Blog : slow down

Happy brain, hot tongue

Happy brain, hot tongue

There was this Public Service Announcement in 1987 by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. Being an American, I remember every joke and mock of that PSA. If memes existed then, it would’ve flooded all our social media channels with fried eggs and breakfasts.

The background: There’s this guy asking if anyone still doesn’t get the dangers about drug use. He holds up an egg, saying, “This is your brain.”
Then a frying pan: “This is drugs.”
Cracks and fries the egg. “This is your brain on drugs. Any questions?”

Effective, right?  

But something else struck me: we know food affects not just our bodies, but also our brain health. For instance, Ketogenic diets have been known in aiding in seizure control for children and adults with epilepsy.

But have you seen your brain on spices?

If you’re feeling down, pick up a chili and relax! Although you might be feeling firecrackers of pain on your tongue and lips, there is a train of messages signaling firecrackers of euphoria in your brain.
There is a conversation that happens in your brain when you eat spicy food. The nerves on your tongue signal danger and pain. Your brain, then, responds by releasing endorphins, which block pain signals, and dopamine, which gives you the feelings of reward and pleasure.
So, spice isn’t just good for your cardiovascular system, but for a happy brain as well!

10 small steps to make a big difference in 2018

10 small steps to make a big difference in 2018

Sugar highs and food comas this Christmas? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. With the New Year looming around the corner and tins of candies and sweets still half full under the tree, it might seem too premature to think about lifestyle overhauls and extreme fitness regimes for your New Year’s resolutions. Don’t worry! This is the New Year’s Lite version: you don’t have to reconstruct a version of your life to live every January 1! Here are 10 easy ways you can begin to make positive changes throughout 2018.

 

1. Wake Up Well

We all know that a strong morning routine really sets us up for the day. But did you know that your bedtime routine is equally important, if not moreso? This nighttime routine is called Sleep Hygiene. Resting your brain as well as avoiding certain foods and stimuli are the keys to having a successful day. Here are some practical things you can do:

  • Avoid screen time at least one hour before bed. That means no more scrolling through Facebook in bed!
  • Avoid caffeine, rich, and spicy foods before bed. These can act as stimuli as well as cause indigestion.
  • Try to get to bed at roughly the same time every night. This helps to train your body clock to drop into your sleep rhythm quickly, maximising your quality of sleep!   

 

2. Sip Smart — The Importance of Clever Hydration

First of all, we need to de-bunk the idea that 8 glasses of water each day is necessary. There’s no research to prove it, however, keeping hydrated is a serious matter. Which is why how we drink is as important as what and how much we drink.

If you gulp your water quickly, it might feel good after a workout, a salty food, or in the morning when your mouth is parched, your body is less able to absorb the gulps than if you sip. Gulping causes the water to pass through your body quickly, leaving less time for absorption. Sipping water allows your body to hydrate fully, and is less likely to give you cramps. If remembering to drink throughout the day is difficult for you, try setting alarms to remind you. Or link your hydration in with the next step!

 

3. Pause Productively

Getting the right work-to-break ratio can benefit you and your workday. Research says that for every hour you are sitting, the last 15 minutes should be a break. Get up, stretch your legs, distract your brain — even drink a few sips of water! The exercise is good for your body, and the mental break from your desk is good for your brain. Your productivity will increase and your waistline might even decrease!

 

4. Protect with Probiotics

We’ve all heard about the importance of probiotics. But it’s more than protecting yourself from embarrassing flatulence or making sure you are digesting your food well. Science has called the gut a “second brain.” The enteric nervous system in the gut communicates with the bacteria inside the gut, and 90% of these cells carry information to the brain, not from the brain. We really are what we eat: as our gut communicates to our brain, the messages from that bacteria, whether good or bad, influence our moods. Be sure to eat wholesome, natural foods and take plenty of fermented probiotics, like kefir, kombucha, or even foods like kimchi.

5. Mind Your Mind

Mindfulness was the trending hashtag of 2017, but for a very good reason! More and more, people are realising the benefits of slowing life down and appreciating the now. Mindfulness is the practice of quieting your mind and being still. Some do a very light version, others recite mantras, while others listen to a guided meditation. One easy way to get started is to clear a space and set the timer for 5-10 minutes. Either sit down or lie down, close your eyes, and listen to your breathing. Try not to think about anything in particular, just be aware of the environment around you and the sound of your own breath. If you’re struggling to focus, or feel that mantras are too hocus-pokus for you, there’s an app called HeadSpace that talks you through how to quiet down. My husband and my kids use it — I usually fall asleep!

 

6. Swap the Sweets

By now, we should all know that sugar is linked to weight gain and diabetes. But there are more nasties that lie behind the candy stripes. Here are a few more reasons to wipe the white stuff from your diet:

  • Sugar raises blood pressure, cholesterol, and risk of heart attack.
  • Sugar can impair cognitive function and reduce proteins that are necessary for memory and responsiveness. It also lowers BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), which puts sugar-eaters at greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s and Dementia.
  • High-sugar diets are more likely to cause you to suffer from asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which is the third leading cause of death in the U.S.

Here is a cheeky alternative to the sweet stuff, but is equally indulgent: Healthy Dark Chocolate. It’s velvety smooth and delicious!

 

7. Keeping Up With the KCals:

So many New Year’s diet plans focus on cutting calories and opting for light alternatives. But these light alternatives are light on the health as well. Where fats and calories are slashed, sugars and additives are increased, making your “healthy” option a serving of rubbish! Why not try to focus less on cutting calories and aim to consume more nutrient-dense calories instead? If you’re cutting things like sugar out already, add a few nutrient dense foods like:

  • Leafy green vegetables (like kale, collard greens, spinach, bok choy, cabbage and romaine lettuce)
  • Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and brussels sprouts
  • Carrots, parsnips, asparagus, tomatoes, mushrooms, artichokes, and bell peppers
  • Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and other berries
  • Sea vegetables

 

8. Breathe Better

Here’s a test: exhale completely. Place your hands over your belly button. Take a big breath in. Does your belly button expand? Mine doesn’t. My breath stops at my diaphragm. I’m a shallow-breather and this is why that’s not a good thing:

Shallow breathing has been linked to increased anxiety and raised blood pressure, as well as preventing oxygen to reach the lowest portion of the lungs, where blood vessels that carry oxygen to the cells are found.

Deep breathing has been called the foundation of health. Here’s how to help yourself breathe better.

  • Check your posture. Make sure you are sitting or standing tall. This allows your breath to reach the lower lungs easily.
  • Breathe in slowly, relaxing your shoulders and expanding your abdomen naturally. Think of how you breath when you are almost asleep — slow, heavy, full.
  • If you are going to try mindfulness this year, deep breathing is a great technique to practice with it!

 

9. Teach an Old Dog a New Trick

This is the art of distraction: glean the benefits of learning a new hobby or skill this year! The pace of life seems to be increasing at alarming rates. Studies have shown that with the high levels intensity you might face at work, drive that stress and energy into a hobby. Not only is simple, inconsequential productivity good for your brain and emotions, it is also beneficial for your productivity at work. When we have something to distract our minds, our subconscious continues to work without the pressure of producing results in the conscious state. Ever wonder why you suddenly have the answer to a problem the next morning after a long sleep? This is the same thing. So stop living vicariously through your Pinterest boards and Netflix binges and get out there and enjoy your life!

 

10. You Do You

Lastly, Don’t sign up to a health regime or diet plan if it doesn’t work for you. Pick and choose from this list. Find your balance and make healthy changes that work for you!

Pucker Up, Summer’s Here!

Pucker Up, Summer’s Here!

Summer in America is very different to summer in Northern Ireland, where I now live. You have lovely spring days that lead gradually into ever-increasing warmer days that bloom into those hazy days of summer that are so blissful and relaxing. Here, we get a week or so in May, then a week or two in September of good weather, maybe a high of 23c/75f degrees. Then, our days are pelted with rain, chilly, blustery winds, and the occasional hail shower. Summers are not known for being a great sunny season, hence the abundance of pale skin here in Northern Ireland!

But not all of life is so sour. Or at least it is, but should be celebrated not mourned! The long stretches of sunlight in May caught in between the rain showers are the perfect growing conditions for rhubarb. These jewel-toned stalks bloom within these intense bouts of rain then sun… then more rain. Although you might be tempted to think that rhubarb is only good for stewing and tarts, I invite you to take a closer look at this jewel of the garden and get creative in incorporating it into your dinners, desserts, and snacks this summer! And whatever you do, don’t forget to invite someone round to share in this tantalising, sour fruit!

 

Rhubarb & Strawberry Curd

Curds are surprisingly easy to make, yet complex and decadent to eat. Enjoy this curd as the filling for a meringue pie or as a topping for Irish scones… Or straight from the jar for a cheeky tart snack!

 

Ingredients

  • 6 ounces of strawberries
  • 2 ½ cups juiced raw rhubarb
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¼ cup cornstarch
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter (not hot)

 

Method

  1. Chop rhubarb into thumb-sized pieces and place into a blender. You will need enough juice to produce 2 ½ cups, which is roughly 6 large stalks. Blend the rhubarb for about one minute.
  2. Place a sieve over a glass bowl. Pour the juice and pulp from the blender into a sieve and press the pulp against the sieve until mostly dry. Discard the pulp.
  3. Ensure you have enough juice. If you’re just under measurement, add a drop of water to make up the rest.
  4. Blend the strawberries and sieve them as well.
  5. Combine the juices with the sugar and cornstarch in a saucepan, ensuring the cornstarch is incorporated fully.
  6. Whisking constantly, bring the mixture to the boil and then remove from heat. The mixture should be thickened and glossy.
  7. In a separate dish, beat the egg yolks. Slowly add a portion of the juice to the yolks, whisking the yolks constantly to prevent scrambling the eggs.
  8. Once the yolk mixture has been combined, slowly add the mixture into the saucepan, along with the warm melted butter. Return to medium heat and stir constantly until the curd has thickened considerably.
  9. Sieve the curd and refrigerate for a few hours until set. It will keep for about a week in an airtight container, refrigerated.

 

Additional Notes|Substitutions

  • I used my curd as a summery substitute for lemon curd in my meringue pie. The inspiration for this came from the house we just moved into! The house is a lovely cottage on the edge of town, with beautiful trees and plants, including a thriving patch of rhubarb. Andrena, my neighbour who owns the house, gave me the inspiration and history of this pie: Ruth lived in the house we moved into. She made a simple tart by slicing rhubarb into a pie shell and dropping strawberry flavoured gelatine in between the rhubarb. After baking, it was sweet, tart, and gooey! But she didn’t stop there. The real showstopper was a tower of sky-high meringue that floated like a sugary cloud atop the tart. It was Ruth’s father who built the house back in 1927. Ruth was a phenomenal baker, baking regularly until 2 years before she died at 97 years old! It was only fitting to allow her legacy to inspire this recipe.

 

Apple Upside-Down Cake

Apple Upside-Down Cake

Although not overly healthy (or even at all), I have to share this recipe. It’s winter and there’s nothing like the scent of warm, cinnamon apples filling the house. Apples are synonymous with the holidays! Between caramel or candied apples, apple pies, apple sauce, or pork and apples, recipes are as plentiful and diverse as the varieties of apples. Although you might have a favourite go-to recipe for your Christmas or other family get togethers, I urge you to try this easy, cinnamony, upside-down comfort cake, even for an afternoon get together with friends over tea and coffee. You won’t be disappointed!

Ingredients

  • ½ cup/115g butter, softened
  • 2 cups/450g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup/240ml milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 3 cups/375g self-raising flour
  • 2 apples, peeled, cored, and diced
  • A few drops of lemon juice
  • 1 ½ teaspoon sugar
  • Icing sugar, to dust

Method

Heat oven to 350f. Grease a bundt pan. Sprinkle the 1 ½ teaspoons of sugar along the bottom of the pan. Add a few drops of lemon juice to the sugar and set aside.
Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in vanilla, cinnamon, eggs, and milk.
Fold in 1 cup of flour at a time until completely combined.
Spread the diced apple into the bottom of the bundt pan.
Place batter onto the apples one spoonful at a time. Bake 45 minutes or until a toothpick is inserted and comes out clean.
Once cooked, cool for 10 minutes and turn out onto a serving plate. Dust with icing sugar. It’s best enjoyed warm, fresh out of the oven, sliced with a thick spread of butter on top, a big mug of tea or coffee, and a few close friends.

V/V Keto: The Night Before…

V/V Keto: The Night Before…

Tonight starts the prep for my one week vegan/vegetarian keto diet experiment. As some of you know, I follow a moderate ketogenic diet along with my husband, as it has been helpful at managing his epilepsy [Here is a journal article about the benefits of the keto diet on not only epilepsy, but many other heath conditions as well]. Although I completely love meat, I also love vegetables, beans, and grains, and could easily enjoy meat-free recipes many days of the week. Also, I think varying any diet’s intake is healthy for the body and fun for the tastebuds.

Herein lies my difficulty.

After seeing so many delicious vegan/vegetarian recipes, I’ve had to bypass them for fat-filled and [animal] protein-filled meals to fit in with our keto diet. But. I. Love. A. Challenge. So, for dinners only, I decided to try out a vegan/vegetarian keto diet for a week to see how practical it is to follow under keto specifications, and to encourage others if they are interested in keeping up a high fat-low carb lifestyle without meat. And I’m starting tomorrow…!

We’ll be making fajitas with a base of mushrooms, aubergines, paneer, and walnuts. Recipe and ingredients will be provided tomorrow — please check back in! I’m away now to eat my weight in meat!

 

 

Homemade Granola Bars

Homemade Granola Bars

I’ve had a few requests for this recipe, so here it is! Granola bars are perfect for a grab-and-go breakfast, snacks for the family, picnic treats on the go, and even as a homemade foodie gift for friends. They’re delicious, while still being deemed healthy, so it’s a win-win in my book. I have a base recipe I use and then go mad with add-ins based on cravings, requests, or usually, what we have [or don’t have] in the cupboards.

I’ve made these for breakfast for the kids, as they’ve been getting bored of eggs, toast, cereal, EVERYTHING, etc………. . These look like treats because they’re sweet and biscuit-like, but they’re packed full of fibre, vitamins, protein, and iron, so they kids are starting the day off right with a body full of nutrients!

Ingredients 

  • 2 cups oats
  • 1/2 cup seeds [If you don’t have/want seeds, you can use coconut flakes, cereal, flax, wheat germ, or any other dry ingredient.]
  • 1 cup nuts
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup natural peanut butter
  • 1 ounce butter
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 6 1/2 ounces mixed dried fruits
  • Chocolate for the drizzle on top or chocolate chunks to add in. [Optional]

Method

  • Heat oven to gas mark 4|180*c|350f and butter a 9×9 pan.
  • Place the oats, seeds, and nuts on a baking tray and bake 10-15 minutes until toasted, stirring every few minutes. If you’re using cereal instead of|along with seeds, don’t toast them. Add them in after combining the oats with the honey a few steps later.
  • Over medium heat, melt the honey, peanut butter, butter, vanilla, and salt until it simmers, stirring often until it starts a low simmer, then stir constantly for approximately 5 minutes. Then take it off the heat. This heating process not only combines the honey, peanut butter, and other ingredients well, but also will thicken and caramelise the sugars to help your bars stick together, so don’t over heat! Or you’ll make granola brittle.
  • Take the baking tray out of the oven and combine the toasted ingredients with the honey peanut butter mixture and stir.
  • Add in fruits, cereal, and any other add ins here.
  • Pour the blended ingredients into the buttered 9×9 pan and press it firmly into the pan. I used a sheet of baking paper on top of the mix and spread it without getting my hands sticky. Sticky, gooey hands with kids running mad around the house is not a good combination!
  • Bake for 20 minutes and let cool completely before slicing into bars.
  • These should last a week if stored properly, which means hidden away from sight in our house. These were eaten in 2 days! So much for breakfast.

For the chocolate drizzle on top, you can use this easy chocolate recipe. I used 1/4 cup of the melted chocolate to drizzle on top and set the rest as the bark per the recipe. Or you can just buy some chocolate, melt it up, and drizzle away. I won’t judge.

I hope you enjoy these as much as we did!

Conduits of Life & Death

Conduits of Life & Death

Food doesn’t just help restore the body; food and the creation of food restores my mind and soul.

Last week, I made pitta crisps for no other reason than to create something. My busy hands creating something of beauty and use is therapy for my soul. I’ve known the ebb and flow of life and death, of eustress and distress – good stress and bad stress. I’ve found that stress in my life can lead to a debilitation of vitality and creativity. Or it forces from the depths of me a need to create for creativity’s sake: stress is a conduit that can lead to creativity. This season of life has led me to the kitchen to create. I have discovered a love affair with food that I’ve always had, but never understood.

Food isn’t just something that keeps my physical body alive. It keeps an element of me breathing, sighing, and laughing, each emotion invisible within the beauty of the creation of food, taste, design, and combinations of ingredients and colours. Sorrow is eclipsed by the beauty of aesthetics and taste; joy and laughter magnified in the flavour and vibrancy it encapsulates. Various forms of creativity have always been a place for me to express my processings of both the life I live and the reflections of the life I observe around me – drawing, painting, printmaking, music, photography, and now, culinary arts.

There is a creative element to all of us – the need to both express and reflect – creative stories of our own telling and retelling. And, food is incredibly social! For the first time, I am not merely creating for my own processing and emotion. Sharing my sorrow or frustrations within a bite to eat lessens the load and soothes my body and soul. And how much more contagious is joy and happiness than when shared over a dinner, whether with one other person or over an evening dinner party?  My journey thus far has led me to food: to create, enjoy, and, for the first time in my creative pursuits, to invite others to partake and enjoy this creativity with me.

What’s for Lunch?

What’s for Lunch?

With busy schedules and cheap, convenient food, lunchtime can quickly become less of a meal and more of filling a need. If you aren’t able to carve out a bit of time to stop and enjoy a bite to eat, then, at the very least, I can help with inspiring some healthy, quick, and easy lunchtime options.

All of these ideas can be adapted to meat-free by substituting with legumes, pulses, and/or seeds and nuts to up your proteins to keep you energised and active until dinner time!

  1. Salad Topper
    This is the usual lunch menu Monday through Friday at our house. We sandwich a spoonful or two of this mix between fresh kale or spinach and some fresh fish and dress with cracked pepper, extra virgin olive oil [EVOO], and lemon juice.
    Twice per week, chop, grate, and shred carrots, cucumber, cooked beetroot, scallion, avocado, celery, tomatoes, bell peppers, olives, pickles, mushroom, broccoli, radish……You get the idea. Any and all veg you have on hand can be tossed into a large bowl. The key to this salad is the variety of taste, colour, and texture. Get a good mix in there, add some seeds, nuts, and even some dried or fresh fruit like oranges, apple slices, grapes, or berries. Because of the variance of what’s in the fridge, this salad is anything but monotonous. Be adventurous and treat your taste buds to a wonderful variety!
    And if you have a little extra time, try slow roasting some mushrooms, carrot batons, broccoli, red onion, garlic cloves, and pepper and add a few of those in to your salad for some complexity of flavour and texture. The onion and garlic especially become sweet and delicious – not at all sharp and pungent like when eaten raw! Roast the garlic it in its paper drizzled in oil and pop it out once cooked. It won’t stink you up like raw garlic does!
  2. Raw Bento Box
    This lunch is perfect for busy workdays, commuting, lazy weekends, lunch with friends, picnics, kids lunches….It’s pretty much perfect all the time and every where!
    Take your favourite fruit and veg and slice, dice, and chop. Compartmentalising the box looks neat and beautiful and satisfies those of us with OCD helps keep the food pieces separate so you can grab and go, or makes it perfect for sharing. Bring some boiled eggs, nuts, cheese, or charcuterie to spice things up a bit. We sometimes add in some pittas or crispbread and mash an avocado to use as a creamy spread and then top with various veggies and cheeses.
  3. Tuna Salad
    Mash an avocado with lemon juice and pepper. Chop and add in cooked beets, carrots, bell pepper, onion, celery, tomato, broccoli, edamame, coriander, chilli pepper, and mix. Top with baby sprouts and enjoy!
    Drizzle with rapeseed oil or EVOO to loosen the mixture, or add a dollop of mayonnaise if you prefer it more creamy. Substitute in a plethora of mixed beans, quinoa, and legumes for tuna to make this a meat-free lunchtime option.

These are just three of the raw lunches we rotate here. We like these because they can be made in advance, are low prep time, and are so tasty and healthy! So, even if you can’t stop and nurture your soul during the day with a time of rest while you eat, now you can eat least nourish your body in a short amount of time!

Slowing down slowly

Slowing down slowly

Life is fast, exciting, and on-demand… and we are overstressed and undernourished.

Here at Lo & Slo, we are pursuing a slow life and slow cooking….but not with a slow cooker. We’re going back to our roots, to an old fashioned way of cooking: simple, creative, nutrient-dense food..with a few feel good treats thrown in!

 

A FAMILY JOURNEY AT A FAMILY PACE                                                

We have to take it SLO. Between kids’ parties, doting friends and relatives, and the influence of modern society, we have a slow journey ahead of us to become a whole food, low stress, natural, healthy family.

 


In this media-drenched, data-rich, channel-surfing, computer-gaming age, we have lost the art of doing nothing, of shutting out the background noise and distractions, of slowing down and simply being alone with our thoughts.

Carl Honore


The pace of life feels morally dangerous to me.

Richard Ford


I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life. …and not when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

Henry David Thoreau


Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.

Robert Louis Stevenson