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August 2019

How to make a traditional Russian beetroot soup and a healthy energy bar

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We live in a world where cookery books seem like travel books - glamorous images of fresh vegetables and captivating words about the magical ingredients in the sauces are everywhere. As someone who has self-published books on creative subjects I know all too well the amount of effort that goes behind the production of a single book. And when that book has lots of beautiful, colourful photos the publishing process takes even longer and the time and effort involved producing it is truly incredible especially if you are doing it yourself. Small armies of people work behind  the scenes in publishing companies in order to launch these books. But I am not going to talk to you about the production of books. Not now! What I want to say is that .. today's cookery books are beautifully created and they deserve the eminence of coffee table books. 

Sadly, the large numbers of incredibly eye pleasing cookery books does not mean that people cook more on a daily basis. People seem happy to buy colourful cookery books, seem happy to watch fancy cookery programs, while munching on crisps and pop corn.............  We live in a more and more voyeuristic world!    It feels increasingly like we are going to the cinema to watch people ... cook!

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Years ago, while growing up in Romania, I remember we had two cookery books in our small flat...two books filled with black and white.....text ... no images ... none whatsoever. In spite of that or maybe because of that ... who knows ... there was always activity in our kitchen, my mother chopping vegetables, chopping meat, boiling, frying, cooking all sorts of lovely dishes without using loads of ingredients, with few spices. Yet, every day, day in, day out, after she returned from work, she always seemed able to produce tasty and healthy meals, every day ... I will always remember the yummy  smells reaching me in my bedroom across the hall. 

Believe it or not, cooking or preparing most of what you eat is not just about cooking it is also about relaxing and slowing down ...it is about sharing stories of the day around the kitchen table, about listening and about communicating in a warm and healing space, about being mindful ... there  we are ... the word so many people worship nowadays.  

The other day, on a very, very hot summer day I just felt the need to cook a traditional Russian beetroot soup. It is the type of a dish I remember enjoying when I visited my Russian family in Saint Petersburg and Orel. It is easy to make, delicious and healthy. 

Here is what you need to do:

Prepare the ingredients:

2 medium size beetroots peeled and grated

1 carrot peeled and grated 

1 onion peeled and chopped 

1 tomato diced 

4 small potatoes peeled and chopped 

2 litres of boiling water 

1 Knorr cube

salt and pepper to taste

1/2 grated cabbage

1 squeeze of lemon juice or more depending on your taste 

2 bay leaves

3 garlic cloves crushed 

1 table spoon olive or sunflower oil 

 

Now for the preparation: 

There's not much to do really. Just heat the olive or sunflower oil in a cooking pot, add the onion, sautee the onion for a few minutes, add the carrots, beetroots, potatoes. Sautee the lot for a further 10 minutes, add the bay leaves and the garlic.....then add the boiling water and then the cabbage and the tomatoes. Next ... nothing ... simply let it simmer on a low heat for about 1 hour and it's done. Enjoy it with a dollop or two of sour cream. Sour cream is a very popular addition to many dishes in Russia and I love it. 

I was never very good at cooking deserts, the type that my mother used to prepare, so any time I come across something sweet that I feel I can prepare, something that does not require the oven ... I am ready to have a go at it. 

The other day I came across something called Three Ingredients Energy Bar .....and of course I had to have a go. The result is not only pleasing .. it is really delicious and goes very, very well with a cup of Turkish coffee or tea. 

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So, here is the recipe;

 

THREE INGREDIENTS ENERGY BAR:

1 cup of almonds

1 cup of dates

1 cup of dried cherries 

....that's all

Put all of the ingredients together in a mixer, pulse until they are all mixed and chopped finely. Next, place the mixture on a plastic sheet or a non stick sheet of cooking paper, spread it evenly (use a roller), cover with another sheet of non stick paper and place it in the fridge for 30 minutes. Take it out, cut it in squares and store the pieces in an air tight container, in the fridge. They will last for a few good weeks (less the one's consumed ....so two days!!). You can of course make them in the shape of small balls if you want. 

They look very nice if you add some cocoa powder on top. The truth is that you can be very creative with this type of recipe and start making your own combinations using sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, dried apricots, raisins, raw cocoa and of course much more. 

 

Enjoy! 

 

 

 

 


Why reading is good for you

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Once upon a time reading was just the natural thing to do ... we were encouraged to handle and to feel comfortable with the different books in our kindergarten .... and our parents or our grandparents or our teachers read books to us. From the age of 8, in Romania, we were supposed to be able to read by ourselves ... some did so at an even earlier age. What I am saying is that reading was ... just normal ... just like eating, going to school, playing ... just normal ... part of the fabric of our life from the earliest age. 

Just like exercising, reading is a practice that improves the more you read... a practice that becomes a habit that stays with you for the rest of your life ....at least this is my strong belief. 

Confucius said that " No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance". I agree with him, of course I do! 

I grew up in a communist country where books were treasured and were obtained with sacrifices ... one had to queue for hours to buy a popular title ... for example Shogun ... I remember queuing for hours .......and not getting my hands on the book as the shop, as was not uncommon, ran out of stock in front in me. And old habits seem to become a part of life. I don't remember going into any of my friend's houses, then as a youngster or now as an adult, and not being confronted with rows of laden bookshelves - but then our generation grew up in a time when during the week we only had 2 hours of television a day and most of that was news or reports of great achievements!

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Nowadays everything seems to require an explanation ... why we should eat more vegetables - because it will positively impact our health, why we should exercise for the same reason, why we should drink lots of water (the quantity varies depending on which "specialist" you listen to) because ... and so on .... So, it looks as if these days it is helpful to show why reading is good for us in order to motivate people to pick up a book. If you need that extra encouragement here is why ... 

  • reading is ... exercise for the mind. Just like our bodies, our mind needs to be exercised in order to keep fit, yes it does
  • reading for 30 minutes a day flexes those mind muscles, it ignites your imagination, it makes you think, it energises your curiosity
  • reading ... slows your heart rate, eases the tension in your muscles 
  • reading .... increases vocabulary, improves your use of grammar, nurtures creativity
  • reading .....helps you express yourself with more confidence

And to really exercise the mind it's good to choose a diverse range of books to read from, various genres  .... 

It is true that for many,  television is way more tempting nowadays, computers, smart phones and the rest the same - but the stories they tell are so short, short clip after short clip, it's like looking through an album full of holiday snaps, it's not the same as experiencing the holiday, the whole full story, because something that puts the whole holiday story into proper context is always missing.  Sooner or later I believe we are going to pay a price for spending our time dipping into short clips of what is going on in the world ... our own sanity will be influenced by not seeing the whole story ... emotional, physical .......because 99% of life and living is not like the clip. 

Groucho Marx was pretty spot on when he wrote .... "I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go in the other room and read a book." 

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How do you make calendula salve

Calendula salve

 

Years ago while still living in Romania I remember buying from a pharmacy,  calendula salve in a small white plastic container ... I liked the yellowish colour and as always when you buy something from a pharmacy you think ... oh boy it must be very complicated to make, this must be a secret only people with specific training know. Little did I know that 30 years later ... I will be making calendula salve. Of course it took me a while to get comfortable with the field of making natural cosmetics, of course I had to read lots of magazines, books, blogs, of course I had to try and make mistakes until I learned how to get the right balance of ingredients, the right temperatures, the right way to infuse oils. Nothing comes easy, nothing happens over night but if one is passionate and curious ........ magic happens. 

I love my time in the kitchen, weighting oils, being very careful to respect the recipes .... mixing and waiting for the oils to solidify ... and take the form they need to take. 

Calendula salve

The next phase is making the labels, creating them, printing them .... one cannot do things fast ... but slowly and with patience ... this is something I had to learn and probably my 3 years of tai chi practice helped and continues to help. 

So, the other day I made another batch of calendula salve. Why would you make such a product? Why should you have it in your cupboard and better still in your bag? Here is why! 

First of all you need to know that calendula salve is a traditional healing balm or ointment and it takes its name from the plants name Calendula officials, also called marigold. The plant has a high concentration of flavonoids which are actually antioxidants. Known to have anti allergic, inflammatory, microbial  properties calendula salve is ideal for treating a range of cuts, abrasions, bruises, sores, rashes, ulcers and fungal conditions. The salve also hydrates, nourishes and supports skin and can be used as face moisturises, lip balm for dry lips, bug bites ..... 

How do you do it? The recipe below is the most basic calendula salve.

First of all you need to infuse olive oil with dry calendula flowers. There are 2 ways of infusing the oil ... a quick one and a slow one (details in a future blog entry). 

Quantities: 

4 oz calendula oil

1/2 oz beeswax 

Once you have the calendula oil and beeswax you are ready to start the process. 

  1. Add water to the bottom pot of your double boiler, and then pour your calendula oil into the top pot and place above. You can also create a double boiler if you don’t have one. The main thing is that the oil needs non-direct and even heat to prevent burning.
  2. Bring your double boiler to a low heat and grate in your beeswax. Once everything has melted, stir the mixture, and then quickly turn off your burner.
  3. Now you can put this mixture into a liquid measuring cup to make pouring your final product easy. Slowly pour into each tin, and allow the salves to cool.

One hour later ... it's all done .... put the lids on, labels and ... that's it. Enjoy! 

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Cold pressed shampoo and apple vinegar rinse

 

 

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I've been making and using my own cold pressed shampoo for a year and a bit. It started out of my appetite for trying new natural recipes and simply because I wanted to see if ... I was or not able to make such a product. Only after that I realised that ... yes I will not buy anymore shampoo and conditioner from the shops and in this way I will not have to get rid of yet another plastic bottle. And also ... I realised that I was continuing a tradition that was actually normality for my grandmothers on both sides of my parents. 

There is so much we can learn from our ancestors, so many bad habits we can replace and live a life more in tune with our true selves and nature. But this is another story for another time. 

I would like to write a little bit about what and why do we need sometimes to use an apple vinegar rinse after we use a shampoo bar. 

OK so here we go. 

When you transition from a liquid shampoo in a bottle to a cold pressed shampoo, you might go through an adjustment period. Some people get used to it from the very beginning.  There are really many things that can affect the way the shampoo in a bar shape will work for each person. Some of the issue are linked  to  your hair, the water in your area, the products you use or used on your hair, the specific shampoo bar you are using and even your hair washing technique.

RAW APPLE VINEGAR 

First of all you might want to know that raw apple cider vinegar  is packed with nutrients, it brings back body and shine, it decreases residue and clarify, stimulates the scalp, decreases dandruff. The use of vinegar infused with a variety of plants and essential oils can be traced back to the Romans and even to the nineteenth century. 

It can happen that when you transition from a liquid shampoo to a cold pressed shampoo bar you are let with a "weird hair" feeling. This happens when the soap residue does not completely rinse out of your hair. It is very important to make a good lather and to RINSE properly the shampoo from your hair.  

HOW TO USE A SHAMPOO BAR 

You can of course rub the bar of shampoo directly on the hair but you can also rub the bar of soap on a sponge until you create a good lather and then apply it on you hair.  

Remember that ...... RINSING is key.

If you feel that you hair feels a little bit heavy and oily .. apply the apple vinegar and here is how. 

Pour, squirt or spray the rinse onto wet hair. Massage into hair and scalp and pay special attention to the ends. Let sit for a couple minutes. You can rinse the hair again or leave it on as the smell will disappear after a few minutes. 

MAKE YOUR OWN APPLE VINEGAR RINSE 

You will need to make an apple vinegar rinse solution by combining one part vinegar to 9 parts water, shake the solution and pour it in a spraying bottle or any glass bottle you have available. Keep it in the bathroom and use the solution with confidence. 

Sometimes I like to infuse the  apple vinegar rinse solutions with all sorts of dried plants or fresh or even I add some drops of essential oils but about all of this in a future blog entry. 

Orange shampoo bar