Friday, August 30, 2013

Birthday lunch at the French Laundry

As I said yesterday, I was lucky enough to celebrate my friend's 40th birthday with her on Sunday, with lunch at the French Laundry. There were 10 of us in the private dining room. They looked after us so well.

The food was a feast for the eyes as well as the taste buds.  Such beautiful plates and glasses and different styles of presentation. Even the water glasses were so fine that you noticed them and it made the water taste better.  The dishes and how they plated the food was gorgeous - definitely worthy of a few photos.

We also got a tour of the kitchen and it seemed a nice calm atmosphere.  Busy people but not frenetic.  They've done it all many times before.

There were so many dessert courses - I lost count and then they give you gifts to take home too.

It took us 5 hours to eat our meal.  Five happy hours where all our senses were stimulated, and we enjoyed each others company with lots of laughs.

What a wonderful celebration.  Yes, I ate things that I normally don't eat, but a visit to French Laundry isn't a regular event!

Have you ever been?
Thursday, August 29, 2013

French Laundry gardens

We celebrated my friend's 40th birthday with lunch at the French Laundry last Sunday. It was a wonderful day.

Before lunch, I went into the garden and took some photos of their produce.  Here are the garden photos to whet your appetite for the food photos.

It was lovely walking around and seeing all the different varieties of vegetables that we were going to eat.   Lots of color and different shapes and sizes.  I particularly loved all the different sizes and color of the eggplant/aubergine, and the long pointy tomatoes.

Food photos up next! Such creativity.
Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Are you ready for tomorrow?

Do you worry about tomorrow or get excited about it's potential?

Be like Snoopy and prepare for good things:

Sleep well! And have a great day!
Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Strategies for lifestyle changes: Give yourself credit

As mentioned in an email post a few days ago, one of the mottos that I live my life by is "you get more of what you focus on". This means if you focus on good things, you'll see more of them and your life will become attuned to see the positives.

This is important when we are making lifestyle changes.  It's all too easy to get bogged down with the times when we slip or don't eat according to our plan, or forget to exercise.  But focussing on these negative aspects isn't as helpful as focussing on what we are doing right.

It is much better to tell ourselves "good job" or "well done" for those times in the day when we are successful and stick to our eating plan or lifestyle change.  Doing so builds our self-confidence and proves that we can take control and exert self-discipline.

In a study at the University of Pittsburgh, participants lost more weight if they practiced skills that increased their confidence, compared to participants who didn't acknowledge their successes.

Unsuccessful dieters tend to focus too much on their mistakes, viewing themselves as weak, bad or hopeless.  They tend to ignore the small daily successes and consequently don't gain a sense of self-efficacy - which is a belief that they can reach their goals.

It may seem a little odd to praise yourself but these new lifestyle skills we are learning don't come all at once.  It is a process and so acknowledging that you are breaking old habits helps build your confidence.

A nice idea to keep you motivated is to buy a small counter - like a knitting row counter or a counter app for iPhones/Androids (there are plenty to chose from).  Keep it in your pocket and every time you stick to your plan during the day and do something right, click the counter. At the end of your day, you'll see your daily "credit" and know that you've made a real achievement in changing old habits.

It may seem silly, but it does work.  Commit to just giving it a go tomorrow and see if it makes you feel better about yourself.
Monday, August 26, 2013

Prescriptions for Fruits and Vegetables

A few weeks ago, New York City Deputy Major Linda Gibbs and Health Commissioner Thomas Farley announced a Fruit and Vegetable prescription program.  This allows doctors in and around New York City to prescribe fruit and vegetables to at-risk families.

More than 140 New York City farmers' markets are now accepting "health bucks" which have been prescribed to obese and overweight patients and their families.  The program provides patients $1 in health bucks for each day for each member of their family over a period of four months.  So for a family of four, they would get $120 in fruits and vegetables a month.

Each month patients check in with the doctor/hospital to have their prescriptions renewed and their weight and body mass index evaluated.  They also receive nutritional counseling.

The prescription program was started by Wholesome Wave, a nonprofit that connects low-income people with local, farm fresh foods.  The program started at test sites in Massachusetts, Maine, California and Rhode Island.  It has now expanded to seven states.

Let's hope doctors use this program to its fullest and it spreads across all states. Money to buy healthy fruits and vegetables and also education on why it is important and how to cook with it.  Sounds great.
Saturday, August 24, 2013

Time for Reflection

From sustainableman

Friday, August 23, 2013

Pickled Vegetables

I was taking lunch round to a friend's house recently so made an eggless fennel quiche and decided to accompany it with some pickled vegetables.

I don't recall ever pickling vegetables before, actually.  I make chutneys and sauces, but don't normally pickle.  So it was a fun thing to try.

As my hubby hates the smell of boiling vinegar, this was a job for outside!

I pickled pearl onions (white, yellow and red), some carrots, some radishes and beetroot.  Hands down, the onions won! They were wonderful.  But naturally, they were the most work with the peeling however!

I used a recipe from Bon Appetit magazine and the only things I changed were using coconut nectar sugar instead of white sugar and omitting the oil.

Here's the Pickled Vegetable Recipe

The recipe mentions that you do the beets last so the vinegar doesn't go red on the veggies, but actually the vinegar went red with the radish color!  The radish were my least favorite actually, as they lost all their color and just looked washed out and had lost some flavor.

So my recommendation is skip the radish and if you have the patience, do more onions!

Pickled vegetables are a good portable food, as you can put them in nice jars, and also pair really well with richer foods. They have a good crunch and the vinegar cuts through the richness of what they accompany.

And talking of Pickles, we do enjoy the comic strip Pickles - here's today's in case you don't know it:

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Don't let one cloud obliterate the whole sky

"Don’t let one cloud obliterate the whole sky."  ~Anais Nin
You know that feeling when you look up to the sky and its clear and that perfect wonderful blue?  What is it about the blue that just shines through our bodies?  Just picture it now in your head and you can feel its effects just through your imagination.

And now think about a sky with a couple of whispy little clouds dotted know that blue sky is still there, and to be honest, sometimes those clouds add a little interest to the picture - if they are small and whispy.

And now think about a cloudy day where the blue is obliterated with clouds.  But the blue sky is still there, it's just hidden for now.  It will show its face again.

Its such a lovely analogy from Anais Nin about how our problems can overwhelm us and we lose sight of the good things in our lives. We end up spending all our time looking at the clouds and not seeing or even imaging the blue sky behind it.

Its along the same lines as one of my favorite sayings that I try to live my life by:
"you get more of what you focus on".  
I don't know who said it originally, but I find it to be so true. If you focus on the negative, you see more negative. Your mind gets tuned to seeing bad things. But if you focus on the positive, you see more positives in all areas of your life.

For example, think of a person who annoys you.  If you only think about those annoying features, you are just seeing the cloud.  Look for the sky in the person instead.  Put the cloud out of your vision - the sky is big enough for you to do that. There are enough good qualities in that person to find and when you start looking for them, you'll find more.

Or what about if you are struggling with problems in your life.  Think about those whispy clouds in your life.  They are all part of life - they add texture to your life, even if they don't seem good - but you don't have to dwell on them.  Look for the sky.

Look for that bit of blue - enough blue to make a sailor's shirt! Do you know that phrase? I can picture my mum in the car, looking for the 'sailor's shirt' - that bit of blue sky -  as we are driving somewhere for the day!  The "sailor's shirt" is enough blue in the sky to be adequate fabric needed to make a sailor's shirt.  If there is enough blue to make a sailor's shirt, the weather is going to clear.

So look for the sailor's shirt in your life - find that all important bit of blue - and if you can't find it some days, just imagine it and it'll come into view.
Tuesday, August 20, 2013

August harvest - green pears and apples

This week's harvest is the green pear tree and the first of the apple trees. We first finished off gathering the red pears as we'd left a few smaller ones a couple of weeks ago.  They were so large now -  some pears were over 1lb in weight EACH! Monsters.   One pear can feed a family of 4!

We were hoping the green pears would wait a little while, but no. They were ready so they are now stuffed in the fridge for their big chill, along with all the red ones! It's pretty crowded in our fridges right now!

And yet the apples are ready too, so we picked one tree only...but the others need doing probably this week as well.  Yummy green apples that I am eating every day - but also have got our my trusty dehydrator so that is busy at work with the apples, before the next tree delivers!

Nothing goes on the apples.  Just slice them with the mandolin and dehydrate for a few hours at 115 degrees F, to retain all the nutrients.  No need to core or peel - and that way you even get a little star in the middle where the pips were  *  Nice decorative touch, don't you think?

It's a busy time of year :-D
Monday, August 19, 2013

Lemon juice or lemon zest?

I was watching Yotam Ottolenghi on telelvision today and something he said, struck a cord with me. He said lemon juice just tends to add acidity to a dish, but adding lemon zest, adds so much more.  Isn't that true!

The zest contains aromatic oils, which is where the real flavor and perfume of lemons comes from.  So don't try and substitute lemon zest for lemon juice.  You just won't get the flavor.

I still use juice in many recipes, but if I want a real lemon flavor, it has to have zest in it, for example when making my gluten free vegan lemon cheesecake,  as opposed to adding lemon juice to a savory dish.

If you are going to juice a lemon, zest it first - its much easier than trying to do two halves!  And use the zest immediately when it is most flavorful.

A great citrus you buy if you want a lot of zest is a Buddha's hand! They are all zest and no fruit pulp.  Just pull a finger off and zest it.  The Buddha's hand was traditionally used as a room freshener - for more info, check out my post on Buddha's hands!

Hands down (!) lemon zest is one of my favorite flavors. As we have 3 very prolific lemon trees, I use it a lot. What about you?  If you don't - give a go - using the zest for real flavor and the juice for acidity.
Thursday, August 15, 2013

Strategies for lifestyle changes: The stages of change

We all know that change doesn't just happen.  We go through different stages in our thinking and actions before we actually make change.  And knowing what stage we are in, can help us understand why we haven't quite made the change we want.

There are 6 stages of change described in the work of Prochaska and DiClemente (1986, 1992).  These are:
  1. Precontemplation - no intention to change in the unforeseeable future; unaware a problem exists
  2. Contemplation - aware a problem exists; seriously thinking of change; some ambivalence
  3. Preparation - intending to act in the next month; reduced ambivalence and exploration of options
  4. Action - taking action through modification of behavior, experiences or environment
  5. Maintenance - work to prevent relapse and consolidate gain
  6. Relapse - a recurrence of the undesired behavior or elimination of a desired behavior

Obviously, not everyone goes into relapse, but the goal, if you do, is to move back through the stages again and find the motivation to try again.  

As well as thinking about these stages and our own motivation, they are also useful to consider when we are trying to help others find their own motivation for change.  For example, if you have a spouse who is very overweight and it is affecting their health, you want them to make changes but maybe they are in the precontemplation stage.  What can you do to help move them into the contemplation stage?

Here are some ideas that may help:
In the precontemplation stage

  • phrase questions like "have you thought about......"; 
  • explore issues of "importance" and "confidence"
  • discuss past 'failures' and reframe them as learning experiences
  • heighten awareness but also provide options for reducing fear
     if these tactics don't work - just wait.

In the contemplation stage
  • provide information and facts
  • discuss outcome if there is no change
  • discuss alternatives
  • set a short term goal
     if these tactics don't work - keep reminding

In the preparation stage
  • discuss options
  • set a time and date to just do it
  • find a partner/club also wanting to make the change
     if these tactics don't work, provide evidence that underpins your concern

As you can see, if you use the suggestion for the preparation stage on someone who is pre-contemplation, you aren't going to get very far - and vice versa.

Aim to ask questions and listen more than give your point of view or tell them what to do.  Brain storm ideas together, discuss pros and cons etc.   And you can do this for yourself too....take some paper and start writing ideas or two columns - one with pros for change and one with cons for change.

What stage of change are you in right now?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Shrub drinks - Strawberry and pink peppercorn shrub

I've only recently heard about shrubs.  And we aren't talking plants in the garden - but shrubs that are vinegar drinks used in cocktails or just added to sparkling water.  Have you heard of them or tried them?

I was intrigued when I read about them so decided to try making my own.

I bought some super delicious fresh organic strawberries and decided to add my favorite combo spice to them - pink peppercorns.  You may recall I've made a few strawberry and pink peppercorn things in the past - my favorite being shortbread (gluten free, dairy free).

So what are shrubs? They are basically fruit  syrup sweetened vinegars that you add to sparkling water or soda water, or use as mixers in cocktails.  It's normally a fruit syrup, added to a vinegar and left for a couple of days and then strained.

The early English version of the shrub arose from medicinal cordials in the 15th century.  The drink then gained popularity in the 1680s among smugglers who were trying to avoid paying taxes.  The smugglers would sink barrels of spirits off-shore to be retrieved when no one was looking, but the sea water ruined the taste of the alcohol somewhat, so the smugglers added fruit syrups to improve the taste.

The American version started from the preservation of berries and other fruits using vinegar, as an alternative to using citrus juice.   The fruit preserves were known as shrubs and it became popular to pour vinegar over fruit and let it infuse overnight or several days, then strain off the fruit, add a little sweetener and you have a syrup for cocktails.

Shrubs seem to have fallen out of favor with the advent of refrigeration, but came back in 2011 in some American bars and restaurants.  They now seem to be spreading to Canada and London.  The acidity of the vinegar makes for a good aperitif or as an alternative to bitters in cocktails.

I made it as something to just add interest to sparkling water. We have "cocktail" hour at home at 5pm. This is the time that my parrot Harold starts getting noisy and wants his "cocktail" which is a cashew nut.  Just like Harold's cocktail isn't a real cocktail, so ours frequently aren't either - but its a time for us to stop for the day.  I like having my shrub in water at that time.  It is an interesting taste and tastes like a "special" drink, rather than water.  My own virgin cocktail.

When I came to make my own shrub, as  most shrubs use fruit syrups which are high in sugar, I decided I'd make a sugar free version instead.

Here's my recipe
3/4 cup chopped ripe strawberries
1 tablespoon coconut nectar or sweet freedom
1 teaspoon ground pink peppercorns (I ground them in a coffee grinder)
1 cup white balsamic vinegar

In a small mixing bowl, add the chopped strawberries, sweetener and peppercorns.  Toss/mash to combine and let sit for at least 30 minutes or overnight.
Add the vinegar and transfer the mixture to a sterilized glass jar
Allow the mixture to rest in the fridge for 2 days, then strain through a fine mesh sieve or cloth. Discard the fruit
The shrub will keep for 1 month in the fridge.
I just put a little amount in the bottom of my glass before adding sparkling water or soda water.  Its very refreshing.

Since making my own, a friend just bought me some flavored balsamic vinegars by Amphora. I got a Blenheim Apricot white balsamic vinegar and a Pomegranate balsamic vinegar.  Because they are such lovely strong fruit flavors, I'm sat here now just enjoying a dash of the apricot vinegar with my water. If you don't have a particularly sweet tooth,  I guess its the quickest, easiest shrub you can have, as long as you have good quality flavored balsamic vinegar. There are a couple of commercial shrubs available too if you want to give them a go:

Let me know what you think if you give one a go, or try making one yourself.  Try serving them at your next dinner party.


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