The view from the hill

It's now some 18 months since I took early retirement. So, perhaps a good time to take stock of all that's happened.

On reflection I'm a little surprised how hard the readjustment was. Still, I had a 40 year mind set to unravel, so I suppose it was bound to take time if nothing else. To some extent I feel that I've arrived at the hill top now and have the luxury of scanning the view and what a wonderful sight it is.

From a health and happiness perspective if I had to pick out two high points without doubt they would be Laughter Yoga and Juicing.

I've written about  Laughter Yoga before and it's many benefits. I've since done a few taster sessions, a work shop and generally met some great people as a result of this life enhancing activity. More on the way as interest grows and who knows where this wild road will take me! So, watch this space!

If you live in the north east of England and you're anywhere near Newcastle on World Laughter Day (May 3rd) then do drop into a Laughter gathering, which will be  taking place in Exhibition Park (by the band stand) at 11am. Hope to see you there. Let's all just laugh for no reason and feel better for it.

The other aspect of my life which has developed to a new level is juicing. Carrot and fresh  beetroot juices have long been family favourites. However, since acquiring a macerator type juicer, I now make a huge batch of green juice at the start of the week and this lasts for 2-3 days. (Although fresh juice  is really best consumed with 24-48 hours of making.) I love the green juice because I can throw in all the green ingredients (like the outer leaves of lettuce) which I might not have otherwise used.

There's no fixed recipe and it's fun to mix and match ingredients until you hit on the right blend. That said my favourite combination is - Cucumber, lettuce, 2-3 crisp granny smith's apples, fresh root ginger, whole lemon and 2 oranges. The beauty of a macerator type juicer is that the food prep is minimal. Just wash the ingredients and then it's good to go! Lemons can be put in whole, although I peel the oranges as some of the oils in the peel might be an irritant. It's also a whole lot quieter and quick and easy to clean.

Making your own green juice is both fun and good for you. It enables the consumption of large amounts of life enhancing foodstuffs that might otherwise not be as palatable, or possible. If I've got a Yoga class coming up I'll replace a meal with a  green juice. If I feel the need to have something solid to eat I'll pair this up with either an avocado or an apple; so  much better for digestion and performance. If you're a performer and you're looking for ways to maintain good nutrition then  juicing might just be what you need.

I've written before about the issue of food as medicine. So much can be addressed with food. Regular juicing with root ginger is particularly good for the older woman as it can help normalise blood sugar levels, aid digestion and regulate bowel function.

Eating and enjoying real food is what it's about for me.

Live life to the max and enjoy the ride!

Emotional Freedom Technique - Tapping demonstration

Thanks to all who attended the energy path to wellness workshop at the Vault on Saturday. Your energy and creativity really added to it. For those who were unable to attend, and those who attended and need a reminder, I have posted my video demonstration of the EFT tapping sequence. Look forward to meeting you all at future events. Take care and keep laughing!

Now that's what I call chocolate!

Women and chocolate: a marriage made in heaven! Of course I'm not talking about any old chocolate but the high cocoa solids variety. Due to relatively high anti-oxidant levels chocolate of this kind has many health benefits for the older woman. So good for you as well as yummy. On a cold winter's night  it surely doesn't get much better than musing over a few squares of Green and Black's sea salt or cupping your hands round a mug of steaming hot chocolate drink.

Earlier this year I discovered the joys of Hasslacher's  solid chocolate drinking bars. Produced in Columbia since 1906 this ethically produced chocolate  is 100% cacao, 100% natural with no added sugar. Also, because of it's naturally high anti-oxidant level, it has all the health benefits that we can expect from  a quality chocolate of this kind. The Hasslacher's Company works in an ethical sustainable way with local cacao growers. The beans are responsibly cultivated under a natural canopy of trees, which helps to preserve the forest and only the finest beans are used.

For me though the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Although branded as drinking chocolate I actually use the chocolate to make a warm inviting porridge - such a wonderful way to start a cold winter's day. Here's my (free-from) recipe for chocolate and spiced apple porridge -

Ingredients (for 2 greedy people!) - 
x1 cooking apple
100 grammes Gluten free Scottish porridge oats
600 mls water/spiced tea
Spices - 1/2 tsp mace and  ground cinnamon, x2 star anise
Pinch of sea salt - preferably Hebridean
Runny honey
A few fresh blueberries (optional)

Method  -
For the apple mix -
Peel and chop apple. Place in a saucepan with spices - mace and star anise. Cook down to a puree adding a little spiced chai/water to prevent burning.

For the porridge -
Place  porridge oats in a small non-stick saucepan. (I have a specially dedicated saucepan for porridge making to ensure a pristine flavour.)
Add   600 mls water/spiced chai. Then bring to the boil stirring continuously. (I use a Scottish spurtle.)
Whilst simmering add x2 squares of Hasslacher's chocolate, Cinnamon and a pinch of sea salt. (The chocolate will just dissolve and melt into the porridge.) Simmer for 5 mins.

Take 2 deep warm bowls and place two tablespoons of apple puree mix into the bowels. Drizzle in a teaspoon of runny honey. Then pour in the porridge. If desired and for extra health benefits  decorate with a few blueberries. Then take a spoon and enjoy!

There you have it. A bowl of heavenly loveliness!

Before I sign off though let's throw a spotlight on some of the politics behind the beauty. Because  it runs to the heart of world capitalism chocolate production is very political. Critical issues affecting local growers, livelihoods and ancient forests are involved. For me this is one area of food production where the people/planet versus profits argument can get really ugly. Fortunately, there are effective global movements like Fair-Trade around who work with growers and marginalised communities around the world to help secure fair prices, better working conditions and dignity for all.

Finally, just to make it clear, I have no commercial or personal interest in FairTrade, the Hasslacher's Hot Drinking Chocolate Company, Green and Black's or any other chocolate maker producing high cocoa solids chocolate. I just want to show my gratitude to those who are working to give us a quality product that also makes a stand for fairness and an end to exploitation of people and planet.

Vegetable of the season: the Romanesque Cauliflower.

As we head into winter here's hoping that  everyone is in good spirits and keeping well.

Particularly for the older woman this season presents many health challenges. However, there's one really great way to look good, feel well and function at your best no matter what the winter has to throw at you. With that in mind how's about eating your way to good health and well being this winter. Of course we all know about the health benefits of vegetables, particularly the brassicas like cauliflower and broccoli. However, top of the tree sits the stunning beauty of the Romanesque Cauliflower. (Sometimes called Romanesco Broccoli. )

First documented in Italy this light green vegetable is packed with vitamins, carotenoids and dietary fibre.  It also contains phytochemicals that have been shown to benefit arthritis, the immune system, blood pressure, skin, vision and blood/sugar disorders. So a great choice for the older woman.

The Romanesque Cauliflower also contains  the amino-acid Tryptophan, required for the formation of Serotonin - otherwise known as the "feel good" neuro-transmitter. The body also needs Serotonin  for the manufacture of Melatonin which is required for a naturally good sleep. Issues with sleep and seasonal low mood can be a problem for older women in winter. So another good reason why we need to include this stunning seasonal vegetable in our diet.

However, the good news just got better. Some scientists are now saying that simply looking at the vegetable can make you feel better. Apparently that's down to the natural patterns formed by the head of the vegetable that is made up of striking pyramidal shapes or buds called fractals. Each bud is composed of a series of smaller buds arranged in a logarithmic spiral. These types of naturally occurring patterns are seen elsewhere in nature - for instance in ferns and some tress. However, this spiralling effect is most notable in the Romanesque Cauliflower which, for that reason, is now being referred to as "fractal food" or the "ultimate fractal vegetable".

According to a leading expert - Dr Matilda van den Bosch, of the Swedish University if Agricultural Sciences - the people studied  who looked at these kind of fractals shapes demonstrated higher alpha band activation on brain scan; indicating a relaxed state. These claims were made at the  Royal Horticultural Society's 4th annual Lecture which took place last month.

I've recently stumbled upon the weird and wonderful world of Fibonacci numbers and fractal shapes in nature. For me though it's not about the science. Next time you are lucky enough to be able to buy a Romanesque take a look yourself.  If you're anything like me you'll be enthralled by the sheer simplicity and the breath-taking precision of  it all.