Food & Sun Sensitivity

Food FervourI’ve had a couple of skin cancer ‘experiences’ in the past couple of years: in late 2015 I had a BCC (basal cell carcinoma) cut out of the tender skin under my left eye and a pre-cancerous one removed from the outer corner of my right eye at the same time. (Yes, I did very much resemble a street-fighter… see right!) And earlier this year I was directed by my dermatologist to undergo a course of topical cream (Efudex) to kill off another spot on my left cheek. (You can’t miss that red dot in the pic below! That was about halfway through the treatment.)Food Fervour

It was only when I went for my check-up last week that I was given some information that I considered so important that it warranted this post. It’s not particularly new science, but I hadn’t heard of it before and it really surprised me because it involves particular (natural, everyday) wholefoods that I eat regularly.

Simply, some foods have been shown to increase your sensitivity to the sun. And I mean, when you eat these foods in daylight hours it’s an open invitation to skin damage. The dermo’s nurse literally said to me, “it’s like holding a magnifying glass against yourself and saying to the sun ‘Here I am! You’re welcome!'”

So what are they and what makes them so ‘dangerous’? Well, there are surprisingly quite a few, the most widely consumed being celery, carrots, figs and citrus fruit. And it’s because they contain psoralens.Food Fervour

Psoralens are a naturally occurring compound and “when activated by sunlight or another source of ultraviolet light (they) may have phototoxic, mutagenic and photo-carcinogenic effects”. Hence the nurse’s magnifying glass analogy. For a fuller explanation (and a great list of the foods that contain them) see this article I found on the website healwithfood.org (it’s the source for the above quote).

It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat these foods, it just becomes a timing thing. My doctor said to simply avoid consuming them before 4pm. (I know right, that’s a bit specific!) The gist is, save them for dinnertime …or anytime after dusk. So if you eat grapefruit or usually enjoy an orange or veggie juice (including carrot & celery) as part of your morning/breakfast (or even lunch) routine it’d be best to change that habit. (Don’t be juicing anyway, ’cause you’re losing all that super-beneficial fibre!) Check out this article on Brown University’s website, for a study conducted specifically with citrus fruits.

Of course, changing your consumption habits for psoralen-containing foods in no way means you should disregard your normal sun protection practises. Think of it as an added safety measure.

 

 

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Instant Lychee Ice Cream

Ice cream is one of my weaknesses. But today I made some here at home, from scratch, and in less than 5 minutes …with two ingredients. Yes, just two, real, whole-food ingredients. No added sugar whatsoever.Food Fervour

All you have to have prepared for instant ice cream is some frozen fruit. I’ve always got fruit in the freezer; blueberries and bananas are staples but over summer I added mango flesh & lychee pulp to my stores and it was the lychee pulp I used to make my ice cream today. It’s sweet but hasn’t an overpowering flavour so it makes for the perfect ice cream to pair with other foods if you wish.

Now, I have to admit, I’ve done this plenty of times before, but with full-fat natural yoghurt. The plethora of gut friendly bacteria in yoghurt does make it a much healthier option but today I just didn’t want that tang. I love frozen yoghurt but I love ice cream more!

In typical fashion, I just threw every thing together in my Magic Bullet without measuring so I’m really guessing with quantities here… but I reckon I used about 1/3 cup of frozen lychee pulp & about 2 (hefty) tablespoons of Maleny Dairies pure cream. Maleny Dairies’ cream is the thickest natural cream I have ever come across so I’m going to add a disclaimer here and say that if you use ordinary, mass-produced pouring cream this recipe won’t work. If you buy your cream from the supermarket, I’m guessing you’ll be better off with ‘double’ or ‘thickened’ cream for this recipe. Similarly, if you’re thinking of trying this with coconut cream (vegans) it will have to be a really thick variety like Ayam brand …not the cheaper supermarket ones.

Simply throw them into your blender together, blend and scrape a couple of times and Bob’s your uncle! I served mine up in a dish with halved strawberries (see pic). You could pop it back in the freezer for awhile if you prefer it more solid… most home made ice cream is put through a number of alternating blend-and-freezes before serving. I just couldn’t wait that long! 😉

My Sugar Reset

Last week I had a rough week. It was rough enough to affect my appetite… I didn’t eat much at all. Not that that’s a problem. Fasting is valid, after all. But it also gave my body a chance to ‘re-set’ (that’s part of the fasting science too, btw).

What happened is that I somehow grew some Willpower. Now, I know what’s good for me when it comes to food and I eat extremely well most of the time… I’ll hardly ever part with my hard earned cash for junk food. But in my hospitality job, I’ve found it much harder to stop myself. I’ve analysed the potential reasons and have come up with two: I hate waste, so throwing out the amounts of food we have to ‘by law’ (food hygiene regulations… which really stem from the litigious fears) bothers me enough to stuff a piece of something in my mouth as I tip an untouched foodstuff into the bin (like, I’m eating this for all the Starving out there who can’t). And then there’s the much more intangible, abstract and highly subjective reason: reaction to dissatisfaction & fatigue. That is, “I’m over today and I wanna go home so I’m going to eat this food I don’t need” because ….just because. There’s really no excuse. (I developed a personal theory that ‘Time at Work’ and Willpower are inversely proportional: that is to say, my Willpower decreases the further into a shift I get.)

But really, it all boils down to Self Control. And I have that in large doses in some ways, and not – it would seem – in others.

Food Fervour

veggie-dense salad

But when I lost my appetite last week, something clicked. I’ve no doubt it was borne of my negative state and my innate tendency to be “hard on myself” but I ordered myself to do that which I always want to, and try to do: cut added sweeteners from my diet. (Not that I have many anyway: only raw honey, organic maple syrup & rapadura sugar live in my house) I decided if I wanted anything sweet (and I am the biggest Sweet Tooth ever) I was only going to allow myself fruit (I am a fruit bat after all). That’s it. So the meals I ate for the couple of days were simple veggie-packed dishes – literally salads – anyway. (This was a crucial element to my ‘success’.)

I wasn’t sure how I’d go back at work. But fortunately, I was stationed on an espresso machine, so there was no direct temptation. On my lunch break however, I didn’t go anywhere near the refrigerated cabinet in the dining room: I simply pulled my homemade fare from the communal fridge and ate my healthy stuff. This was the third day since my ‘meltdown’. The next day was significantly more challenging, since I was stationed in a food outlet. Chocolate, cookies, chips staring at me all day. But….. NUH! My Willpower had well & truly kicked in. I was not going to have (added) sugars. And I have stuck to this. I knew, I know, if I make one slip, it will open the floodgates… and there’ll be no turning back.

Sugar really is addictive, science has proven this numerous times now. The Sugar v Cocaine experiment with rats is the most well-known: the rodents were allowed to self administer both sugar or cocaine from dispensers in their pens ….and they all opted for the sugar. That’s how powerful it is. (Link to PLOS source here.)

I recall one particular experience that really rammed this home to me: a friend had given me a block of Cadbury chocolate as a gift, even though I had some of my homemade raw dark chocolate in the fridge. Deciding to have “just one” row of the Cadbury, I returned to my desk. But within 3 or 4 minutes, I was back at the fridge & into the block again. This happened 3 more times. On my fourth visit to the fridge, I opted for a piece of MY chocolate (I usually make it with a very small amount of organic maple syrup)… and the craving instantly ceased. There were no more trips to the fridge.

Food Fervour

salted caramel choccies

The biggest surprise – which is not really a surprise at all – in this ‘Sugar Reset’ I’ve experienced, is the sudden and obvious aversion I now have to sugary foods. In just 3 to 4 days, I have re-sensitised my tastebuds to Sweetness. I’ve had this experience before, but each time it happens it blows you away at how intense the changes are. The first moment I noticed it this time around was when I made some ….chocolate.

I have a favourite recipe for Salted Caramel chocolate that’s sweetened only with dates (it’s a Thermomix recipe by Jo Whitton, the link to her blog Quirky Cooking is here) so I figured I’d allow myself to make some of that if I was permitting myself to eat whole fruits. But for a little variety, I also made some totally sugar free dark chocolate (literally just cacao powder & cacao butter) and created some chocolates that combined both of the flavours …like Cadbury’s ‘Top Deck’. The ‘shock’ came when I ate one of the plain Salted Caramel choccies, followed by a combined one. I preferred the latter. I preferred less sugar.

Food Fervour

a roasted pumpkin salad I found quite sweet

I noticed it in more subtle ways as well: I made vanilla custard minus the maple syrup I usually add on top of the sugar-laden vanilla paste, and it tasted just fine. I actually felt a little ill when I made roasted pumpkin soup because the sugars caramelised in that naturally sweet veggie during the cooking process, then intensified in the thick, creamy soup. I’m even eating less whole fruit. Now that’s saying something!

The truth is, to truly give up sugar, we really need to discipline ourselves and restrict ….just for a very short period of time. Your body needs the chance to de-sensitise (and you will notice the difference). Think of your body as a spoilt child… when is the right time to finally say No?

 

Slow Cooker Ratatouille

It was one of those days. I had no ideas, no incentive to cook, but I had heaps of veggies I felt compelled to use up.

Nothing even remotely appealed to me in the pages of recipes I scrolled through on the net. All I knew was that I couldn’t use the oven because it was just waaaaay too hot. I vacillated between Thermomix and slow cooker recipes but the slow cooker won in the end, simply because I knew I could leave it on overnight.

A lot of slow cooker recipes are deceiving in that they’re not just one-pot: many require you to pre-cook some of the ingredients. To a lazy cook like me that just doesn’t make sense. I want to throw everything into the crockpot at once, put the lid on and walk away.

So when I found a recipe that fit the bill on Voracious Veggie‘s website (direct link below) I proceeded to adapt it… just by adding more stuff, really.

Slow Cooker Moroccan Eggplant

Food FervourHere’s what I used:

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), 1 diced onion, 1 finely chopped garlic clove, 1 small diced carrot, 1 teaspoon dried oregano, 1 teaspoon cumin, ½ teaspoon chili powder (double this if you actually want to taste it!), ½ teaspoon paprika, ½ cup tomato paste, 1 cup vegetable stock, 8 mushrooms sliced, 1 small eggplant (cubed), ¼ butternut pumpkin (peeled & cubed), salt & pepper.

And this is all I did:

Pour the oil into the slow cooker, adding the onion, garlic and carrot, followed by the rest of the herbs & spices. Mix in the tomato paste & stock next, then add the mushrooms, eggplant & finally the pumpkin. Season with salt and pepper. Cook on low for at least 8 hours (I left mine on overnight… a total of 14 hours!) You can stir it up every now & then if you like.

Food FervourFor my first meal, I mixed through fresh basil leaves, then topped the lot with chopped kalamata olives and crumbled feta (see left). Deeelish. For the next serve, I popped a piece of grilled wild salmon on top of a plateful.

There are so many ways you could serve it up. Super simply, with bread or on toast (mmm, melt some parmesan in or over it!) or as a pasta ‘sauce’. The point is, it’s dead easy, it’s packed with micronutrients and fibre, low in fat & complex carbs (for those concerned about them) and …..it’s just EASY!!! (Yes, I repeated myself.)

Don’t despair if you don’t have all of the veggies I used… the following will substitute perfectly : capsicum, zucchini, actual tomatoes (this will significantly increase fluid content FYI) …even cauliflower and broccoli (just don’t expect the broccoli to hold its colour) The more the merrier! Let me know what you use. 🙂

Pimped Up Egg ‘n’ Lettuce

I’ve always been a fan of egg and lettuce sandwiches but they’re really a bit average when you consider nutritional value. Sure, there’s super-healthy, protein packed egg but most of the time it’s been mixed with sugar-laden mayonnaise, on white bread. And poor old iceberg lettuce… well, its colour kinda says it all. There’s some water and fibre there but it otherwise doesn’t have a lot else going for it…

I’ve said before that it’s really worth pre-boiling up a few eggs and keeping them in the fridge for ’emergencies’ …or just days of pure laziness, such as I am having. This fine prepatory activity saved me a whole lotta time today. In fact, my lunch was ready in less than four minutes…Food Fervour

All I used was: 2 slices of rye sourdough (a fermented, flavoursome bread) 1 boiled egg, ¼ of a large avocado, 3 think slices of parmesan cheese (you could use any hard cheese but a sharp flavoured one will taste better) & a handful of baby spinach leaves.

Because I keep my bread frozen, I had to thaw them in the toaster …which gave me time to peeled the shell off the egg. Then it was a super simple assembly: avo spread thickly over both pieces, egg slices and laid on one, topped with the parmesan cheese (at this point you could, if you wish, chuck this under the grill to melt that cheese …mmm…) then carefully laid baby spinach (OK, OK, apart from sounding highly OCD, this actually helps you to fit more spinach on the sanger, so it’s less likely to fall out when you eat it. Uh-oh, another OCD statement…) Salt if you prefer, then pop the second slice on top, avo face down (did I really need to spell this out?) and Bob’s your uncle…. a delicious, healthier, more nutrient-dense version of an old favourite.

….that I probably wolfed down in less time than it took to make it… 😛

Powerhouse Cauliflower Soup

This creation was the result of a respiratory infection. I’ve been working too much – around too many people – so my stressed immune system has given way to a lurgy.

A fellow workmate made me promise to get some ginger and turmeric into myself when I got home… trouble was, I wasn’t really hungry. So I did a quick Google search for “ginger turmeric vegetarian recipes” and when I struck upon a cauliflower soup recipe, the light bulb came on.

Food FervourGarlic, chilli, ginger and turmeric pretty much speak for themselves in terms of health benefits: everyone knows about them now, so it’s probably quite obvious why included them in this recipe. Coriander’s detoxifying role is lesser known by many, and the benefits cumin and fenugreek bestow on the respiratory system are pretty much a secret!

Since I was highly disinterested in expending a great deal of effort to cook, I turned straight to my Thermomix. They really are the best things to have in the kitchen when you lack time, energy and/or motivation. (This is not intended as a sales promotion, it’s my truth!) So please note: even though I’m providing a manual method for this recipe, you have to forgive me if it’s not what you expected because I’ve literally created this soup one time, and using my wonderful kitchen appliance.

Here’s what I threw in:

4 garlic cloves, pinch of fenugreek seeds, 1 onion, 1 celery stalk, 1 inch ginger root, 1 inch turmeric root, 20gm (1 tablespoon) coconut oil, 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1 small red chilli (deseeded & finely chopped) 600gm cauliflower, 750gm (3 cups) stock OR Thermies use water plus 1 tablespoon veggie stock paste, salt & black pepper (this is a must: the piperine in black pepper aids absorption of turmeric’s ‘star’ ingredient by up to 2000% – you need that!) 80mls coconut cream

Thermomix Method:

Pop the garlic, fenugreek, roughly chopped onion & celery, ginger and turmeric in the bowl and set to Speed 5-6 for up to 10 seconds. Scrape down then add the coconut oil, cooking for 3 minutes on Varoma, speed 1.

Add the coriander, cumin, chilli, cauliflower, water and stock paste, seasoning with the salt & (lots of!) pepper. Cook for 18 mins on Varoma, Speed 1.

Finally, add the coconut cream then blend 60 seconds speed 9-10.

Manual Method:

Pop a large saucepan or stockpot on the stove over a medium heat and add the coconut oil. Roughly chop the garlic, onion, celery and tip into the pan/pot. Grate the ginger & turmeric fingers straight into the mix and toss in the fenugreek (you may want to employ a mortar & pestle to grind these little fellas down…) ground coriander, cumin and chilli. Cook for a few minutes, until the spices are fragrant and the veggies begin to soften.

Add the cauliflower, stock and season with salt and black pepper. Bring to a boil, then drop back to simmer for about 10 minutes.

Remove from the heat, add the coconut cream then blend in batches (take care: heat & blenders can be dangerous)

I had just roasted some cashews so garnished my soup with them and some fresh coriander. Just what the ‘doctor’ ordered!

Simple Sauerkraut

No doubt you’ve all heard by now how good fermented foods are for you, for your gut health, which science is now discovering plays an incredibly significant role in your overall health and wellbeing.
Looking into the types of fermented foods that are espoused by Those In The Know, I considered sauerkraut to be the easiest one to attempt myself (besides natural yoghurt… which I already make… But my sourdough bread attempts haven’t been ultra successful) :/
So, Googling in my usual style, I discovered the basic elements for homemade sauerkraut. And they are cabbage and salt. Yep, that’s all folks. Of course you can add things in for variety and taste – like other veggies, herbs and spices, even extra probiotic cultures – but on the whole I usually stick with the basics.
It’s ridiculously easy. The hardest part is waiting for it to become edible: waiting out the fermentation period.Food Fervour

You can buy special equipment for the process (this can ensure better success) but I literally began with a 1 litre glass jar. An ex-coconut oil jar (pictured right). No frills whosoever. (Except that it had to have a mouth that I could fit my hand into; that’s imperative …you’ll see why.) Food FervourIf, however, you end up liking and wanting to continue production after your first test batch, I’d highly recommend at the very least purchasing a jar with a proper rubber seal, such as the one pictured left.

Food FervourLuckily for me, a very inventive friend made a couple of purpose-built jars (equipped with beer brewing parts that allow oxygen to escape but not enter, for a more sterile environment) and gave them to me (pic right) so I can make ‘kraut til the cows come home 😛

For a 1 litre container you’ll need 1kg of cabbage (about half of a large head) and 1 tablespoon of salt (I opt for Celtic sea or Himalayan for the higher trace mineral content). When I remember, I pop a bay leaf in too. Note: if you’re trying this for the first time and fear failure (don’t worry, I often do too) simply halve the amounts and the jar size. That way there’ll be less to throw out if (1) it fails or (2) you decide you don’t like it!

Step One: Peel off some of the outer leaves of the cabbage and set them aside… don’t discard, we’ll be needing them later.

Step Two: Simply shred the cabbage and place into a very large bowl. You can finely chop with a large knife on a large chopping board, in batches. Or using a food processor if preferred, and also in batches (I have done it in my Thermomix, smaller batches, a few seconds on Speed 4-5)

Food Fervour

Yes, ALL of this does eventually fit in that jar…and easily!

Step Three: Add the salt (*and any other herbs or spices you’d like to include) and now you gotta git yer hands dirty! So make sure they’re clean. You need to get both hands into the bowl and massage the salt though the cabbage (et al). Really squeeze it, crush the life out of it! Food FervourThis is important to release the fluids (predominantly water) in the vegetable so that – combined with the salt you added – a brine can manifest. Give it a good couple of minutes… the longer, the better.

Step Four: Let it rest. Wash your hands, set the timer for 15 minutes and go have a cuppa or something. The magic happens here: the salt continues to draw the fluid from the cabbage, increasing the amount of all-important brine.

Step Five: Grab your jar and (with clean hands of course) begin stuffing the cabbage mixture in. Take a break when you think it’s lookin’ kinda full and start squashing the cabbage down to the bottom of the jar. As hard as you can. You are squeezing out as much air as possible and you’ll probably notice all of a sudden the brine is coming to the top. Food FervourYeah! Keep going! Chuck more of that stuff in and keep pressing it down. Eventually you’ll reach the end and you should be lucky enough to have all of the mixture well below the level of brine.

 

Step Six: Those spare outer cabbage leaves you kept at the start? This is where they come in. Choose one and push it in, down below the brine, as level as you can, across the top of your original ‘kraut mixture. Again, you’re trying to get as much of the air out from underneath that baby as possible. Food FervourI often do it with a couple of pieces to make well-and-sure that my mix is well under the waterline. When you’re satisfied, tightly cap the jar. (Professional home-sauerkraut makers buy special weights to ensure the sheltering cabbage leaf stays down but… I’ve never felt the need…)

Step Seven: Date your creation (I pop little stickers on the lid, see pic below) and store for at least one week, maximum two, in a cool dark place (the back of the pantry is ideal). Food FervourAfter one or two ‘explosive’ experiences (not really as scary as it sounds, just pressure build-up..) I decided to sit the jar in a little bowl just in case there’s a Great Brine Escape (leakage).

When you’re ready to open it, discard the top cabbage leaves (and the excess brine if you like) and keep refrigerated. I’ve had opened jars in the fridge for up to 4 months!

Now I must stress this is not the most hygienic way to make sauerkraut (as I said, there is proper equipment available out there in the marketplace) but of all the batches I’ve made (I’d guess nearly a dozen?) in the time I’ve been doing this, I’ve only had one batch that failed. And I knew it simply because it just didn’t smell right. Trust your nose, People. Science tells us there is no better apparatus to recognise bad food, than our own noses.

If you’re wondering whose sauerkraut recipe inspired me, take a look at The Healthy Chef (Teresa Cutter)’s Polish Sauerkraut. If you’re not exactly sure what to do with your sauerkraut once it’s ready open, check out some of the meals I’ve used it in:

https://foodfervour.com/2014/11/25/a-probiotic-toastie/

https://foodfervour.com/2016/01/18/an-eclectic-rainbow-salad/

https://foodfervour.com/2014/12/11/asparagus-sprouted-lentils-with-avocado-sauerkraut-mash/