Summer Meets Autumn Meets College Reunion Harvest Celebration

Foraged Fruit Jelly with Strawberry Sorbet

When you live outside of your native country, it becomes a very rare treat to spend time with someone you have a long history with. For that reason and more, it was wonderful having my dear friend Suketu over for the weekend. I know Suketu from undergrad at University of Illinois – we met in math class and bonded over our mutual appreciation for vectors and Dana Scully. Suketu was in Helsinki for a conference and decided to come over to England since he was in “the area”. He only had a few days to spare so I’m incredibly grateful that he chose to spend two of those days here at Orchard Cottage.

photo.JPG

An occasion such as this required a celebration. Suketu was very keen on the nature aspect of where I live, and he really lucked out because the weather this weekend was phenomenal: sunny, and warm. Perfect BBQ weather, warm in the sun but with a slight breeze signalling that autumn was on its way. So we decided to pay tribute to his visit and to the changing seasons with an ultimate Summer Meets Autumn Harvest Celebration, sourcing as much of our meal as possible from stuff grown on the farm.

Borage

To that end, we went out for a harvest blitz, gathering blackberries from the hedgerows, picking borage flowers, gathering what remained of the summer tomatoes and swiss chard. I also had homegrown strawberries in the freezer from early summer we could play with.

harvest1

Other accoutrements came from the next-best-thing-to-homegrown: The Organic Farm Shop in Cirencester, where we found big bunches of basil, beautiful lettuces, ginormous cucumbers and their irresistible cherry tomatoes. Even the flour came from Shipton Mill just down the road. So not only did I have this still-cool-as-hell-after-all-these-years lifelong friend in town, but we also had these phenomenal ingredients to work with. Celebration indeed! So what to do?

Chard Harvest. Charvest.

We took some inspiration for our menu from the summertime collection at Great British Chefs. Suketu LOVES pizza, and since the weather was right for a BBQ, we decided to go with their Barbecued Garden Vegetable Pizza using my own garden vegetables as the toppings. I will definitely be coming back to this pizza base recipe again – it was easy to roll out, had a beautiful flavour and cooked perfectly on the bbq. Keeping the pizza bases small (less than 12cm) was definitely a help here. We topped the pizza with basil pesto, fresh tomatoes and mozzarella. Simple but totally perfect.

Pizza with Pesto & Homegrown Tomatoes

Suketu liked it so much that he wanted to tip the whole board of pizza straight into his mouth.

"Pour all the pizza straight into my mouth"

To go with our pizza, I made Suketu’s other favourite food: pasta, but not like he’s used to. I did the whole courgette noodle thing, tossed with a simple tomato sauce made with garlic and black olives (another one of Suketu’s favourite foods).

Courgette Pasta

To drink: a Pimms-inspired infused “Vitamin Water” with fresh mint, cucumber, blackberries and borage flowers. I’m definitely going to be doing this water infusion thing more often.

DIY Vitamin Water

Dessert was kind of amazing. I think every special occasion requires that something be gelatinized, so we went for this Elderflower Jelly with Summer Berries and Strawberry Sorbet, which gave me a chance to add my homemade elderflower cordial to the mix of homegrown goodness. Yowza, this dessert was amazing! The strawberry sorbet in particular was extra special, sublimely scoopable which is more than I can say for the other sorbet ice blocks I’ve made. I credit the inclusion of liquid glucose in the recipe, a total revelation. The jelly itself was also pretty darn special – I loved the look of the blackberries suspended in the clear jelly. And check out our borage flower garnish. So pretty!

Foraged Fruit Jelly with Strawberry Sorbet

We took advantage of this rare moment of August sunshine to have our harvest meal al fresco – it was so warm we could barely eat our sorbet fast enough before it melted. A high quality problem for sure.

Foraged Fruit Jelly with Strawberry Sorbet

Also a high quality problem: great friends who come and stay and help you make a mess of the kitchen. Love you lots, Suketu. Hope you fulfill your promise to come again soon and stay for longer. Happy harvest! Here’s to Autumn!

If you want to try out some of the dishes we made and have your own Celebrate All of The Things Menu, you can find the recipes on Great British Chefs’ website:

Hemp Protein Post Workout Smoothie

Hemp Protein Green Smoothie

This has become a favourite smoothie of mine as of late, especially after a good swim or a tough workout. Even without the hemp, it’s pretty killer. The base ingredients are pineapple, banana, spinach, celery, cucumber, lime and avocado, which when blended together taste like a tart-and-tangy treat, almost margarita-esque in its sweet and sour balance (hello salt-rimmed glass?). This is also good with a bit of fresh mint.

As far as post-workout nutrition is concerned, the smoothie has lots of good things going for it. The obvious element of good carbs, vitamins and nutrients from all the fruit and vegetables. Celery and banana in particular contain electrolytes (sodium and potassium) which you lose when you sweat. Meanwhile, the hemp and flax seed add a boost of protein. The avocado add fiber and make it creamy delicious.

When I swim in the morning, this is my go-to breakfast. It’s filling, nourishing, refreshing and super tasty. And to really splash out, garnish with coconut flakes, pumpkin seeds, bee pollen and – my favourite – a pinch of good salt such as Maldon Sea Salt or some of that fancy Himalayan stuff.

Hemp Protein Green Smoothie

I make this smoothie by juicing the veggie bits then blending with the hemp protein powder, avocado and flax seeds, but you can just as easily put everything in the blender with a bit of water and blend away. The juicer and blender I’m using at the moment the Froothie Optimum 400 Slow Juicer and the Optimum 9400 Blender, which together have been cranking out super silky results, but other blenders and juicers will work, too.

Hemp Protein Post Workout Smoothie

Serves 1

  • 1 stick of celery
  • 1/4 pineapple
  • 1/4 cucumber
  • 1/2 lime, peeled (or juiced if you’re using a blender)
  • 1 handful of spinach
  • 15g hemp protein (I use Naturya Hemp Protein Powder)
  • 1/2 avocado
  • 1 tsp flax seeds

Method

  1. If you have a juicer, juice the celery, pineapple, cucumber, lime and spinach. Blend the juice with the hemp protein powder, avocado, flax seeds and a few ice cubes until smooth.
  2. If you don’t have a juicer, make sure everything is cut into blender-friendly pieces. Put the pineapple, cucumber and lime juice at the bottom of the blender, then add everything else. Add a enough water to blend everything to a smooth happy consistency.
  3. Serve with your choice of garnishes.

250 Calories | 8g Fat | 13g Fiber | 38g Carbs | 12g Protein

Juice Feast: Harvest Edition

First of the Orchard Cottage Apples

Last Saturday I embarked on my third “Juice Feast”, a 7-day juice-only regime following the program designed by Jason Vale (you can read more about this in my previous post, Juice Feast in Review).

Having done this twice before, I just wanted to share a few observances so far from round three.

Why Juice? Why Now?

Why does anyone go on a “juice fast” (hefty note: this is not a fast!)? To look better and to feel better. Like many others who have juiced before me (!) I too have become increasingly bored with feeling “gunky”, and also increasingly frustrated with my own inability to achieve a few personal goals. I needed a “bump start”, but [definitely] not of the alcoholic kind, rather of the positive, life affirming kind. After my first juice feast last year, I felt better than I’d felt in a LONG time. So I’m at it again, chasing that high.

Passed the halfway point of my #JuiceFeast. Celebrating with one of my favourite blends: apple, pineapple, spinach, wheatgrass, lime, celery, cucumber & avocado.

But there’s an added spin on it this time around. It’s August, and we’ve just celebrated Lammas, the first harvest festival. The apple orchard is in full swing. My Riverford veg box is frequently laden with my favourite fruit and vegetables. And the nearby Organic Farm Shop is alive with their beautiful homegrown cucumber, carrots, spinach and more. So I’m trying to make this juice feast not only about ME, but also about a celebration of all that’s available this time of year, and how lucky I am to live in a place where I have access to such beautiful fruits and vegetables, some of which grow right outside my door.

The harvest aspect also plays to the “positive thinking” angle of Juice Feast. This isn’t something to “get through”, it’s a treat to my body and my brain. I say this, but in truth, this notion of being good to myself doesn’t come naturally to me at all. I am the worst when it comes to self doubt and self deprecation, and I can’t help but wonder if that’s part of why I’ve felt so frustrated with my goal progress as of late. It has nothing to do with food or exercise, it’s all about the mind, man!

So when work hasn’t interfered, Juice Feast has been all about mindfulness. Visualisation. And doing meditative harvesty things like picking blackberries and de-stalking elderberries (which I’ll be preserving as wild fruit wine, which I know sounds totally contrary to Juice Feast, but it makes sense to me!).

Picking green elderberries while I walk. Yes, I have a plan! #picklecult

I’ve also been using this as an opportunity to push my limits with the juice. On Day 2 I did an 11+ mile hike up Black Mountain in Wales (thank you, Jane and Jimmy) and felt totally fine the whole way. I did have an extra juice that evening, followed by an epic 9 hour sleep. Day 3, the legs were a little stiff but I managed to get out for some foraging and dog walks. Today I had my first CrossFit session of the Juice Feast; it all went as usual – I struggled with rowing and had fun on the rings, nothing abnormal there. I’ll be curious to see how I go the rest of the week. I did manage a “PR” (Personal Record) on the overhead squad (which didn’t take much – see, there I go with the self deprecation again!) and would love to PR on something else before the week is through.

Jane and I on Black Mountain

Finally, I’m also using this as an opportunity to test out my new Froothie Optimum 400 Slow Juicer and Optimum 9400 Blender. I’ve already posted a review of the blender. Watch this space for a review of the juicer, which is competing for counter space next to my trusty Phillips juicer, the thing that got me into juicing in the first place. Who will win in their battle royale?

Using the #juicefeast as an opportunity to try out the #froothie Slow Juicer. Juice it does. Slowly (and that's a good thing - maximum extraction action!).

Closing thought: this Juice Feast has been pretty easy – third time’s the charm? I’m loving the clear headed feeling I get when I do this – productivity at last! And since I’m not cooking, I have loads of free time to do fun Lammas-y things like forage, make plum wine, work on some make-more-money projects, write and walk up big hills!

Black Mountain walk, Brecon Beacons, Wales

Froothie Optimum 9400 Blender Review

Froothie Optimum 9400

As many of you know, I’ve been a devoted user of the Vitamix for years, so when the opportunity came along to try out the Froothie Optimum 9400 Blender I felt a little bit like I was cheating on an old and very dear friend. But I decided to have an open mind and see what this new kid on the block could do. A few weeks ago I stashed away my Vitamix and replaced it with the Froothie to see how it worked for my daily blending needs.

Daily? That’s right. I’m a pretty heavy blender user – I make smoothies for breakfast every day and often (at least once per week) use the blender for other tasks such as pureed soups, custard for ice cream, almond milk, cashew gravy and on special occasions, raw raspberry cheesecake. I need a blender that can withstand my serious usage and heavy pureeing needs.

Over the past three weeks I’ve been using the Froothie for those daily smoothies, and have also used it to make oat milk and banana “ice cream”. I have yet to try more interesting tasks such as custard or hot soups, but those items will certainly have their chance because I don’t intend to stop using the Froothie anytime soon. So far it’s been a stellar performer and has performed at least as well as the Vitamix. If it excels in one area I’d say it’s noise: the Froothie is noticeably quieter than my Vitamix. I also like the clear jug.

Froothie vs Vitamix

Perhaps one of the reasons I haven’t missed my Vitamix is because the Froothie is almost identical in terms of looks and function. Under the hood sees a few benefits, too. The Optimum 9400 has a 2,238 Watt motor (compared to Vitamix’s 1,492), a 44,000 rpm speed (vs 37,000), a 6 blade assembly (vs 4) and one jug that works for both wet and dry blending (all of my flour- and spice-grinding dreams come true). At £329, it’s also cheaper than Vitamix which starts at about £465.

Yes, it’s still expensive, but having spent this kind of money on a high power blender myself, I can tell you that I’ve never regretted my purchase. A good blender is enabling. You could use a cheaper blender but you wouldn’t get the same silky smooth results, and you wouldn’t be able to blitz up great stuff like kale, broccoli and beetroot into perfectly smooth smoothies. At best, you might get smoothie salsa! A good blender also enables you to do fun things like make your own nut milk, nut butters, flour, cashew cheese and other things that are only achievable with a good motor and some strong blades.

Hemp Protein Green Smoothie

That word “enabling” brings me to another surprise plus I’ve found with the Optimum 9400. The blender comes with a quaint little booklet called “Deliciously Raw” full of recipes for raw smoothies, soups, dressings, nut cheeses and desserts. The book is written by Carmella Soleil of the Sunny Raw Kitchen blog and the stories she’s included with her recipes are down to earth and really inspiring. I especially liked her discovery story of raw nut cheese, having been unimpressed early on, but then having her interest “rekindled” by Chad Sarno’s Cashew Cheese Au Poivre. I just love origin stories like these and it really helps put a commercial product like a blender in perspective. It also really makes me want to have a go at making raw cheeses – particularly the nacho “cheeze” to have with raw tostadas (with raw corn chips made in the food dehydrator).

All this raw healthy vegan stuff certainly is hugely appliance heavy, and for that I’m often in two minds about whether some of this stuff is the way forward. Regardless, I know from experience that smoothies and juices have had a positive impact on my own health and wellbeing, so I’m willing to let these gadgets into my life. And like most gadgets, it’s better to get something of quality, that works well, and will last. So far the Optimum 9400 is ticking all of those boxes.

Speaking of appliances, I’m looking forward to trying out the Froothie Slow Juicer next, particularly for its bonus abilities as a nut butter machine and a tofu maker. Stay tuned!

You can test-drive any of Froothie’s machines with a 30-day money-back guarantee. Check out the Froothie website to see their full line of blenders and juicers including the Optimum 9400 and the Slow Juicer.

“The Bump Start” Elderflower Cocktail

The Bump Start

If you made elderflower cordial this season, then this is totally what you need to make with it. But this magical elixir isn’t just about the elderflower. This Prosecco cocktail recipe has a story, and it’s all in the name: “The Bump Start”.

It started in the Lake District. Two of my dear friends, Rachel and Emily, and I were on a camping trip to celebrate the summer solstice, an occasion I shall forever associate with elderflowers (see my earlier post, Solstice and Elderflowers). We had few fixed plans, only to walk, talk, cook, eat and enjoy ourselves. We did well on most of those accounts, but as for the walking, I think this magnet sums it up best (this gem found Emily in Coniston):

Lake District magnet

Of course, there are some GREAT pubs in the Lake District worth getting distracted by, including The Manor Arms in wee Broughton, in the corner of their tiny square. This pub is all about the pints (no food, no music – a proper pub!). We happened there because we were in town to buy groceries (at the charming Melville Tyson grocer). We also needed cash, and learned that the only way to get cash was to go to a pub, buy something, and get cash back. A welcome interruption to our high-octane day!

About two pints (for my friends – I the “responsible” driver was on the Diet Coke) and a bundle of cash later, I remembered the car. Assuming we were just stopping quickly for groceries, I’d left my ultra-awesome electric cooler (“coolbox” for you Brits) plugged into the cigarette lighter. “Do you think the car will start,” I asked my friends? You know where this is going…

Sure enough the engine was totally dead. But hey, no big deal, I’ve got AA and we were in a pleasant enough place to be stuck in for a while. Plus there were loads of people around, surely someone would have jumper cables?

While somewhat nervously scoping out the car park (“parking lot” for you Yankees), my eyes settled on a Land Rover of some variety, and I immediately thought, “whoever owns that car can help me”. Within seconds a man and woman arrived and I hustled over to ask if they had jumper cables. No. “But,” the gentleman said, “you can bump start it.”

A bump start? I’d heard of this and seen it in movies – Little Miss Sunshine namely (watch the quintessential clip). But I had no idea how the mechanics of it worked and found it hugely intimidating (particularly since I’d parked in a parallel spot on an incline). Little-Miss-Sunshine

This guy was amazing. First, through a lot of convoluted pushing, he helped us shimmy the car out of the parking spot. Then he explained the bump start, which isn’t complicated at all: basically you push the car with the clutch in, and when it’s at about 5-10mph, you release the clutch, the car “bumps”, and the engine rotates and fires. Then you quickly break and put the clutch back in and give it a few good revs. Done.

Because I was parked on an incline, we were going to have to do this going backwards. As sat in the car while he and my friends did the pushing. Facing me, he was able to guide me through the whole process. He could obviously tell I was nervous and had such patience in explaining how it would all work – I swear he must be a teacher. And when it was done and the car was actually running, my heart was beating like crazy and I felt like a minor miracle had occurred – the thrill of mechanics!

Hugs were shared amongst my friends and our Lake District heroes, whose names I never got, but whose generosity and kindness will never be forgotten. Furthermore, the metaphor of the “bump start” has become an ongoing thread in all aspects of life. Such a life changer deserves a tribute cocktail.

This cocktail is a riff on a mocktail I make with elderflower cordial, lots of lemon and lime, and fizzy water. I’d been drinking this refreshing elixer in the early evening to “bump start” me out of an afternoon lull. I’d long wanted to turn it into a proper cocktail, and having experimented with several different types of liquor, I finally settled on gin and Prosecco as the happy combination. It contains the juice of half a lemon and half a lime, so it’s quite tart, but the elderflower balances things out. You could hold back the gin for a slightly less potent cocktail, but with good gin (Hendricks is my preferred), it actually makes the drink better.

This drink tastes best after having achieved a real-life bump start of your own (but don’t drink it until you’re finished driving!).

Thanks to my friend Donovan who helped me fine tune this.

The Bump Start

The Bump Start

Juice of half a lemon
Juice of half a lime
1oz good gin (I use Hendricks)
Prosecco
Elderflower Cordial
Ice

Fill a glass or a wine glass with ice. Add the lemon and lime juice, the gin, then a good splash of elderflower cordial. Fill the rest of the glass with Prosecco then have a taste (you want about 2/3 Prosecco to 2/3 everything else). You might need to add more elderflower if it’s too tart for you.

I like to keep frozen berries in the freezer which make a stellar garnish for this – especially strawberries.

Also seen on Great British Chefs.

Grilled Mackerel with Watercress, Fennel & Orange Salad

Mackerel with watercress, fennel and orange salad.

My mackerel flipping skills need work, but otherwise this was the perfect lunch following a tough workout at CrossFit Cirencester: grilled mackerel with a salad of watercress, fennel, orange, spring onions and pomegranate, dressed with a little olive oil and salt (the salt pulls out the juices in the fruit so you don’t need vinegar). Extremely quick to make. Big props to Ben at New Wave Fish Shop who recommended this ingredient combination. I feel restored!

And since I’ve been talking macronutrients lately, this was about 400 calories, 22g fat, 19g carbs, 30g protein.

Too many avocados? My macronutrient drama.

Requisite avocado...

First, a recap. Here is a brief summary of my smarter fitter journey so far, starting from roughly 12 years ago:

First I was kind of chubby.
Then I was a little chubbier.
Then I was pretty chubby.
Then I lost some weight.
Then I lost too much weight.
Then I gained some back again.
Then I gained some more…

Weight gain is not a bad thing, especially when it comes in the form of muscle. And in fact I have been making some big efforts to get stronger over the recent years (especially after the big muscle wasting debacle of 2009 that followed a really annoying kidney infection). My efforts include eating more protein, swimming, weight lifting and most recently, CrossFit.

But for anyone who’s ever gone through the hassle of losing weight, it’s a real drag and a little scary putting weight on again. I’m pretty sure that some of that weight is good muscly weight (as evidenced by my body fat and circumference measurements, thank you CrossFit Cirencester 30 Day Challenge). But I know that it’s not all muscle, and as much as I like to think I’m immune to aging, the fact is that since entering my 30′s, I tend to carry more blubber in those problematic hip and tummy areas. There’s stuff around my waist that wasn’t there a couple years ago when I felt at my prime. And it’s damn frustrating!

I feel like I’ve been trying all sorts of things but I can’t seem to get back to where I was. The measurements taken at CrossFit have been encouraging, but still, I feel like I’ve been trying at this for years and I don’t seem to get anywhere.

So recently I’ve gone back to basic principals. Back in the day when I first became really interested in my physical fitness, I counted calories. I know it’s mundane and it’s not for everyone, but it worked for me and was a major factor in my achieving my initial weight loss goals. Every so often I like to track my calories for a week or two just to see where I’m at. So, that’s what I’ve done for the past week, and the results kind of surprised me.

First off, what am I going for here? Well, there are so many school’s of thought on macronutrient ratios, protein intake and so on, it’s a bit tough to know which to follow.

The “Zone Diet”, which lots of CrossFitters seem to like, promotes a 40% carbohydrate, 30% protein, 30% fat ratio. On most days I tend towards a ratio of 35% carbohydrates, 20% protein and [a whopping] 45% fat.

Another way to look at it is protein: there are different school’s of thought on this but I tend to trust Mark Sisson’s advice which says that a moderately active person should consume about .7 or .8 grams of protein per pound of lean mass per day, or as much as 1 gram per pound of lean mass for active athletes. Now, I’m not training for the Olympics, but I am pushing myself to get “harder”, training most days per week so I can work towards doing things like hike around Scotland with a pack, walk the Pacific Crest Trail and do cool party tricks like walk on my hands. For me that’s about 60-90 grams of protein. My daily intake tends to be in the 50-60 gram range.

Whether either of these metrics are the end all be all to fitness and feeling awesome, I’m willing to admit that getting nearly half of your calories from fat is probably not ideal for anyone, regardless of how “good” that fat is. So, I should probably try to lower my fat intake and up my protein. This is kind of a bummer.

Despite adding more fish to my diet, I’ve actually found it a struggle to eat as much protein as I’ve been eating (thought I certainly feel better for it). And as for fat, well I love my avocado, not to mention my nuts, seeds and salads. I bemoan the idea of a life of steamed vegetables and egg white omelets. In fact, the whole point of this blog and what I’m about is figuring out ways to get fit and healthy without that boo feeling of sacrifice.

There is also an argument to be made that this line of thinking is totally mental and that I should just relax because I DO have my health already so why worry? Well, Scotland… trails… party tricks!

I had a thought the other day which helped dissolve the slow-progress blues. One of the problems with all this “get fit” shit is that you have this vision of success, and it sits out there way in the distance, and in fact may not even be achievable. So you spend all this time pushing for it, never really getting there, and perpetually feeling like a failure. But the real success is actually in the process. I am thinking about my situation, analyzing it, and doing something about it: boom, I am successful. Achieving the goal is just bonus.

So what is the goal? Well that’s another tricky matter. It’s not about weight loss for me. It’s about being strong, capable and – critically! – feeling comfortable in my own skin. So how to measure that? I’m still figuring that one out, but hope to explore this in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, any suggestions for yummy high protein, low-ish fat meals? Or ways to dress up steamed vegetables that don’t involve a beautiful oily dressing?

A few good ideas from the blogosphere include Jacqueline’s Veg & Lentil Stew (also 5:2 friendly), Dannii’s Bean Chilli (can’t go wrong with a good chilli), Michelle’s “picnic bakes” (akin to mini frittatas – I love frittatas), Kavey’s not-so-mini courgette and mint frittata, and, as Camilla points out, the ever versatile poached egg (not to mention hummus).

Any more?

P.S. I have no intention of giving up avocado.

How to Make Fruit Leather (Oven or Dehydrator)

Making Fruit Leather

Is it just me or is this a bumper year for strawberries? My accidental strawberry patch (it started as a potted plant then escaped to the gravel and has taken over) is producing way more than I could ever eat, freeze or smoothie-ify. Jam is an option, but I’ve been looking for something less sugary, yet equally non-perishable. Enter fruit leather!

First Strawberry Harvest

My fellow Americans know fruit leather as “fruit roll-ups”, which when purchased from the shop contains just as much sugar as that jam I’m trying to avoid. But if you start with real fruit, puree it and dry it yourself, you’ll find the fruit needs little sugar if any. The drying process super-concentrates the fruit sugars leaving you with a naturally sweet “leather” that tastes like pure fruit

Making Fruit Leather

Strawberries are perfect for this and since the elderflowers are in bloom, I thought I’d kick up my fruit leather with a little elder-injection. I also had some homemade apple puree in the freezer, the lingering remains from last year’s orchard crop, so I thawed that out, added some grated fresh ginger, and turned that into leather, too. The apple was by far my favourite – I added a LOT of ginger and I loved the spicy kick. But I must admit, the strawberry leather tastes like pure summer.

Really blown away by my strawberry crop. This has been my daily harvest the last three days with more are on the way!

These fruit leathers are perfect for the lunchbox or for taking on long hikes. In fact, “hiking” was my motivation for all this as I’m heading to the Lake District this weekend and am getting ready to hike the Pembrokeshire Coast Path in July. The fruit leather will be a welcome energy shot on the “rocky road” (and for a super energy shot – fruit leather rolled up with almond butter!).

Best of all, you can do this in the oven (no fancy dehydrator necessary).

How to Make Strawberry (or any other fruit) Leather

Making Fruit Leather

You can skip the elderflower in this but it does add that extra something. Try swapping it out with other flavour add-ins: orange zest, cinnamon, ginger… be creative! And feel free to sub the strawberries for any other fruit. You can do this in either an oven or a dehydrator; I’ve included instructions for both. If you live in a warm climate, you can also do this on a hot day by simply leaving the fruit to dry out in the sun!

Ingredients

  • 5 cups strawberries, stems removed and halved (or any other fruit)
  • 2 tablespoons honey (more or less to taste)
  • 3-4 clusters of elderflowers (optional)

Method (Oven)

  1. In a medium saucepan, on a low heat, cook the strawberries until they are soft and the juices are released.
  2. Tie up the elderflowers in a muslin or jelly bag and add to the juicy strawberries. Cover, leave to cool, then put in the refrigerator and leave overnight. (If you skip the elderflowers, there’s no need to leave the strawberries overnight – you can make your leather right away!)
  3. The next day, preheat oven to its lowest temperature setting.
  4. Remove the elderflower bundle and pour the berries into a blender. Add the honey and puree.
  5. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  6. Pour the berry mixture onto parchment lined pan – it should be about 1/8 inch thick.
  7. Put in the oven and bake for 4-6 hours, until leather peels away easily from the parchment. Using scissors cut into rectangles and roll them up, parchment and all.

Method (Dehydrator)

  1. Follow the oven method through step 4.
  2. Spread the mixture out onto a dehydrator sheet to about 1/8 inch thickness.
  3. Dehydrate at 130 F / 50 C for four hours. Check the fruit leather periodically – when it peels away easily, peel it off, flip it over and dry for another hour or two.
  4. Remove from dehydrator and use scissors or a pizza roller to cut it into you desired shapes.

Making Fruit Leather

Pow-Wow in the Kitchen at Camont

... Hello, Camont! (Rocky, you've grown!)

I’m just back from a short jaunt in Gascony for my yearly pilgrimage to visit Kate Hill at her Kitchen at Camont. This is my third visit to see Kate in as many years, making these visits sort of a summer tradition. If you read my early post, My Food Story From Gascony, you might understand why. The south of France is inherently wonderful for its weather, food, landscape and tradition. Kate brings to it her own take on France, and I’m very grateful to her for having introduced me to markets, people, recipes and a way of life I would never get to experience as a tourist.

Meeting of the savoury breakfast fan club.

But there’s more to our visits than just eating good food and drinking rosé in the sun. Camont is the perfect environment for bringing ideas to life. One of the most valuable parts of our visits have been our “pow-wows”, a collective brainstorming on our respective personal projects. For Kate, it’s her business as a butchery and charcuterie teacher. For me, well, my aims were a little more disparate, but with Kate’s help I’ve been able to break things down a bit, and I thought I’d write about it here since I’ve come to realise that most people (including myself sometimes!) don’t really get what I do.

Mastermind session with Kate

There are two sides to my world, which I’m calling the monicashaw.com side and the smarterfitter.com side.

Over at monicashaw.com is the stuff that makes me a real living:

  • Social media consulting
  • Web analytics
  • Copywriting
  • Teaching and training
  • Writer’s Residence
  • Airbnb

smarterfitter.com is really my hobby job

  • Blogging on food, fitness and travel
  • eBooks
  • Recipe development
  • Product reviews

The above makes me a trickle of income from advertising and the occasional writing gig but it’s really just for fun. However, I’d like to make it more than that. I’d like Smarter Fitter to “feed” what I do professionally.

About that professional stuff; I’ve been feeling a little angsty about it all. I look at my hodge podge of income sources and wonder if I’m too unfocused. But then I take a step back and see how all of the above is what has allowed me to live something pretty close to the life of my dreams: I work from home, I work for myself, I live in a beautiful place and I get to go to other beautiful places. The only thing that would make that better would be to make more money – ideally on passive income, or by doing something that I’m super duper passionate about – to enable me to more beautiful things in beautiful places with beautiful people more often.

Stuffed artichokes at the Summer Solstice Supperclub

So maybe the way to fuse the two is to make “Smarter Fitter” all about the lifestyle choices I make to tune my life towards financial freedom and my ideal existence. The recipes fit with that, but my hope is that this will also free me up to write more about travel, work, life and so on (like I’m doing now).

From a practical point of view, this also means making a few design changes that make a clearer parallel between monicashaw.com and smarterfitter.com. I want to revamp monicashaw.com into a more organised portal for all of the things I do. It will also have a clear link to smarterfitter.com through its navigation and overall look-and-feel. Basically, it’s the smarter fitter life that’s enabled the work I do as detailed on monicashaw.com. Their branding needs to gel.

How does this all come back around to making a living? I shudder at the word “pro blogger”, though I wouldn’t mind if Smarter Fitter made me a bit of change on advertising and sponsorship from brands I already like (Vitamix, Fitbit, Vibram – I’m looking at you!). What I hope is that Smarter Fitter helps support my other income streams (writing, ebooks, speaking, teaching, consulting, even Airbnb). We’ll see how that pans out.

I’m still wrapping my head around all this but the important thing is to do something. Thanks to Kate for helping me organise my thoughts and decide which direction I should take.

Having got that off my chest, I’ll be back soon with a few of the foodie delights from Camont – fava bean hummus, Kate’s Spanish omelet on overdrive, and the Shaw family “sunshine cake”, a cake for all seasons!

Coffee Ice Cream

Coffee Ice Cream

This coffee ice cream is cool because unlike most coffee ice cream recipes, this one uses whole bean coffee (rather than instant). And when you use good coffee, freshly roasted, the resulting ice cream flavour is rich, complex and infinitely variable. Different beans have different characteristics – fruity, acidic, chocolatey, citrusy and so on – and the resulting ice cream takes on these flavours and releases them in perfect deliciously cold creamy mouthfuls.

In this particular instance I used Ethiopian Yirgacheffe beans from Rave Coffee. As a coffee, these beans produce subtle notes of damson and plums, which the careful taster may be able to pick up in their ice cream, as well. Best served with complimentary flavours – poached plums comes to mind, or how about plum crumble?

Another benefit to this recipe is it makes it easy to make decaffeinated coffee ice cream, simply by using decaf beans. The result may be less nuanced than with a fancy single estate bean, but honestly, who would mind?

Coffee Ice Cream

Ingredients

  • 1.5 cups (375 ml) whole milk
  • 3/4 cup (150 g) sugar
  • 1.5 cups (125 g) coffee beans
  • pinch of salt
  • 1.5 cups (375 ml) double cream
  • 5 egg yolks

Method

  1. Heat the milk, sugar, coffee beans, salt and 1/2 cup (125 ml) of cream in a saucepan. Once warm (but not boiling), remove from heat, cover and let it steep for 1 hour or so.
  2. In one bowl, pour the remaining 1 cup (250ml) cream and set a strainer on top of it. In another bowl, whisk together the egg yolks.
  3. Warm up the coffee-infused milk mixture and slowly pour it (beans and all) into the bowl with the egg yolks, whisking constantly, then scrape the mixture back into the saucepan.
  4. Warm the saucepan over median heat, stirring constantly with a spatula, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula (you’ve just made custard!). Pour this custard through the strainer into the bowl with the cream and stir.
  5. Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator (I do this overnight) then freeze it in an ice cream maker (or use David Lebovitz’s technique for making ice cream without an ice cream maker).

 

This is my submittions into Kavey’s Bloggers Scream for Ice Cream, Inspired by Hot Drinks edition!