I’m back!

I just wanted to write a quick post to explain the absence of blog updates in the last six months.  I had been working really hard on the blog up to my trip to Nicaragua last September.  All the hard work paid off when I was short listed for the Irish Blog Awards.  I was delighted to have reached my goal and took a break while I was on my travels.  When I returned I found that my focus had shifted slightly.  I began a yoga teacher training course when in October and since then most of my energy has been going towards that.

Initially I felt a lot of guilt and stress at neglecting the blog, as I struggled to juggle my full time job, as well as working on the blog which is very time consuming, as well as yoga practice and study, as well as working on my other goals and not to mention finding time for a social life and relaxation!

I decided to just go with the flow and do what felt right.  I allowed my work on the blog to slide for a little while.  Many people asked me when I would be updating it or if I had given it up.  I didn’t have an answer for them but I knew that there was no point in working on the blog if it was becoming stressful or a chore, whereas it had begun from a place of passion, creativity, fun and excitement.

In the last  couple of months I have been missing blogging, and my enthusiasm and passion for Natural Fuel has been returning.  I have a lot less time to dedicate to the blog compared to what I had last year but I am planning to continue!  I am hoping to design a completely new website in the coming months.  In the meantime I will be posting new entries here when I can and I will be active on social media.

I am really looking forward to interacting with the blogging world again and seeing where life will take me (and the blog) next! :-)

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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Grilled Pink Grapefruit with Date Syrup

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I have had a few requests lately asking for more posts about breakfast foods.  The reason I haven’t included many to date is because I am not really a big breakfast person!   I have always been one of those people that doesn’t feel like eating straight away in the mornings.  Previously I would just leave the house around 8am without having anything except a cup of green tea, or sometimes nothing at all, and then eat breakfast in work when I began to feel hungry.  Once I have my appetite for breakfast, it’s usually non stop eating for the rest of the day!

My default breakfast in work was usually porridge or pinhead oatmeal with almond milk, nuts, seeds and banana or berries.  The recipe for the pin head oats is here.  When I got a high powered blender at the start of this year I began making a green smoothie every morning before work.   Even though the thought of food so early after waking usually seems very unappealing to me, I seem to be able to stomach a pint of scary looking green smoothie first thing no problem at all!  Being quick and easy probably helps -it takes two minutes to make and one minute to drink!  I’m going to do a post on my green smoothies in the coming weeks as I had a request on my instagram account to give more details on my recipe as well as the hemp protein powder which I use -my favourite part of my green smoothies, it’s amazing!

Apart from green smoothies or porridge, the next closest thing to a breakfast food that I regularly have is this very simple grilled pink grapefruit with date syrup.  I’ll often start my day with one of these until my body gets hungry enough for a real breakfast.  Grapefruit is so refreshing in the morning but this is so delicious that I tend to eat it after my dinner sometimes too.  I always thought that I hated grapefruit until I got some in my organic box and decided to give them another try.  I usually love sour things but I still found grapefruit slightly too sour, so I decided to try caramelising the grapefruit under the grill/broiler for a few minutes in order to intensify the natural sugars.  You can also place it cut side down on a hot griddle pan.  I then add date syrup for extra sweetness. OH BABY! The contrast of the flavours is so good -deliciously sweet on top and pleasantly bitter on the inside.  Blueberries are also a very good accompaniment to this.  If you don’t have time to caramelise it you can just try out the date syrup on a plain pink grapefruit but the little effort to caramelise it first is really worth it!  Pink grapefruit is full of vitamin C and it also contains the cartenoid lycopene which fights cancer forming free radicals in the body.  Don’t waste the rind -drop it in a pint of water for a refreshing flavoured drink!

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Greek Quinoa Stuffed Peppers

 

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Summer time always reminds me of holidays in the Greek islands and the excitement of going out for dinner every night in anticipation of trying the delicious Greek food.  The cuisine generally has very good meat free options with a limited use of dairy.  Despite the variety of vegetarian food on offer, these dishes are usually eaten as sides.  The waiters usually found it baffling as to why I would not want to eat meat or fish along with the vegetables but generally they were always very eager and proud to present me with the best vegetarian food that they had, often making up dishes especially for me.

Among my favourite dishes were the stuffed tomatoes and peppers.  For meat free meals these are usually stuffed with rice, however I like to stuff them with quinoa instead to raise the nutrition content, and particularly to add some high quality protein.  I think the tomato version is tastier than the peppers as the tomato juices marinate the stuffing from the inside in.  Unfortunately I can rarely find very large tomatoes here  but these pepper ones are also pretty damn tasty! If you can find large tomatoes, try this recipe out using both.  You can omit the tomato puree if stuffing tomatoes.  If for some bizarre reason you don’t like olives, play around with different types of stuffing using different ingredients.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 150g cooked quinoa
  • 1 large red onion, finely chopped
  • 1-2 tbsp flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, minced,
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • 6-8 kalamata olives, finely chopped
  • 3/4 tsp dried oregano
  • 3/4 tsp dried rosemary
  • 3/4 tsp dried thyme
  • 3/4 tsp dried mint
  • 4 large red pepper

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Fry the onion and garlic gently.  Stir in to the cooked quinoa along with the fresh and dried herbs, lemon juice, tomato puree and olives.  Season with salt and pepper.  Cut the tops of the peppers and discard the seeds and inner membranes.  Rub with olive oil and season inside the peppers.  Spoon the quinoa mixture in to the peppers and replace the lids.  Place in a baking tray and fill with about half a pint of water.  Bake at 180 degrees celscius for an hour and a half.  If the lids are browning too quickly, place some foil over them -I should have done this with mine sooner!  Best served warm rather than piping hot.

I always make the lemon & herb roast potatoes featured in the photos to go with these. I’ll put that recipe up too if people would like to see it.

 

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Soft Spinach Polenta with Grilled Tomatoes and Pinenuts

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This is a simple and quite filling lunch or brunch.  I’ll admit that I haven’t always been a fan of polenta in it’s softer, creamy form. Sometimes it reminds me of bland mushy gruel!  And it never looks too appetising either, a bit grainy and lumpy and bleugh!  I usually prefer it to be hardened and then baked or fried to add texture and flavour.   Soft polenta on it’s own is certainly not very exciting… (Does anyone disagree?!)
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However depending on what you combine it with, you can create a soft polenta with great texture and flavour. The pine nuts add texture and wonderful earthy flavour while the juice of the warm tomatoes add a sharper taste and moisture to the creamy thick polenta.   To be honest I only made this meal because I was too lazy and hungry to wait for the polenta to set as I usually do, so I decided to try to make soft polenta more tasty and appetising.  Trust me, it worked!
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This quantity also makes enough for some of the polenta mixture to be reserved and set, to be fried or baked later.  You may as well if you’re already boiling some up!  Simply pour the remaining soft polenta in to a shallow oiled dish or tray and allow to harden.  The hardened polenta can then be sliced and baked or fried.
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Polenta is made from finely ground corn meal.  It is a great alternative to use for wheat free or gluten free cooking.  I always try to use all organic ingredients where possible, although I understand that this is not always feasible.  I have however stressed organic polenta in this recipe due to the high levels of GMO corn on the market.  Polenta is a great source of dietary fibre and anti oxidant phytonutrients.  It is also high in complex carbohydrates, which means that it is slowly digested by the body and is great for providing long term energy.
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INGREDIENTS:
  • 120g organic polenta
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 big handfuls spinach leaves
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • 1/2 tsp rosemary
  • 1 tomato
  • 1 tbsp pine nuts
 Boil 750ml of water along with some salt, and then lower the heat.  Slowly pour the polenta in to the water, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens. Add the herbs, some pepper and the garlic.  Stir to combine.  Pour in the olive oil.  Tear the spinach and stir in to the mixture. Continue to simmer, for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is very thick.  Meanwhile cut the tomato in half and place on a baking tray under the grill/broiler, along with the pinenuts.  Spoon half of the polenta in to a bowl and top with the tomatoes and pine nuts.  Season with salt and pepper.
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Moroccan Butternut Squash and Chickpea Tagine

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I originally posted this recipe as a guest post on Mino Valley Farm Sanctuary’s blog.  They are a wonderful organisation who do amazing compassionate work with farm animals.   I will explain more about their organisation after I have explained the recipe!

This Moroccan inspired vegetable tagine is bursting with flavour as well as nutrients.  The wide variety of vegetables ensure you are getting plenty of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

Moroccan cooking requires some specialised ingredients, but I am all for being flexible and creative in the kitchen!  You can easily adapt this dish if you don’t have them to hand.  Ras El Hanout is a Moroccan spice mix. Traditionally this was an individual mixture of the most common and best available spices sold by each vendor in the market, the name ‘Ras El Hanout’ meaning ‘best of the shop’.

Ras El Hanout is widely available as a ready made spice blend but if you can’t get your hands on it, try making up your own blend using traditional Moroccan spices according to your own tastes.  Some of the traditional spices used in Moroccan cooking are cumin, ground coriander, cinnamon, sweet paprika, ginger, turmeric, fenugreek, cardamom, nutmeg and anise.  Harissa is a fiery paste made from red chilli peppers and garlic.  It is what gives this dish it’s kick.  If you can’t get any harissa, try adding in some dried red chilli pepper flakes and an extra clove of garlic.  Preserved lemons are lemons which have been pickled in fermented brine and spices. Replace with two tablespoons of fresh lemon juice if you have no preserved lemon, but if they are available near you it is worth trying them out as they add a wonderful depth of flavour.

Tagines are traditionally served with couscous or bulgar wheat. If you are avoiding wheat you could try spelt couscous. For gluten free options try serving with Moroccan rice, or quinoa for a really nutritious meal!

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 butternut squash, diced
  • 1 can chickpeas (240g drained)
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • 12 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • ⅓ cup dried apricots, chopped
  • ⅓ cup flaked almonds (reserve some for garnish)
  • 2 tsp Moroccan ras el hanout
  • 1 cup vegetable stock or water
  • 1 tbsp harissa
  • 1/2 preserved lemon
  • 20 mint leaves (some extra for garnish)

Dry fry the almonds on a low heat until browning and set aside. Heat some oil in a large saucepan. Add the onion and saute for about 5 minutes, then add the garlic and red pepper and saute for another 2 minutes. Add the chickpeas and spices and stir well. Add the stock, harissa, mint and preserved lemon.  Stir to combine and then add the carrots and butternut squash. Bring the saucepan to the boil and then reduce the heat to low. Cover the pan and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the apricots, almonds and cherry tomatoes and then simmer for another 5-10 minutes until the squash and carrots are tender.  Garnish with some more toasted almonds and fresh mint leaves.

Now on to the wonderful work of Mino Valley farm animal sanctuary, whose owners were originally from the UK but moved to Gallica, Northern Spain looking for a simpler life.  Those behind Mino Valley believe that all animals deserve our love, respect and kindness, and they aim to create a safe haven for rescued farm animals to live out their lives in freedom -free from pain, suffering and the burden of expectation. Their very admirable mission is Rescue. Rehabilitate. Educate.

I shed a tear (ok, definitely more than one tear!!) reading the stories of the animals which have been lucky enough to have found a new home at Mino Valley.  Here are just two examples.

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Arwen Gandalf

“Since arriving at Mino Valley Farm Sanctuary our lives have been transformed beyond our wildest dreams, and for the first time we believe that we may actually have a chance at happiness.  Before coming here all we had ever known was the inside of a tiny cage barely big enough to even turn around.  We led a lonely life only knowing of each others existence by sound but never sight.  We never knew sunlight, and we were never allowed outside to stretch our legs.

Not being able to exercise caused me to lose all strength in my back legs and now I can only drag myself from place to place.  Us pigs are naturally clean animals that would never go to toilet where we sleep and eat, but our cages were never cleaned out and we were forced to live in a pile of our own excrement for years, to the point that our legs and feet are badly damaged.  We were only given just enough food to keep us alive.

The farmer had a short temper and I never understood why he was so aggressive and cruel towards us. Eagerly we awaited food, yet equally we feared our tormentors arrival not knowing what blow he would deliver next.  For years we lived like this, and each day felt longer than the last, especially those when no-one came to give us food and water.

When someone found out about the terrible conditions we were living in they tried to find us a new home where we would be loved and cared for.   Mino Valley Farm Sanctuary chanced across our story and set to work immediately to get us out of there.  When the people finally came to rescue us they were horrified when they saw we were all skin and bones and desperately malnourished.   After a long 9 hour journey across Spain we arrived at the sanctuary.  With our new lives come our new names; Gandalf, Frodo and Arwen.

We never knew that beyond those four walls that confined us was a whole other world.   A kind world where we get to feel the sunshine on our backs and earth under our feet.   A world where we can snuffle from morning to night, feast on fresh fruit and vegetables and explore the wonders of the forest.”

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“We are Mario and Olivia and we have travelled all the way from Seville to get to Mino Valley Farm Sanctuary.  When we were very little we lived in a terrible place where it was considered normal to kill us sheep with a kick in the head when we are small or by slitting the throat when we are adults.  Our owner didn’t look after us properly and he said we were worthless, so he decided he was going to stamp on our heads too.

Someone from one of the local dog shelters heard about us and came to our rescue.  When they saw us they couldn’t believe the awful state we were in. They bottle fed us and gave us so much love and attention, and we came to learn that not all humans were as bad as we thought.  We enjoyed our time at Fundación Benjamín Mehnert very much but it was only ever a temporary home for us.

Fundación Benjamín Mehnert searched high and low for the perfect place for us to spend the rest of our lives where we could live free, and in the end they decided that place was Mino Valley Farm Sanctuary.”

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I am so in awe of the fantastic difference that this farm sanctuary makes to the lives of the animals, as well as raising awareness of the suffering and cruelty which is inflicted on these innocent, defencless animals, and billions more like them.

To learn more about the sanctuary, adopt a farm animal, or make a donation, check out their website, blog, facebook and twitter!

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Crispy Potato & Fennel Rosti with Herby Bean Mash

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This is a lovely vegan brunch option.  Just fancy enough to give you that pampered Sunday morning feeling, but simple and quick enough for lazy Sunday heads, with the exception of hungover ones!  If you’re hungover, get someone else to make this for you! ;-)

Fennel is a vegetable that I don’t ever buy myself to cook with, but once again my weekly organic fruit & veggies box delivery brought me a new opportunity.   Much like when I was presented with four beetroot, when I saw the leafy fronds of fennel sticking out of my order I was excited to get the opportunity to try out cooking a vegetable which I rarely eat, and never cook with.   I became converted to beetroot a few weeks ago, and now I am converted to fennel!   Nutrition wise, fennel has strong anti oxidant activity and is an excellent source of vitamin C.   It also offers a very good source of fibre and potassium, and a good source of calcium and other minerals and vitamins.   And what a beautiful flavour!   It adds a wonderful fresh, sweet, lightness to the rosti without overpowering the traditional potato flavour.   The crispy rosti pairs great with the warm, soft, herby bean mash.   Perfect for setting you up for a busy Sunday afternoon, or you could do what I did, and take it back to bed with you while you decide how to spend your day!

INGREDIENTS:
  • 2-3 potatoes, peeled
  • 1 small fennel bulb
  • 1 small onion
  • Cooked beans of your choice
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Fresh rosemary and thyme to season
Grate the raw potato, fennel and onion coarsely.   Use a medium sized hole and try to get the strips as long as possible.   Place them all in a clean tea towel and squeeze out as much moisture as possible.   I put them all in the middle of the towel, make a ball, and twist the edges of the tea towel around to make a little package.   With one hand, twist the free ends as tightly as you can.   Squeeze the moisture out of the ball with the other.   When you think you have gotten as much as you can, squeeze again!!  Aaand again!  Let it sit for two minutes, and squeeze once more!  The mixture will not work if there is too much water.Place the mixture in a bowl and season well with pepper, and a little of the chopped herbs if you like.  You can fry these on a pan, or bake in the oven for a healthier recipe.   To fry, heat a good amount of oil in a pan on high heat.   Reduce the heat to medium after a minute or two.  Take a heaped tablespoon of the of the mixture and place in the hot oil.   Push down hard several times with a spatula to make a flat compacted cake.   If you have a chef’s ring, these are useful to help form the rostis and keep their shape.   Push down regularly for even browning and flip once one side is browned.  Make sure that they are cooked through -this will depend on how thick your rosti is.   You could also lightly brown both sides and then finish in an oven at 170 degrees Celsius if your mixture is not holding together well (did you squeeze like I told you?! :-) ).  For a healthier option with less oil, you can oven bake completely. Form the rostis on an oiled baking tray and bake at 170 degrees Celsius for about thirty minutes until crisping.Serve with the white bean herb mash -simply lightly fry some onion and garlic in a pan, add some cooked beans (white beans are nice with this), season and add plenty of fresh rosemary and thyme.  Mash the beans and cook on a low heat until warmed through.

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