Sunday, July 19, 2015

Recipe Roundup

Hello, hello! As requested, I am working on a few sciencey articles, buuut, these take longer than you'd expect, so here's a recipe roundup of things I've made from other people's brains.

In a manner of speaking.

Or that truly don't require a recipe.

I also made a plant-based version with no meat, just chickpeas

 A jar of stuff to take to work. Berries, yogurt, kumara slice

 Raw beetroot cake. I have not yet recorded the recipe for this, but it's quite similar to

 Cacaoweb's death by chocolate (gluten-free version)
Here's a fun video I made with my niece a few years ago when we made this cake (and a big mess)

 A chickpea and broccoli salad

 No added-oil cauliflower soup
(boiled cauliflower, couple of tsp curry powder, crushed garlic, chopped onion, salt - 
zipped in the Nutri Ninja)

Almond Milk Yogurt
Soaked, blanched almonds, pureed in the Ninja, then subjected to the same 
process as for making coconut  yogurt)

See you in a few days with an article about kefir - what's actually in it? Is it really good for you?

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Vegan Applesauce Muffins

I am having a chillout kind of a weekend, which feels ridiculous and wrong after the crazy of the last three months.  I have this vague 'I should be doing something' feeling and it's completely shocking to realise that.. actually, today I can do very little and there will be no consequences.

Last week I sat the final two exams of my Postgraduate Diploma, which also makes up the first year of the MSc. I've still got a whole heap of work in front of me (research and thesis), but the PGDip is important because it means I can start the process of becoming a Registered Nutritionist. In NZ, the body that registers degree qualified nutritionists is the Nutrition Society. 'Registered Nutritionist' is a protected term that denotes a Nutritionist with a university degree and a certain amount of experience plus interaction with a mentor (3 years experience for those with a bachelor degree, and 1 year for a postgrad). 

It's very nice to get to that point in my education, particularly since some issues with my research project meant that it took 1.5 years longer than it should have.  As they say, it's about the journey... yada, yada...

Anyway, while in recovery mode, I made a lot of apple sauce, then had to think of uses for it. I've been messing around with low-fat vegan muffins. Finally, I think I've cracked the code and come up with one that doesn't fall apart and isn't stuck together with coconut oil. It could be spruced up with berries, chocolate, a blob of jam in the middle... your imagination should be your guide.

Vegan Applesauce Muffins

Click Here for Printable Version


2 nicely ripe bananas 1 cup oatbran*
1 cup rice flour
1 cup applesauce
2 Tbsp ground flax seed
2-4 Tbsp sugar (depending on your sweet tooth)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon
½ Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt

Optional: 2 tbsp raisins:

* Oatbran is usually ok for people on gluten-free diets, however some people find they react to it, either because of wheat contamination or because they can’t handle avenin (the glutinous protein in oats). If you are concerned, contact the supplier to see if they have tested for gluten, or replace with whole psyllium husks (not husk powder!) or flour. Buckwheat or amaranth flours work quite well. If you are replacing with psyllium husks use half the amount.

Heat the oven to 180˚C

Mix the bananas, applesauce, vanilla and cider vinegar in a food processor

Add all dried ingredients and process until just mixed and batter-like. Don’t overdo it, or they won’t rise properly.

Let the batter sit for a minute or so. It will fizz up a bit.

Drop spoonfuls into a muffin tin. I used a bendy silicone one, but you could use muffin cups, or a greased regular pan.

Bake for approximately 30 minutes, or until they are springy to touch.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Pumpkin Poof

It's exam week! Or it will be in... 7 hours (eep!). I've resorted to a minimalist cooking regime and bulk prep.

A few days ago I cooked two large pumpkin, whole in the oven.  The flesh from those is earmarked for curries, baked pumpkin slices and... 'other'.  

This is leftover baked pumpkin, zapped in the food processor with a couple of eggs and biffed into a non-stick pan (RIP*).  On the top are honey and nut butter. It's peanut butter, not technically a 'nut',  I know

But, there are many things in life that are referred to as nuts, and really aren't. Like.. all my friends. 



* Someone put my frypan in the dishwasher. This appears to be a foolproof way of removing the non-stick coating.  There's no going back after that.  A sticky non-stick pan is more sticky that a regular steel frypan, so I've reverted to the latter.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Spaghetti Squash + Ideas Please!

Do you spaghetti squash? I do, sometimes. It's not quite a full replacement for pasta, but it does the job for me, a non-pasta master.

My method is to bake the whole thing in the oven until it's possible to stick a finger nail easily through the skin (patented Sara method).

Then I scoop out the seeds and score the flesh with a fork. It's quite fascinating the way it turns into threads.

There is usually too much, so I pack it to add to lunches.

I served this one under a bean chilli with heaps of avocado on top. It was so delicious that I didn't even pause to take a pic. Sorry.

In a few weeks I'll be finished the first year of my Masters, and am thinking that for the blog, I will take time to address some topical issues in nutrition. Like: cholesterol, is it ok now? are vegan diets healthy? are low-carb diets healthy? anti-inflammatory diets, leaky gut, APOE, food cravings, chrononutrition, IBS, iron, probiotics and so on.

Do you have any particular topics that you'd like me to address?  I can actually write a good science piece when I put myself to it, rather than letting the laziness take over.


Saturday, May 23, 2015

Nut Cheese

Nutty? Yes
Cheesy? Well, it depends on your definition..

I'm definitely more of a plant-based eater these days. That's simply because, as my nutrition studies progress, I learn more about the amazing things that sprout from the earth. I'm increasingly impressed by the good that phytochemicals do inside the human body.

All things plant-ish are taking over my kitchen and I've re-opened my fermentation bay, a.k.a sunny corner of the bench.  I'm actually getting a whole new kitchen soon, which is something to look forward to, even if the in-between phase is messy as all hell .. quite disorganised.

Last week I rustled up some nut cheese. This one is mostly blanched almonds with some soaked cashews. It's still not quite there, texture-wise, but the taste is great. I used my juicer to mush the nuts, but it's still got a few nut chunks. I need a method of getting the nuts reaaaaally smooth. Does anyone have any ideas about that?

Click here for the method.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Leek Soup with Navy Beans / Tuscan White Beans

Soup is the perfect busy day food. It's easy, you can use whatever happens to be available after a week of uni-brain, and it's possible to stretch it out for days just by adding more 'stuff from the fridge'.

I'm not sure if this has 'magical' properties, as trumpeted in 'French Women don't get Fat', but it got a round of 'mmmm's', and that's accomplishment enough for me.

Leek Soup

Navy beans do require a little pre-prep. Livestrong have some nicely illustrated instructionals here. My navy beans were cooked to semi-softness before I added them to the soup.

How I made this soup..

In a saucepan, I sauteed two large sliced onions and two shallots in olive oil until they were softened and a bit more transparent.

Then I added two litres of water, a vege stock cube, a handful of fresh thyme and 2 tbsp of cider vinegar and let that all come to a boil.

Then I turned the heat down so it was slow simmering, and added two chopped leeks, two chopped carrots and two cups of navy beans.

That was allowed to simmer uncovered for about two hours, but it doesn't need to take that long. Anything over 30 mins is fine, but the flavours get stronger with time (and with reheating the next day).

So good. ;)

I had quite a few navy beans left over, so last night, inspired by the white bean dishes we ate in Tuscany, I made this delicious and fragrant creation.  It has similar ingredients to the soup, with far less water. After it was off the heat, I stirred through some coconut yogurt, then served it over a baked sweet potato for the vegans (good source of calcium and iron, vegans) and under white fish for the meat eaters.

Everyone happy, well-fed and feeling half-Italian. Ciao!

Thursday, May 14, 2015


The witchery by which an entire cabbage fits into a small jar.

Click here for my sauerkraut method
(this one has carraway seeds added)

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Overnight Oats

Hello Blog Readers!  Well, I knew that this semester was going to be a challenge, and it is! I'm ok... I'm ok.... O_O

At the moment I'm working on: a literature review for osteoarthritis as a metabolic disease (interesting!), a couple of fact sheets on IBD (very interesting!), and an essay regarding bioactive compounds in milk that make you sleepy (well, that's .. something I've not thought about before).

And then.. exams!

But, rather than not blog at all, I thought I'd do a few short foodie posts for meal inspirations.

Here is today's breakfast.  It's carby! Also plant-based and not very paleo.  I eat grains a couple of times a week these days, and so far, so good.

Overnight Oats with Berries and Banana

Soak oats overnight (I used about 1/3 cup)

In the morning, heat the oats in a saucepan. You might need to add some more water, and some people like to discard the water and replace it. That's optional.

Add berries, a sliced banana, handful of almonds (yes, these are blanched activated almonds)

Add sweetener if you like (I poured a little maple syrup on there)

Lastly, a blob of some sort of yogurt. This is coconut yogurt.

You may be interested to know that the reason for soaking oats is simply to speed up the cook time and make them easier to eat. With most grains, soaking them reduces the phytic acid by activating the enzyme phytase.  Phytates inhibit the absorption of minerals, including iron. Oats are neither high in phytates nor phytase, however if you want to reduce the phytase further, you can soak them with another grain (say, buckwheat or rye) that does contain phytase.

What's your favourite breakfast these days?

Friday, April 10, 2015

Kale - how to eat it before it turns yellow in your fridge + ITP

Before saying anything of use, I'll explain why I'm a half-asleep zombie person today.

This... little....

What you see above is the naughtiest feline in the world.  He's completely nocturnal, and absolutely fascinated with making noise. 

Last night he had a particular fascination with the cat inside the bedroom mirror. Our mirror is large and hangs from a picture rail. When he attacks the mirror cat, the mirror collides with the wall, waking all humans. Jase then throws a pillow, Mog zooms away and starts.. oh, I don't know, tearing up the garbage bag, or jumping around in the recycling until an irate human gets up to play. 

Then morning comes, the humans stagger along to their jobs and Mog settles down to replenish his energy. 

Having explained the baggy eyes, which you'll have to just imagine, I'll get on with explaining how I fulfill my weekly kale eating quota. I eat a lot of kale. Or, I try to, because I notice a firm difference in my ITP bruising symptoms depending on how much of it I manage to get inside me, vs. how much slowly wilts and bleaches in the fridge. 

A couple of weeks without slamming the greens and I begin to look bruisy, especially if I've had a few glasses of wine. I don't want to gross you out, but for your education, here is what I mean. These are ITP bruises. They just happen. No impact, no pain, just random bleeding under the skin for no good reason. When I eat enough kale, spinach or broccoli, I just do not get these large bruises, although I might get little ones that nobody notices. Here are an arm and a leg. Don't panic, these are gone  now. This happened after I'd been away at uni and missed my big weekend shops.

It seems reasonable to assume the bruise fluctuations are related to vitamin K intake, although I may well be changing something else when I eat more kale. Vitamin K, which is abundant in kale and other greens, does not seem to increase platelet numbers (although some on the ITP Facebook page say that it does for them), but it does increase blood clotting effectiveness through its pro-coagulant activity. The anti-coagulant Warfarin works by lowering the levels of active vitamin K, and this is why people taking it have to keep their vit K intake consistent. 

Vit K also has a number of other beneficial effects on bone, vascular health and brain health. As the vitamin K in veges is primarily K1, I also take a K2 liquid supplement.

I eat two or three large bunches of kale a week. Here's how I do it.

Get kale at the market. It's also very hardy and easy to grow but my garden is currently 'going wild'. I devote about 1 hour on a Sunday to kale prep. I wash it. remove the tough stalky bit, chop it and boil it until soft.

Then I pack it into the cups of a silcone muffin tin, water and all. To about half the cups I add some olive oil. Fats increase the absorption of vitamin K because it's a fat soluble vitamin.

Then I freeze it.

Once frozen, the kale pucks are easily popped out of the tray for storage in the freezer.

Then, before use, they can be defrosted just by leaving on the bench.

Edit... I have recently found that this is not always safe for the kale.

Do cats eat kale?  It must have been a cat....

The defrosted kale pucks are good for omelettes, added to patties, or anything where you'd use cooked kale or spinach, for example.. a pasta. Sometimes I just heat and eat.  The pucks without olive oil can be thrown in a smoothie.

Even if you don't have medical motivation to eat all your kale, I think this is a handy way to cut back on spoilage and fridge space. Easy peasy.

I hope that's a helpful tip for you. I'm also very interested to hear from any ITP'ers that have discovered any nutrition changes that affect either your platelet count or your symptoms.

And, with that, I'm off to bed. I'm going to try locking Mog in the lounge.  It's tough because he's a master of persistence and I fear he may spend all night tearing up the carpet trying to get under the door.

... earplugs.  ;)

Monday, April 06, 2015

Eating Disorders: Replacing Myths with Realities

Last week I attended a lecture at the local medical school by eating disorder expert, figure skater, mother, traveller and general overachiever, Dr Cynthia Bulik. The title of the evening was "Eating Disorders: Replacing Myths with Realities".

The structure of the evening was a systematic debunking of nine common myths surrounding eating disorders. 

What are the nine myths?

1. You can tell by looking at someone that they have an eating disorder
2. Families are to blame
3. Mothers are to blame
4. Eating disorders are a choice
5. Eating disorders are a disease of white, upper-middle class teenage girls
6. Eating disorders are benign
7. Society alone is to blame
8. Genes are destiny
9. Eating disorders are for life

If you have an hour to spare, the entire lecture content is on the NIH website here, in handy sections. In this post, I'm going to organise my own lecture notes. Obviously, these are the parts that were particularly fascinating to me. I only ever jot down things that really matter, and every time I do, I wish I'd learned shorthand in school. :-/

The first thing that got me thinking was the absolute falsity of what we might say is the sterotypical eating disordered person.  Think 'eating disorder'. What comes to mind?  A businessman? (no?), A grandmother? (no?), a mature single lady artist? (no?), a happily married woman with grown children? (no?). What about a thin white female from a dysfunctional family? (yes, that's more like it).

Dr. Bulik pointed out that the way we think about, diagnose, assess and treat eating disorders has helped perpetuate this prototype, which in fact does not exist. For a start, not all eating disordered (ED) people are thin, however it is difficult to get diagnosed with an ED if you look normal, or are overweight. A GP may miss critical signs, no matter how many hints a patient drops. She emphasised the seriousness of this impression that being too thin is the main risk of ED's. I didn't realise it, but in terms of psychiatric and medical comorbidities, binge-eating disorder (the most missed disorder) is just as serious as anorexia nervosa.

Further, despite the 'anorexic overachiever with alcoholic mother' image, many people with ED's have normal families. However, it is common for the ED to 'take over' and trigger problems and family friction that may not have been there before. An inexperienced therapist may only see that family once the ED is running the household. ED's are also not a purely female thing, but men are far less likely to seek treatment early in the disease process. Dr. Bulik noted that the stigma of an ED can be greater for a man, due to the 'feminisation' of the illusory prototype and because a major DSM criteria of bulimia and binge-eating disorder is feeling 'a loss of control' over ones eating behaviour. What man wants to tick that box on a questionnaire? There is also some perception that a man with an ED may be effeminate or assumed gay.

The lecture segment which I found particularly interesting was the discussion around prevalence of ED's in mature women. In her years as a Clinical Psychologist, Dr. Bulik has seen the average age of ED patients creep upward, with more than half now being over 35 years old. That blew my mind, particularly once the medical seriousness of a long term ED was clarified. ED's are not benign. As well as the psychological strain, there are increased risks of cardiovascular disease, gastro-intestinal problems, musculoskeletal disorders, dental issues, and suicide. Statistics taken from the 'Gender and Body Image' GABI study were particularly sobering, and some drew gasps from the audience. I also noticed a few whispered conversations as people recognised their own behaviour. In the GABI study (n=1800 women over 50 years of age):

41% of participants 'body checked' daily. That is, they did things like pinch their waist, critically examine themselves in the mirror, weigh, measure or some other form of body self-analysis.

62% felt that their weight or shape negatively impacted their life (!!)

and this is the most important part:

64% thought about their weight every single day.

The room went silent, and Dr. Bulik exclaimed 'isn't that a waste . of . life?!'  Yes, actually, it is. The worst thing was, I'd just whispered to my friend Bee 'I do that'. Then, along with many others in the room, I sat pondering if what I have embraced as normal is actually some form of subclinical eating disorder. Going a day without thinking about my weight or feeling my flab? Strange concept.

We then discussed the many ways that it has become oh-so-normal to spend considerable time and energy thinking about our bodies, food and exercise. Even when we are relaxing, say on Facebook (or, ahem, blogging...), we are still talking about bodies, food and exercise in various groups and forums. We dissect diet plans, are invited to join this group, buy this e-book, try this plan and we are bombarded with videos showing us what aging can look like if we just work hard enough. We are never told 'enough, think about something else, now go play the piano'.  The constant barrage makes us critical, not just of ourselves, but of each other. 

Does your Grandma look like this?  OMG, she should try harder....

There was a good amount of discussion about what must be done to stem the tide of eating disorders and create a society that truly is body positive (without this becoming an obsession to equal the current 'body negative' theme). Dr. Bulik emphasised that ED's are treatable and that most people fully recover, just as from any other illness. If you think you have an ED, you probably do. Seek treatment. In terms of stopping an ED from developing, she talked about developing an understanding of the interaction between genes and environment. It seems that with a genetic predisposition to an ED, a trigger (for example teasing, or starting one's first diet) may trigger the disorder. The direction that the disorder then takes may also have a genetic influence, for example, the brain of an anorexic reacts euphorically to calorie deprivation, whereas in a binge eater the reaction may be so negative as to drive a reactive eating binge.

The counterpoint to triggers are protective factors. Here, Dr. Bulik mentioned such things as positive role models and making eating a positive experience (family meals). She mentioned the particular 'role-modelling' input of sports coaches and PE teachers, whom should be taught to focus on performance, not aesthetics. This bought to mind a particular riding coach I once had that used to mention my 'meaty thighs' and how I had to arrange them properly in order to look elegant. Thanks for the body image issues, pony club. 

Of course, that 'health affirming' role also extents to doctors, PT's, Nutritionists, Dietitians and any other professional that offers health advice. As a Nutritionist, I've learned that ED's are something we must be very aware of. Not only is there the possibility that the client in front of you already has one (and may need help outside of our scope), but there is the scary possibility that the wrong advice may trigger one. Lectures like this remind me not to get complacent.

Lastly, Dr. Bulik also spoke a little more about her genomics project, ANGI - the Anorexia Nervosa Genetics Initiative. The mission of that is to identify the genetic markers which predispose an individual toward developing anorexia. This project is a grand step toward destigmatising eating disorders by proving they are not purely psychological/behavioural in origin. Dr. Bulik expressed the hope that one day it may be as socially acceptable to say you once had binge-eating disorder as to say you once had pneumonia. It was nice to hear a few individuals either in treatment or recovered piping up during the q&a without embarrassment.  I've been to many ED lectures and it's the first time I've experienced that type of openness. Perhaps a sign that the times are changing? Here's hoping.

I hope this has been as interesting to read as it was to write. I'd love to hear your thoughts and if anyone has attended this lecture and has something to add, please comment.