Tuesday, 30 October 2012

The Overcoming MS Retreat - I'm Back

I'm back from my 5 day Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis retreat in the Yarra Valley and I feel like a whole new person.

I spent 5 very busy and emotional days with 34 other people learning all about MS, current medical information, and all the diet and lifestyle choices I can make to improve my quality of life.

Here's a quick summary of what I learnt.  I think most of these apply to all of us, not just the 1 in 1,000 with MS.

  • Eat more fruit and vegetables.  I know, we all mean to, but they are so important to our nutrition.
  • Get some vitamin D.  Get 10-15 minutes of all over sun or if it's cloudy take a vitamin D supplement.  You will start hearing a lot about how Australians have become vitamin D deficient over the next few years.
  • Eat more omega 3 in place of saturated fat in your diet.  Choose fish over meat.
  • Avoid highly refined vegetable oils, trans fats, and hydrogenated oils - they're not good, and they're in so many foods we buy.  Read the labels.
  • Eat real food rather than processed food.  If the ingredient list has 20 items listed and many of them have numbers, give them a miss.
  • Exercise.  Swim, ride a bike, do something a little more than just walking.  It's not for weight loss.  It's for your health. 
  • Meditate or take some quiet 'me' time daily.  Slow your breathing down.
  • Find ways to reduce or eliminate stress in your life.
  • Look after your emotional, social and spiritual side - build a support network of friends & family.  Laugh often - it's good medicine!

The retreat was truly a life changing experience, and I highly recommend it to anybody with MS or there was one lady there with motor-neuron disease.  If you have MS or know somebody with MS, please email me and I'll happily tell you more about it.  You can get a free copy of the book Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis from The Gawler Foundation here.

Yesterday was day 1 of my recovery plan.  I swam 750 metres in the pool at my gym.  I made my first batch of bircher muesli.  I ate sardines on toast for lunch - not nearly as disgusting as it sounds.  My whole family had steamed snapper with Asian flavours and vegetables for dinner.  I bought a yoghurt making kit, so I can make my own soy yoghurt.  I used a meditation app to meditate for 15 minutes.  Not quite the one hour of daily meditation we did at the retreat, but it's a start.  Today is day 2.  More changes to make.

Thanks for all your lovely comments and support from my last post.  I appreciate it.

Friday, 19 October 2012

The MS Moonlight Walk & an MS Retreat

Tonight is the MS Moonlight Walk.  Thousands of people will be walking a 5 or 10 km route along Brisbane's Southbank in the hope of raising $300,000 to help the 23,000 people in Australia living with MS.  

I had planned on getting a team together and doing the walk myself, but my calendar quickly clashed, and family comes first.  My daughter has a big musical theatre concert on Sunday, and I won't be able to see it as I am attending an MS retreat for the week, flying out of Brisbane Sunday morning.  The only chance I will have to see her perform is during the dress rehearsal tonight which is at the same time as the walk.

MS Retreat

I will not be blogging or on instagram for the next week.  I am attending the Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis retreat at The Gawler Foundation in the Yarra Valley, just outside of my hometown Melbourne.  It's a small intimate retreat of 38 people with MS, or their carers.  It's run by Professor George Jellinek who wrote the book Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis.  I think it will be educational, emotional and a little confronting.

Why am I going to a retreat to learn self-help and self-healing techniques?  Because whilst I inject myself daily with medicine that costs over $1,000 per month*, I believe there is more to good health and living well than relying on medicine.  I believe the food we eat, and the way we choose to live our lives are just as important.

I tried so hard to think of a way to explain why I am so determined to look after myself and how it feels, but it's so hard ... it's so personal.  If you have 4 minutes to spare, please listen to Tricia's story as I think she explains how we all feel really well.

If you would like to know more about the MS Moonlight walk or would like to sponsor somebody who is walking, visit the web site here.

* I am grateful that I live in Australia, and that the huge cost of my medicine is largely covered under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme (PBS).

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Coconut Jelly

One of the best parts of going to Chinatown for yum cha, is that after you eat all those beautiful steamed dumplings, you can have a square of coconut jelly. There are health arguments for and against coconut (as with many foods), but as I am trying to achieve a low saturated fat diet (reasons here), I have left coconut products out of my diet.  Problem is, I love the taste of coconut, and coconut jelly would have to be one of my favourites, so can I make coconut jelly using substitutes?  Here's my version of coconut jelly.

2 cups, 500ml Almond Milk
2 teaspoons, 10ml coconut essence (or to taste)
1/4 - 1/3 cup of caster sugar (or to taste)
2 teaspoons, 4grams of agar agar powder

Put all the ingredients (cold or at room temperature) in a saucepan and mix well.
Bring the liquid to the boil (you can stir while the liquid is heating), whisk well, then remove from heat.

Pour the liquid into a jelly mould or a Pyrex dish to set (I use a 3 cup pyrex dish with a lid).

As the ingredients cool the jelly will set -  at room temperature or in the fridge.  The key ingredient here is the agar agar.  Not enough and the jelly won't be firm enough.  Too much (say 5g) and the jelly will be too firm and chewy.  Once the jelly has set, cut into squares and serve.

Coconut jelly is delicious served with mango or passionfruit.

To make normal coconut jelly follow the above recipe but replace the milk and essence with coconut milk.  I made both versions for my family, and they said the coconut version wasn't as sweet as the almond milk version, so you may have to increase the sugar in the coconut milk version.  The almond milk version was sweet enough for my taste.

What is Agar Agar?

Agar agar is a natural substance that comes from red algae seaweed.  Agar agar is used throughout Asia to make jellies and as a thickener for liquids.

The advantage of using agar agar is that:
  • it's suitable for vegetarian and vegan diets
  • it can set the jelly to a much firmer consistency than gelatin  so you can cut the jelly into squares to serve,
  • and once set, agar agar is stable in warm temperatures, so it won't melt like jelly.  You can keep agar agar jelly at room temperature.  It doesn't have to stay in the fridge (no wonder it's popular in Asia).

Agar agar comes in flakes, powder, and as threads or bars.  I'm not an expert on them.  I have only used the agar agar powder, which I buy in sachets from the Asian supermarket.  A 25 gram packet is less than A$2, and will make at least 6 serves of jelly.

Although agar agar is a natural product it is listed as E406 if you are reading food labels.

Further Reading on agar agar is at Chefs Armoury here.

Sharing at House of Hepworths

Monday, 15 October 2012

Creating Some Street Appeal

Hi.  Today I want to share our front of house with you.  Last week marked our 12 year anniversary of moving into this house.  We've slowly been making this brick suburban home of ours look a little bit more appealing from the front.  It was never ugly as such, just a bit plain, and we always prioritised spending money inside and out the back where we could enjoy it rather than making the front look pretty.

We have a no-frills suburban Henley builder's home.  It's big, but there's not a lot of architectural pretties.  Our house is so suburban, in fact, that Brisbane band Powderfinger had their photo taken in front of our house in 2000 to promote one of their albums as 'Rocking the Suburbs'.  Back then the house was only 2 years old and had no garden whatsoever.  I've still got a copy of the photo as it appeared in The Courier Mail.

The house always looked kind of flat from the front.  Two years ago we asked a builder if he could build us a portico at the front door with architectural columns to give it some character.  Here's a photo of the house in 2007.

and now with the portico

It certainly adds some dimension to the facade, and provides some shelter and protection for people when they come to the door.  The front faces north so it's a lovely spot to sit in winter and catch some sunlight. 

As nothing really happens very quickly at this little place, the garden beds have looked like this until very recently.  Nice huh?

We looked at various options to edge the garden beds and settled on these large granite blocks.  They are from JH Wagner & Sons in Toowoomba.  They come in one metre blocks and you just lay them side by side in a shallow trench.  No mortar required, but you do have to cut a few blocks so you need the right equipment which we hired for the day.

My not so handy hubby, was very handy in this project completing most of it on his own, with a little help from his dad.  Drainage connected.  Blocks cut and laid in place, and bags of horse poo and compost dug in to prepare the garden for planting.

The Planting Scheme
Each side has a border of gardenia radicans which will hopefully grow to form a nice low hedge.  Inside there is a mix of white and purple agapanthus as they are drought hardy, and in the centre is a beautiful standard rose called Perfume Perfection.

 I love the mixed colours and sparkle in the granite.

Here are the roses in full bloom.  All that horse poo did the job.

We planted the circular garden several years ago and the tree (can't remember what it is) has really started to grow.  The hedge is murraya paniculata with Autumn crocus around the edges.

So this is where I live.  When I drive in the driveway after a long day, it welcomes me home.  I'm grateful for my little slice of suburbia.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Perfectly Puffy, Crunchy Pizza Bases

Yey.  It's Friday, and in our house that generally means pizza night!!!!  We love making pizza, especially on a Friday night.  We used to make pizza using a pita bread base, unfortunately we've turned into pizza snobs and only like real pizza bases now.

I have read and tried so many pizza base recipes, and in the end I've settled on my own version which is a mix of them all.

500g flour  (you can use plain, Italian 'OO' flour, strong bread/pizza flour or a mix)
10g salt
10g dried yeast (you can also use fresh yeast if you can get it - 15g or 1/2oz)
pinch of sugar
300-340ml water (it just depends on the flour and room temperature)
1 tbsp (20ml) extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)

Measure the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl.
Add 150ml of lukewarm water to a measuring jug.  The best way to get the correct temperature of lukewarm is to use 1 part (50ml) of boiling water from the kettle and 2 parts (100ml) tap water.  Measure 10g of yeast and a pinch (maybe half a teaspoon) of sugar and add it to the water.  Whisk in gently to combine, then leave it to allow the yeast to activate.  If you are using fresh yeast you don't need to wait for it to activate, just stir it into the water.

Once the yeast is activated, add 1 tablespoon of EVOO.
Make a well in the centre of the flour and pour in the yeast mixture.  Pour in another 150-190ml of water and start mixing.  I use my Kitchenaid with a dough hook, but you can also mix it using your hands. 

The dough will gradually come together and form a rough ball.  When it has done this, transfer the dough to a workbench.

Knead the dough (see notes) until it is smooth and elastic.  This will only take a few minutes.  Lightly oil a large bowl (I use the Kitchen aid one), roll the ball of dough around in  the bowl to coat it with oil, and cover with some cling film or a tea towel and leave it in a warm place for a few hours so the dough can rise.  It will double in size.  You can also make the dough in the morning and leave it to prove slowly in the fridge all day.

The dough will get twice as big as this

Once the dough has risen, get one hand down each side of the bowl, lift up the dough and flip it over upside down into the bowl again.  This is 'punching' the dough back to it's original size.  At this stage you can either refrigerate the dough for up to 4 hours, or freeze it to use another time.  Bring the dough back to room temperature before continuing.

Divide the dough into portions.  The amount of dough in this recipe will make 4 large bases or 6 individual ones.

Now if you're very talented you will be able to push, stretch, and throw each ball into a round flat pizza base.  I'm not that talented, so I start by pulling or stretching the dough out, and then lightly roll it from the centre outwards, trying not to roll the outside edges.

The dough is now ready to be topped with your favourite toppings.  Make sure you leave the outside edges of the pizza empty as this will be the crust that puffs up.

Now this is my secret.  I use a pizza stone to cook my pizzas on.  You can get them from most kitchen shops.  The stone has to be really hot to cook puffy cruchy pizzas.  Most ovens have a top temperatures of about 250C/480F, but our gas BBQ can get to 350C/660F, so the secret is to cook the pizzas in the BBQ.  If you're really lucky and have access to a wood-fired pizza oven, then this is even better as they can get to temperatures above 400C/750F.  Quick cooking at high heat is the key.

Transferring your pizzas from the workbench to the oven/BBQ can be tricky.  Either make sure the bottom of your pizza base is well dusted with flour or semolina, or place a small piece of baking paper under the base.  Use a wide pizza paddle to lift the pizza bases (available from kitchenware shops).  Cook the pizza in the hottest source you have for 5-10 minutes until the base is puffy around the edges.

It might sound like a lot of fluffing around but when I get puffiness like this ...

It's all worth it.

Season:  Pizza's are in season all year round
If you are going to knead the pizza dough on your kitchen bench, first wipe it down with white vinegar to ensure it's food-safe clean.  Then scatter a light layer of flour over the bench and start kneading.

Kneading - Richard Bertinet is a French Chef living in the UK. His French method of kneading plus two others are shown in this quick Video

You will notice that the toppings vary in the photos.  That's because Friday night is also wine night.  Sorry!

For more tips on homemade pizzas see - Taste
Interesting Facts:
Pizzas originate from Naples, Italy.
The first pizza's were just dough and tomato sauce - no cheese.  Cheese was only added in 1889 when an Italian chef made a pizza for Queen Margherita of Italy to try.  He created a pizza based on the colours of the Italian flag - tomato, basil and mozzarella.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

How to Make a Chair Cover for a Shabby Old Desk Chair

Hi everyone.  Got a quick makeover to share with you today.  My daughter's desk chair was tired and shabby but not in a good shabby way.  I've been looking for a new chair to replace it.  The chair needed to have wheels so it was easy to move around, it needed to have gas lift so you could adjust the height and it needed to have no arms so it could be pushed completely under the desk.  I couldn't find anything nice that met the criteria.  Have you noticed how ugly office chairs are?  The shabby chair we had did meet our needs, so it was time for a makeover.

This is the chair on the left.  It was from Freedom Furniture a few years ago.  You can now only get it in black which doesn't suit my daughter's room at all.  The white faux leather had become very dirty and marked, but the chair itself was fine.  Solution - Chair Cover.

The cover is similar to a director's chair cover but the sides are only short so they don't get stuck in the wheels.

How To
Cut pieces of fabric to the dimensions of the chair front, back and seat and sew together.  Then sew the side seams to join the front and back together.  Cut 4 pieces of fabric for the chair skirt.  Sew one across the back piece and hem.  Then sew the other three together to form one piece and sew it along the bottom three sides of the seat fabric, leaving it open at the back so you can slide the cover over the chair.  Hem and you're done.

Of course my daughter decided to sketch up a design for a scatter cushion to go on the chair.

So armed with the drawing, I made the pillow too.

Here's a little tip - Whenever I sew something I write down all the measurements and the steps I took in my little pattern book.  That way, if I need to make another cover in the future I can do so really easily without all the measuring and working out how to do it.

I used the leftover fabric I had when I made her bed skirt here,  so the chair cover cost me nothing and I saved $100 as I didn't have to buy a new chair (or that's how I like to think of it).  The spotty fabric and pom pom trim for the pillow were from Spotlight.

So by making a simple chair cover I've been able to decorate her room in the style she wanted without it costing a fortune.  

Sharing at Scandi Coast Homes's new link party.  Have you seen it yet?  It's here

Monday, 8 October 2012

Healthy Home Made Popcorn

We have a cinema room and we just love to eat popcorn while we watch movies.  I've always thought of popcorn as a healthy snack, but I've since learnt there's healthy popcorn and not so healthy popcorn.

Natural Flavoured Microwave Popcorn

We've always bought the natural flavour microwave popcorn.  One because of the convenience - the kids can easily put a bag in the microwave and make their own popcorn, and two because we can't stand the smell of 'butter flavoured' microwave popcorn.  It makes us all feel sick.  Woolworths have stopped selling the Uncle Toby's popcorn, and now sell Poppin which only makes butter flavour.  So when I was in Coles recently buying some natural flavoured popcorn I read the nutritional information, and got a big surprise.

The packet contains 80% popping corn which means the remaining 20% is vegetable oil (not specified) and salt.  20% that's a lot!  Then I looked at the nutrition panel and saw that a 100 gram serving has 24.3 grams of fat with 13.3 grams of saturated fat.  Hmmmm, not as healthy as I thought?

Butter Flavoured Microwave Popcorn

Uncle Toby's also make Butter Popcorn and Extreme butter popcorn.  They have the same ratio - 80% popcorn, 20% oil, salt and 'butter flavour'.  I thought, oh imagine how much fat is in that?  I was surprised again.  There was less fat.  Butter flavour had 24.1 grams of fat with 12.9 grams of saturated fat, and Extreme butter had 24.2 grams of fat with 8.5 grams saturated.

Let's look at Poppin.  Butter flavour has 77% corn with the remaining 23% being vegetable oil (again not specified), salt, colour and 'butter flavour'. The nutrition panel for a 100 gram serving shows 25.2 grams of fat with 9.6 grams saturated.  Triple butter was 24.3 grams and 9.5 grams respectively.  They also offer a Butter Lite flavour which has only 11.1 grams of fat with 3.7grams of saturated fat.  How did they make it lite?  Well it helps that they increased the amount of corn in the packet to 91%.

Just this year, Wayne Watson, was awarded US$7.27 million by a federal jury in Denver when it decided that his lung cancer was caused by inhaling the fumes from butter flavoured microwave popcorn. (reference - Wikipedia and ABC News).  I always knew I hated the smell of butter flavour and now I know why.  When are we going to learn to stop messing around with our food and just eat it more naturally?

If you're thinking about eating the popcorn at the cinema, consider this, according to Calorie King a 100g serve of cinema prepared popcorn has 25g of fat with 15.3g saturated fat, and a study of cinema popcorn in the US found it contained as much as 29g of saturated fat which is more than 3 Big Macs.

Plain Healthy Popping Corn

There is a way to eat healthy popcorn.  Just buy plain popping corn.  100% wholegrain popping corn with nothing added.  I bought a 375 gram pack of Basils microwaveable popping corn from Woolworths for $1.21.  Compare this to $5.61 for 4 x 100g ready to microwave packs.  Here's how to make it:

An Electric Popcorn Machine - Air Popped
You can buy special popcorn machines that will air-pop the popping corn.  They range from a few dollars in BigW to over $150 for the Cusinart one.  Each machine will have it's own instructions but basically you put the popping corn in the machine, turn it on and in a couple of minutes the popcorn will be ready.  I am considering buying one as I'm still not entirely convinced that using a microwave is safe, but in the meantime, here's how to microwave popcorn.

In a Microwave Container
The directions on the back of the Basil's packet say to add 75 grams.  I know you don't want to get the scales out every time you make popcorn, so I've weighed it for you - 75g is about 1/3 of a cup.  I have some cup measures so I can easily scoop up just the right amount of popcorn.  Place it in a microwave container.  Heat on high heat for 2-3 minutes.  Stop the microwave when the rapid popping stops.  Wait 20 seconds before you open the container as some popcorn may still pop.  If you cook it for too long, the popcorn will burn. Each microwave is different.  Mine cooks in about 2:45 minutes.

In a Paper Bag
Do the same as above, but only use 1/4 cup of popping corn and cook for 90 seconds - 2 minutes.  My microwave takes 2 minutes, but don't overcook it as burnt popcorn smells nearly as bad as fake butter popcorn.  You can use the 20x24cm brown paper lunch bags from the supermarket.  Fold the bag over 2-3 times across the top firmly so the popcorn doesn't go flying all around the inside of your microwave.  I  lay the bag flat, folded side down and shake it gently so the corn is evenly distributed.

And you'll get delicious healthy popcorn.

And here's what you get when you ask your daughter if you can take a photo of her eating the popcorn.

Notes & Variations:  Personally I like just a little sea salt on my popcorn.  You could also try adding some cinnamon sugar or vanilla sugar for sweet popcorn, or chilli powder or cayenne pepper for spicy popcorn.

Nutrition Information:  According to the packet, 100 grams of Basils popcorn microwaved with no added fat has 4.2 grams of fat, with 0.6 grams saturated fat.  An article in The Daily Mail (UK) suggests that popcorn is the only snack that is 100% unprocessed wholegrain and contains antioxidants known as poly phenols which can help fight harmful molecules that damage cells.

Interesting Facts:  If everything I wrote above wasn't interesting enough then here's a fact - Corn kernels pop at about 180C/356F

So now that's sorted, you just need to decide what movie you are going to watch?

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Vintage Style Medicine Bottles with Labels

This project came from my Pinterest things I want to make list here.  They are based on some Pottery Barn medicine bottles.

I started by collecting brown glass bottles in different shapes and sizes.  I washed them and removed the lids and labels.

I printed up an assortment of old style labels from The Graphics Fairy, sprayed them with clear matt varnish and just glued them onto the bottles with Mod Podge matt.

The Eau de Cologne label prints on a white background, so I printed an old brown paper background first, and then printed the label on top of it.

This little French label is one of my favourites.

The bottle in the wicker holder was a recent purchase for the outdoor kitchen area.

The pale pink roses are from my garden.  They are called Perfume Perfection.

These are the first bottles I made when I made the measuring tape table runner here.

So this is the start of me prettying up the outdoor kitchen.  The hanging rail and baskets are all from Ikea.

I've got a few more things I want to make from my Pinterest list, and a few more projects to complete for the outdoor kitchen.

I've linked this up with KatieSherrySarah and Carmel for the Fall Pinterest Challenge. Check out what these talented girls have made for the challenge... so much pinspiration!!

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