Smooth Operator – Easiest Almond Chocolate Milk Ever

IMG_1516

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.

    IMG_2046

    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

 

Advertisements

On the footsteps of greek simplicity – Lentil Stew

11831647_10207380835616097_6071817877964869620_n

I’m on a two-week holiday in Greece at the moment and lots of things are fermenting and ruminating in my mind, narrowing it down to a succinct thread is my usual challenge. Considering we are in the middle of a greek financial crises, no jobs etc, its business as usual here in Mykonos, and I’m guessing on most of the islands for that matter.  I’m not going to talk about the economic climate, nor will I reflect on how this affects the greek but I imagine that this isn’t the first hardship the greek have faced and survived, for this is a fiercely proud and hardy bunch.
 As the burly vegetable vendor reminded me when I asked him for a soft avocado  “people here in Mykonos like their avocados hard not soft, we Greeks are strong, sorry about this madame”  I smiled and got myself a hard avocado, plus a discount which he’s seems to enjoy giving freely.  Burly he may be but with a heart of gold.  In fact on several returns to his stall, I’m now welcome like a long-lost relative and he assures me that all his produce is grown in `Greece.  There is a strength here, a pride and fierce independence.  These qualities are also reflected in the harsh lunar like landscape, where not much seems to grow, yet on a  closer inspection the countryside harbours pockets of the most exquisite herbs, wild greens and olives of course.  There is life here, hidden but strong.

To survive on these isles, people had to live off the land very simply and grow everything themselves. Their diet is based on an abundance of vegetables, pulses, herbs, olive oil, some dairy products (mainly sheep/goats cheese), honey and very little fish and meat. The climate here is temperate and due to the rich soils and long sunshine hours, produce is very flavoursome.  Most restaurants we visit also have their own vegetable garden and the menu shows them prepared in many imaginative ways: courgette patties, grilled vegetables, marinated charcoal aubergines drizzled with local honey, greek salad, okra in tomato sauce, you get the drift.

So when I next visit my now friendly vegetable vendor I dive into some of his beautiful wares and out came this lentil stew.  A simple but nourishing affair, served with some homemade sourdough bread (Yes my starter went on holiday with us too!), drizzled with olive oil and feta, and a view of the deep blue sea. Life really doesn’t get much better than this.

Lentil Stew

Ingredients

  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup dried brown/green lentils
  • 1 big onion diced small
  • 1 garlic clove diced small
  • 2 courgettes diced small
  • 1 1/2 cups crushed tomatoes either fresh or tinned
  • 1 1/2 cups filtered water
  • 1 teaspoon fresh or dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 1 teaspoon dried ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • salt and pepper to taste

Method

  • soak the lentils in plenty of water for 8 hours or overnight, then drain and discard water
  • sauté the onion, garlic and courgette in olive oil, over a low heat in a pot, for about 10 min
  • once the onion is soft and translucent add the herbs and honey, cook for 1 minute stirring
  • add the lentils, tomatoes and water
  • bring to a boil and then continue on a low simmer for 30-60 min until the lentils are soft
  • add the salt and pepper to taste

Garnish with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and some crumbled feta. If you leave the feta out, this dish is essentially vegan.  You can add all sorts of vegetables, depending on what you have got in your fridge.  As an alternative to courgettes you can use carrots, celery and fennel during the sautéing phase and towards the end of the cooking process you can add some greens like spinach in summer or kale in autumn/winter.

With Love x

Let Food Be Thy Medicine – Divine Basil and Rosemary Pesto

11204936_10207282948088970_2215560636389184009_nOn a recent trip to France (Cap Ferret) with my daughter Sofia, I was inspired to write a blog about my food experiences here.  It wasn’t so much the cheese, wine and bread that moved me but more the deep awareness and care for food, I encountered here. There seemed to be a deep desire to eat seasonally and locally, with great care taken by stall holders to pick just the right tomato to be eaten for dinner that night.  There was a buzz around the food with very little pre packaged food and mostly fresh produce.

Eating seasonally is so important.  First of all its better for the planet, but it’s actually also better for your body.  Our digestive fire is weakest in summer (according to Ayurvedic principles). So in summer its best to eat fruit and vegetables which are of course in abundance.  It’s a win, win situation.  As the seasons change so does the food, and our bodies. There is a reason watermelons and other cooling fruit make their appearance in the height of summer, and don’t grace our christmas table.

It is also means you don’t eat broccoli and kale all year round, because no single food group can supply all the nutrients we need.  Which brings me to the second cornerstone of health, food diversity.  Our Ancestors’ pre agricultural food habits were very much based on hunting and gathering, which meant not only did they eat seasonally but they also ate on average 145 different types of food a year.  The average person now will consume about 20 different foods, if they are lucky.

So how do you incorporate some of this wisdom into todays agricultural/supermarket monoculture onslaught?  There are several strategies; The obvious is to go shopping at your local market, buying whats available at that time of year.  Another thing you can do is to start foraging for simple things like nettle, dandelions, elderberries and blackberries, to suggest just a few.  These wild plants pack a nutritional punch far beyond anything you can buy at the supermarket.  And lastly you can make use of herbs all year round.  Herbs have a very high nutrient density and are real powerhouses. Having herbs everyday in some form will vastly improve your health.  Either as a tea, tonic, in salads, dressings, essential oils or as pesto.

I kept thinking about what inspired me here in France, and one of the things I was really drawn to was the feel and smell of nature around me. The beautiful smells of the pine forests, the feel of the soft needles underneath my toes and the creamy taste of pine kernels. If I had to make a dish right now, right here, what would it be? It had to be pesto drizzled over local sweet tomatoes served with some crusty bread and a chilled glass of wine.

Pesto is one of those amazing staples which are so very versatile.  Eat it plain on toast, add it to your scrambled eggs, drizzle it over a tomato salad or add it to pasta for a very simple meal.  I’ve chosen a combination of Basil and Rosemary.  Basil fortifies the digestive and nervous system and can be a good remedy for headaches and insomnia.  Rosemary has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties and adds a beautiful flavour to the pesto.  I used pine nuts because I love their rich, creamy taste and they are also a very good source of protein.  You could experiment and replace them with any other kind of nut.

Divine Basil and Rosemary Pesto

Ingredients

  • 1 cup tightly packed basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup rosemary leaves (without the stem)
  • 3/4 cup pine nuts
  • enough extra virgin olive oil to bring it to a smooth consistency about 1/2 cup
  • 1 clove of garlic

salt to taste (a generous pinch)

Method

  • Put all the ingredients in a food processor (except the oil and salt) and mix until it resembles a coarse ground mixture
  • With the motor running add olive oil slowly until the desired consistency is reached
  • Taste and season with salt

This should keep in the fridge for at least one week and it can also be frozen.  As the seasons change so will your pesto, so for example in spring try adding steamed nettle leaves or fresh dandelion leaves.

I will leave you with a quote from my favourite herbalist.

“One must tread delicately on those lands, its palace is built on shifting sands; And so fragile, one cruel look or word – Would utterly smash that porcelain world”

Juliette de Bairacli Levy

With Love x