Bon Voyage…

Hi everyone,

Just a quick note to let you know that I will be having a little break from new posts until October as I am flying to Nicaragua tomorrow morning!   I’m so excited to be able to have several weeks of total chill out time.  As much as I love blogging I am looking forward to a complete break from computers and smart phones!  

I have never been to that part of the world before so I cannot wait to experience all of the breath taking natural beauty.  The plan is plenty of climbing volcanoes, swimming under waterfalls, kayaking in mangroves, camping under the stars, hiking in cloud forests, surfing (badly) on beaches.. the list goes on! :-D

No doubt it will be an experience to see what ‘natural fuel’ I can get there.. If I can manage to find rice & beans that are not fried in lard I will be doing well!  But I know there will be an abundance of fresh avocados and delicious fruits to keep me going! Hopefully I will have some new Nicaraguan inspired recipes to share with you all when I’m back, along with some incredible photos. 

Nature on the Aran Islands, Galway, Ireland -August 2014

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Anyone who follows the Natural Fuel Instagram account will know that I love wild flowers and noting the change of the seasons by observing them.  I especially love spotting wild flowers in urban areas such as Dublin City.  This originally stemmed from my delight in seeing bright clumps of pink Valerian blooming half way up the crumbling wall of a derelict four story building.  I love the juxtaposition of the decaying and blossoming imagery, and am fascinated by the ability of plants to root and thrive in the most unusual urban places.  I suppose although I love nature, I am a city girl at heart, and the sight of wild flowers prospering in urban landscapes is sometimes more lovely to me than a rural field of wild flowers.

That said, on my trip to the remote Aran Islands in Galway, Ireland earlier this month, I was eagerly awaiting the opportunity to count how many different wild flower varieties I could find on such unspoilt landscape.  It was great to see so many different types of flowers thriving, and it was reassuring to see that there were plenty of bees, moths and butterflies flitting from plant to plant.

The absolute highlight of my trip was swimming in the sea with a wild bottlenose dolphin!  I am totally against captive wild animals being held in zoos, circuses or marine parks and so never aspired to swim with dolphins although they are fascinating creatures.  I was completely unprepared for the fact that life would present me with the experience of sharing the waters with a wild one off the coast of Ireland!

Anyone who knows me will know that I am always whinging about the fact that I rarely catch a glimpse of wild animals.   Although I go on regular cliff walks along the Dublin and Wicklow coast I have only managed to spot a dolphin (briefly) once.. or it may have been a porpoise!  Needless to say this amazing up close encounter has put an end to my complaining for life!  Just about dolphins though.. I have yet to see a badger! ;-)

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Morning Green Smoothies

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A few people have been asking me on Instagram about my usual breakfast routine so I thought it was time for a quick post on my morning green smoothies.  Since I got my high powered blender at the start of the year, I have been having a green smoothie every morning.  I have always been one of those people who doesn’t feel like eating straight away in the mornings.  Previously I would just leave the house around 8am without having anything except water or sometimes nothing at all.  I’d then eat breakfast, usually porridge with almond milk, nuts, seeds and banana, in work when I began to feel hungry.  Green smoothies are quick, fast and easy to stomach first thing (you might be surprised!) so they have become the perfect compromise for me in terms of not wanting to eat in the morning before leaving the house.  So many nutrients in one glass!

I love how you can mix and match your green smoothie ingredients according to what nutrition you need, how full you want to be and for how long,  or just what flavour you feel like.  Green smoothies are so popular now, a quick internet search will bring up countless recipes.  The basic idea is that you need some greens or green powder (kale, spinach, swiss chard, green superfood powders etc), some liquid (water, almond milk or other non dairy milk) and a binder (the list is endless, soft fruits like banana, avocado, mango, oats, nut butters etc)

At first I made my green smoothies with kale, water, lemon, coconut oil, fresh ginger, ground chia seeds, ground flax seeds and banana, adding almond milk and/or oats if I wanted more sustenance.  As kale went out of season I began using spinach leaves instead, sometimes adding pineapple or mango for a sweeter taste, as well as a crazy experiment with left over almond butter, dates and apricots which was weird but delicious and very filling!

My current summer green smoothie recipe is water, banana or avocado (sometimes both), a handful of oats and supergreens powder consisting of spirulina, chlorella, wheat grass and barley grass and finally hemp protein powder.  I love hemp protein powder because hemp is a plant based complete protein, meaning it contains all 20 amino acids, including all of the essential ones, in a highly absorbable form.   Hemp is also an excellent source of the essential fatty acids omega-3 and omega-6, as well as gamma linolenic acid.  Hemp contains soluable and insoluble dietary fibre as well as great levels of vitamins A, D, E, and B vitamins. It is also a good source of iron and a high source of magnesium.   Hemp is especially great for post-workout due to it’s high protein levels which will help to feed the muscles, as well as it’s  branch-chained amino acids which are needed for repair and growth of lean body tissue.  For this reason I always add hemp protein powder to my post run or workout smoothie too.

And while we’re on the subject of hemp,  I know there will be some of you who are wondering…  the hemp which is cultivated for smoking and medicinal purposes is a different strain of the plant, containing much more of the essential THC compound, so no matter how much hemp protein powder you consume, you are not going to get high! ;-)

Occasionally I do get tired of a green smoothie every morning and in that case I usually whip up a dessert-for-breakfast smoothie using almond milk, raw cacao powder, banana, vanilla and date syrup. Yuuuum!!

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Thai Style Coconut & Corn Soup

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This soup is very quick and easy to make so it is one of my favourites to throw together if I come home from work feeling really hungry. You can whip it up in less than ten minutes, but it is bursting with delicious Thai flavours.  It’s very filling as a quick snack on it’s own, or as a meal with a side of rice.   I sometimes add in thinly sliced red peppers or wilted greens to the recipe. The quantities of the ingredients can be adjusted according to your tastes, I like mine super spicy, and sometimes I add a little extra galangal and lemon grass.

I know that a lot of people worry about the saturated fat content in coconut milk.  You can use the reduced fat variety if you want to, but I never do as it skimps on some of the flavour!  It’s true that coconut milk is high in saturated fat, but as part of a balanced plant based (or mostly plant based) diet a little saturated fat is nothing to fear!  A plant based saturated fat like coconut milk is also very different from animal based saturated fats.  The fat contained in pure, unrefined coconut milk and coconut oil can be viewed as a ‘good’ saturated fat as it does not lead to the same health risks which come from a diet high in ‘bad’ animal based saturated fats.  That’s not to say that you can consume ten cans of coconut milk a day, but as with everything else, if eaten in moderation there there should be no cause for concern.

Coconut milk contains significant amounts of iron, magnesium, phosphorus and manganese, as well as selenium and zinc.  It is also rich in anti oxidants and lauric acid which has anti bacterial and anti viral properties.

As with all other oils, it is important to note that you should only consume unrefined coconut oil. Refined coconut oil is drastically different from natural extra virgin coconut oil.  In order to refine an oil, it must be hydrogenised with chemical solvents.  The hydrogenation process creates a highly processed oil which has been stripped of it’s nutrients and now contains harmful trans fats. This is the reason why I always advocate using organic extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil rather than hydrogenated vegetable oils.  Coconut oil is also very stable at high temperatures making it an ideal oil for cooking with.  I tend to mostly stick with olive oil for raw food and salad dressings.

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INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1- 4 fresh chillies, sliced
  • 1 cup sweet corn
  • 1/2 tbsp dried galangal, soaked & finely chopped
  • 400ml coconut milk
  • Juice of 1/2 a lime
  • 4 kafir lime leaves
  • 3 tbsp fresh corriander, finely chopped
  • 1 stalk fresh lemon grass, sliced
  • 1 tsp thai 7 spice powder

Fry the onion for several minutes until browning.  Add the coconut milk and bring slowly to the boil, and then reduce the heat to medium low and allow the milk to thicken slightly.  Add the rest of the ingredients and allow the soup to simmer for five to ten minutes to allow the flavours to infuse.  At this point, add 1-2 cups water, or more, depending on how thick you would like the consistency.  I usually just add 1 cup of water, which makes 2 very large bowls, or 4 smaller bowls.

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Running: 10 fool proof tips to get from couch to 10k

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It has been a while since I have posted about my running progress, but I have been working at it (almost) steadily since the new year in order to reach my 10k goal.  Theoretically once you can get to 5k, reaching 10k shouldn’t be hard.  I had no doubt that if I continued to run regularly my fitness levels would increase to enable me to run up to 10k.  This is the same for most people lucky enough to not have any major physical health challenges.  It was the mental challenges while running that I found much more difficult to beat!
I ran my first 10k several weeks ago (yay!) but it definitely took me far longer to get there than it could have.  I don’t believe in obsessing over exercise so I am happy that I achieved the goal in the time appropriate for me.  Sometimes real life gets in the way of training plans, and that’s okay, but if I train for a half marathon in the same half arsed way as I did for 10k it will probably take me years!
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So here are my ten tips towards achieving a 10k running goal -personally tried, tested, failed, and tried again by me! ;-)  They are very simple and very obvious but sometimes difficult to apply!  These tips aren’t rocket science and they’re not technical.  You will have heard them all before, just like I did when I started running.  The big difference happened when I actually began to consistently listen to and apply everything on this list.  I was shocked at how my running progress then took off!  If you are somewhere between the couch and 10k hopefully these simple tips will help you to achieve your running goals too!
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1. Run regularly.  Aim for three to four times a week if possible and have the days planned.  Sometimes life will get in the way, but be somewhat strict about what prevents you from going for that run. Not running because of a sudden emergency or illness, OK.  Not running because you are feeling a little bit tired, not OK!  At this stage, running 5km for thirty minutes can be pretty easily squeezed in anywhere in your day.  It’s better to stick to a plan than to skip a day, so if you really can’t manage a full run, even just run a quick 2k to keep yourself in the rhythm and habit.  Chances are that once you get out of the door and begin running, you will feel amazing again and you’ll do the whole distance planned!
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2. Plan when you are going to get to 10k and how you are going to get there.   When I finally kicked my arse in to gear I went from a good 5km to 10k in 5 weeks. I ran 5k twice during the week and added on an extra kilometer during each run on the weekend.
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3. Fuel your body.  Stay hydrated all day and eat well.  Leave space after meals before running and have a nutritious snack afterwards.
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4. Take care of your body.  Rest and cross train on the days when you’re not running.  I alternated yoga & resistance training on the days that I didn’t run, but made sure that it was in a pattern whereby my muscles could repair themselves.  Look after any injuries, no matter how small.   Listen to and don’t force your body.  Get enough sleep and let your body repair and recover!
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5. Try running with other people.  Some people enjoy running alone but most people find it a struggle and a real demotivator, especially when starting out.  I enjoy solo running but it can be a lot more fun with others.  I use the website www.meetup.com to find local running groups and join runs with no need to commit to a regular schedule, but that option is there also if you want it.  It has been great to meet a variety of runners at different levels all willing to share their wisdom and enthusiasm.  As these people are already really passionate about running, it will motivate you further.  The distance flies by when you’re having a chat, and the nagging voice in your head telling you that you’re tired is a lot easier to drown out!  You can even meet some regular running buddies who are training towards the same goal that you are.  Yet another motivator!  I love meeting new people, learning new things and expanding my horizons and if you can do that while ticking off one of your weekly runs, all the better!
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6. Occupy your mind.  This was my worst enemy.  In the middle of a run my mind would start throwing distractions and excuses at me!  “You’re tired”. “You’ve ran enough”. “You’re bored”.   When I began running I never listened to music, as even that was too much of a distraction when I needed all of my focus for the struggle to keep breathing!  As I got fitter, I continued not listening to anything while I ran but suffered with demotivation and boredom!   I now have a playlist of absolute bangers to help me to feel motivated! :-D  Podcasts are also popular with runners and I plan to try listening to them for longer distances.   I love the idea of multi-tasking -educating yourself while you exercise!
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7. Going further than music, running is a great way to incorporate meditation in to your day.  I admit that I haven’t quite mastered this one yet!  But what better opportunity to empty your mind than when you have a long distance to run.  Repeating a mantra in your mind will definitely help with the meditation as well as zoning out to cover the distance.  Or you could try emptying your brain of thoughts or using a mindfulness technique.  Not only will you have given your body a work out, your mind will have been switched off the whole time leaving you completely refreshed and restored!  I am planning to work on this a lot more while training for the half marathon.
8. Track your progress.  If you have a smart phone, running apps are a real motivator as they measure your distance and speed.  Don’t pretend that those cheesy american voices telling you that you just ran your fastest kilometer ever don’t make you smile and think “hell yeah, I’m awesome!” :-)  They really help to keep the momentum going!
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9.Some days motivation will be low for different reasons. It your mind is really throwing a tantrum and convincing you that it’s okay to skip your planned run.. stop thinking about it, just put on your shoes and leave the house!  Once you’re out the front door in your running gear, the shame and guilt will be too strong for you to turn around and walk back inside!  ;-)  If it’s raining, so what, you’re going to need a shower anyway and you can get some negative ion exposure while you’re at it! ;-)
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10. Vary your runs and make it interesting.  If you’re getting bored with your usual route, find a new one.  Start doing interval training or speed training to keep yourself challenged and motivated, and vary your routes with a variety of flat and hilly ground.  I love just running on auto pilot without planning and seeing where it will take me -I’ve found some nice little nature spots this way!
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My next goal of a half marathon will obviously need a much more intricate and technical training plan in order to build endurance and prevent injury.  I’m not sure where to begin but I can’t wait to start!  Do any readers have any tips and training plans for half marathons?  Let me know in the comments!
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Wildfood for Free: Summertime Foraging -Bilberries / Froghan

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I spent a lovely summer morning this Saturday catching up with a friend and picking bilberries on the Sugarloaf Mountain, Kilmacanogue, County Wicklow.  Unfortunately the rain which appeared out of nowhere (it is Ireland after all) cut my foraging short but I managed to pick enough berries to make a dessert; Bilberry & Apple Crumble -dairy & sugar free of course!
 
Bilberries (Vaccinium Myrtillus) grow wild on high ground in Ireland from May to September, peaking in July.  The plant can often be found growing amongst the gorse and heather of the hillsides and mountain slopes.  The low lying bushy shrub with narrow, slightly toothed green to rust coloured leaves hides clusters of little black berries which resemble small blueberries.  Although they are similar in taste to blueberries, they are a different species with a more distinctive, deeper and tarter taste.  This was my first time foraging Bilberries and I quickly learnt that they can be a bit painstaking to gather, as they are hidden on the underside of the plant and are not easily accessible.  It took me nearly two hours to find and pick a cup full, but it was a pleasant warm morning with beautiful views over Wicklow as my favourite Swallows darted overhead.  I also saw a wild Hare for the first time, which I got very excited about!
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Bilberries are known as Fraochán or Froghan in Irish.  They are the first wild berry to ripen here and as such were historically a highly prized food source linked to the Celtic Festival of Lunasagh when the first fruits of the harvest were celebrated. The berries were traditionally made in to Froghan Cakes, as well eaten raw, used medicinally and as a dye.  According to Irish folklore, the berries are not to be picked after August 1st as the faeries spit on the fruits that night, bringing bad luck!
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Me picking the berries :-)

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Froghan berries and green/rust coloured leaves

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Froghan nestled in between purple Heather and yellow Gorse, with the rolling Wicklow hills behind

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As with all foraging, chose a plant away from pollution and traffic fumes.  Given the remote places in which Froghan grows, this is thankfully much easier with bilberries compared to foraging some other wild plants.  Always ensure that you do not pick the entire crop of berries so that wild animals (and faeries!) can still benefit from the food source.

I used sweet eating apples rather than cooking apples for this recipe as bilberries are quite tart and I wanted the crumble to be a little sweeter.  If you don’t have a high powered food processor you could use 3/4 cup oat flour (which is essentially finely milled oats) and 1/4 cup oats, or just use 1 cup of rolled oats and chop the nuts and dates in to small pieces by hand. This quantity will make 4 – 6 individual ramekins.

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INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 heaped cup berries
  • 3 diced apples
  • 1/3 cup orange juice
  • 4 tbsp date syrup
  • Seeds of 1 large vanilla pod
  • 8 dates
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup almonds
  • 1/4 cup walnut halves
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • 3 tbsp coconut oil
  • Sprinkle cinnamon to taste

Put the apples and orange juice in to a pan and stir over a medium-low heat for about three minutes until the apples begin to soften.  Add the seeds and pod of a vanilla pod, along with the berries and stir gently for a further three minutes.  Remove the vanilla pod and spoon the mixture, including all of the juice, in to a baking dish or individual ramekins.  Bake the mixture in a 170 degrees celsius oven for ten minutes, while you make the crumble topping. Put the dates in a bowl of very hot or boiling water for two minutes to soften.  Place 3/4 cup of the oats in to a powerful food processor, along with the almonds, walnuts and dates.  (Make sure that you remember to take the stones out of the dates first! I completely forgot and nearly broke my tooth when I took a bite! Doh!) When the mixture resembles bread crumbs, transfer to a bowl. Add the remaining 1/4 cup oats and the sunflower seeds, along with the softened coconut oil and mix until everything is thoroughly combined and coated with oil. Spoon the crumble topping on top of the baked fruit and return to the oven for a further 20 minutes or so, until browned and bubbling.  Serve with your choice or cream or ice cream.

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Red Cabbage & Beetroot Slaw with Creamy Walnut Dressing

 

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This salad is the much sassier and classier big sister of regular coleslaw with mayonnaise dressing. The red cabbage and beetroot provide the same lovely crunch as the more traditional white cabbage and carrot, but with a much richer depth of flavour that is really complimented by the subtle walnut dressing.  If you are vegan or allergic to/avoiding dairy for health or other reasons, this dressing is completely plant based and dairy free, but very creamy.  You can toast the walnuts before hand in order to play around with the flavour, but I prefer to keep them raw to preserve more of the nutrients.

Nutritionally, this salad is packed full of fibre and nutrients.  Both red cabbage and beetroot contain masses of anti inflammatory anti oxidants which in particular aid in detoxification of the body.  As these vegetables are eaten raw and fresh in this salad, even more of the benefits are retained.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1/4 head large red cabbage
  • 2 small beetroot
  • 1/4 cup walnut halves
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/8 cup apple cider vinegar

Chop and shred the cabbage and beetroot finely.  Add the walnuts, water, oil and vinegar in to a blender and mix until smooth and creamy.  Mix the dressing in to the vegetables and season lightly with salt and pepper.  Best served chilled.

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