A Recipe for Healthy Mince Pies

At this time of year I hear so many people using Christmas as an excuse for overeating, but then complain about their weight gain come the New Year !!

I love all the traditional foods around Christmas time, especially mince pies, but I’m very aware of how many calories they contain, and also where those calories will sit if I don’t burn them off!

I found this recipe in a magazine, but had to improvise it slightly.

The traditional pastry case is replaced with almond paste, which is rich in monounsaturated fats, which help lower ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol, and increase ‘good’ HDL cholesterol.

The raisins and sultanas too are high in resveratrol and antioxidants, all of which are thought to  help keep a healthy heart.   

As we are using almond paste, this recipe is not suitable for anyone with a nut allergy.

You will also need a nonstick mini muffin tray, I use one from Lakeland, which is the perfect size for these mince pies, as well as some star shaped cutters.

PRE-HEAT OVEN, 180’C/160’C Fan

INGREDIENTS for the filling 

  • 100g raisins
  • 50g sultanas
  • 50g dried goji berries
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp runny honey
  • Grated zest and juice of one orange.


  • 250g ground almonds
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp runny honey
  • 2 tbsp of rapeseed oil…..I omitted this, it would have made the mixture too wet.
  • ½ a vanilla pod
  • 1 tbsp icing sugar for dusting.



  1. For the filling, combine the ingredients in a bowl and mix well
  2. Cover with cling film and leave to macerate in the fridge for 24hrs. I left mine for 5 days, and it was delicious.

For the Pastry

  1. Combine the almonds, egg, and seeds from the vanilla pod in a bowl and mix….it’s here that it’s suggested you add the oil, I didn’t as my mixture was wet enough.
  2. Work the mixture into a ball on a very lightly floured board, cover in cling film and rest the pastry for an hour in the fridge, this will make it easier to handle.
  3. Gently roll out the pastry, on a lightly floured board, it is slightly more difficult than rolling shortcrust, but don’t let that put you off making them.
  4. Cut out the rounds, gently lining the holes in the muffin tin.
  5. Fill each pastry case with some filling.
  6. Cut out the stars and place on the mincemeat.
  7. Bake for approx 12mins or until golden and crisp, if you have a fierce oven, check at around 10mins.
  8. Leave to cool slightly before transferring to a cooling rack.

These mince pies are delicious, and when made as ‘mini’ have only 80 calories each…so worth the effort.


Dhal with butter and ginger recipe

I found this recipe in a magazine and loved it, although I did cut back on the amount of butter, that’s just personal choice.


Enough for 12-15 people, but so easy to cut back on the amounts.

  • 400g yellow split peas (I always soak split peas overnight, some do some don’t, I think they take a little less time to cook if soaked).
  • 2 tsp ground turmeric.
  • 8-10 small green chillies, split lengthways and chop.
  • 160 unsalted butter.
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds.
  • 2 tbsp grated fresh ginger, plus extra cut into matchsticks to garnish.
  • 4 tomatoes, deseeded and chopped.
  • 1 heaped tsp garam masala.
  • A handful of chopped coriander.


  1. Wash the split peas thoroughly under cold running water. Put into a large pan and cover with plenty of cold water, add the turmeric and chillies and bring to the boil.
  2. Skim off any foam that comes to the surface, then simmer until the peas are tender 35-40 minutes, you may have to add a little more water as they simmer (I had to simmer mine for around 50 mins).
  3. Drain in a sieve and set aside.
  4. Wash out the pan and return to the heat.
  5. Add the butter, cumin and ginger, and cook gently for a minute. Then add the tomatoes and garam masala, cook for another minute.
  6. Add the split peas and cook for around 3 minutes.
  7. Season and add a little more water if the dhal is too thick.
  8. Top with ginger matchsticks and coriander


Breast or bottle? Isn’t it a mums choice?

Why are women made to feel so guilty when they don’t want to breastfeed their babies?

Having had a career in nursing, before becoming a fitness and performance coach, I am very aware of the benefits of breastfeeding, but also believe that women should be able to make an informed decision about bottle or breast.

I breastfed all three of my children, weaning them off the bedtime feed at around nine months old.

There was no pressure to breastfeed, encouragement yes, but we weren’t made to feel guilty or  bad mothers if we chose not to.

I’ve felt strongly about this topic for some time. Having listened to so many distraught young mothers telling me how they were not enjoying breastfeeding and wanting to stop, but afraid to tell the midwife/ health visitor or clinic how they were ‘really’ feeling.

So today I’m sharing my thoughts on this somewhat controversial subject.

There’s no shortage of articles in the big tabloids who have all shared articles on breastfeeding and continue to do so. 

One headline I came across recently in The Mail: ‘It’s MEN’S fault that women stop breastfeeding!’

They want their wives back says Jeanette Kupfermann who’s seen it first hand as an NCT teacher.

An interesting article, with many reasons why women give up breastfeeding, ranging from jealous insensitive husbands, to the pressures of returning to work.

Nowhere in the article does it say, not every mother wants to breastfeed, some mothers just DON’T LIKE IT.

Actually, Ms Kupferman does mention how Queen Victoria,who had a very active sexual relationship with Prince Albert found breastfeeding and children repellent… forget the sex, perhaps she just didn’t want to breastfeed!

I did smile as I read that ‘things do not immediately go back to normal’, physically or emotionally, after a baby is born.

The reality is, ‘things’ will never be the same, ‘things’ will be different, there’s another person in the house, who is totally reliant on the parent s, the feeling of this dependency can sometimes  feel totally overwhelming… but that’s for another day.

Then another article in The Times:

Sisters, please, stop bickering about breastfeeding,

By Deborah Ross.

I’m with Ms. Ross on this one, the bottom line being, ‘choices are choices and each to their own’

But please, NCT, midwives and health visitors, don’t make new mums feel guilty, when they make an informed decision to choose a bottle instead of the breast or when to stop breastfeeding.

Childbirth can be one of the biggest life changing experiences for the whole family, and stressful for many.

These new mothers need to feel supported not alienated.

I’d love to hear your experiences of breastfeeding.

We have an enologist!

At last we are getting somewhere with our winemaking, but what a journey it’s been.

For the first couple of years the local farmer helped us with our winemaking, we were very grateful for his help, and thought it was going to be amazing… but, it wasn’t even drinkable! Ten months later we spent an evening de-corking and pouring it all down the drain. Such a waste!

“Oh it’s ok, next years will be better” says Jerry.

The following year we were joined by our Aussie grape picking friends Pat and Jeff, who had joined us as part of their European holiday.

As we picked and pressed, Pat and I weren’t happy, it just wasn’t right

Aussie male Jeff, “We’ve just come from a friend’s vineyard in France, I’ll call them and ask their advice!!

Pat and I, in sheer desperation left them to it, retiring to the kitchen to make our chutneys and jams.

We then returned to the UK leaving the wine in the trusted hands of our local farmer G, a lovely gentleman who regularly brought us eggs, cherries and tomatoes.

When we returned, G told us we had to get rid of the wine, it wasn’t drinkable, and we weren’t even at the bottling stage!

Mmm…. it was like pink sherbert.

After some firm words, regarding a waste of money and time, Jerry thought perhaps, there was more to winemaking after all… it was a bit like men not reading instruction leaflets!

So, he enrolled onto viticulture and viniculture courses at Plumpton College, he loved it, all made easier as he’s already got a chemistry degree.

Our wine improved, it was drinkable, but still a bit ‘hit or miss’

“I know you’ve done all the courses, but I think we need some technical help” said I

“No it’s ok, I can do all the tests in my lab”!!  (which he’d made in the cellar) said J

On meeting more winemakers, one of the first questions they’d ask was, “who’s your enologist?”

My response to Jerry, “I told you so”

So we now have an enologist, and this is why:

Enologists are specifically skilled in the science of wine and winemaking, and often have Bachelor of Science Degrees in Winemaking, Enology or Viniculture.

Enologists combine the study of scientific principles with experience, to oversee and manage the pressing of the grapes after harvest, fermentation, filtering, aging and bottling. Enologists may also create new wine blends and implement or create new processes or techniques to improve the winemaking process.

Actually we are both very excited.

At this stage our wines are settling in the tanks, but our enologist will still visit, smelling and tasting a sample of each one, instantly picking up any problems that may occur. He may well suggest taking a wine sample to the laboratory for testing, a specialist laboratory, not Jerry’s in our cellar!  He will then advise depending on the results.

Our wines are improving so quickly, and will be on sale for the first time in November. It’s been such an experience, but really we’re now only just beginning.

When I mentioned to a winemaker friend that we had an enologist, his reply was,

“I’m so pleased, but your vineyard is no longer your own”

We will continue tending the vines and harvesting the grapes, but under his watchful eye.

I have no objections to that and in truth neither does Jerry.

Recipe – Hot and Sour Noodle Soup

I love fresh, healthy tasting meals, and this ticks all the boxes.

It’s a favourite if I’m eating alone, obviously cutting back on the recipe quantity. Saying that though, you could make the full amount of stock and keep what you don’t use in the fridge for a couple of days, it could be used for a similar meal later in the week.

Ingredients (for 4 people).

  • Half a butternut squash, peeled and cut into wedges.
  • 2 pak choi, quartered.
  • 200g of dried egg noodles, I used buckwheat Soba noodles, which worked really well.
  • 1 teaspoon of dried chilli flakes.
  • 4 garlic cloves.
  • 20g fresh ginger.
  • 1 litre vegetable stock.
  • 1-2 tbsp light soy sauce.
  • 2 tbsp rice wine 
  • 2 tsp caster sugar, didn’t add this, personal choice)!
  • 1-2 tsp sunflower oil.
  • Some coriander, lime wedges and fresh chilli, to garnish.


  1. Preheat oven to 200 C, gas mark 6.
  2. Toss the squash, oil and chilli flakes, spread on a baking tray and roast for 20-25 mins.turning halfway through cooking time.
  3. Cook the noodles and set aside.
  4. Whizz the garlic and ginger, or chop very finely. Heat a little oil in a large pan, a deep frying pan is good, and fry the mix over a low heat for about a minute. Add the stock, soy sauce, rice wine and sugar, gently bring to the boil.
  5. Sieve the broth into a clean pan and simmer, add the pak choi and immediately take off the heat. If you don’t like crunchy pak choi cook for a little longer.
  6. Divide the noodles and squash between four deep bowls, ladle over the broth and garnish with the coriander, lime and chilli.




What happens to your child’s brain when they are playing video games?

What are we doing to our children by allowing them to play on our mobile devices, or their own, hour after hour?  

These are young children I’m talking about, as young as three or four, god forbid even younger! Children too young to be interested in posting on FB or Instagram but old enough to become addicted by playing games on mobile devices.

Yes, we are all very busy, but are we really too busy to find an hour during the day, preferably over a meal, when all phones are turned off and we have time to talk to our children, and to each other?

Children thrive on guidance and learn by example, so when parents are constantly on their phones and computers, what example are we giving them?

To me it’s obvious, you can use your ‘tablets’ whenever you like, over dinner, visiting relatives…whenever,  but you only have to listen to children when their parents ask them to put their phones or ipads away,

“Why? You and daddy are always on your phones or computers”

In the excellent article I’m sharing with you, by Victoria Dunkley MD, it shows us just what is happening to our children’s brains when they become game addicted. I have seen this scenario time and time again, in-fact I’ve been in the middle of more than one meltdown!

Video games leave kids revved up, stressed out, and primed for a meltdown

On the eve of his big sister Liz’s high school graduation, nine-year-old Aiden sits with his parents and relatives at a celebration dinner, bored by their “adult” conversation and irritated at all the attention showered upon Liz. He can’t wait to get back to his video game! Before dinner, Mom had (annoyingly) called him away to join the family, and then she got mad when he spent a few minutes getting to the next level and saving his game. So many people in the house make him restless; he squirms uncomfortably and drums his fingers on the table, waiting to be excused.

Finally, he is allowed to escape the dinner table, and he settles into a corner of the living room couch to play his Nintendo DS. For the next hour or so, he is completely oblivious to the company in the house. Although he’s already played much longer than his mother likes, she lets him continue, knowing these family situations are a little overwhelming for him. And besides, the game keeps him occupied. What’s the harm? she thinks. It’s just for today.

However, in the meantime, a perfect storm is brewing. As the play continues, Aiden’s brain and psyche become overstimulated and excited — on fire! His nervous system shifts into high gear and settles there while he attempts to master different situations, strategizing, surviving, accumulating weapons, and defending his turf. His heart rate increases from 80 to over 100 beats per minute, and his blood pressure rises from a normal 90/60 to 140/90 — he’s ready to do battle, except that he’s just sitting on the couch, not moving much more than his eyes and thumbs. The DS screen virtually locks his eyes into position and sends signal after signal: “It’s bright daylight out, nowhere near time for bed!” Levels of the feel-good chemical dopamine rise in his brain, sustaining his interest, keeping him focused on the task at hand, and elevating his mood. The intense visual stimulation and activity flood his brain, which adapts to the heightened level of stimulation by shutting off other parts it considers nonessential.

The visual-motor areas of his brain light up. Blood flows away from his gut, kidneys, liver, and bladder and toward his limbs and heart — he’s ready to fight or escape! The reward pathways in his brain also light up and are reinforced by the flood of dopamine. He is so absorbed in the game, he doesn’t notice when his little sister, Arianna, comes over until she puts her chubby hand on the screen, trying to get his attention.

“DooOOON’T!!” he shouts and roughly shoves her out of the way. Arianna falls backward, bursts into tears, and runs to their mother, who silently curses herself for letting Aiden play this long.

“All right, that’s it. Time to start getting ready for bed. Get your pajamas on and you can have a snack before you go to bed,” she says, pulling the DS out of Aiden’s hands and turning it off in one fell swoop. Aiden looks at his mother with rage. How dare she ruin his game because of his stupid sister!

“Fine!” he shouts, runs up the stairs, and slams his bedroom door. His primitive brain is fully engaged now, turning him into an enraged animal ready to fight off all challengers. He rips all the sheets off his bed and then throws his lamp on the floor, providing a satisfactory crash and shatter. Thinking about how wronged he’s been and filled with visions of revenge, he kicks the wall a few times and then pounds on his bedroom door, putting a big hole in it.

Downstairs, his relatives sit in quiet shock and murmur to each other how they’ve never seen him act like this. Dad runs up the stairs to contain his son. Calmly, his dad holds him in a bear hug from behind, waiting for the rage to subside.

As the dopamine in his brain and the adrenaline in his body begin to ebb, his rage loses its focus. Now, the pent-up energy takes on a disorganized, amorphous form. Aiden feels like he can’t think straight or get himself together. While he spaces out, his dad helps him put his pajamas on and they go back downstairs. Stress hormones remain high, however, making it difficult for him to relax or think clearly. He seems a little confused, actually. His relatives look at him with a mixture of concern and love, but they also wonder why his parents let him “get away with” this kind of behavior. His mother intuitively knows that direct eye contact will overstimulate him again, so she approaches him slowly from the side, and rubs his back gently.

When his favorite aunt looks him in the face sympathetically, he immediately distrusts her intentions. Eye-to-eye interaction is interpreted by his primitive-mode brain as a challenge, and he starts getting revved up again. His mother intervenes, and takes him up to his room. She lowers the light, settles him into bed, and starts to read him a soothing story. His nervous system attempts to regulate itself back to normal, but it seems to still be held hostage by his hyped-up emotions. That night, after he does finally fall to sleep, Aiden awakens repeatedly with panic attacks — his heart races and blood pounds in his ears. He’s scared of the dark, and worried that his angry outburst has upset and alienated his parents. His mother, meanwhile, confiscates the DS and decides to take it with her to work on Monday. (She really wants to throw it in the trash, but it was expensive!)

The following morning, the fight in Aiden has subsided, but the aftermath leaves him in a fog, listless, weepy, and exhausted. He experiences an increased craving for sweets while cortisol, the stress hormone, drives his blood sugar up and down erratically.  It will take weeks before his body, brain, and mind return to some sense of balance.

Meanwhile, his mother reaffirms her commitment “to get rid of those damn video games.”


Perceived Threat and the Fight-or-Flight Response

Does Aiden’s story sound familiar? Why would a seemingly normal, loving child become so enraged and difficult after playing video games? Though his response may seem extreme, there’s actually a completely natural explanation for Aiden’s behavior.

Playing video games mimics the kinds of sensory assaults humans are programmed to associate with danger. When the brain senses danger, primitive survival mechanisms swiftly kick in to provide protection from harm. This response is instantaneous; it is hardwired in our genes and necessary for survival. Keep in mind that the threat does not have to be real — it only needs to be a perceived danger for the brain and body to react.

When this instinct gets triggered, our nervous system and hormones influence our state of arousal, jumping instantly to a state of hyperarousal — the fight-or-flight response. These feelings can be hard to shake off even after the provoking incident is over and the threat — real or perceived — is gone.

In medical school, our instructors referred to this state as “running from the tiger,” since during ancient times humans protected themselves from predators by literally fighting or fleeing. Today, we still need this rapid stress response for emergency situations, and on a day-to-day basis mild stress reactions help us get things done. But for the most part, repeatedly enduring fight-or-flight responses when survival is not an issue does more harm than good.

When the fight-or-flight state occurs too often, or too intensely, the brain and body have trouble regulating themselves back to a calm state, leading to a state of chronic stress. Chronic stress is also produced when there is a “mismatch” between fight-or-flight reactions and energy expenditure, as occurs with screen-time. Indeed, the build-up of energy is meant to be physically discharged to allow the nervous system to re-regulate. However, research suggests screen-time induces stress reactions even in children who exercise regularly.

Once chronic stress sets in, blood flow is directed away from the higher thinking part of the brain (the frontal lobe) and toward the more primitive, deeper areas necessary for survival, causing impairment in functioning. With children, whose nervous systems are still developing, this sequence of events occurs much faster than it does for adults, and the chronically stressed child soon starts to struggle.

It’s easy to imagine how an exciting video game can cause hyperarousal. But in fact, numerous mechanisms act synergistically to raise arousal levels with all types of interactive screen-time. And contrary to popular belief, many of them occur irrespective of content.

The figure below outlines some of these factors:


Because chronic stress effectively “short circuits” the frontal lobe, a hyperaroused and mentally depleted child will have trouble paying attention, managing emotions, suppressing impulses, following directions, tolerating frustration, accessing creativity and compassion, and executing tasks. All of these effects are compounded by screen-time disrupting the body clock and hindering deep sleep. In fact, the effects on sleep alone can explain many of the mood, cognitive and behavior issues associated with screens, and also explain how screen effects can build over time, making them easy to miss.

When people say my strict screen-time recommendations—which are based not just on clinical experience and research but also on how the brain works—are “not realistic,” and that children “must learn to manage technology,” my response is this:

It’s not realistic to expect the brain to adapt to intense and artificial stimulation it was never meant to handle.  It’s also not realistic to expect a child with still-developing frontal lobe to control their screen-time, whether that means managing how long they play a game, how they use or misuse social media, or how they behave afterward.

Parents need to learn the science behind how screen-time overstimulates the nervous system, how this manifests as an array of symptoms and dysfunction, and what that looks like in their own child.  Learning this information can literally change the course of child’s life; it helps parents to make informed and mindful screen management decisions, and steadies them from being swayed by cultural trends and misleading headlines.  It puts parents in the driver’s seat.

While the world may have changed, how the brain responds to stress and what it needs to thrive has not.