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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Creamy Roasted Root Vegetable Soup

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Lately I have really been noticing how bright the evenings are getting and it makes me very happy and positive!  I am planning to do loads of hiking and exploring nature this year so I can’t wait until the days are little bit longer to facilitate this better.  I am yet to see my first snowdrop, but they are out, and the other spring flowers will be following soon.  Although sadly the seasons are getting increasingly altered -I did a double take when I spotted my favourite tree, cherry, fully blossoming in the middle of december so perhaps I shouldn’t be using flowers to gauge the arrival of spring!
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Although spring is somewhat in the air, it’s not quite in the weather yet, and here in Ireland the coldest winter weather can last into March so I am still making lots of warming winter dishes like this creamy roasted root vegetable soup.  Root veggies such as these are in season here at the moment, making them plentiful and cheap.  Roasting the vegetables and using fresh herbs instead of dried really adds flavour to this soup, while the cashew nuts add a creamy texture along with some extra protein.  I brought a big tub of this in to work for my lunches last week.  I had no wheat free bread so I dipped dark rye crispbreads in to it which was delicious!
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I made this soup in my new high powered blender, my new favourite thing!  I’ve been having green smoothies every morning for breakfast made with my own homemade almond milk, and love making my own blend of almond butter with a hint of coconut. I had been wanting to get a Vitamix for months, but I couldn’t justify the expense.  I ended up buying a similar blender for half the price, but with all the same functionality.  Time will tell if I would have been better off buying the Vitamix but my brand has a seven year warranty so that sounds good to me!  I think that the extra money would just have be paying for the brand name!
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Obviously I am going to be using my blender for a lot of recipes from now on, but I still want my recipes to be adaptable and accessible,, so wherever possible I will adapt the recipe to be made with more standard kitchen equipment also.  Take this soup for example -I made mine in the blender but you can make it on the stove also.  If you don’t have a high powdered blender to blend the cashews, use unsweetened almond milk instead to add some creaminess.  I list both ways in the recipe below.
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INGREDIENTS:

  • 1/2 medium Turnip
  • 1 medium Parsnip
  • 2 medium Carrot
  • 1 small bulb Fennell
  • 3/4 tbsp Fresh Rosemary
  • 3/4 tbsp Fresh Thyme
  • 3-4 garlic cloves
  • Up to 1 litre boiling water or stock
  • 1/2 cup cashews (soaked overnight) or 200ml unsweetened almond milk

Roast cubes of the turnip, parsnip, carrot and fennell at 200 degrees celcius for 30 – 40 minutes until browned and tender.  Cooking time will depend on the size of your cubes. Add the garlic about half way through.

To make in a high powered blender, transfer the drained, soaked cashews to the blender along with about 100ml of water. Blend until smooth.  You can adjust the quantity of water to get the creamy consistency which you prefer. Then add the stock or water, followed by the roast vegetables and herbs.  You might need to do this in batches.  Season and blend until you get your desired consistency.  Depending on your vegetables, you may want to add some more water.  I like to serve this as a very smooth, but thick soup.  If you want to eat the soup straight away, check if it’s warm enough for you.  If not, if you run the blender long enough, the friction heat will have it warmed up after a few minutes.  You can also just reheat it on the stove.

To make this soup entirely on the stove, transfer the roast vegetables to a large pot, add the unsweetened non dairy milk along with the water or stock (reduced to about 800ml) and herbs.  Season and bring to the boil.  Simmer for about twenty minutes to allow the flavours to infuse, and then puree with a hand held blender if desired.
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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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Fakes -Greek Lentil Soup

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This is yet another recipe inspired by my memories of the delicious food on the Greek islands.   I made this last night when I was trying to convince myself to go out for a run in the freezing cold after work.  My 5km run is in two and a half weeks but I haven’t yet reached my 5km target.  I thought that knowing there would be a delicious hot bowl of soup waiting for me when I get back might make it a bit easier to get out the door!  It worked and I ended up running for 3.8km, my farthest yet, so I am nearly at my goal!  :-D

This is my own version of the traditional greek soup called Fakes.  It is one of my favourite soups and I make it a lot throughout the winter.  Fakes traditionally includes a lot of olive oil and some vinegar.  Both flavours compliment each other to give both a richness and a tangyness.  This would more traditionally be made with brown lentils, so you can try using brown or green if you’d prefer.   I always use red for this as I just love the red variety, but they do produce a soup with less ‘bite’ compared to one made with the brown variety.  Experiment and see which you prefer!  I also use apple cider vinegar rather than the more traditional red wine vinegar, generally just because I always have apple cider vinegar in my cupboard!   But red wine vinegar is great in it as well.  You can try out using balsamic vinegar instead if you think you might like it, but I feel balsamic vinegar doesn’t compliment the flavour of the soup as it is too strong and heavy.  The lentils make this a very filling, nutritious soup, full of protein, fibre, iron and potassium.  Along with a salad and some nice bread, this could be a meal in itself.

INGREDIENTS

  • 200g lentils, soaked
  • 2 onions, diced
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 400g can chopped tomoatoes
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 7 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2-3 tbsp vinegar

Fry the onions and garlic for about five minutes, then add the lentils, tomatoes, bay leaves and oregano.  Pour in 1 litre of boiling water and season with salt and pepper.  Bring the soup to the boil and then simmer over a low heat until the lentils are tender.  This will vary from 25 – 45 minutes depending on which variety of lentils you use.  If necessary, add a little more water to get the consistency which you prefer.  Take the soup off the boil and stir in the olive oil and the vinegar.

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