Beetroot and Carrot Slaw

Raw Carrot & Beetroot Salad with Raisins & Pine Nuts

I’m on a bit of a raw food kick lately. Of course when it comes to raw food, it’s all about the quality of the ingredients, which should ideally be organic and locally sourced to maximise their flavour potential. In this way, my recent Riverford boxes have been packed full of autumn inspiration, with carrots and beetroot being mainstays for the last couple of weeks. Most of my beets typically go straight into the juicer, but recently I’ve been look for other ways to enjoy beetroot in its pure unadulterated form.

Riverford Box

Most recently, my favourite way to enjoy raw beetroot is shredded in combination with carrots and dressed with something sweet and tangy. Here I use raisins for the sweetness and lemon and white wine vinegar for the tang. Feel free to experiment with other dried fruits like dates, apricots or prunes. Same goes for the nuts: I use pine nuts but pistachios would be fantastic here, as would some toasted pumpkin and sunflower seeds.

Raw Carrot & Beetroot Salad with Raisins & Pine Nuts

Many people don’t often brave the gory hand mess that comes with handling raw beetroot. But really, folks, the mess isn’t that bad and the result is fantastic. Just wear an apron and go to it!

And if the slaw isn’t enough, here’s more beetroot inspiration for you:

Raw Carrot & Beetroot Salad with Raisins & Pine Nuts

Beetroot and Carrot Slaw

Serves 2-3 (or one greedy Monica)

Ingredients

  • 2 carrots
  • 1 beetroot
  • 1 small garlic clove, minced
  • 2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp raisins
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • small handful parsley
  • small handful mint
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 Tbsp pine nuts, lightly toasted

Method

  1. Combine the raisins, vinegar and garlic in a bowl and leave to sit for about an hour.
  2. Peel the carrots and beetroot and grate them with a box grater or a julienne slicer (a julienne slicer looks prettier).
  3. Combine the raisins, vinegar and garlic with the carrots and beetroot, then toss with the olive oil, lemon juice, most of the parsley and mint, salt and pepper.
  4. Serve the slaw scattered with pine nuts and sprinkled with the extra herbs.

Also seen on Great British Chefs.

Do Sleep Apps Help You Sleep?

sleep-cycle

Sleep is one of those universal activities that also seems to be almost universally problematic for even the best of sleepers. The quest for better sleep is inherent to all of us, and the secret to a good night’s sleep is different for everyone. For that reason, my friend Fiona Beckett has recently launched a new website called Secrets of A Good Nights Sleep which explores various theories behind the illusive good night’s sleep.

One such theory suggests that we should track our sleep to better understand our rhythms and adjust our sleep habits accordingly. I have recently been experimenting with two devices for sleep tracking – the FitBit One and the Sleep Cycle App for iPhone. How do they compare?

You can read my full review on Secrets of a Good Night’s Sleep: Do Sleep Apps Help You Sleep?

Family Recipes: Tomato Soup with Cheddar Cheese Dumplings

Mom's Tomato Soup with Cheddar Dumplings

I’ve been living in the UK for over seven years now. Along the way I’ve become a British citizenship, I’ve acquired a wonderful dog, and I’ve accumulated a lot of “stuff”. But I still regard Chicago as my “home”. It’s where I grew up and almost all of my family still live there, as do many dear friends. And even after seven years, I still get a little “homesick” sometimes.

Food is a natural way to go get my fix of virtual family time. I am very grateful to my mother who put together a family recipe book, a collection of recipes spanning three generations and nine households. I turn to this book often, with the most stained pages being Auntie Jo’s Sunshine Cake (now legendary across the globe), Aunt Sue’s Cranberry Chutney (a must-have at Christmas, amazing with Stilton), my sister’s Ranch Dressing (Clausen dill pickle juice is the key) and Grandma’s famous Oriental Coleslaw (especially popular with my friend, Henry).

SeasonedWithLove

The recent onset of cooler weather, paired with the end of tomato season, compelled me to turn to another page of the family recipe book: Mom’s Tomato Soup & Dumplings. This is a classic and probably shares the Gold with Matzo Ball Soup for Ultimate Comfort Soups by Mom. In fact, it’s worth saying that my mom is a soup genius – her Shorabat Addas and Green Lentil Soup are two favorites that I make frequently. (When is your book on SOUP coming out, Mom?)

Mom's Tomato Soup with Cheddar Dumplings

Back in the day, we used tomato soup from the Campbell’s can (jazzed up with fresh tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce and grated cheese), but now that I grow my own tomatoes (and am wary of the salt and preservatives in tinned food), I make my own roasted tomato soup that is silky smooth without added milk, cream or cheese. The cheese element comes from the dumplings, which couldn’t be easier: mix up grated cheese, eggs and breadcrumbs then spoon in bits of the batter. The dumplings cook right in the soup.

Mom's Tomato Soup with Cheddar Dumplings

In this case I was prompted to use Davidstow Mature Cheddar in my dumplings thanks to my latest blog post on Great British Chefs featuring this very soup. You could use whatever cheese you have on hand – it might be fun playing with feta, parmesan, gruyere or a combination of cheeses. You could also add fresh or dried herbs. Feel free to use whatever bread you wish for the breadcrumbs – I tend to go for wholemeal bread crumbs but white works just as well and sourdough is absolutely dreamy.

Mom's Tomato Soup with Cheddar Dumplings

The soup is vegan without the dumplings. I haven’t tried vegan dumplings yet but there are a few recipes around, including these chickpea flour dumplings from Edible Mosaic and these rosemary dumplings from Post Punk Kitchen. In the non-vegan version, the eggs help puff up the dumplings making them nice and light. Without the eggs, the dumplings would seem very stodgy to me, so if anyone has some good suggestions for a vegan alternative, I’d love to hear them!

Mom's Tomato Soup with Cheddar Dumplings

Roasted Tomato Soup with Cheddar Cheese Dumplings

Serves 4

For the tomato soup:

  • 1kg ripe tomatoes
  • olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, peeled and diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • Small bunch of basil, separated into leaves and stalks*
  • 600ml vegetable stock
  • grated cheddar (optional garnish)

For the dumplings

  • 2 slices bread, crumbled (or about 1/2 cup bread crumbs)
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 2 oz grated cheddar cheese
  • pinch of salt and pepper

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 190C / 375F and cut the tomatoes in half. Arrange the tomatoes cut-side up in a baking dish. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake for about an hour, until the tomatoes are totally soft and beginning to char around the edges.
  2. Heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a soup pot over a medium heat and add the onion, carrot and garlic. Cook for about 7 minutes until softened. Meanwhile, chop the basil stalks, and then add to the pan and cook for another minute.
  3. Add the roasted tomatoes (including any juices that seeped out) to the pan along with the vegetable stock. Stir and bring to the boil, then turn the heat down, cover and leave to simmer for about 10-20 minutes (until the carrots are very soft).
  4. Purée the soup in a blender (I used a Froothie Optimum 9400 Blender which works a dream for this purpose) then return to the pot and gently reheat.
  5. Meanwhile, make the dumplings by mixing together all of the ingredients – you should have a moist doughy mix that’s easy to shape into small balls (about the size of a teaspoon).
  6. Drop the balls into the hot soup and simmer covered for about 10 minutes.
  7. Ladle the soup and dumplings into bowls and garnish with grated cheddar cheese and fresh basil leaves before serving.

* The impressive bunch of basil pictured in the top photo was grown by The Organic Farm Shop, who also supplied a few extra tomatoes to go in my soup. I also used their eggs for the dumplings and can only imagine that their award-winning homemade cheeses would have lifted this recipe even further. Their ingredients are top of class and the shop itself is a treasure, with a vegetarian cafe and Indian textile shop to boot. I highly recommend giving them a visit if you’re ever in the Cirencester area!

Spoon Carving at The Cherry Wood Project

My spoons

Last Wednesday I spent the day in the woods learning to carve spoons from Tim Gatfield at The Cherry Wood Project near Bath. I was inspired to take the workshop after my brief but memorable brush with Spoonfest in Edale last June while road tripping around the UK. The trip was supposed to be all about walking and wild camping – and in many respects it was – but many of the trip highlights were found on my rest days. Spoonfest was one of them – thank you Gloria Nicol!

Spoon carving en masse.  I love seeing people geek out with their craft. #spoonfest #peakdistrict

I didn’t carve any spoons at Spoonfest, but I totally caught the buzz. Spoon carving en masse is an inspiring thing to behold. And it seemed a natural fit to my camping / walking / outdoorsy tendencies. And let’s face it, every good camper should know how to use an axe.

Spoon Carving Workshop at The Cherry Wood Project

Back home I decided to treat myself to a spoon carving workshop on my local turf. I found out about The Cherry Wood Project through Chris Allen (a spoon carver I am grateful to have met through Spoonfest who makes awesome whale spoons).

Spoon Carving Workshop at The Cherry Wood Project

The workshop with Tim left me wanting more – which is probably the best thing you can say about a day like this. I especially enjoyed getting to know the story behind The Cherry Wood Project, which you can read more about on their website. This excerpt from Tim is a good summary:

For many years I have had a keen interest in conservation, rural and craft skills, and living in a way that is more sustainable and sympathetic with nature. It had also long been a dream to own my own woodland, and I purchased Cherry Wood near Bath in 2005 with the intention of improving and managing the wood and setting up a ‘school’ to teach green woodworking skills to others, and pass on the pleasure of living and working in the woods. A previous career in the army has given me valuable knowledge of bushcraft and living outdoors, which I aim to pass on to students.

Spoon Carving Workshop at The Cherry Wood Project

I came home with two usable spoons, a knife, a hook knife and one small knick on my thumb. Now all I need is an axe and you all can guess what you’ll be getting for Christmas this year.

This was a happy day in an inspiring and beautiful place, a day spent carving wood around an open fire, with many tea breaks and an ace lunch in view of their enviable clay oven. I plan to return very soon (they have volunteer days everything Thursday). There is much to learn here, and really great people to learn with.

You can see all of my spoon carving pictures on Flickr. Here are a few favourites:

Spoon Carving Workshop at The Cherry Wood Project

Clay oven – me and my sourdough long for thee:

Clay Oven Envy

Crossfit skills finally being put to good use:

Spoon Carving Workshop at The Cherry Wood Project

Many tea breaks:

Spoon Carving Workshop at The Cherry Wood Project

Fantastic veggie / vegan lunch: Spoon Carving Workshop at The Cherry Wood Project Ewok Village Compost Loo:

Spoon Carving Workshop at The Cherry Wood Project

How I Make Sourdough Bread

Been using #JuiceFeast as an opportunity to practise my #sourdough. Really happy with how it's coming along (thank you @ed_fryer).

Having posted a few pictures of my sourdough loaves in recent weeks, a few people have asked me for my recipe. Making sourdough is about a lot more than just a recipe. True, I follow the book Tartine Bread very closely (a very generous gift from my friend Rita Munn in Tennessee which really got me going on sourdough bread baking). But the truth is, I’ve only ever become “good” at sourdough (and I put “good” in parentheses because I still have so much to learn) by baking a lot of loaves and talking to other people who bake sourdough. A recipe will get you started, but only practice – and probably a lot of shitty results – will get you to the kind of loaf you’re after.

Practice will teach you when your sourdough starter is happy and well.

Practice will teach you how the dough should “feel” when it’s ready for breaking.

Practice will get you good at working with a dough scraper and a dough knife. Practice will give you the confidence to let your bread rise in baskets and flip them over into a hot oven!

Practice as often as you can, and don’t be sad if you have to throw away a loaf or two (or make a lot of breadcrumbs) – it’s all part of the learning process.

If it makes you feel any better, this is what my loaves looked like in the beginning:

Try as I may...

The best help I’ve had with sourdough baking is through talking to fellow bakers, most recently Ed Fryer (#edbakes), and also Gloria Nicol and Azelia Torres. This has been especially true of getting to grips with sourdough starter, the place where everything begins.


I do recommend the book Tartine Bread for its extremely detailed description of how to make sourdough, including step-by-step photographs from start to finish. It also has a good set of recipes on which to build on once you get comfortable with the “basic country loaf”. I’m sure other bakers out there have similar tomes they could recommend.

Finally, there is no substitute for hands on guidance. Dan Lepard runs excellent sourdough masterclasses at Cookery School at Little Portland Street in London. Rachel Demuth also runs top notch bread making classes at Demuths Cookery School in Bath. Again, I’m sure there are loads more classes you could choose from as sourdough is become super trendy (and rightfully so).

Sourdough explosion: car snacks for travel buddy and leftovers for @Airbnb guests, who get mega props for funding this weekend's Cornwall mission (partially at least).

If you do start getting serious about your sourdough practice, you might find you have a lot of extra sourdough starter on your hands, in which case I recommend making some Sourdough Pancakes and/or Sourdough Crepes.

Any other recommended reading on sourdough? Recipes that use up sourdough starter? Fabulous baker peeps that sourdough bakers should follow? Please share in the comments!

 

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.