moist like wet sand but still firm
  • Put chocolate in for a final quick pulse
  • Form into walnut sized balls and put on a tray prepared with baking paper
  • Add the chocolate decoration to each cookie
  • Bake at 150 degrees celsius for 20 minutes

When you take the cookies out of the oven they will still be a little bit soft, don’t move them at this point.  Once they’ve cooled they will have hardened and you can move them.  I store mine in a glass Kilner jar, but they never last long anyway.  This recipe makes about 20-24 cookies, depending on how much dough gets eaten by little hands as they are making them!!

With Love x