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.

Method

  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.

 

 

 

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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:

download

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.

 

Tips for coping with Empty Nest Syndrome

Isn’t it amazing, last week my daughter, Chloe wrote about the joy felt by parents, mums especially, when the long summer holiday comes to an end, and the children go back to school.

Well, I’m going to fast forward ten years or even less, and those same children could well be leaving home and off to university, how do you think you’ll be feeling then?

I’m sure we all know parents who have sacrificed everything for their children, even to the detriment of their own relationships, how difficult it must be for these parents to ‘let go’.

The child you’ve been totally responsible for… you’ve fed, nursed, consoled, laughed and cried with, even befriended, is no longer there on a day to day basis.

For some parents, a child leaving home it is heartbreaking, I’ve heard so many women say,

“I don’t have a purpose anymore”, 

“I feel I’ve lost my identity”

Empty Nest Syndrome

sadness or emotional distress affecting parents whose children have grown up and left home’

Around this time of the year there are many articles written on this subject, all suggesting those affected should look for another hobby, fill the space by doing some voluntary work, rekindle relationships, all good advice, but perhaps not for everyone.

It’s important to realise that this feeling of loss is natural, and felt by so many parents.

Research from The Mayo Clinic suggesting that these feelings can last for several weeks, until the parent realises that they have some extra time during the day to spend on themselves, with partners or friends.

Although other research shows that the actual transition from being an actively involved mother to being an independant woman again can be anything from eighteen months to two years.

Let’s not forget when talking about Empty Nest Syndrome, that it is inevitable our children will leave home, surely that is what we’ve been preparing them for? Their journey into adulthood, to become happy, successful, independent people, even parents themselves.

As the feeling of loss starts to lift, it could be a great opportunity for ‘the parent’ to embark on a journey of their own, getting fit is a great one, costs very little and those endorphins will really give you a lift!  

But a word of warning…as you start enjoying a sense of freedom, university terms are short, and the ‘child’ will return, laden with washing and loads of untidiness!

Here are my tips to help you through the Empty Nest feeling.

  1. Acknowledge how you feel and talk through your feelings with your partner, friend or both.
  2. Realise that dynamics will change within the home and relationships, but being part of the next stage of your child’s life can be equally exciting.
  3. With social media it’s so easy to keep in touch, but think how your child will be feeling too, will they want unexpected Facetime calls as they’re making new friends in the uni bar! Perhaps better to email or text initially!
  4. Try to do something for yourself, even if it’s just making the effort to go for a thirty minute walk, so difficult I know if you’re feeling low, but the rewards will outway the effort, believe me.
  5. If time permits, join a class, so many start in September and it’s a great way to meet new people…pole and line dancing are still on my list… when I have time! 
  6. Think about keeping a journal of your thoughts and feelings as you walk this new road. Apart from helping you, it may also help friends in the future, who could be feeling as you do now.
  7. Finally, congratulate yourself, you’ve done a great job getting your child to where they are today, and that’s no easy task.

Some parents find children leaving home more difficult than others,

If after four to six weeks there’s no improvement in the feeling of sadness, it’s important to seek medical advice.

New school year, new you 

It’s September already and back to school. Like millions of other parents, I am breathing a sigh of relief as the school year begins. The summer has been fabulous, lots of Italian sunshine, bedtimes and scheduling forgotten. However I am now ready to regain some structure and sanity!
For me, September is a new beginning, almost more so than January 1st. With 3 young children, I often feel that I forget to look after myself during the chaotic summer holidays. Exercise takes a back step, and I have certainly allowed myself too many gelato’s over the past few weeks!

Time to get back on track and make those September resolutions. I am getting back out running, trying to go to bed earlier and focusing on a healthy diet – it certainly helps being able to go to the supermarket without 3 kiddo’s in tow!

To me, September also means new and exciting fashion trends, more so than any other time of year. I get over excited with the jumpers, coats and jackets surrounding us in the shops – time to put the shorts away. Incorporating a touch of an autumnal trend adds an instant update to your wardrobe, whether through pattern, texture or colour. I am a huge fan of textured bomber jackets, and will continue to embrace velvet this Autumn!

As the first week of school comes to an end, I am feeling calmer and (slightly) more organized. I have been running (legs are sore) and am feeling a little more like myself. Unfortunately my children do not share my love of September. For them, the summer could go on forever, who needs to school?!

I love tomatoes!

It’s tomato time again at Sant Elia, and that means a freezer full of passata to take me through the winter and well into the Spring of 2018.

Tomatoes are so good for us, and very much part of The Mediterranean Diet. They are packed with beneficial nutrients and antioxidants, and are a high source of vitamin A ,C and Folic Acid, so I don’t want to waste any of these little gems.

tom5

I’m now averaging a kilo plus of pickings every day, and that’s without the tomatoes I pick for serving with basil and mozzarella, or for dicing and adding to cooked passata with capers and delicious Sant Elia olive oil, I could go on and on, so many way many to serve tomatoes.

Capture

I make several batches of passata every week until the weather cools, the sun is less intense and the ripening process slows.

Then comes the glut of green tomatoes, when I turn to chutney making, Uncle Harry’s recipe is my favorite, which I’ll share with you nearer the time.

Back to passata, it’s so easy to make. I freeze mine which makes it easier still… no jars to sterilize!

tom 2

In this batch I have approx.

  • 2kg of Tomatoes, roughly chopped, skin on, I really haven’t the time to skin and deseed them all.
  • 2-3 Onions, roughly chopped, red ones today!
  • 3-4 Carrots, roughly chopped.
  • Finally, a handful of Flat leaved parsley.

I usually add a couple of sticks of celery, not today though, as I haven’t got any.

tomatoes

Method

  • Cook in a large sauce pan UNCOVERED, and with no added water, this is important, tomatoes are very juicy and provide their own liquid, some of which needs to evaporate so that you get a rich thick sauce.
  • Cook for about an hour, until everything is soft and mushy.
  • Take off the heat and allow to cool slightly before using a hand blender to break down any large pieces of tomatoes.
  • I like a slightly chunky texture, but you could blend until it was really smooth.
  • Pour into containers and freeze.

Most children I know like pasta, and this is a great way of giving them some extra veg.

Before the end of the summer, I’ll make a batch of sauce adding the last of the red peppers, celery, carrots, maybe some aubergine, baby spinach leaves, anything that when it’s blended is undetectable! Not broccoli though as this stays a little ‘grainy’.

The freezed sauce is easily defrosted, and can be used in casseroles, curries etc. It also tastes better than the jars you buy in supermarkets, and has no added salt or preservatives.

It’s worth a try?

 

    

 

It’s been a tough week

This week has taken me right back to how and why I got into fitness, and it’s not a good feeling.

People often say to me, “you’re so calm”, “you’re so organised”, “you look so fit and healthy”. But, I’m just like everyone else and this week I’m crumbling inside.

I’m so tired, so fed up and needing some space.

It’s been a week of missing flights (due to bad planning), snacking on airport food and generally having a rubbish diet, also playing ‘catch-up’,has resulted in insufficient sleep, I could go on and on.

I could almost see this happening over the last two months. My exercise programme has almost disappeared due to a heavy workload and my weight increased due to too much yummy pasta!

I’m also a person who values personal space, if only for an hour a day. Away from everyone, just to get my thoughts organised, to sit and de-stress, or do something silly like cleaning out my sweater drawer whilst listening to my favourite music.

Without past experience, I could easily be going off to my GP requesting some medication to lift my mood, but I KNOW exactly what I should be doing, and this is my plan, in fact I’ve already started.

My ‘life saver’ is exercise.

My alarm is set for an earlier start to the day, before anyone else gets up. However tired or low I feel, I get up, feeling better already by just having some space!

I make up my jug of lemon infused water, and get motivated by telling myself how strong I am, and how I can still take on the world, I’ve just taken a little detour. It has worked before and it will work again, I have no doubts.

Then I hit the gym or go for a walk.

The results of exercise for me are phenomenal, the release of endorphins really do lift my spirits and make me feel good, and it’s time to myself.

Within a couple of weeks I know I’ll be back on track again.

Add to this my improved diet and it’s the strongest remedy ever.

Lots of fresh fruit, vegetables and protein, together with at least two litres of water daily, earlier nights will also help.

Alcohol is out, even a glass of prosecco, I want my body and mind back into the shape it was eight weeks ago.

I’m sure there will be be lots of Mums out there feeling stressed and fed up already with school holidays already upon us. If you’re one of them, perhaps by getting up earlier, having half an hour ahead of everyone else, may make all the difference to your day and your mind.

Time to go for an early morning walk, roping in some other Mums on the way. Who knows where it will lead you especially as you start feeling those lovely endorphins kicking in. 

If you are struggling or looking for some of those endorphins, find out more about personal training with me. I offer personal training in my own fully equipped gym or I can also provide online personal training plans.

Granny’s Welsh cakes live on!

There are so many Welsh cakes recipes, but I could never deviate from Granny’s recipe, as they are loved by all the family just the way they are.

Welsh cakes are cooked on a bakestone, of which I have two. The very best, my brother made for me years ago, it’s cast iron, very heavy but makes the most delicious Welsh cakes. The other I bought at a local cook’s shop, it’s made of a much lighter metal and is well travelled… so yet again was part of my check in allowance!

The recipe is easy, and yes, I have tried substituting the sugar with alternative sweeteners, it just doesn’t work, and as my health conscious children say, “it’s OK mum they’re homemade!”

Unfortunately you do need some kind of bakestone or flat cooking surface, I’ve tried using a flat frying pan, but that was a disaster.

Ingredients

  • 450 gm. Self Raising flour
  • 225 gm. Butter
  • 170 gm. Currants
  • 6 Tablespoons of Caster sugar
  • 2 Beaten Eggs

 

Method

  • Start by heating the bakestone over a low heat.
  • Rub the flour and butter together until they form fine breadcrumbs.
  • Gently fold in the sugar and currants.
  • Add the beaten eggs, and using a fork or your hand, gently make the mixture into a ball.
  • Roll out the mixture on a lightly floured board, to about 1cm thick or just slightly over, and using a medium sized cutter, cut out the Welsh cakes.
  • Cook on the bakestone for 2-3 minutes each side, the Welsh cake should feel firm but springy.
  • Cool on cooling rack.

This is the third batch I’ve made this week, and the heart shaped one is for Rafey (my grandson and number one Welsh cake fan).