During Winter, we tend to experience a few more coughs and colds than usual, partly due to the ‘dry’ air causing membranes in the nose and throat try dry up, thus exposing us to more bacteria than usual, but also partly because we tend to move from outdoor cold to more humid indoor warmth frequently.
Ayurveda sees the Winter months as a combination of the doshas Vata and Kapha. Vata consists of the air and ether elements, with qualities like dryness, coldness, roughness, sensations of being ungrounded and scattered, with lots of movement in terms of thoughts, ideas and reactions within the nervous system. Kapha is governed by the earth and water elements, with characteristics of heaviness, steadiness, cohesion, with typical tendencies towards more mucus build up and lethargy in the body.
To balance these energies and prevent them from becoming excessive, it’s important to look at the little things we can include in our daily routine or dinacharya to keep the mind and body well. These five simple techniques can help with un-blocking sinuses, as well as preventing them from becoming blocked:
Jala Neti: One of the traditional Ayurvedic self care and detox methods, Jala Neti is the practice of using a mixture of warm purified water and good quality salt to clear the nasal passages. A very effective way to help clear and prevent a head cold, and really easy to do! Banyan Botanicals provide a useful video with instructions if you want to learn how to get started: CLICK HERE
LI 20 & BL 2 acupressure points: Acupressure points work with the Traditional Chinese Medicine meridian lines, and are the same points used in acupuncture. For a needle-free way you can use this technique at home, simply use your finger tips to press these points firmly for about a minute at a time to clear the sinuses. Do this a few times a day to help clear blockages and release head ‘fog’. Breathing through your nose rather than your mouth at all possible times can also keep not just the sinuses healthy, but is beneficial for the whole body.
Reducing Dairy and foods that have a ‘cold’ quality: During Winter, we already experience a lot of the ‘cold’ quality, and adding to it can weaken the digestive system and compromise the immunity. Dairy has a cooling effect, and can also cause a build up of mucus in the sinuses and chest. If you’re feeling blocked and stuffy or have a chesty cough, try reducing the amount of dairy you consume over the colder months.
Boosting circulation & lymph flow: The immune system sometimes requires a little help to function optimally. Doing simple movements like heel-bouncing, body brushing or simply tapping your body from head to toe with your hands can help boost the movement of lymph, and help move potential illnesses through and out of the body. These practices are also an easy way to boost mood and energy levels throughout the day. Try tapping along the lung meridian lines to keep them healthy and uncongested.
Get outside: Being in the sunshine and fresh air can help boost the body’s energy and mood levels, as well as help bolster the immune system. Reconnecting to nature is a wonderful way to re-set perspective, as well as helping reduce stress levels (therefore boosting the immune system), and cold air can really help clear sinuses too. NBC news recently reported: “The new study, published today in PLoS One, had 44 healthy volunteers rate their symptoms of stuffiness after breathing air from three boxes. One box contained room air at normal humidity, one held dry air at room temperature and one contained cold air. The volunteers reported feeling less nasal congestion when they breathed from the cold air box and the dry air box, with the cold air being most effective”.
Warming and comforting, with digestion-boosting spices and a good dose of iron from the molasses, these biscuits are a great way to balance the Ayurvedic Vata Dosha. Dip them in tea or pack a few with you to take on blustery Autumn walks, they’re easy to make and satisfyingly similar to a ginger snap, as well as being 100% plant based.
2 cups spelt flour
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp molasses
2 tbsp coconut oil
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
pinch of salt
tbsp stevia or coconut sugar
1/4 cup ground almonds
Splash of almond milk
Whole almonds to top
Mix flour, spices & bicarb together
Melt the coconut oil and mix with the molasses, sugar and milk
Mix everything together to form a firm dough
Pop the dough in the fridge for 30 minutes
Pre-heat the oven to 180c
Roll the dough into balls and flatten, then top with 1 almond per biscuit
Bake for roughly 15 minutes on the middle or bottom shelf
Whilst much of our ‘dietary’ focus is upon the foods we eat and how much exercise we do, what we might not think about is the amount of natural light we’re getting each day, and at which times we’re getting it.
What you eat and when you eat it can be ‘hacked’ to enhance nutrient absorption, muscle growth, wound repair and even help the body move in and out of ketosis. When we exercise and the types of movements we choose can also make a big impact upon health and wellbeing. Research shows that fasted cardio (running or doing something that raises your heartrate before eating breakfast) can greatly enhance fat burning, but might also be damaging to women’s hormone and adrenal health. Drinking coffee after a workout can prevent muscle soreness, and when consumed with a carbohydrate, increases the speed at which muscles absorb glycogen and recover. The light exposure throughout all of these health practices however, will impact their effectiveness greatly. This is due to the function of mitochondria. Mitochondria are considered the ‘power generators’ of the cells, and they essentially help the body live, breathe and move by converting oxygen and nutrients into ATP – think of that as the ‘fuel’ that powers the activity of the cells. To put it simply – we can eat healthy food, practice yoga, exercise and opt for 100% organic products, but we don’t get the benefits of them if our mitochondria aren’t functioning properly!
Some of the symptoms of poorly functioning mitochondria include muscle weakness and injury, vision or hearing issues, cognitive decline and brain fog, heart, liver or kidney diseases, disturbances in heart rhythm, compromised immune function, fatigue and depression. Whilst some mitochondrial issues are more serious, there are effective ways to reverse mitochondria damage and help it function optimally again, including cold therapy (cold showers and ice baths), avoiding toxins like chemical cleaning products and pollution, eating sufficient protein, consuming vitamins C and E, and vitamin CoQ10, high intensity interval training, and periods of fasting combined with periods of eating a ketogenic diet. Underlying all of this however, is the amount and types of light we’re exposed to, which is more accessible, and something many of us can start making changes to right away.
Blue lightwaves help the body recognise when its morning, and therefore kick all the systems into action. When we see natural light in the morning, the body wakes up the digestive system, increases alertness and cognitive function, begins pumping blood to the muscles more efficiently, and helps the body’s circadian rhythms (the body clock) ‘tick’ at the right time. If we don’t get that natural light first thing after waking however, we’re essentially walking around half asleep, with melatonin (the sleep hormone) still hanging around in the hormonal systems, and a brain and digestive tract that are nowhere near prepared for the day ahead.
Seeing this blue light in the morning then is beneficial as it suppresses melatonin, but if we see it at night (emitted from screens on phones, laptops, TV and lightbulbs), it also prevents melatonin from being secreted, and therefore prevents us sleeping and getting good quality sleep. Recent reports say that teenagers who scroll though their phones and send messages at night are increasingly found to have more anxiety and depression, and issues with being able to sleep. From the Guardian: ‘A longitudinal study of 1,101 Australian high school students aged between 13 and 16 found poor-quality sleep associated with late-night texting or calling was linked to a decline in mental health, such as depressed moods and declines in self-esteem and coping ability’. Indeed, being exposed to blue lightwaves and screens at night is literally a wake up call for your body, and poor quality sleep means a higher risk for: obesity, heart disease and diabetes, depression, disrupted hormones, weak immune system, low sex drive, and greatly increases the risk of injury through exercise or things like driving and manual tasks.
If you’re experiencing sleep issues, try the following:
Get outside ASAP after waking and expose your eyes to the morning light. Looking out the window won’t help, as the full light spectrum doesn’t come through the glass, so if you aren’t able to go outside, try opening the window wide instead.
Let your body absorb the morning light too, as light receptors are found all over the body and in the skin, not just the eyes!
Move and breathe deeply in the morning to kick-start your circadian rhythms
Drink water and eat something small to tell the body a new day has arrived.
At night, spend time outside during warmer months and go to bed when the sun sets. In Winter when the sun sets earlier, either go to bed earlier or illuminate your house with red or iridescent bulbs that don’t carry those blue lightwaves. Blue light blocking glasses are another very useful tool, and putting them on after sunset keeps that blue light out of your eyes. They’re becoming quite popular and mainstream now, so they should be quite easy to get hold of.
Apart from preventing melatonin secretion, staying up late surrounded by artificial light tricks the body into thinking it still needs to be awake and active. The important aspect to note here is that exposure to artificial light (especially at night) forces the body to keep working without receiving any natural light source – we get a lot of energy from light, not just food and water. Not getting enough daylight and then getting way too much ‘junk’ artificial light essentially starves the body of necessary sunlight, and prevents the hormones leptin and ghrelin from working properly. Leptin tells us when we’re full, and ghrelin tells us when we’re hungry. One of the main reasons messed-up sleep can lead to weight gain is because these hormones aren’t able to communicate and talk to us properly, and even if we eat enough food, we’re still starved of light energy.
We evolved and were sustained over millions of years with sunlight. It enables plants to live and grow, and we literally exist because of it. Sunlight helps our bodies and minds function, it helps regulate the body clock, and getting good amounts of sunlight simply feels good too. Are there aspects of your day you could change in order to get more natural light exposure? Could you swap your indoor gym session for an outdoor run or tree climb? Could you find ways of enjoying evenings without TV or screen time? Perhaps experiment with a few ‘light changes’ to your week; a couple or morning walks a week or an evening or two by candle light, notice how you feel and find a way to make it work for you.
Supplemental Sunshine: Getting More From Good Weather
Good morning Sunshine
Getting outside between 8-11am is absolutely vital in order to get the most from sunlight. Morning sunlight contains the lightwaves Ultraviolet-B (UVB), Ultraviolet-A (UV-A) and Infrared-A (IR-A), which help the body produce vitamin D, and are more effectively absorbed and used by the body than any food substance. Sure, we can supplement with vitamin D, but it isn’t nearly as effective as good old sunshine. Even sunshine in the Winter months benefits us in this way, meaning vitamin D levels can be maintained throughout the year if we prioritise morning walks or simply standing in the garden each morning.
Waking early enough to benefit from the morning sun as cultures have done for thousands of years virtually flicks a switch on the body clock, telling it a new day has started, and encourages digestion, cognitive function, muscle function and circulation to fire up. Without this morning burst of sunlight, the body just isn’t as aware that a new day has started, which means the food we eat for breakfast can’t be turned into energy as effectively, and the first few hours of work time may not be as effective.
Perhaps most interestingly from a mental health and mindfulness point of view, this morning sunlight has a profound and shocking impact upon mood, circadian rhythms and hormone levels. In a tiny region of the brain’s hypothalamus (the part responsible for linking the nervous system to the hormonal system, and maintaining homeostasis aspects like hunger, thirst, body temperature etc) is a sensor called the SCN (suprachiasmatic nucleus). The SCN is thought of as a circadian pacemaker, controlling sleep-wake cycles, whilst also coordinating these cycles with other circadian rhythms in other brain areas and other areas of the body. Yes, there are circadian rhythms throughout the whole of the body – a little like small body clocks in all of our cells and tissues.
Our muscles, heart, lungs, eyes, digestive system, hormonal secretions etc all have a rhythm of their own, which are each effected by all the other rhythms, and are also dependent upon all the other rhythms. Without morning sunlight switching on the body clock (to put it in very simplified terms) we’re more likely to suffer from low mood levels, eat more than we need and make poor food choices, an inability to think straight and problem solve, and impaired social skills.
We’re designed to work in harmony with both nature and our own bodies. When sunlight hits the eye’s retina, it communicates a signal to the SCN that a new day has started. This in turn sets the body’s rhythms for a new day.
Finally, and something I’m thoroughly immersed in researching right now, is how morning sunlight deeply impacts upon mood and wellbeing levels. When these specific lightwaves from the sun enter the eye and are communicated to various parts of the brain, serotonin is released. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter found primarily in the nervous system, gut and blood platelets, and it’s one of the most powerful things for regulating mood levels. A large part of the reason why so may people are prescribed antidepressant pharmaceuticals is because of a lack of serotonin. Interestingly, this lack of serotonin seems to be found in many more people today than it ever has before, correlating with the fact that chronic disease seems to be more prevalent now than ever before, and correlating with the rise in artificial lighting, disconnect from nature, more screen time, time spent stressing about work, social media, and shutting ourselves off from the outside world.
Back To Nature
This morning light exposure may appear a clumsy and all too simple way to enhance health and wellbeing, but if humans have survived and thrived by living in a natural environment and waking up to sunlight for thousands of years, it must be doing something pretty impressive. If civilisations have been worshipping the sun and treating it as a god-like entity for centuries, maybe they knew how important it was too, without needing to google ‘benefits of sunlight’…….. If sunlight can help grow plants, crops and the food we all eat, surely it must be doing something to us when we’re immersed in it. If the technological advances we’ve created and come to rely upon are beginning to cause more harm than help, maybe it’s time to balance things out, to get back to nature, to simplify morning routines or even practice digital detox days.
Could sunlight have a potentially powerful effect on our digestion, mood levels, energy levels and cellular renewal? Could simply getting back to our natural rhythms be the very medicine and lifestyle remedy we’ve all be searching for? We’ll only know if we give it a go.
Solstice Rituals & Reconnecting To The Sun
Revered for thousands of years as the original form of god, the sun not only warms us and enables everything on earth to thrive, but signifies an ever-present power and giver of life. Throughout history, civilisations from the Mayans to the Egyptians, ancient India and China, the Romans, Mexicans, Peruvians, and of course here in the UK have worshipped the sun and created rituals around it and the summer solstice.
Megaliths throughout the world such as Stone Henge here in the UK, the Pyramid of Kukulkan in South America, Temple of The Sun in Peru, the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt and Chichen Itza in Mexico all have a significant interaction with the sun at the Summer Solstice. Whether it’s the ability to shine exactly through a specifically carved circle, to cast a particular shadow or no shadow at all, there was evidently a deeply rooted connection to nature both here on earth and in an astrological sense when these giant stone spectacles were made. Not just that, but this yearning to dedicate energy to creating something that marks the sun’s path and particular points along it hints that as humans we’ve always felt the need to connect to and be a part of nature both on the ground and in the sky.
Whether you’re venturing to the UK’s Stone Henge this summer solstice, travelling afar to ancient monuments or cultivating your own home rituals, be inspired by these Summer Solstice rituals from an array of cultures across the globe.
In Native American culture, the sun dance was and still is a very traditional ritual whereby the community gathers together to pray for healing and renewal whilst looking at the sun. These sun dances were intense events lasting around four to eight days with no food or water, beginning at sunrise and with each dancer wearing a ring of sage around the head, wrists and ankles to symbolise purity.
In ancient Egypt, the Summer Solstice welcomed Sirus, the brightest star in the sky. This point in time was just before the flood season, which was vital for nourishing crops across the land. For the ancient Egyptians, the Summer Solstice and the coming of Sirus were in fact seen as the Egyptian’s new year’s day, a time of renewal and abundance.
The ancient Roman Vestalia, honouring goddess Vesta who, along with the goddess Juno, protected marriages and was considered sacred to women. This ritual was about honouring the essence of purity and virginity by making offerings to the Vestil Virgins – a little like a gathering of nuns today. A sacred flame was guarded throughout the ceremonies of offerings, one of which was a cake made with water from a holy spring, sacred salt and ritually prepared brine. Today, a modern Vestilia ritual involves baking a cake and cleaning and decorating the home. This is also a time of cleansing and of honouring women and family.
Yin & Yang
The Chinese Summer Solstice honours the Earth, femininity and yin energy. As can be seen in the yin / yang symbol, opposite energies work harmoniously together and are essential for maintaining nature’s balance. When the fiery yangenergy of the Summer therefore reaches its peak at the solstice, the calm and cooling energy of yinis honoured and welcomed in. To mark the Summer Solstice, women gave each other coloured fans to cool them down, and sweet smelling sachets as a pleasant fragrance. Throughout parts of Shandong and Beijing, chilled noodles are served as the traditional food thought the Summer Solstice time.
Fertility & Fulfilment
Pagans celebrate the Summer Solstice – also known to them as Litha –by honouring fertility, and honouring achievements, joy and fulfilment. Rituals include staying up all night with a roaring bonfire to await the morning sunrise, dancing around the fire and using sacred herbs to bless plants and animals. Although most commonly associated with Yule, mistletoe is thought to be at the height of its power during midsummer, so along with herbs, flowers and honey they’re gathered whilst they’re at the peak of goodness. Much like the Roman tradition, the Pagans would traditionally bake on the Summer Solstice to symbolise a welcoming of abundance into the home. Traditional ingredients at their peak at this time of year for cooking and gathering also include elderflower, buttermilk, rosemary, fennel, sage and thyme.
DEALING WITH SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER: HOW EXERCISE & SUPPLEMENTATION CAN HELP
Whilst the Winter months might mean cosy nights in, plenty of festive parties, warm drinks and log fires for some, for others the falling back of the clocks is the catalyst for Seasonal Affective Disorder – also known as Winter Depression, Winter Blues, and Seasonal Depression.
Characterised by people who have normal mood levels throughout the year but fall into bouts of depression during Winter, traditional symptoms include lack of energy, withdrawal from social interaction, feelings of hopelessness, sleep and appetite issues, inability to focus and loss of interest in activities. This isn’t just a dislike of cold mornings and disappointment with dark nights, it’s a psychological and physical reaction to lack of sunlight, decreased temperatures, inevitably more time indoors, but is also thought to be a slight hangover from human evolution. For many species, food is less available in the Winter months, and when humans lived in a truly natural world thousands of years ago, low mood levels would have suppressed natural hunger pangs. As SAD is more common with women, it’s also thought to be linked to an evolutionary process preventing reproduction. Studies show that SAD is more likely to occur within people who display characteristics of neuroticism, openness, agreeableness, and an avoidance-orientated coping style.
Having the tools to adapt to each season can be incredibly helpful in navigating the year successfully. Keep reading for 7 ways to effectively deal with SAD.
Sunlight isn’t as accessible at this time of year, so make the most of what you can find! Try waking up with the sun (a little easier during Winter as the sun rises later) – circadian rhythms (the internal body clock) are determined by the first natural light you see, and the first non-water item you consume, so get the day off to a good start by ‘setting off’ your body’s alarm clock with a cup of tea and a side of sunshine.
Although the outside world may not be as inviting during Winter, it’s important to get outside in the morning to take in the early morning daylight as it contains more blue lightwaves (ones that help the body properly wake up) than afternoon light. This is also a good time to breathe in the fresh air and greet a new day. If you’re not able to get outside much during Winter, or you really notice the lack of sunlight, purchase a light box and have it in front of you when you’re indoors. These boxes contain the same measure of light as outdoor sunlight, and encourage the brain to believe it’s surrounded by mood-boosting sunlight. If you’re able to, a week away somewhere warm and sunny is also a wonderful way to curb SAD symptoms, and helps break up the Winter months.
Sunlight also contains valuable vitamin D, and with the standard government advice being to pop a vitamin D capsule during the Winter, this is one supplement that should be in everyone’s cabinet at this time of year. Look for a good quality, high strength supplement if you experience SAD.
WARM UP & WORKOUT
Most of us already know the positive impact exercising can have on the mind; either from reading and hearing about it, or experiencing the rush of endorphins after a run or gym session ourselves. During the Winter, ensure you keep up your regular exercise regime. If your energy levels are lacking, stick to your schedule but take it easy. Getting your daily dose of movement is important for overall wellbeing, but is even more crucial if you’re feeling down.
Take a Yoga class, go for a run, head to the gym for a weights session, swim, play sports, or simply go for a walk with a friend. Anything that gets your body moving will help!
HEALTHY FATS FOR A HAPPY MIND
Once feared, healthy fats are now an important staple in many people’s diets due to their ability to actually decrease body fat, enhance endurance, boost brain power, and regulate hormones. If that wasn’t enough, fats are also one of the most important nutrients for maintaining good mood levels! Healthy fats from Omega 3s are a well known treatment for depression and anxiety – both of which contribute to low levels of constant inflammation in the body. Ensure you’re getting enough fats from avocado, coconut, oily fish, eggs, grass fed dairy products, good quality oils, nuts and seeds. Consider adding an Omega 3 supplement like Krill Oil vitamin D to your routine at this time of year too, as they’ll both stave off SAD symptoms.
Make plans to socialise, even if it’s just with one or two other people – and stick to them. Tell the people you trust what you’re going through so they can be compassionate, but also be open to some tough love. Your friends and family may not be able to feel exactly what you’re going through, but they care about you and can see things from a clearer perspective. Ensure you speak to someone you love and trust each day, and try helping others when you can either by volunteering or simply being kind. Knowing we’ve helped someone and have done a good deed can enhance mood levels dramatically.
GET GUT HEALTH HAPPY
Your gut is so intrinsically connected to your brain, so much so in fact, that changes in the microbiome (the billions of bacteria in the gut) have been shown in several studies to be linked to depression. The gut and brain communicate via the microbiota, which links emotional and cognitive brain activity to the function of the intestines. Getting enough fibre, exercising regularly, consuming enough water, eating fresh foods as opposed to processed, and cutting down on sugar can all help improve gut health. Consuming natural probiotics like kefir and sauerkraut or a good quality probiotic can also go a long way to improving the health of the gut and therefore the whole body. A probiotic is one of the most important supplements you can add to your routine, so stock up!
Knowing what lies ahead can help you prepare for Winter properly. Gather together all the tools mentioned here, and remind loved ones that you may need some extra support in upcoming months. The other important plans to make are the ones that come to fruition after Winter. Feelings of hopelessness can be lessened if you have exciting things awaiting you in Spring. If a holiday, a new project, a career change, or a spa day are in your calendar to look forward to, you’ll know there’s light at the end of what can seem like a very long tunnel.
The mind is an incredibly powerful thing – so powerful that it can even create physical responses to our thoughts and expectations. Essentially – if we really believe we’re going to feel a certain way about something, we will. The body doesn’t always know the difference between reality and what the brain has imagined, but it reacts the same way. Basically, if you think you’re going to experience SAD and all the related symptoms every year, you can be sure that you’ll start feeling low and listless as soon as we hit October. Try observing your thoughts, writing down worries, and visualise yourself feeling happy and content during Winter. This might not be a miracle cure, but it can definitely help when it comes to SAD.
The Light Diet By Matt Maruka
Change Your Schedule, Change Your Life By Dr. Suhas Kshirsagar
Jack Kruse – Google him, he has a lot of articles on sunlight
Suns of God: Krishna, Buddha and Christ Unvelied By Acharya S
With Autumn well and truly here and Winter on the way, this is the perfect time to collect a few warming, nourishing recipes to get you through the next few months. Spices are the key to creating meals and snacks that have medicinal properties and can make a big difference to the way you feel. This turmeric chai recipe blends spices that enhance digestion, warm the body, and decrease inflammation (the main cause of most diseases, aches and pains). Give it a try, and ideally drink this 3-4 times per week to keep your immune system healthy and your body warm and well!
1 cup milk of choice
½ tsp turmeric
¼ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp ginger
Pinch of nutmeg
Pinch of cardamom
Pinch of black pepper
Pinch of ground cloves
Pinch of pink salt
1 tsp coconut oil or ghee (optional – the fats enable turmeric to be absorbed more effectively)
1 tsp honey to sweeten
Add all spices, milk and optional coconut oil or ghee to a pan
Bring to a simmer and leave simmering very gently for 3-4 minutes
Remove from the heat, pour into your favourite mug, stir through the honey and top with cinnamon.
Ayurvedic Advice: This recipe reduces vata, and is best taken during Autumn and Winter, or for excessive vata symptoms.
With easier-to-digest spelt flour, 100% plant-based ingredients, seasonal fruits and warming Cinnamon spice, these sweet autumn treats are easy to make, and perfect for serving hungry guests. Enjoy them with a cup of tea, or pack a couple to bring on a blustery Autumn walk!
1 ½ cups spelt flour
½ cup coconut oil
¼ cup water
2 tbsp stevia or coconut sugar
5 ripe plums
Handful of fresh or frozen seasonal berries
1 tsp cinnamon
Pre-heat the oven to 190C
Add flour, coconut oil and sugar to a large bowl
Use your fingertips to rub the ingredients into a breadcrumb-like texture
Form a dough with the mixture and roll into a ball
Pop in the fridge for 30 minutes
Meanwhile, roast the plums for 15 minutes, then blend them with cinnamon to create a jam consistency
Turn the oven to 180C
Roll out the dough from the fridge and cut into small circles
Line a muffin tin with coconut oil, and place each circle into the tin, using the shape of each hole to mould the dough
Bake for 15 minutes
When they’re golden brown and firm, remove them from the oven and leave to cool
Fill with the plum and cinnamon mixture and top with seasonal berries
Full of fibre, antioxidants, plant based protein, warming and digestion-boosting spices, and slow-release carbohydrates, these delicious energy balls are beneficial for the Ayurvedic Vata dosha (referring to someone who mostly feels cold, fragile, with dry skin and aching joints, but also during the Vata season of Autumn). They’re easy to make and seem to go down well with everyone who tries them! They’re definitely a new favourite at our house, and this recipe makes enough to share at get-togethers or upcoming October events.
2 cups oats
1 handful dates (soaked to soften)
3 tbsp honey
3 tbsp coconut oil
2 tbsp cocoa powder
3 tbsp chai spice (equal parts cinnamon, ginger, all spice, and ½ the amount of cardamom, cloves and nutmeg)
½ bar of good quality dark chocolate + 1 tsp coconut oil
Add all ingredients other than the dark chocolate + coconut oil to a blender or food processor
Whizz to create a firm ‘dough’
Roll into bite-size balls
Melt the dark chocolate + tsp coconut oil and coat each ball with the melted mixture
Seasonal and completely satisfying, these chocolatey, gooey muffins are made with healthy ingredients and are SO easy to make. Suitable for most diets – including gluten free if you swap the spelt flour for gluten free flour – and entirely plant based. Beetroots are full of iron, potassium, fiber and vitamin C – they’re also great for boosting circulation and helping increase physical exercise performance and endurance, so perfect for a post-workout snack. Give these a go, and use up any beetroot that might be hiding at the back of the fridge!
Makes 15 muffins
½ cup spelt flour or flour of choice
1 large fresh beetroot
½ cup cocoa powder
½ cup ground flax
1 tsp baking powder
½. Tsp baking soda
1 tbsp coconut oil
1 flax ‘egg’
2 tbsp stevia or coconut sugar
1 cup milk of choice
Create your flax ‘egg’ by mixing 1 tbsp ground flax with 3 tbsp warm water and leaving to soak for 10 minutes
Pre-heat the oven to 180C
Chop the beetroot into bite size pieces and steam the until soft
Add the beetroot to a food processor or blender with a splash of milk to create a puree
In a large bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and soda, cocoa, flax, sugar and flax ‘egg’
Melt the coconut oil and add to the mixture along with the beetroot puree
Add the rest of your milk and mix to create a thick chocolatey batter
Add roughly 2 tbsp mixture per muffin case
Place in the oven on the middle or bottom shelf and bake for 15-20 minutes. They’ll be fragrant and springy to touch when done.
With September being fig season in the UK, this is the perfect time of year to get creative with the sweet, jammy and delicious fruit. Baked into cakes and crumbles, and used as an accompaniment to sharp cheeses, figs are great with both sweet and savoury dishes. This recipe is a satisfying savoury flatbread ideal for sharing on late Summer evenings and early Autumn nights.
2 cups spelt flour
1 packet activated yeast
1 tbsp honey
1 cup warm water
pinch of good quality salt
tsp herbs of your choice (optional)
glug of olive oil for kneading
2-3 large figs
2 tbsp good quality pesto (or make your own)
Drizzle of balsamic vinegar
Fresh basil leaves (optional)
Add the water, yeast, honey and 1 cup flour to a large mixing bowl
Mix until bubbles start to form and leave for 20 minutes to work its magic
When the mixture is bubbly, add the rest of the flour, herbs and salt, and mix to create a soft dough
Pour a little olive oil onto a clean surface or chopping board, and knead the dough for 3-4 minutes on it (add more spelt flour if the dough is too wet or sticky)
Leave the dough in a large covered bowl for 30-40 minutes to rise (it doesn’t have to be left for very long as we’re making a flatbread not a loaf, but leaving it to rise a little will create a softer, puffier flatbread)
When you’re ready to bake, pre heat the oven to 200C with a dish of water in the bottom of the oven (this stops the dough from drying out when cooking)
Roll the dough out as flat as you want it to be, and place on a baking tray in the oven for 5-10 minutes depending upon how hot your oven is
Once you’ve park baked the dough, remove from the oven and add your toppings, slicing the figs thin so they’ll caramelise, and spreading the pesto as thick as you like. Drizzle the balsamic vinegar over the top.
Place back in the oven and bake for another 15 minutes, again depending upon your own oven’s power.
Remove from the oven, top with torn fresh basil leaves, slice and serve!
On our recent trip to the West coast of America, we discovered just how much LA seems to love tacos right now. The Tex-Mex tortillas and spicy fillings, abundance of eclectic options and absolute deliciousness were a regular appearance throughout the trip, and when taco Tuesday at Diabolo in Silverlake arrives, devouring 2 tacos and a margarita for $13 is no problem at all. (We actually lost track of the days and thought we were going in there for ‘Wine Wednesday’, but this turned out to be a very happy mistake…)
Since then, making a really good mexican feast is something I’ve been working on in bits and pieces. This week I experimented with a healthier spelt flour recipe and it
worked! Crispy, healthy, small enough to handle, delicious and most importantly pick-up-able taco shells! Yes you could of course buy your own, but there’s something incredibly satisfying and fulfilling about making your own from scratch, and kneading dough is a therapeutic practice in itself. Give these a try and come back for the chilli recipe next week.
(makes 9 mini taco shells)
2 cups wholemeal spelt flour
1 cup warm water
3 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
pinch of good quality salt
herbs or spices of choice (chillis, sage, cumin, coriander, a bbq etc)
Add the flour, salt, herbs & spices and bicarb to a large bowl and whisk to combine
Add the water and olive oil and mix until everything starts to stick together and form a dough
When you’ve formed a dough (you may need to add a little more water, oil or flour depending upon how dry or wet the mixture seems), place it on a flat and lightly floured surface, and knead for a few minutes
Once the dough is easy to handle and not too sticky, wrap it up and place in the fridge to cool for half and hour. This could all be done well ahead of time so you’re ready to cook straight away when needed.
When you’re ready to cook, pre-heat the oven to 200C
Grab a muffin tin and turn it upside down, grease the bottoms of the cups (these are going to help form the shape of the taco shells)
Take the dough from the fridge and roll it out until it’s quite thin
Cut circles out of the dough that are a little larger than the bottom of the muffin tin circles (I used a wine glass which worked well, but a large mug or tumbler would be great too).
Slightly stretch the dough circle out in all directions and place it over the muffin tin base, mould it around the shape – when it’s done it should look like a little basket or cup
Once you’ve done this with all the dough circles. lightly brush with olive oil or an egg wash (which’ll make it sort of shiny) and place in the oven for 10-15 minutes
When they’re done, remove from the oven and leave to cool for a few minutes, then remove and use as crispy mini taco shells for your mexican feast!
If you have an overflow of apples or have been given some by a friend, this recipe is the perfect way to use a lot of them in one go. Deliciously tangy, naturally sweet and a great accompaniment to curry, cauliflower bites or cheese, this chutney recipe is simple yet really satisfyingly similar to the shop bought brands. If your apples are bruised or almost overripe, use this recipe to make the most of them.
Makes roughly 2 + 1/2 jam jars full
5 apples (medium or a mixture of large and small)
3 plums (or substitute for another apple or seasonal fruit)
1 red onion chopped into small pieces
1 tbsp olive oil or coconut oil
1 tbsp yellow mustard seeds
2 tbsp coconut sugar or 1 tbsp jaggery
1 tbsp grated or sliced fresh ginger
2 tsp chilli flakes
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup red wine
Add the olive oil, mustard seeds and onion to a large pan and heat until sizzling
When the onion has softened, chop the apples and plums into bite size pieces and add to the pan along with the ginger and chilli flakes
Stir to coat everything
Leave to cook until the apples have softened, then add the apple cider vinegar, wine and sugar / jaggery
Stir well and leave to simmer on a low heat for roughly 45 minutes or until the liquid has reduced significantly and the apples have completely softened. Stir roughly every 10 minutes.
Take the pan off the heat and leave to cool for a few minutes before transferring the chutney into clean jars
When completely cooled, store in the fridge for up to 3 weeks