Blue[berry] Monday

Ignorance is bliss. I didn’t even realise today was the most depressing day of the year but while reading about it online I found an article promoting a good use for the 26th of January 2015. Let’s use today to create awareness about all mental health illnesses.

I energy exchange at my local yoga studio and this week we are running two classes in support of Bell Let’s Talk, a campaign geared to ending the stigma associated with mental health illnesses. I did a certificate in counselling and psychotherapy, so talking about mental wellbeing isn’t something I shy away from but not everyone feels comfortable talking about it. This makes it really hard for people who have mental health illnesses, because what they need more than anything is support and empathy.

So how can you get involved? See if there are any events happening locally and take part in them, so you too can be part of the conversation. Educate yourself, ask questions and listen.

There are times where we feel down, this is beautifully human. Sometimes I need to feel sad, instead of fighting it I embrace it and work through those emotions and emerge feeling much better. If you ever feel like your down days are not just a passing phase, don’t stop yourself from reaching out. It is so important to talk to someone who will be able to give you the support and advice you need.

I’ve found that when I don’t eat well or workout I start to feel terrible, tired and quite out of sorts. While there are many mental illnesses that need more attention than better food choices and exercise, for most of us, leading a healthy lifestyle can do wonders for our mental wellbeing.

I kicked off my day with an uplifting smoothie. This one has all the right things to turn that frown upside down. Blueberries have a purple pigment called anthocyanin, so as well as being a heart-healthy antioxidant, they are wonderful mood enhancers. For good measure, I added flax (as low levels of Omega-3 can throw you off), and magnesium-rich cashew butter and chia seeds, both are also great mood enhancers.

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(Serves 1)

A big handful of blueberries
1tbsp ground flax
1/2 cup filtered water
1/2 cup of nut milk
1tbsp cashew butter
1tsp chia seeds

Blitz the blueberries and flax with the water and pour into your glass.

Clean out the blender, and then blend your milk with the cashew butter and chia seeds.

Create a layer effect by taking a teaspoon and place it on the rim of the glass. Pour the milk slowly into the glass over the teaspoon. See this image.

(Or you can just blend the whole lot together, layering is optional.)

Happy Friday

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My lazy weekend has begun really early, today, I’m going to be resting under my tartan blanket with a hot water bottle and a Friends marathon on Netflix. (Yeah, I am cranky when I have cold and flu.)

Because I haven’t been up to making all the recipes I would have been this week, I thought I would share what I have been doing. I have drank my weight in herbal tea (which is quite the achievement, I’m no baby unicorn), my lovely hubby has done his best to get me to eat his flu busting paste (I would rather do shots of turmeric and ginger, what does that tell you?) and I bought a load of magazines yesterday which I can’t wait to read, yes, yet again I have ditched the growing pile of books on my “to-read-list”.

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I have also kept up my daily work-outs and doing my best to eat well. Lying on the couch all day just makes me feel worse (I would like to point out, that to me, resting and festering are worlds apart), so doing some gentle exercise really helps me when feeling poorly. (As does writing in brackets it seems.)

If you are missing my usual antics, you can read my article on New Year beauty picks over at We Heart Living or you could check me out on Instagram. (Hint, hint, nudge, nudge, wink, wink.)

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Hope you all have an amazing weekend! Can you believe we are half way into January all ready?

(Ps. If my lovely editors are reading this and wondering when I plan on submitting any of the articles I’m supposed to be writing, your guess is as good as mine.)

Gesundheit

I haven’t been as active on the blog this week, because I am not feeling so great. My throat feels like carpet and I have a head that feels like there are woodpeckers hammering against my third-eye.

When I used to get sick back in the day, I used to eat instant noodles, Farley’s rusks, drink Ribena and take over-the-counter drugs. I’d lose weight, but feel weak and terrible and with my autoimmunity it would take me the longest time to recover.

Since then I’ve learnt other alternatives to nourish myself whilst sneezing away, at some point I will create my own version of Ribena (it can’t be hard, I’m thinking beetroot juice and berries). Given that it is “cold season” I wanted to write a quick note to you sharing some of my fixes, which help me to feel a lot better without reaching for the pills. You can try these out even if you don’t have cold and flu symptoms to boost your immunity and keep sniffles at bay throughout winter.

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Ways I Try To Banish Cold & Flu

  • I start by adding ginger and star anise to my morning cup of hot water and lemon.
  • Shots! I love shots of wheatgrass, with filtered water and a few drops of chlorophyll (1tbsp wheatgrass powder, with a shot glass of filtered water and a tincture of chlorophyll as well as ginger shots. Just blend a a chunk of ginger with the fruit and juice of a lemon, add some cinnamon, cayenne pepper, turmeric and raw honey (or maple syrup) to it!
  • Green juices and green smoothies.
  • I eat poached or boiled eggs, or my avocados on toast and have grapefruit and my other favourite cold busting foods are are Khow Suey, the mushroom soup I posted last week and dhal/dal/daal.
  • I drink lots of herbal teas, especially green tea.
  • Exercise such as gentle Pilates and restorative yoga.
  • Taking hot baths with Epsom salts and soothing bath oils.

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Glow Again

Here is the second day of recipes! A lentil soup for you to try as well as my favourite on-the-go snack mix! If you are still cynical, just try a couple of them, they are yummy enough to be enjoyed just for the heck of it too!

Day Two: Eating in a way that enriches the body, will enrich your mind and soul too. Today, you’ll find more beautifying foods that I love to indulge in like pomegranate and pumpkin seeds, detoxifying foods like pear and broccoli and healing food such as buckwheat and spices.

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Breakfast – Pomegranate Overnight Oats

Another simple, delicious and nutritious recipe that can be put together the night before and heated up in the morning for a lovely breakfast. Pomegranate is the most incredible fruit, I ate so much of this during my wedding. I throw it into salads, on top of hummus or pop handfuls of it whenever in my reach.

(Serves 2)

1 cup gluten free oats
2tsp chia seeds
2 cups of nut milk (I used cashew)
A splash of vanilla essence
A pinch or two of cinnamon
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
2tsp coconut sugar (optional)
Some shredded coconut (optional)
Some flaked almonds (optional)

Mix oats, chia seeds, nut milk, vanilla essence, cinnamon and divide equally in two bowls, cover and put in the fridge overnight.

In the morning, warm the oats gently in a sauce pan for a few minutes and top with pomegranate. Transfer to a serving dish, if using also top with the coconut sugar, shredded coconut, almonds and serve.

Midmorning – Pick-Me Up Smoothie

This was one of the first recipes I created for We Heart Living. It’s still one of my favourite smoothies. Nutrient dense, it fills you up and gives you a really healthy kick for the day. Avocados (the beauty fruit) are high in protein and packed with vitamins, pears have pectin in them, which help to remove toxins from the body, spinach helps to boost immunity and coconut water adds incredible hydration to this smoothie. Try to have wheatgrass everyday, the numerous potent benefits of wheatgrass are incredible so it is well worth making it part of your daily diet. Adding orange juice delivers a hit of vitamin C but also cuts through the richness of this green juice with some citric deliciousness.

(Serves 2)

2 big handfuls of baby spinach
500ml coconut water (chilled)
1 small ripe avocado, chopped
1 small ripe pear, chopped
3 heaped tsp Naturya wheatgrass powder
120ml smooth not from concentrate orange juice (optional)

Blend the spinach with coconut water first on high. Add the avocado and pear, pulse to blend. Add the wheatgrass, pulse to blend again. If using, add the orange juice and give it one final blend.

Lunch – Green Lentil Soup

This too was one of my earlier recipes for We Heart Living, but I love going back to it for a chilled out lunch during the week or at the weekend. Here, I have modified it a little from the original recipe.

(Serves 4)

1 tbsp coconut oil
1 red onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
½tsp each of ground cumin, ground coriander, ground nutmeg, ground cinnamon, cayenne pepper & turmeric
1½ cups green lentils washed, soaked and rinsed
3 cups vegetable broth
1 bay leaf
1 tin of coconut milk

To serve: a squeeze of lemon and freshly ground black pepper

Gently heat the coconut oil in a large pan on a medium to low heat, add the onion and sauté for 5 minutes. Add a tablespoon of stock and then add garlic and sauté for another 5 minutes. Add another tablespoon of stock and then add all the healing spices and sauté for another 5 minutes.

Stir in the lentils and cover in spices. Pour in the remaining stock and add the bay leaf, bring to a boil then cover and simmer for 15 minutes.

Add coconut milk and bring to the boil once again, then cover and simmer for another 15 minutes. Remove bay leaf and use a blender or a hand-held blender to blend mixture, leaving it a little chunky. Serve with a fresh squeeze of lemon and black pepper.

Snack – Super Pick’n’Mix

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I love a snack, especially after ballet or working out, or while watching Masterchef and The Voice. I really enjoy brown rice cakes topped with avocado or hummus, date balls and Nakd Bars but there is nothing quite like a pick’n’mix! You can even try making your own using the ratio below.

(Serves 1)

2tbsp pecans
1tbsp pumpkin seeds
1tbsp cacao nibs
1tbsp goji berries
1tbsp toasted coconut

Toss the lot together and munch away!

Dinner: Buckwheat Noodles with Tamari, Green Chillies & Ginger

I’ve shared this recipe on the blog before, but it’s such a wonderful gluten free vegan option, it would be remiss not to include it on this eating plan. I’ve noticed my lazy Sunday recipes are fabulous during the week because they come together so easily and quickly!

(Serves 2-3)

King Soba Buckwheat Noodles
1tbsp Coconut oil
2 cloves minced garlic
1tbsp grated ginger
2 small green chillies (we love spice so kept the seeds, but you don’t have to)
3 spring onions sliced (including the green part)
2 cups steamed broccoli florets
2 cups sliced mushrooms
1tbsp tamari (you can add a little more if you like)
1/4tsp smoked paprika
1/4tsp cayenne

Cook the noodles according to packet instructions.

Melt the oil in a wok on a medium heat and sauté ginger, garlic and chillies until they start to sizzle. Then add the spring onions, mushrooms and broccoli. Stir-fry while the noodles cook.

Once the noodles are done, drain and rinse in cold water and then throw them into the wok. Add the tamari, paprika and cayenne. Mix everything well and stir-fry for a few more minutes. Serve immediately.

Toasting 2015

Happy New Year everyone! Like me, I hope you all had a wonderful break. I am not the biggest fan of January and February, but I promised not to harp on about that this year, I know it’s cold but the sun is shining away today.

Christmas was really quiet (just me, as Ahmed was in Nicaragua). I feel like a lot has happened on the personal side, Dad turns sixty today, and my father-in-law turns sixty this week. They are both remarkable, I hope that when I am sixty, I too might have the grace and poise they possess. Given that such life events are happening at the moment, it has been a time for reflection indeed.

Ahmed and I had our first wedding anniversary, we hit the spa and then skipped going out on New Year’s Eve and had a lovely evening at home, which is something I have wanted to do for years.

I am feeling quite tired at the moment, which probably has something to do with being a bit lax with food selection. We got back to being alkaline with green smoothies, avocados on Kamut toast and lentils yesterday. Tomorrow I’ll be posting recipes for a three-day plan to get you glowing in no time!

Usually I skip resolutions, but this year I am a little more than taken with Pantone’s colour of the year, Marsala or more so the selection of it, to enrich our mind, body and soul. If there is anything that makes one glow inside out, it is seeking out such experiences, how ever big or small they are.

So that is what I’ll be doing and I hope you’ll join me in raising a glass to such a year. Here is my first recipe for 2015!

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Power Green Smoothie

This concoction is a powerhouse of nutrients. I really slacked off the green juices over the past week, so definitely needed something strong and nourishing this morning. It’s breakfast in a glass, fantastic fuel for workouts and busy (or gloomy) January days!

One banana
A handful of spinach
1 Medjool date
1 cup nut milk (I used cashew)
1tbsp nut butter (I used cashew)
1tsp super greens powder
A few chlorophyll drops

Blitz all the ingredients together until smooth.

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.

“First position please”

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We had our last ballet class of the the year over the weekend and while looking forward to some weeks off, I am also excited for next term, in the New Year. The barre is my happy place.

My first attempt at ballet was a disaster. I ended up at a clueless downtown Toronto dance studio where the quality of teaching was so poor I’d be at my chiropractor in agony every week. Then I discovered Ballet Espressivo and so much has changed since then.

Having always epitomized a ballet dancer with grace, elegance, beauty and an incredible physique, the dancer’s body is something I have always been in awe of. It’s movement to music and life is something I have coveted and even dared to dream about but never quite had.

Amateur dance is something most people find themselves doing throughout life. My first introduction to dance was in an expressive class at high school where I couldn’t touch my toes in a stretch and was made to feel quite inadequate by a teacher for my size and shape.

While her remarks didn’t deter me from dancing and choreographing Bollywood routines in the privacy of my room, it did rattle my confidence and restrain me from asking to attend dance lessons.

Years later, I became a cheerleader at university, after losing a bet with the boys and found myself enjoying it. Dancing in a group of girls was so much fun and I loved our coaches and even went on to become cheerleader of the year. Finally inspired by Shakira, I took to belly dancing.

Yet the videos on YouTube of ballet dancers taunted an unrequited dream, their ethereal moves impressed upon me an art form I craved to explore but never had the courage to try. Then earlier this year, I finally watched Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan and Natalie Portman’s stunning performance stole my heart.

I started to research ballet and came to learn that as well as being a beautiful art form, that the study of it could help me to strengthen my weak and aching lower back. What I needed more than anything was the internal and infinite strength of the core and this was enough to push me to finally pursue ballet.

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If there is one thing I have come to appreciate more than anything in this wonderful practice, it is a teacher who values her students and puts their wellbeing at the top of her list. That is why the hours spent at Ballet Espressivo under the instruction of Donna Greenberg, a teacher who believes in the deeper connection between art and wellness, have been the most enriching experience to my health this past year.

“When you come to class and do barre, it isn’t an escape. It’s not therapy but it is development and that development can help you through the hardest times in your life, because one has made a commitment to themselves.”

Greenberg’s style of teaching has been a progressive experience. It stems from having met a mentor early in her training, who, although strict, understood and encouraged a holistic sensibility towards learning dance and movement, one that Greenberg felt, she had a natural inclination toward. Greenberg has expanded upon that over the years in her own artistic journey.

What I find most inspiring, is her holistic approach to teaching. Greenberg gets student to work hard and try their absolute best by encouraging them to be mindful. In other forms of exercise and movement, my brain often wonders, when doing ballet, for that full hour or so I am totally focused.

You work hard; she doesn’t treat you with any less reverence than she would a professional. Just because we aren’t going to be prima ballerinas, doesn’t mean we don’t deserve the same respect or quality of education.

Greenberg believes strongly in adult education because there are many people who didn’t have the support or means to do it as a child and that is why she offers classes to adults specifically. There are up to three evening classes everyday, at a variety of levels as well as strengthening floor barre and a modern dance class (which is my favourite).

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If there is one thing Greenberg wants students to take away from her classes it is a love for ballet and the confidence to pursue dreams and goals. Not everyone is supposed to be a professional, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn the art form.

“The beauty of ballet and dancing is that you get to express yourself, build strength and learn a discipline that helps to develop a higher sense of yourself, a better sense. Even if that is unattainable, it doesn’t matter because the benefits are there for you.”

Amongst the benefits of doing ballet, beyond the more obvious ones like, being toned and stronger, are a responsive body, improved balance and co-ordination. You can also have greater extension of limbs, more connection to how you move in general and in particular, much better posture. Greenberg feels that people with good posture look younger and more vital and I totally agree. I aspire to people who know how to carry themselves and are comfortable in their own skin.

Posture is our greatest weapon against ailments as we age. Sitting is said to be the new smoking. Learning how to use our muscles efficiently and hold ourselves correctly while we sit protects the spine (the key to our central nervous system) and can protect us from so many things later in life.

So I haven’t just learned to dance; I have also learned how to heal and not just physically but emotionally. Greenberg is an intuitive teacher and understands her students in a different capacity and you don’t get away with much in class. She sees your shoulders hiking up before they even do, an elbow dropping before you even realise it’s fallen.

Beyond that, Greenberg recognizes when we are afraid of old wounds and pushes us gently towards them, through dance, we learn to accept the parts of our bodies and selves that we don’t always want and find a way to connect to them once again. Really all we are doing is trying to mobilise our limbs and work with scar tissue, but it always feels like we doing so much more that that, going deep into those places that have suffered the hands of time.

A dancer’s body is not always about being the perfect size. It is about being strong and having a connection, knowing how to use your body efficiently not just for dancing but to move and breathe throughout your life.

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That in actual fact, a dancer’s body, is a beautiful thing to behold, because what it gives you is optimum health, wellness and awareness and it is seriously good fun, especially with Greenberg. If you are looking for something to enrich your mind, body and soul in 2015, seriously consider ballet.

Find out more: http://balletespressivo.com

– Photos by Zeeshan Safdar