Monday, 31 August 2015

Coconut and Cacao Ice Cream Popsicles. 

For the past year or so I have secretly harbored a love affair for two rather specific foods - coconut and cacao. Funnily enough, I never liked either of these whilst growing up but nowadays you’ll almost always find me sneaking some kind of coconut or cacao into most things I eat. Quite simply, I think that the both of them are the epitome of deliciousness.

Unless you’re an obsessed foodie or healthy chocolate connoisseur, you’ll probably be wondering what the heck cacao is. You’ll probably also now be wondering how someone can be a healthy chocolate connoisseur because traditionally chocolate cancels out any kind of healthy label.

It was a rather traumatic day that I decided I seriously wanted to get healthier and lose some weight. Evidently that is a huge decision to make and commit to, but far more concerning for me was the prospect of having to seriously reduce my chocolate intake. I come from a long line of chocoholics. You could even go so far as to argue that to not be a chocoholic would be a failure to the family. In his own opinion, my dad likely considers himself the king of chocolate and I genuinely cannot think of a moment that dad has ever refused to eat something in which the main ingredient is chocolate. The apple absolutely did not fall very far from the tree because here I am in all my red-headed glory with a serious addiction to chocolate. Therefore, quite potentially the best day of my life was the one in which I discovered cacao.

Cacao is essentially the healthier older sibling of the more commonly known and used cocoa powder, which is traditionally the base ingredient for chocolate. However cacao has no added sugars, salt, or anything else and is simply the shelled and crushed seedpods of the cacao tree. It’s raw, it’s gluten free, dairy free, vegan, and it’s downright delicious. Conveniently it’s also a great source of potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, calcium, iron and copper – i.e. a whole bunch of minerals that your body needs to be healthy. The upside of all this is that it is 100% possible to be a healthy chocolate connoisseur (my unofficial title).

When you combine cacao with the equally delicious coconut and a few other natural, raw ingredients, you end up with these ice cream popsicles, which are so delicious that they almost shouldn’t be legal (not that I am biased or anything…). Perfect for a dessert without need for any guilt, or for a hot summer day, these ice creams are so healthy that you could probably even have one for breakfast, which is exactly what I plan on doing tomorrow morning (with no regrets, and also assuming that they survive the night – not likely!).


Ice Cream
400ml can coconut milk
1 tbsp raw cacao powder
3 tbsp pure sweetener (maple syrup/agave syrup)

1. Take the can of coconut milk and shake it up. Canned coconut milk has a tendency to separate into a more solid part and then a liquid, so by shaking the can you will combine those two parts ensuring that you have a thicker, creamier liquid, which is better for ice cream.
2. Pour the contents of the shaken can into a bowl. Add in 2tbsp of pure sweetener and mix well.
3. Take approx. 4 tbsp of the sweetened coconut mixture and set aside.
4. Take some popsicle moulds (readily available from kitchen shops and supermarkets) and carefully pour the sweetened coconut mixture into the moulds, filling them up to the top. Place a paddlepop stick in the centre, being careful to ensure it doesn’t sink down too far! Then, place in the freezer to set for at least a few hours, preferably overnight.
5. Take the coconut mixture that you previously set aside and add in the cacao powder and 1 tbsp more sweetener. Mix this really well until all the powder is fully mixed in. I used a blender to do this but that isn’t necessary, though I would recommend if you’re a bit lazy! The chocolate coconut mixture will keep well in a sealed container in the fridge whilst the ice creams fully set.

Raw Chocolate
1 tbsp raw cacao powder
1 tbsp pure maple syrup
2 tbsp coconut oil (in its liquid form)
Small handful chopped raw hazelnuts

1. Remove the frozen ice creams from the freezer and gently pry them from their mould. Then, dip the tip into the chocolate coconut mixture and set on a flat plate/tray. When all the ice creams have been dipped, place back in the freezer while you make the raw cacao to drizzle over the top.
2. In a small bowl, mix the three ingredients together really well. If you’re in a cold climate, sometimes the coconut oil will set a little, in which case a bowl of warm water underneath will keep it fully liquid (although this will then not make it fully raw as such).
3. Remove the ice creams from the freezer and, using a spoon, drizzle the raw cacao mixture over the top.
4. Sprinkle some chopped hazelnuts over the top of the cacao drizzle (quickly otherwise it will set). Repeat for all the ice creams and then return them to the freezer for a few minutes to set the raw cacao drizzle. Keep in an airtight container in the freezer until ready to serve (my bet is that they won’t be there for very long!)

Saturday, 1 August 2015

How to Stay Healthy when Travelling.

I am a firm believer that travelling is absolutely one of the best things ever. I’m personally afflicted with a serious case of wanderlust and seem to find myself in a perpetual cycle of either saving every cent that I can for an adventure or spending all my money on plane tickets to far-flung destinations. I’ve just returned home from my most recent adventure; a 5-week solo trip in Europe through the UK, Germany, Czech Republic, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland and Sweden and then 10 days in Thailand with my dear mother. Yes, I’m quite well aware of the fact that my travel itinerary is extremely random but I wanted to really go off the beaten track and see some parts of the world that are unique and less travelled. I also have a personal interest in Post-Soviet States, so I’ve been hanging out to visit the Baltics for quite some time now. I had the absolute time of my life wandering about, but from the outset one of my biggest worries was that all my hard work in being healthy and losing weight would go out the window when I was on the road. I didn’t want all that hard work to go to waste but at the same time I was absolutely not going to deprive myself of the culinary delights of Europe. Here’s a few tips and tricks and tidbits of advice for the health conscious traveller that are tried and tested because I’ve managed the mean feat of returning home without any unwanted extra baggage (aside from all the clothes…)!

1. Fresh Fruit is your Friend
I honestly cannot put into words how much I love all the fresh fruit that seems to be available whenever and wherever I have travelled. If you’re in Europe in the summer, berries are absolutely everywhere, which is basically a dream come true! In Asia, you’ll find mango and banana and other tropical delights on effectively every single street corner and whilst I’ve never been to the Americas, I can only assume they too have their fair share of food markets and street vendors with fresh produce. When you’re on the road, fresh fruit is not only quick, easy and inexpensive, but also really good for keeping up all those vitamins and minerals which you’ll need if you don’t want to get sick. When I was in Europe, I would head out every morning and wander the streets (usually for not very long) before stumbling upon a local grower selling their produce. In actual fact there is a high possibility that I single handedly sustained the European berry industry whilst there because German/Finnish/Swedish strawberries are pretty much the most delicious thing ever.

Fresh German raspberries in Bamberg. YUMMO!
2. There is Nothing Better than Being Outdoors
Sure museums and exhibitions and castles and shopping malls are fun and absolutely worth visiting, but there is simply no better way to see the world and learn about a new place than being outdoors in the streets, in parks or sitting outdoors in a café observing the local people go about their life. People-watching is one of the best ways to just absorb and learn about the local way of life and the best place to people watch would absolutely have to be the local park, which is conveniently also a fantastic source of fresh air. I spent many afternoons eating fresh berries whilst sitting in the sunshine in the various parks of Europe which was a fantastic way to get outside, get some fresh air, partake in some casual people-watching and most importantly, get a dose of Vitamin D!

3. Walk Whenever and Wherever you Can
Whilst it is incredibly tempting to jump on the metro, catch a bus or hail a cab, you will almost always find that the extra time and effort to walk instead will be worth it. This is especially true for big cities such as London where you will often find that walking between major sights instead of catching the tube is not only cheaper and better for you, but also quite often quicker! Obviously it is far better health-wise to walk and you would be surprised how easy it is to walk a few kilometers in a day whilst sightseeing. And, because the sights are so interesting and there are so many new things to see and do, you’ll rarely realize just how far you’ve actually walked! Walking between sorbet shops is also an excellent way to simultaneously indulge in some delicious food whilst burning some calories! Win-win situation!!

4. Indulge in some Treats Every now and Then Because Moderation is Key
Speaking of sorbet, you should absolutely indulge in some treats when you’re on the road. So much of the experience travelling is in sampling the local food which often tends to be on the not-so-healthy side of the spectrum, which is unfortunate, however a simple reality of life. But, life is no fun without some treats, so go ahead and indulge in whatever the local delicacy is, but keep in mind that moderation is key. If you try and avoid all the treats, you’ll almost always find that one day you will lose your willpower and binge eat all the bad stuff at once and leave yourself feeling sick. Indulging every now and then in smaller amounts is a far more sustainable and healthy way to eat.

It wouldn't be a proper trip to Europe without some sorbet!
5. Start your Day with a Walk or a Run
This is absolutely my number one piece of advice for anyone travelling. A lot of people consider a morning walk/run off-limits when on a holiday but I discovered that getting outdoors for some morning activity was the best way to stay fit whilst on the road and also had the added bonus of effectively allowing me to go on a city tour without all the tourists. I usually did a quick scan of Google Maps the night before to get an approximate idea of the direction I wanted to head off running the next morning and then I’d wake and head off the next day. So many people sleep in and then head off to the tourist hotspots along with all the other tourists, meaning they get stuck in a crush of people. By getting up a bit earlier, I not only got some quality exercise into my schedule, but I also managed to see large parts of the cities I visited before breakfast meaning I had a better idea of what was worth visiting and dedicating time to later that day. I also got some of the best pictures whilst running by stopping for a few moments at major sights to snap a picture and enjoy the moment before any of the tourists arrived.
6. Always Eat a Quality and Wholesome Breakfast
BREAKFAST IS KING. There is truly nothing more important than having a quality, wholesome breakfast before a day of travelling, sightseeing or activity. This is especially true if you are travelling on a budget because if you skip breakfast you’ll inevitably find your money being poured into buying snacks all day long because of constant hunger. Many hotels and hostels include free breakfast these days and even if yours does not, breakfast is one of the easiest meals to find at an affordable price. I always started my day with a feast of fresh local fruit, which is the perfect source of energy for a day of exploring.
Breakfast in Lithuania.
7. Shopping = Cardio
I have a shopping addiction that I’ve generally always considered a bad habit, however this is not necessarily so because when you add up all those steps taken around the shops hunting down the perfect pair of shoes, you’ll often find that you have done a fair bit of walking. This not only justifies the need to buy a new pair of shoes because you wore the other ones out but is also great exercise! Additionally, whilst it may seem a pain, lugging all those extra clothes around in your suitcase is also good weights training. I know this because I left with effectively no upper body strength but after 6 weeks dragging my 30kg suitcase up and down flights of stairs in apartment buildings, I think I almost rival the Incredible Hulk in terms of my arm muscles.

8. Walking Tours are the Best Things Ever

Last but not least, in most major towns and cities around the world you will find that the local tourism board offers free walking tours that take in the major sights. Even when the tours are not free, they will pretty much always be very cheap for what they are. A walking city tour is a great way to tick of all the must see sights, hear a guide explain the local history, get some great pictures and sneak in some exercise. Often walking tours take place in the morning, which is perfect when travelling in the summer because you will avoid the heat of the day. Tour guides are also usually very knowledgeable about the best food destinations, so if you head off for a walking tour in the morning, you can get the low-down on the best restaurants in town for lunch!
House of the Blackheads in Riga, Latvia. I took this whilst on a free walking tour simultaneously getting some exercise and my dose of local knowledge for the day.