Merry Christmas

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It’s been so much fun blogging this December and sharing the holiday season with you all. Hard to believe that 25th is already here. Hope you all have a wonderful day, wishing you a very happy holiday!

With love from me.

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All I Want For Christmas

A few weeks ago, Oscar, a new innovative health insurance company more human than the others, wrote a lovely email, asking me to reflect on my past year and think about what I am most grateful for this year. Given everything that has happened over the course of 2014, only one thing really sprang to mind and that was the importance of health and wellbeing.

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Last year, on Christmas Day, we had my Ubtan, a traditional event that takes place a few days prior to a desi wedding. My Grandma had recently died of cancer a few weeks earlier and all I wanted that day was for her to be with us. It can be hard looking back at those pictures knowing that such a big part of our lives had recently departed. It was sudden and unexpected, although it was bittersweet, the wedding helped us all to get through that loss, heal together and we have some beautiful memories of those painful days.

What does anyone want for Christmas? Having thought about it a lot recently, in the end I decided it was the health and happiness of my loved ones. What good would everything at Christmas be without that?

Putting up decorations, what fun is that if there aren’t happy, healthy people to do it with you? All the food we prepare, would it taste as wonderful if we weren’t enjoying it over the laughter of family members who feel well? How much would it suck if there were no smiling rosy-cheeked friends to huddle with on a cold day at the Christmas market?

Hunting down roasted chestnuts, braving the weather for gifts, ice skating, building snowmen, holiday lights, stocking fillers, ugly Christmas sweaters, an abundance of socks wrapped up under the tree, mince pies, festive films, an endless list of activities that would not bring half as much joy without the health and happiness of our loved ones.

This year I am grateful to my husband, family and friends for putting up with my adventures in food and life. For coming along to yoga, for supporting me in my health choices by bringing celery sticks with dips to girly nights, being the guinea pigs to my experiments in the kitchen, for getting me hot chocolate without milk, for encouraging my writing, sharing my food and recipes and for embracing all my quirks.

The greatest antidote to all ailments, the thing that keeps me smiling and feeling well, is the health and happiness of my family and friends, because without them, none of this would mean anything.

Chocolate & Strawberry Xmas Kisses

We were all quite surprised by the depth of this sauce. I put it down to the coconut sugar, which has a natural caramel taste to it.

Plenty of people love the flavour combination of strawberries and chocolate. That is why this platter of strawberries with a beautiful chocolate and caramel sauce will be highlight at your shindig. It’s a simple but elegant dessert, a great note to end your evening on or welcome the New Year with. It’s refined sugar free, so you know, bonus. Full of antioxidants, this glowing recipe doesn’t have empty calories.

Ahmed dipped some strawberries in the sauce and popped them in the freezer to set and yes, chocolate and strawberries are always fun, so if they don’t all disappear, you know what to do with the leftovers, enjoy them with someone special underneath the mistletoe.

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Serves 4-6

½ cup of coconut sugar
½ cup of water
1tbsp coconut oil
½tbsp cacao powder
1 cup of coconut milk
1tsp vanilla essence
¼tsp Himalayan pink salt
Pinch of cinnamon
Strawberries

In a small pan, on a medium heat bring the sugar, water and coconut oil to a rolling boil and immediately dissolved the cacao powder into it.

Add the coconut milk and vanilla and continue simmer. Add pink salt and cinnamon.

Keep simmering the sauce down until it is thick and glossy. It will take about 20-30 minutes.

Poke toothpicks into your strawberries and arrange them on a platter, serve with the sauce once it has cooled.

With logs on the fire, and gifts on the tree

It’s the last Friday before Christmas, are you feeling anything like me? Tired perhaps, but still quite celebratory.

Continuing with the party theme, I present to you a quick and humble recipe that has many possibilities depending on the vividness of your imagination. Throwing this together on a Friday evening and pairing it with your choice of topping and appropriate aperitif requires very little effort but perhaps some thought.

Dunking and dipping, interchangeable terms for lavishly or daintily coating a crispy or soft item that needs a bit of oomph… What to use though? Fruit and vegetable bring a lovely crunch or bite, crackers and biscuits are a great conduit to those pools of hummus, guacamole and sauces at a festive banquet. The toast trumps all of these, quite simply in its comforting presence.

Solo or teamed up with its’ buddies on the table, it is a triumph. Throw it alongside my avocado pâté, let it sit gently in a bowl of soup, tumble tomatoes onto it for an easy bruschetta or let it be the bed to your favourite slab of goat’s cheese alongside some fresh fruit.

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1 gluten free baguette
Olive oil, to brush
Oregano, to sprinkle
Parmesan or nutritional yeast, to sprinkle

Preheat your oven to 350F and line a baking tray.

Slice up your baguette, arrange them on the tray and brush both sides with olive oil. Be light with this.

Sprinkle the oregano and Parmesan or nutritional yeast on to them and bake until golden and crispy. Keep an eye on them so they don’t burn.

Hark the healthy angels sing…

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My hubby and friends are pretty unfussy when it comes to food and don’t seem to mind being subjected to my health experiments in the kitchen. It is probably out of reverence for their taste buds and wellbeing that I want everything I cook to be both healthy and delicious. A lot of people do have family and friends who have dietary requirements and that is why my festive party food is great for everyone.

Glory be to these blinis. Peace of mind for your body and soul. Both health and indulgence reconciled.

I finally perfected my pancake recipe just in time for this blini recipe. Traditional blini recipes call for yeast but mine just uses baking powder. They make the best celebration food and my recipe below proves that party classics can be really good for you and yummy at the same time. They are easily made vegan and the tomato jam is just one topping idea, try out your own favourites (for example: fig and goats cheese, basil pesto and mozzarella, a piece of marinated tofu, some smoked salmon and avocado).

Tomato jam blinis

Makes 24

For the jam:

1tbsp chia seeds
4tbsp water
1tbsp olive oil
½ a red onion, chopped
2tbsp coconut sugar
1tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 Roma tomatoes, chopped
1tsp mixed dried herbs
1 cup of warm water

Mix chia seeds and water in a small bowl and set aside.

Put olive oil in a saucepan and set over a medium heat. Once hot, add the red onions and sauté until soft. Add the vinegar and sugar and cover with a lid for about twenty minutes.

Add tomatoes, herbs, chia seeds and sauté for a few minutes. Pour in the water and bring to a boil. Simmer for about thirty minutes or until the all the water has been absorbed and you are left with a thick mixture.

For the blinis:

½ cup brown rice flour
½ cup light buckwheat flour
Pinch Himalayan pink salt
1tsp baking powder
Cup of almond milk
½tbsp coconut oil, melted
1 egg (or one chia egg)
Sunflower oil for greasing

Put all your ingredients in a bowl and mix well.

Grease a frying pan with a little sunflower oil and set it on a medium heat. Once the pan is hot, drop a scant tablespoon of batter into the pan and let it cook.

Once it’s set, flip the blini over to cook it on the other side. Repeat until all the batter is used up. Depending on how big your frying pan is, cook more than one at time.

To serve: top each blini with a teaspoon of tomato jam and garnish with fresh chives.

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‘Tis The Season

There are many things I find tricky in life but balancing health with party season is not one of them. Let’s be honest though, unless you have the willpower of Gandhi, the weekends are going to be a bit of a challenge. Who wants to eat a salad every time they go out this time of year?

I am totally against that mindset of ‘let’s pile on the pounds in December, because from January I will be on a diet,’ and I also believe in not stressing about eating yummy holiday food. Follow the 70/30 rule of thumb and you won’t have to worry about it at all.

The only thing I’ve found since cutting down salt, sugar and wheat from my diet, is when indulging at the weekends, I really struggle with water retention and bloating on a Monday. I’ve been doing a few things every week for a while now to help combat those side effects and it leaves me feeling much better.

Now is a great time to make these tricks part of your weekly rituals to feel fabulous inside out during the festive season and all year round.

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Sunday Night

Psyllium husk. While this isn’t the easiest thing to consume, it is worth trying it out. Growing up in a Pakistani household I’ve known about the husks of the incredible Plantageo Ovato plant my whole life, as it is native to the region of Pakistan and India. I keep it in my pantry in a powder form.

It promotes intestinal health and I drink a tablespoon of it mixed with lots of water and follow it up with a cup of peppermint tea before I go to bed on a Sunday night. You could also take a bath with Epsom salts which can help to alleviate bloating and flush toxins from the body.

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Monday Morning

Oil pulling. You can read in detail about the numerous health benefits of oil pulling here, but in a nutshell, oil pulling is an ancient 5000 year old Ayurvedic method from India. Within weeks you will discover how wonderful this simple and priceless treatment can be for your general health and wellbeing as it aids with removing toxins.

It is a process of swilling oil around your mouth, thoroughly, as you would a mouthwash. It is best done in the morning on an empty stomach with a teaspoon or two of coconut oil for about fifteen to twenty minutes.

After this I have my usual cup of hot water and lemon and then proceed to dry body brushing. Which is an excellent way to get your circulation and lymphatic system going (encouraging the expulsion of toxins) and to energise your self on a Monday morning.

Don’t skip breakfast, have a green juice, some avocados or poached eggs on gluten free toast or how about this quick and easy chia seed pudding you can throw together the night before? Chia seeds are high in nutrients like manganese, magnesium, phosphorus and calcium, so they are the perfect way to start the week after an indulgent weekend.

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Serves 2

1 cup of dairy free milk of your choice
3tbsp chia seeds
2tsp coconut palm sugar
1 cup of raspberries
1/4 cup of raw almonds

Mix the chia seeds with half of the milk, 1tsp of sugar and set aside.

Mash the raspberries with a 1tsp of sugar.

Roughly chop up the almonds by hand.

The chia seeds will have absorbed some of the liquid and started to swell, mix well and add the rest of the milk and leave in the fridge to set for about thirty to forty minutes.

Once the chia seeds have set in the milk you can assemble your pudding. Spoon some raspberries into your jar or bowl and then top with some nuts and then the chia seeds. Repeat layers in this manner until you have two even portions.

Santa Claus is coming to town

I love giving presents and am always so excited that I usually end up trying to convince my loved ones to open them earlier than the celebration in question.

During a season that thrives off consumerism, I do try to put gift giving into perspective, no matter how big or small, it is always the thought behind it that matters.

This year my theme for thoughtful gifts is just that, the thought put in by creators of these beautiful gifts will bring your loved ones joy for more than just a day.

Here are my favourite picks, just in time for some weekend Christmas shopping.

For chocolate lovers

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Like most celebrations, Christmas isn’t complete without chocolate. The usual candy bars just don’t cut the mustard during the festive season. Do they ever? When it comes to chocolate, what I crave is a heady intense experience that makes your tastebuds stand up. I suppose that is why I shy away from the usual haunts and lust after Alter Eco’s organic chocolate range. Their ethos is right up my street, sustainable and responsible, they are a FairTrade company that believe in direct relationships with small-scale farmers. Even more amazing, their goods are packed with nourishing antioxidants because they use real ingredients like cacao. Why not put together a stunning chocolate hamper filled with their goodies for the chocolate lover in your life?

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For the ones that want to get healthy in 2015

Will drinking a green juice a day keep the doctor away? Maybe, but here’s the truth, once you get into them, there is little else that will do. The Greenhouse Juice Co. is not your average juice joint. You get a sense of that when you taste their cold-pressed elixirs, a lot goes into each individual juice. Why I love them? Well apart from the delicious liquid menu on offer, they aren’t just the product of hype. Their mantra, that health is all about balance resonates, they really believe in what they are doing and when you drink from one of their recyclable glass bottles you know you’ve got the real thing. They are also offering 10% off all gift cards right now until the 24th of December, for any amount, including cleanses.

For those who love thoughtful classics

Cashmere is definitely one way to make loved ones feel special this time of year. For beautiful pieces that will be treasured for years to come I love Everlane because they keep it real with total cost transparency for the customer. For the last two years, they sat out on Black Friday and shut down their online store out of protest, because they believe it creates “a false sense of value.” They also like to challenge status quo, even if it is their own, so this year they started a tradition called the Black Friday Fund, in which they will donate all profits made that day to improving the lives of workers, by beautifying an Everlane factory each year.

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(Also, if my hubby is reading this, I am hoping a certain slouchy tunic will find it’s way underneath our Christmas tree.)

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For the bathing beauty

I discovered Pure+Fresh after they followed me on Instagram. They are a natural skincare company that believe “the time you spend in the shower and bath should be the most delightful moments in your day and night.” Their bath and beauty products are stunning and would be a welcome edition to anyone’s bathing ritual, especially the bath milks. The two I’ll be treating myself to are the Rose Bath Milk and the Vanilla Bath Milk.

For the awesome health nut

I don’t need to go into much description here, this wicked top is self explanatory. I am pretty sure everyone knows someone who loves kale and if there is anything that says I’m glowing inside out, it’s this this baseball top from SeaSoul and Snow.

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For the girls dreaming of Paris

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This tongue-and-cheek book puts a smile on your face and is something one will go back to again and again. How To Be Parisian Wherever You Are is full of witty tips and thoughtful advice so you can gift your loved ones a little more of that coveted chic which seems to be in the air that locals of Paris breathe.