Two Late-Winter Soups to fight Infection

A photograph of two homemade soups.

Another late Winter day, but I felt the first hint of Spring around the corner last Wednesday!

It’s difficult to define what made it happen, but suddenly I looked at my garden in a slightly different way; I noticed bulbs pushing through, bird song and I had my first urge to start tidying things up. Right on cue my hens started laying properly again. I think day length has something to do with it; and something to do with the quality of light.

Continue reading “Two Late-Winter Soups to fight Infection”

A Therapeutic Soup for a Grey, January Day

A photograph of homemade soup.

Today was a warm day for this time of year, but in all other respects pretty typical for a January day; wet, grey and still dark in the mornings and early afternoons.

There was still a bit of light when I got home this afternoon and I wandered down to the bottom of the garden to check up on my chickens and see what was still growing in the vegetable patch for dinner.

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Anti-inflammatory dinners

A photograph of a collection of home-grown squash.

Most people who know me suffer my obsession with pumpkins! It starts about now when the beauties are brought in from the garden, through Winter as I cook them, save the seeds then agonise over which to keep for growing the following Spring, Spring of course when the seeds are sown, and Summer when they are coaxed along with numerous  cunning tricks and treats!

It’s not actually just pumpkins. It’s courgettes, gourds, squash of all types (and marrows when the courgettes get away unnoticed and reappear a foot long!) I have to confess that marrows are my least favourite – but even they have some uses. Winter squash are my true obsession amongst which various types of pumpkin all rate highly!

Pumpkins are truly important in Chinese Medicine, and Autumn is their particularly useful time of year. In Autumn, Chinese Medicine predicts that people are especially vulnerable to lung and skin problems. It’s the season of coughs and colds; the start or worsening of phlegm related problems – sinusitis, asthma, rhinitis, vertigo and sickness. It’s also the season of eczema, psoriasis and all sorts of odd rashes and sores.

Pumpkins to the rescue! (or at least part of the rescue!). Pumpkins are sweet, round and (often) orange, which are all Spleen related attributes. In Chinese Medicine theory nourishing the spleen helps the Lungs et voila!
Plus, of course, they are packed full of an amazing quantity of vitamins and minerals and taste delicious. if this doesn’t sway you then their seeds also have a track history of curing worms, especially tape and round worm – see?!

I tested the anti fungal, viral, bacterial  and worm (slug actually in this instance) properties of pumpkins this Summer when I tragically caught a growing squash with the lawn mower.

After I had calmed down I brought out some pumpkin seed oil and swabbed my pumpkin’s wounds. I braced myself for disaster over the coming days –  but no! the squash grew on undeterred. The scars never regained the right colour but seemed to resist infection perfectly. The survivor is the beautiful green lobular pumpkin in the front row of the photo above.

At last! On to something useful! Here comes a recipe containing foods and herbs and spices which are medicinally therapeutic  from a Chinese Medicine perspective, and also makes a perfect anti – inflammatory dinner.

Heat up some oil –  Coconut oil is a good one to heat up and contains Lauric acid – good for infections.

cook some chopped onion in the hot oil until soft and a bit brown then add lots of chopped up veg and herbs and spices. You really don’t have to be too careful which, but if they’re denser like butternut squash, cook for a bit longer than leafy veg like broccoli or spinach. Here’s how;

Start with lots of chopped garlic, root ginger, fresh turmeric if you have it,
then add ground cumin, a few squashed green cardamom pods, ground coriander, crushed, chopped or dried chillies, depending on how hot you like things.
Add some marigold bouillon powder

next the veg;
I like to use winter squash (of course) cut into chunks, sweet potato, carrots
then add some or all of;
french beans, celery, broccoli, or cauliflower
then spinach, chard or pak choi
I like to add loads of chopped parsley

Add a little water and cook until the veg are nearly cooked through (this won’t take long)

Add a tin of coconut if you like it.

Bring back to a simmer

slide in some big chunks of fish. I like naturally smoked haddock – just boned.

cook until the fish is cooked through (about five to ten mins depending how big your chunks are)
Try not to break up the chunks of fish too much if you stir.

Delicious, easy, uses up all your veg left overs, and perfectly anti – inflammatory.

Don’t forget to keep your pumpkin or squash seeds for growing next year!

Ps I know its not right to have favourites, but the tastiest pumpkins are the grey lobular French ones if you can find one!

Anti-inflammatory lunches

A photo of a homemade anti-inflammatory lunch.

A few people have been asking for ideas for anti-inflammatory lunches, so here we are – this is for you!

It’s still amazingly warm here so I’m still having a version of coleslaw for lunch. More on this in a minute, but a quick Chinese Medicine note of caution; this is all raw which has some issues in Chinese medicine. It’s shredded very finely which makes it easier to digest, and I’m adding ginger and fresh turmeric root to increase its ant-inflammatory effect but stop it being too cold (the issue here is its rawness in Chinese Medicine rather than its actual temperature.)

As the weather gets colder and perhaps the rain finally comes back, I’ll swap to stir-fries and soups. A good plan if time is really limited is to cook extra amounts for the evening meal that you can take a portion in for lunch the following day.

In the meantime here’s how I’m making anti-inflammatory coleslaw;

As always I’m using things from my garden – the advantage being that then things are in season, and I’m working my way through those huge harvest gluts! If you don’t grow your own veg. then try to chose things that are in season as much as possible.

Im using courgettes, not too old or huge! perhaps one medium sized one,
4 carrots
4 medium sized beetroots
one eighth to a quarter of a whole cabbage depending on the size, with the tough centre cut out
1 thumb sized piece of ginger
same amount of fresh turmeric root

I’m finely peeling the roots or giving them a good wash and scrub, cutting them into chunks and feeding them into a food processor with the grater attachment fitted. This is a real discovery for me! It’s huge fun to use and grates things in seconds. You could do it by hand if you’re more patient than me or don’t have a food processor. If you put your turmeric in to grate this way then everything you use will turn yellow and stay that way for a very long time. I don’t mind, but you might!

Once I’ve grated everything I tip it into my biggest bowl.

Then I make a dressing from
hemp oil
pumpkin oil
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
I use about the same amount of each and the mix fills a mug.
I tip it onto my grated veg and mix it really well.

I keep this in a tupperware (a big one) in the fridge and it makes about 5 lunches or more.

When I’m ready to use it I mix it up again, put a big portion in a bowl and put a small handful oftoasted mixed seeds and nuts and a handful of chopped mixed dried fruit on it.

For the mixed nuts and seeds i use about equal amounts of;
almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds

I put them in a big baking tray and bake them until they just start turning brown (watch this – it can be quite quick and you definitely don’t want to burn them!)
After they’re cooked I add a smaller amount of linseed and keep the cooled mix in a tupperware for adding to things.

For the mixed dried fruit I use;
figs, dates, prunes, unsulphured apricots, mango, peach, and raisins

I cut up the bigger pieces with kitchen scissors, mix everything together, and that gets stored too for adding to my coleslaw and also to porridge.

Mixing these ready prepared things together is really easy for making lunch. I like to have a fewoatcakes with nut butter or avocado or tinned fish with it.

Get grating!

ps. the picture is of my latest batch of coleslaw. I didn’t realise that the beetroot was stripy white and pink inside until I’d grated it! Actually I think the usual red beetroot is nicer.

Anti-inflammatory diet – to have and have not!

A photograph of a pumpkin growing

In Chinese Medicine there are lots of different underlying causes for inflammation. These would all require a different slant with any dietary recommendations.

What I’ve tried to do here is to identify a diet that would help reduce inflammation across the board.

Later on I’ll give some tips to customise things for different situations

So, here’s the list of things to avoid!

A photograph of a burger with onion rings.
Processed foods – the more processed a food is the more you’d want to avoid it. Most processed food uses the worst of available ingredients then disguises it with lots of fat, salt and sugar. Try to buy single ingredients. You can then chose yourself how to combine them,what to add and how much of it.

Sugar – you need to really look out for where this has been added, it’s often where you’d least expect it! I’ve been trying to find a muesli or granola which doesn’t contain added sugar in some form and it’s really difficult. Look out for dried fruit that’s been crystallised or soaked in syrup or sugar and flakes that have been malted. I’m making my own now or having porridge with added dried and fresh fruit.

Wheat – Hmm, I know it’s really difficult to avoid this with a Western diet, but once you’ve got the hang of doing things differently its really not so bad!

High gluten wheat is the worst-the sort of bread that stays in a lump if you squeeze it! Spelt is the best. I’m avoiding it altogether but having a bit of something I love at the weekends and this is often a croissant or pain au chocolate with a large cappuccino! Oh or a thick slice of buttered toast with honey because I‘ve collected my first ever honey from my bees this year!

Steer away from other wheat containing things like cous-cous and pasta. Look out for wheat being added as a thickener to things.

As always, you don’t have to be too austere!If you’re dying for some pasta or can only find a sandwich when you’re out, then have it! skipping a meal would be worse!

Chinese medicine is very clear on this point-going hungry is never a good thing if you can avoid it. Try to see it as, as unhelpful as overeating.

Dairy products – especially cow’s milk and cow’s milk products. Eggs are fine

What, no cheese?! ‘Fraid not!

Stimulants – like caffein, and alcohol. I’ve stopped tea and wine (except for some red wine at the weekend), but good coffee is my one big struggle! But I’m having some days without it and I’m never having more than one, and its mostly decaff!) I feel I could do better with this one!

Swap stimulants, screens (like computers, tablets and phones) and wine with nibbles for earlier nights most days (unless something exciting is calling you out of course!)

Bear in mind that you can have loads of:

Avocados, nut butters (crunchy almond and hazelnut are really nice), hummus, pulses, fish, lots of types of oat cakes and black bread, oats, quinoa, rice, all veg (I’m limiting potato and concentrated tomato), and all fruit, nuts and seeds, eggs, oils especially hemp, olive and pumpkin, sleep!

Good luck!

I’ll post some meal examples and other lifestyle changes that you could make to help things along next week!

Oh and for my clients who are struggling with fertility issues or going through IVF for whatever reason – this is all for you too! Especially keep up a higher than usual amount of good quality protein and aim to keep your blood sugar on a level.

Anti-inflammatory Diet

A photograph of turmeric root.

Here it is at last!

An anti inflammatory diet that anyone can do with a bit of planning ahead!

I’ve seen an increasing number of clients recently who would love to try to make some changes to help themselves, but are out-faced by the mountain of conflicting dietary advice there is out there.

Chinese Medicine has a fantastic approach to how and what we eat.

As always with Chinese Medicine, it’s very individually tailored; taking into account the time of year, climate, constitution and individual health needs of each person. But at its core it has the same basic principals for making food as easy to digest as possible, so that we can extract the energy that we need and love to make our lives as fulfilling as possible.

So I’ve taken Chinese Medicine principals and merged them with the best researched and recommended dietary advice for helping reduce inflammation in the body.

Just to prove how determined I’ve been to make sure this is achievable while keeping up a busy lifestyle and a love of good food, I’ve been eating this way for two months now and its just felt easier and easier!

So…here we go…..

First of all who would this be good for?

Well anyone with any level of inflammation!

That would include sports injuries, arthritis and general aches and pains, autoimmune problems for example rheumatoid arthritis and MS, hay fever and other conditions causing sinus inflammation, menopause or other problems relating to a drop in hormone levels for example PMT, and anything else where inflammation is causing problems.

Inflammation often causes pain and a need for our bodies to try and repair things and that can be a cause of tiredness, low energy and not recovering or feeling as well as we feel we should, so I’d give this a try if any of that fits the bill too!

What to have lots of:

– Vegetables. You can limit tomatoes if you like. I’m eating tomatoes because they have so many health benefits, but I’m limiting concentrated tomato paste.

– Fish. Especially fish that live in cold water. I’m avoiding farmed fish and most tinned fish, although I’m having Fish 4 ever sustainably caught, tinned fish.

– Fruit. Lots of delicious in-season fruit around at the moment. I’m avoiding unripe fruit including fruit that’s imported and will probably never properly ripen. This isn’t such a problem at the moment but for example, in Winter I’d avoid strawberries.

– Nuts and seeds. I’m making a big mix of hazelnuts, almonds, brazil nuts, walnuts, linseed, poppy seeds, un-hulled sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds and pumpkin seeds. Lightly toast them and keep them to add to things in handfuls, or just snack on when you’re hungry.

– Healthy oils (pumpkin oil, hemp oil, olive oil).

– Pulses (I love adding cannellini beans, butter beans, chick peas and lentils to vegetable casseroles and tagines.

But don’t panic!

I think it’s important not to get too focussed on the things that are best limited. I’m relaxing things at weekends and having a big cappuccino and croissant for breakfast for example!

An excellent Chinese Medicine principal is that whatever we do shouldn’t feel too forced, unnatural or stressful. In dietary terms this includes fasting, drinking lots of cold water at meal times, only having juices or smoothies as our nutrition and on and on.

I see so many people who have ended up restricting their diets so severely and fearfully that food becomes primarily stressful.

Not what we’re after with this at all!

Bearing this in mind I think I’ll launch this just in its present format!

Anyone who wants to have a go or join me on this dietary adventure, start off working on the list of things to have lots of!

Keep that up for a week and then get going on the things to limit; I’ll write about these on Friday!

Good luck!

Summer Heat

A photograph of a pile of watermelon wit.h a halved one on top

I’m quite torn this evening about which topic to write about; it has to be either heat (for obvious reasons if you live in the UK and are sweltering in our first Summer for years!) or what to do with bumps and bruises.

The latter topic is close to my heart because at the weekend I had a fall from a lovely horse that I was riding. It wasn’t the horses fault at all and I wasn’t badly hurt at all, but I was quarter way through the best riding that I’ve ever done in my life and determined to make sure that I could carry on!

Hmmm….

I’ll start with heat because, even though I think the clouds are building after a month of non-stop sunshine, it looks like it’s going to stay warm for a while.

And, of course, I don’t imagine I’m going to have many more opportunities to write about Heat in the near future up here in the Lake District!

As always, Chinese Medicine has a whole range of views about Heat; there’s humid or Damp Heat and Dry Heat for example, which are quite different challenges, and all types of Heat can be treated with acupuncture, Herbs, lifestyle changes or dietary adaptations.

When it comes to foods that help different conditions, Daverick Leggett has written a couple of excellent books. He lists different foods which alleviate different conditions in his book Helping Ourselves. You’d need to get a TCM practitioner to tell you what your conditions were to work in this way as Chinese Medicine diagnosis is a real art and nothing is ever as clear as it seems from a laypersons point of view.

Daverick’s other book, Recipes for Self Healing, gives recipes based on the different properties of different foods.

In TCM there isn’t the view that we take in the West (on the whole) that certain foods are healthy and others are unhealthy. More that certain foods are more appropriate for certain conditions. An additional complexity would then be that those conditions would be very varied. For example a season would bring one set of conditions, the weather on a certain day would involve another layer of consideration, and a persons own internal pathology and lifestyle choices would need to be weighed up too.

So saying, if your digestion is reasonably ok and the weather is consistently hot then great coolers and thirst quenchers are water melon, cucumber, lettuce and peppermint and elderflower.

Yum! You could just throw some, or all, of those together, blend them, and drink! Leave out ice if you can resist it and just let the natural coolness of those ingredients do their work!

So it looks like it’ll be the turn of treating bumps and bruises next time!

Late Autumn and a recipe for pumpkin soup!

It’s been a week end of extremes as we move into late Autumn.

The clocks have just gone back and one day’s beautiful, cold, Autumnal sunshine is followed by a whole day of rain and wind!

The sunshine from now on isn’t intense enough for our skin to make vitamin D any more, so to look after our health through the coming Winter months it might be an idea to start topping up with a low strength vitamin D supplement.

I’m not normally a big advocate of supplements-certainly Chinese Medicine has no history of working like that. But living in a Northern climate with low sunlight levels doesn’t seem to suit us very well and there is increasing evidence that chronic lack of vitamin D can contribute to a vulnerability to lowered bone density, weakened immune systems and possibly even be a contributory factor in MS.

Here’s a useful link to the current thinking about MS and vitamin D levels;

Chinese Medicine uses food as a way of helping to maintain health in a way that we don’t really in the West.
There are clearly recognised foods which are generally good or bad for us, but overlaid onto this information is a wealth of knowledge about specific foods which are useful for different health conditions, time of year and even weather!

It is also worth mentioning that Chinese Medicine only very, very rarely uses only one type of food, or one herb therapeutically on its own.

I frequently see Chinese herbs sold or recommended for use in a way that bears almost no relation to the way that herb would be used medicinally in Chinese Medicine.

One of the real strengths of Chinese Medicine for me is its incredible recording of what does what clinically over huge time scales and with huge populations.

For this reason It makes a lot of sense to use it in a way that safely bears a strong resemblance to its historical usage.
There are obvious exceptions to this, and, as with all systems of medicine, there are practices in Chinese medicine which are not appropriate for the world today. On the whole these are increasingly regulated against, and wouldn’t be seen in a modern Chinese pharmacy.

I’ll talk more about this at another time because its a really interesting area (or I find it so!).

Anyway a recipe as promised!

This ones for supporting Yin which is a good idea as we accelerate towards December with its shorter days contrasting with (usually) increased activity. It also adds warming foods and spices to keep out the cold weather.

Pumpkin soup – perfect for all that left over pumpkin?

  • Cut up the flesh of a whole pumpkin without the seeds into chunks.
    Toss the chunks in oil and a bit of salt in a roasting tin, and roast until the pumpkin starts looking golden around the edges.
  • While this is happening take your biggest saucepan and gently brown 5 chopped onions in a bit of oil.
  • When the pumpkin is ready throw it in with the onions and add 2 medium potatoes peeled and chopped, 2 small red chopped chillies and 4 cloves of garlic.
  • Cook with a lid on for ten mins or so keeping stirring or shaking to stop things burning.
  • Grind a desert spoon of cumin and a desert spoon of coriander and add to the veg along with 2 heaped tea spoons of marigold veg stock powder.
  • Cook for another five mins.
  • Add boing water to cover the veg and give a good soup consistency (you don’t want this too thin)
  • Cook for another twenty mins then liquify a bit if you like with your favourite whizzer.
  • Add some pepper and serve with cheese sprinkled on top (I like that, but its not part of the medicinal bit, I admit!).

Actually, ‘tho, cheese is helpful in moderation for the Yin, so it’s perhaps not so bad. Unfortunately it does also have properties which aren’t so helpful in the wet climate we have at the moment so I’m reluctant to advocate cheese! I have a bit as a treat because I like the flavour, but try not to have too much.

A tip I discovered this year is that French pumpkins (the ones with lobes) are much, much nicer than the round pumpkins that we normally see around at Halloween.

Any type of edible Winter squash would be good though.

Give it a try and leave me a comment to tell me what you think!

A remedial spring recipe!

Using the nettles from my garden, I have been making huge saucepans of bright green, iron and vitamin rich soup to build everyone up after winter.

Spring Tonic Soup – serves 6

  • 2 chopped onions
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 1/4 small red chilli, chopped small (remove the seeds for a milder taste)
  • ½ carrier bag of fresh greens (some combination of spinach, chard, nettle tips, dandelion leaves, and sorrel)
  • fromage frais
  • 1 desert spoon of chopped chives
  • 1 teaspoon of marigold boullion
  • salt and pepper

Gently fry the onions in a pan until they begin to brown and become caramelised (giving a wonderfully sweet aroma).
Then, still whilst heating, add the garlic and chilli, before adding a litre of boiling water, with salt, pepper, and the boullion.
Allow this to begin simmering, then add the greens, and continue simmering for a further 30 minutes.

This soup is then, after being liquidised, ready to serve hot or pour into containers for freezing.
Serve with formage frais and chives.

Recipe for Spring Cold Peppermint Tea

I grow a lot of my own herbs in my organic garden. Many of the things that we use as culinary herbs or foods are useful Chinese remedies. Walnuts, for example, are used in Chinese herbal medicine to strengthen lung function. Generally the fresher the herb the stronger its action.

Here’s a recipe for a concoction that I’ve been treating friends and family with.

This is a cold remedy for the type of cold that starts with a headache, sore throat, runny nose and perhaps some body aches, then ends up as a cough.

Spring Cold Peppermint Tea
In a mug of boiling water drop:

  • 2 tips of fresh peppermint (with 4 or so leaves each)
  • 1 thumb nail sized piece of fresh ginger
  • 1/4 bashed piece of liquorice twig
  • 2 tips of fresh nettles
  • 1 walnut half
  • 1/2 teaspoon of local honey (not if you’re pregnant)

leave to brew for 5 minutes then drink.