Fig and Lemon Balls

Today is a cooking kind of day.  It’s blustery, rainy and cool outside, I have the day off (because it is school holidays!) and there is not much I need to do. Perfect for firing up the oven and turning some ingredients into delicious meals and snacks.

So far I have made skinless sausages (pork, fennel and thyme), roasted cauliflower, lemon and fig balls and coffee-chocolate balls. Still going is the slow cooked beef and sweet potato stew (in the oven), roasted pumpkin and beef jerky. Up next is grain-free crackers and some pumpkin hommus.

I just wanted to quickly share the recipe for the fig and lemon balls because I just created it, and it is pretty good. I had an Emma and Tom’s Fig and Lemon bar a while ago, and it was ok …but I thought I could do better. So I did.

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Fig and Lemon Balls

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Ingredients

1/2 cup of almonds

6-8 whole dried figs, depending on consistency of the mix

The juice and zest of a small lemon

Method

Put the almonds into the food processor and process until they are in tiny, even chunks. Take the almonds out and put the figs, lemon juice and zest in. Process for a bit, then add in the almonds. Process until it is of an even consistency.

If it is too dry, add another fig and some more lemon juice. If it is too wet, add some extra almonds. You might need to tweak this according to the size of your lemons and figs, but it will taste good either way. The mix shouldn’t be too sticky, it should hold together and mold nicely when pressed.

Roll the mix into balls and store in a container or a jar in the refrigerator.

My mix made about 10 but it depends on the size you make your balls.

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And now to the worst part of having a fun time making a mess in the kitchen – cleaning up.

Hayley’s Whole30

I’m doing a Whole30 for the month of September! I’m super excited about it, looking forward to getting back to basics and having a bit of a detox. My last Whole30 was in August last year, and I really got a lot out of it.

For those who aren’t familiar with what a Whole30 is, it is basically a 30 day nutrition program that eliminates all foods that may be having a negative psychological or physiological effect on how you look, feel and live. This includes grains, legumes, dairy and sugar.

I didn’t want to jam up the Anarchy Road blog with my own Whole30 stuff, so if you are interested in seeing what I’m up to this September, you can check it out over here.

Happy September, everyone! Enjoy the sunshine!

How I Cook Steak Part 1: Choosing a Steak

Steak is about flavour and nutrition. My goal is to balance both.  In this series of posts I’d like to share my method of cooking steak and tips and tricks I’ve picked up over the years. 
 
For the majority of 2012, I worked at the Ancaster Mill in Canada. It was a fantastic experience, working with some of Canada’s top young chefs.
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Hayley and Bryan Gibson (head chef), hanging out and eating steak.

 

I think Hayley and I will always remember this night.  Hayley had come to Ancaster to pick me up. The kitchen crew invited her in and we soon started talking meat and wine.  Chef Bryan explained the process of dry aging and told us everything he knew about beef. He grabbed out a slab of dry-aged strip loin (porterhouse), heated up a cast-iron pan and cooked it then and there on the stove top with butter and salt.  While it was resting Maria, the maitre d of the restaurant, brought in a bottle of British Columbia wine she was particularly proud of sourcing, and poured a glass each. Bryan sliced up the steak and we stood around eating it with our fingers. We got to eat the best produce Canada had to offer, chosen by experts in their field, as simple as it gets. Absolutely perfect. Words really can’t explain the generosity and warmth Hayley and I received while at the Mill. They put up with my relentless questions, inane and never-ending conversations about Crossfit / Paleo / food in general and my flighty work schedule.  I learned a lot, and in exchange I let the guys have my old jokes.
 
Part 1: Choosing a Steak.  
My favourite cut of beef is the rib eye (scotch fillet).  It can be purchased whole or as an individual steak, bone on or off.  I think it’s best to buy individual streaks with the bone on, the bone adds flavour and it looks like something out of the Flintstones (which is cool).  Buying individual steaks for a group of people is more work, but the caramelised exterior of a cooked steak is the best part, everyone will thank you for it.   The photo on the right is a 500gm Cape Grim rib eye (notice the marbling), taken while I was working at Backstreet Eating earlier this year.
Generally speaking, the rib eye has more fat within the steak than most other cuts (that’s why I like it). The fat melts and keeps the steak moist while cooking and adds beefy flavour. Regardless of the cut you like, look for nice fat marbling (threads of fat within the meat) and a light cherry colour, not too dark nor too pale. The better quality ingredients you have the less work you need to do to make it taste good.
I don’t know what cut of meat is in the first photo and I don’t know what I was doing.  I do know it looks amazing. The second photo is a striploin (porterhouse) being prepared for service at the Mill.  Thirdly is a nice pare of Canadian eye fillet steaks.  These three photos show the marbling and colour that you are looking for when choosing steak.
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Of course, it is best to eat organic grass fed beef opposed to grain fed. Dave Aspery from Bulletproof Exec writes: ‘Steers (castrated bulls) can’t make nutritious meat if they aren’t fed the proper ingredients.  If a steer isn’t fed nutritious food, it won’t become nutritious food.  There is no magical transformation from stale gummy bears (part of the feedlot diet) into vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats.  Feeding cattle junk food turns them into junk food.’  You can find the article this quote was taken from here – its well worth a read, actually, anything Dave Aspery writes is worth a read.

Once you choose your steak and take it home, I recommend giving it some age. Part 2 in the How I Cook Steak series: Ageing Beef.

Enough

A while ago, Mark Sisson wrote this blog post  and I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. If you’ve got a minute you should check it out. In the article, he says ‘I don’t want the perfect to become the enemy of the good‘, and this phrase resonated for me.

It is so easy to get caught up in ideas and plans and to become obsessed with doing things perfectly. I’m guilty of this all the time. I do the best that I can to nourish my body with natural, chemical free foods, quality sleep and regular exercise but if something slips through that isn’t optimal, now I just roll with it. Once upon a time I would have beaten myself up and promised to be more strict in the future. But, for the sake of my sanity, I take a breath and look at what I am doing and how far I have come and let it be enough.

Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. Do the best you can with what you have, and let good be enough.

Four Ways I Improved My Health

I’m an experimenter. I like to try different things and see if they work for me. If they don’t, I ditch them. Sometimes I may be a little hasty in doing so, but I don’t see the point in sticking with something if it is clearly not right for me. That being said, here are four changes I have made that have undoubtedly improved my health, and that I have stuck with, and will continue to stick with.

1. Cutting out gluten

Not minimising gluten. Not eating gluten on cheat days. I just don’t eat it. That isn’t to say that I will never eat it again. When I go to France, one day, I plan on eating a bootload of baked goods and enjoying every bite. I also plan on spending the following 24 hours locked in a little room, holding my tummy, groaning, cursing and dealing with other unmentionable side effects that make it impossible for me to be around other humans. Until then, I’ll skip the gluten, thanks.

2. Increasing my healthy fat intake

You probably read Tyson’s post on bulletproof coffee. I’m a fan. It lets me jam in maximum fat in minimum time, and I thrive on that stuff. I physically can’t eat as much butter as I would like to – I put butter on everything. Think I’m exaggerating? Pop around one time and watch me eat butter on cheese, I dare you. How do you like your apples? Buttered, thanks. After I eat butter (or other healthy oils) I feel satisfied and rarely am I left craving sweets. It reduces the amount of food I eat but it makes it taste so good I don’t mind.

An important side note here – I’m talking about butter. Real butter. Organic butter from healthy cows. I am most definitely not talking about that monstrosity that pretends to be butter, the devil margarine. I would never encourage anyone to eat margarine. It tastes like crap because it is crap.

via tappmd.com

3. Minimising my consumption of processed food, grains and sugars

This is a bit of a no-brainer. I like having steady energy throughout the day. I like my unpregnant belly not to look pregnant. I like not turning into a demon because I am craving sugar. I like eating real food.

4. Keeping a food journal that details what I eat and how I feel after eating

This keeps me accountable. I regularly visit a Chek practitioner, Vanessa, who has access to my food journal (thank you, Google Docs) and she lets me know if and when I am getting out of balance or letting things slide too much. For example, without the journal and Vanessa’s expert eye, I would never have questioned the amount of sweet potato that I was consuming. Let’s just say it was a lot. Multiple times each day. I was taking in far too many sugars from carbohydrates through the level of sweet potato in my diet. So now I am aware, I am eating less sweet potato. Easy.

Different horses for different courses, my friends. As always, what works for me might not work for you. But what have you got to lose?

What changes have you made that have improved your health?  We’d love to hear about it!

On Bringing Your Own Food (You Weirdo Hippie)

I’m a teacher. One of the questionable perks of the job is the fun activities that you get to do. This morning I am heading off to the funnest of the fun activities – school camp.

Now, don’t be fooled. Despite what our delightful former premier tells you, it’s a little bit more than a normal working day. We are on duty twenty four hours, from the time the kids get to school to the time we deliver them back to the welcoming arms of their parents. If a kid starts vomiting in the middle if the night, we sit up with them. If they have nightmares, or wet the bed, or miss their families, we soothe them. But despite those things, camp is fun. I like camp. And I especially like this camp because we get to ride bikes all day.

What I don’t like about camp, apart from watching thirty prepubescents spend five dollars each on lollies and the shenanigans that follow with the subsequent sugar highs and crashes, is the camp food.

It wouldn’t be bad to most people. Pretty much your run of the mill stuff, spaghetti bolognaise, cereal, toast… But if I ate that, things would go seriously wrong. My energy levels would be all over the place, I’d feel sick and cranky. What’s a girl to do?

When I agreed to go to camp, I kind of forgot about the food. My dear friend Nat is the camp coordinator, and while organising the camp paperwork, she came across the section for dietary requirements. I’m sure she looked at it and thought ‘Oh shit, here we go.’

It got me thinking. What are my requirements? First and foremost, no gluten or sugar. That’s the bare minimum I could cope with. Preferably, no processed food, refined carbohydrates, sugar or low fat anything. It’s a big ask. So I decided to take my own. Two breakfasts, three lunches and two dinners.

Three hours in the kitchen last night and I was good to go. Here’s my camp food…

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Apple crumble and coconut milk for breakfast, zucchini and sweet potato frittata and salad for lunch, Spanish meatballs and vegies for dinner.

Steady energy, steady mood, feeling good – bring on the bike rides!

Food for thought.

Thinking about food is important, experiencing food is crucial.

Hayley and I both write (and think) a lot about the health benefits of foods, we follow contemporary research and are endlessly experimenting with diet and exercise.  But thinking about food is only one side of the equation.  It means absolutely nothing if you don’t pay attention to how the food you are eating makes you feel. Experiencing the effects of foods and feeding that information back through a reflective loop is how you figure out a diet that allows optimum performance across all domains the majority of the time.

 

The aim is not to find a perfect diet, write it down and stick to it. That would be pointless. Everything is in a consistent state of change and trying to stick to a rigid diet plan will only yield temporary results (because it feels restrictive). It becomes too stressful to maintain, and in turn is bad for your health (stress wreaks havoc on your hormones). 

 

The aim is to practice body awareness, where the process is the product.  The process is experimenting with different foods and considering the effects they have on your body.  The product is choosing foods that don’t make you feel like shit.  Over time these choices will become instinctual, and most probably be the foods you need to maintain good health.

 

The interesting aspect of improving health is the exponential growth of self learning.  By cleaning up your diet you’ll most likely improve your clarity of thought and your ability to focus.  And when it comes down to it, that’s what learning is; focus and commitment to what you are doing as you are doing it.  As side effect, you might experience improved and longer sustained energy, you might save time, become more efficient in your work, improve your memory, learn faster, grow stronger, live longer, be happier.  No guarantees, but maybe?

 

Heightened awareness of your eating habits has beneficial side effects too.  Initially you may become aware of how your body feels, then through practice you may quieten your mind enough to experience everything as it is happening. It takes a little courage to let yourself be so vulnerable, but the rewards outweigh the effort. Engagement in life is the true goal.

 

To get started, consider this; Where does what you know come from? What was the last thing you read?

 

One final note; The internet is full of shady characters, don’t believe everything you read, formulate your own opinions.

 

If you’d like some recommended reading on any of these topics leave a comment.
Tyson

Food + Emotion

Food and emotion are so closely linked. Food can makes us feel things, emotions can turn us to food. I’m writing about this because today has been a hugely emotional day for me, from sadness to joy and all things in between.

My dear friend and mentor retired today after 34 years of teaching (I’m a teacher in my other life). This man has seen me through all manner of adult tantrum throwing (me), happiness, excitement, crazy diets, personal crisis, world travels and plenty of great food and great wine. He has handled me with gentleness and grace, often when it would have been very difficult not to just tell me to be quiet and get on with it. I’m so happy and excited for him to get on with this amazing new adventure, but I’m going to miss him terribly.

I have a cold, and have been battling it for a couple of weeks. I’m frustrated, tired and generally feel lousy.

Our beloved fur child, Louis, is sick. She started last night and was so out of sorts when I got home from work at 6pm tonight, so I called the vet and they told us to come straight in. I battled traffic for 40 minutes, cried in a car park when I realised I was at the wrong end of Lygon Street (the poor man in the car park was quite alarmed and let me out quickly and for free, bless him), arrived at the vet clinic ten minutes after their closing time but they were so gracious and kind that I sat down and cried again. Lou is resting in front of the heater right now, she has had a few injections and we’ll find out more tomorrow when her blood test results arrive.

Then, driving home, I had some unexpected but joyful news that I can’t disclose yet. I wasn’t as terrified that Lou was going to die. I was almost home, after a very long day. And I was HUNGRY.

I needed some food that was going to soothe me and make my stress evaporate. Part of the catharsis of food for me lies in the preparation, the care I can put into my food, and therefore, myself. I needed something quick but nourishing, rich but loving. So I made an omelette.

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I pulled out my good knife, and chopped some onion, bacon and mushrooms. While they were frying in some butter, I whisked up a couple of eggs with salt and pepper, then poured them in with the other things, gave them a stir around and let them sit and bubble away while I crumbled some feta and tore some basil and threw it on top. When the egg was almost set, I tipped the pan and flipped the omelette over onto itself so it looked like a golden half moon, flecked with green and white. I tore up some cos and crumbled more feta on it, them drizzled just the tiniest bit of apple cider vinegar over it.

I felt better.

The creamy, silky feta sat nicely with the crunchy cos and sharp acidity of the vinegar, perfect for breaking up the richness of the egg and bacon. Soon, the only thing that remained on my plate was a tiny bit of crispy bacon that escaped, and a solitary chunk of feta. I mashed them together and savoured them.

I felt better still. Nourished, satisfied, content. That’s what food does for me – it heals me, emotionally and physically. I love my food and it loves me back.

Now my day is done, and I’m ready to sleep. Tell me though, what do you cook and/or eat when you are mad, sad or glad? I’d love to know!