Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Spring in Melbourne - blooming, bustling and bursting

Spring is upon us - one of the most dramatic seasonal changes we experience each year.
The weather puts on a spectacular display throwing the whole gamut at us; sun shining, wind blowing us off our feet, raining buckets, wintry cold and then warmth that gives us the promise of summer - usually all in one day! So how do we navigate our way through this remarkable time?

It’s helpful to remember that spring is a time of rebirth after the dormancy and introspection of winter. Just as the new leaves unfurl towards the sun, it is our time of opening up and embracing change, growth and movement. It is the season associated with the Liver energy which maintains the smooth flow of Qi throughout the body and mind. As spring warms up, it loosens our body and our energy increases - so it is a time of action, to bring those plans to fruition, to just ‘do it’.

Spring is the season connected to Liver and the Wood element and the associated emotions are frustration and anger - if you find yourself feeling 'stuck', try a form of exercise that suits you; yoga, dancing, walking, qi gong, swimming, anything that you enjoy - remember that you are shifting any blocked, livery, grumpy energy.
Another aspect of the Wood element is that it is brimming with ideas, imagination and creativity. Spring is the time for manifesting those ideas that have been brewing through winter.

In general, foods that are good for spring are light, warm and sweet (not refined sugar sweet). In early spring try cabbage, carrot, beetroot, lots of leafy green vegetables, lemons, shiitake mushrooms, whole grains, legumes and seeds. As the weather grows warmer include mint, asparagus, sprouts, peas, pine nuts and in late spring, cherries. As the season progresses eat less baked foods and more light soups, stir-fries, lightly cooked food and salads - lighten up your food to lighten up your mood.

Spring tips

  •  Simplify your diet and eat an abundance of vegetables – 2 to 3 servings twice a day.
  •  Start a regular exercise program that includes an outdoor activity to enjoy the beauty and breathe fresh air. Build strength, flexibility, resilience and health.
  • To nurture Liver energy and the eyes - look at the nourishing greenness of nature, gaze at distant vistas, drink it in.
  •  Wear a light scarf or jacket - please keep your neck covered. This is a vulnerable area where ‘wind’ can enter (making you vulnerable to colds and illness).
  •  See anger as a pathway to awareness - it is just energy, just as joy, sadness and fear are.
  •  Keep hydrated - drink warm water and touch of lemon juice through the day.
  •  Avoid coffee and try roasted dandelion root tea instead - It eases liver congestion, improves digestion, helps purify the blood and improve circulation, eases aching joints and helps to resolve skin conditions.

Beetroot, greens and goat's cheese salad

This salad is beautifully balanced and nourishing. The lentils are beneficial to the Heart and Kidney energy; the beetroot nourishes Liver Blood; the goat’s cheese promotes yin, whilst the spices counteract any Dampness that the cheese may create; walnuts support Kidney; and the delicious greens – parsley, mint, rocket and spinach – nourish and soothe the Liver energy.

2 medium beetroot,100ml olive oil, 1/4 tsp ground allspice, sprig of thyme, 1 bay leaf, white pepper, 100g puy lentils,1 tbsp chopped mint, 2 tbsp chopped parsley, juice of one lemon, sea salt, 4 tbsp of goat's cheese or fetta, 1/4 apple - cut into matchsticks, rocket leaves/baby spinach, toasted walnuts

Preheat the oven to 180C. Wrap the beetroot in foil and roast for 1 hour, or until soft enough that a skewer can be easily inserted. When cool enough to handle, peel the beetroot and dice into 1cm cubes. Combine with the olive oil. allspice, thyme, bay leaf and white pepper. Allow to marinate for at least an hour.
Meanwhile, cover the lentils with cold water, bring to the boil and strain. Cover with coater again and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the lentils are just cooked. Strain and toss the lentils with herbs, lemon juice and olive oil, and season with salt and white pepper.
Drain the beetroot, then mix it with the lentils. Serve topped with goat's cheese, apple, rocket/baby spinach and toasted walnuts.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Summer sweeties and a happy belly

Summer is a yang time, a time of expansion, warmth, outward activity and creativity. It is the season associated with the fire element and the Heart. The Chinese view the Heart as essentially concerned with the relationship to Spirit. When this connection is nurtured then all other relationships will flow smoothly. When our Heart is in harmony with everything then it’s radiance shines throughout our body, energy and mind. When there is imbalance you might experience
insomnia, intense dreaming and palpitations.
To be in harmony with the atmosphere of summer, it is good to eat foods that promote energy and activity and that gently cool summer heat. Take advantage of the beautiful produce available in this abundant season, such as: stone fruit, berries, cucumber, lettuce, rocket, radish, basil, tomato...just to name a few. During summer it is best to cook lightly, stir-frying, sautéing, steaming and simmering foods as quickly as possible.
It is very important to remember in this time of heat that too much cold, raw food can weaken our digestive function. Ice cold drinks, ice cream, too much raw food, juices and tropical fruit actually contract the stomach and slow down digestion. Drink cool (not refrigerated) fluids, make ice cream a special treat, and when eating a salad try to have cooked vegetables in it or eat the salad with a cooked meal. Light soups are an excellent way to keep your fluids nourished (try my Turkish Lentil Soup recipe on my website) while also supporting and warming digestion.

Summer Celebration Sweet

Summer is a time of parties and gatherings. Take this dessert along to your next get-together - it is easy to make, is gluten-free, has no processed sugar and tastes delicious. A long time favourite in my house from one of my long time favourite books - ‘Recipes to the Rescue’.

Berry Slice

Preheat oven to 180C

2 cups of brown rice flour or almond meal (or a combination of both)
1/2 cup of raw honey
3/4 cup tahini
Mix ingredients together and press into a tray.


2 cups of mixed berries - fresh or frozen
1-3 tbsp raw honey
11/2 tbsp arrowroot mixed in 2 tbsp water

Put berries and honey in a small pot and bring to a boil. When boiling, lower heat and stir in arrowroot until mixture is thick. When cool spread over base.
Decorate with desiccated coconut/flaked almonds. Bake at 180C for approximately 15 minutes or until coconut/almonds are brown.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Bees and dogs and dancing kids...

"Breathing in, I calm my body.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment,
I know this is a wonderful moment."

I was given this simple mantra 18 years ago by my then yoga/shiatsu teacher, Takao Nakazawa. It is a mantra originally created by the Vietnamese Buddhist monk/poet, Thich Nhat Hanh, a beautiful soul who writes simply and evocatively about meditation and mindfulness practice in our daily lives. This mantra focuses the mind on the breath and staying present in this very moment- not in the past, and not way off in the future - but here now, with the breath and who we are in this moment. 

It is powerful in it's simplicity - I have used this mantra in so many different circumstances to bring me back to myself, to help  clear away the unnecessary stories and chatter that can fill my mind and create distraction, worry or stress. I have used it whilst driving in busy traffic with a tantruming child in the back seat; just before a giving a shiatsu; trying to write a blog(!); and there have been times when I've woken in the night, to find that the 'great whale of doom' has swallowed me whole and the only thing that drags me out of it's belly is repeating this mantra and following the breath. 

What is the power of this mantra? Yes, it most definitely is the breath. The breath that brings us back into the body, back to our essence. But, it isn't only the physicality of our breath, it is what the breath is. It is our present moment. We aren't feeling our breath from the past or our breath from the future - we can only experience the breath right now, in the present. When we think of the past we can be filled with anger or sadness or grief, and when we project into the future, worry and fear loom over us in a nebulous cloud of 'what ifs'. But right now? Right now with the breath is ok. Right now doesn't have all the past's baggage or all the future's fears. It just is you with the breath and your very own infinite potential. It feels free and wild and calm and empty and full, all at the same time. It opens my eyes and ears and senses to everything within and around me: a bee on a dandelion flower, Maggie's joy as she swims, the beauty of a path full of gum leaves, my chest filled with laughter as Jinesh and Indigo dance....

So I take this opportunity to thank Thich Nhat Hanh for giving this beautiful mantra to us all - for giving us a simple tool to get back to the essence. He has touched many people with this act of generosity. Just over a week ago, Thich Nhat Hanh suffered a brain haemorrhage in France. As of yesterday, he seems to improving, showing attentiveness and strength - which is quite amazing for a man of 88. I dedicate my practice to him and his healing...he truly is a gift to the world.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

When things get a little too in-betweeny

Transition is a funny thing. It's that in-betweeny place of when you have decided that you need change and have identified a path, you then have to help it/make it/wait for it to come to fruition. It can be a place of fear, anxiety, uncertainty, frustration, restlessness, boredom, pain or even collapse. Some of us can embrace and accept the challenges others...well, let's just say that the process is not so pretty.

I, like many others, fall somewhere in the middle. I have an uneasy relationship with my old friend transition. Initially I am excited about the idea of change - I get excited when I find a path through, and initially I am philosophical about transition but, lordy, when that process of it coming to fruition takes too long, things get a little shaky. I start to doubt my choice and then many of the above emotions begin to surface. When I get caught up in these emotions, when I become the tail wagging the dog, life can feel a little difficult. When I step back and get a better view over my internal landscape and trust that these emotions are just part of the landscape of my and other's humanness, I feel connected to everyone and ultimately, a whole lot better.

Spring puts us through that transitional state every year. There we are, cruising through winter all nice and cosy and quiet, when we feel a little tap on our shoulder, a little tickle in our noses. We turn around and there is cheeky spring, calling us outside to play. We want to rush off and carouse, but energetically we are still in winter's dormancy and even though we can feel spring's changes, there is still a chill in the air, a sudden downpour or two to come and a wind that whips up when we least expect it. This is Melbourne after all.

So just as we need to accept our emotions when we are in the process of our personal change, so we need to look after ourselves and accept what is needed during spring's transition from yin to yang.

Food is a good place to start. It can heal our body. It can harmonise our energy and mind. It can warm our hearts when it brings loved-ones together.

Here is my version of a delicious spring pie based on a recipe from the marvellous wholefoods cook, Jude Blereau. Silverbeet, swiss chard or spinach need to be cooked with dairy due to their oxalic acid content, which hinders calcium absorption.

Hunza Pie
Serves 6-8

1 cup brown rice
1 egg, whisked
melted butter (or olive oil), for greasing


melted butter (or olive oil) for greasing
large bunch of swiss chard or silverbeet
Olive oil for frying
1 onion, finely diced
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
200g fresh ricotta
100g fetta, crumbled
1-2 tbsp lightly toasted pine nuts
3 mushrooms, finely chopped
1 egg
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 180C.Brush a 26cm pie dish with the melted butter or olive oil to lightly grease.

To make crust, wash rice, place in pot, cover with water (to 2cm above rice) and bring to the boil with lid on. Reduce heat and simmer until tender and liquid has been absorbed. Cool the rice for a few minutes then combine with the egg in a medium bowl and mix well. Press mixture over the base and sides of greased pie dish using the back of a spoon. Bake in pre-heated oven for 15 minutes.

To make the filling, wash chard/silverbeet well. Remove the stem and ribs right up into the leaf. Cut the tender ribs and stems into very fine slices (discard the tougher ribs and stems). Shake the leaves dry and cut into small slices.
Using a little olive oil, cook the onion,
garlic, chard ribs and stems and mush-rooms over a low heat, for about 7-8 min-utes or until the stems etc begin to soften. Turn into a mixing bowl.
Heat another teaspoon of olive oil in the frying pan. Add the chopped leaves and cook over a gentle heat until they are wilted and soft. Be careful not to over-cook them. When they are ready, drain off the liquid and add the leaves to the bowl. Add the egg, ricotta, fetta, pine nuts and black pepper to the mixture. Mix well.
Spoon the mixture into the brown rice crust and bake for a further 30 minutes.
Serve with beetroot chutney and a
delicious green salad.

And here is a picture of Maggie, Chino and Dusty being dogs in spring that will make you smile...

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Our Internal Garden needs some Lovin'

When I started this blog, I made a committment to myself to blog every 1-2 weeks. I thought that there may be times when I was busy and that target may get blurry - but I never thought that the time between blogs could possibly stretch to 2 months! I also never factored in how unsympathetic technology is to your goals and aspirations. I would appreciate it if someone could give my smartphone a good talking to (Lord knows I have). For 2 months it refused to upload my photos to my computer - I tried many ways and spoke to quite a few people to try to fix the problem - but nothing seemed to work. Then yesterday my lovely step-daughter took pity upon this poor old technophobe and in about 10 seconds had fixed my previously unfixable problem! Bless her! So here I am - back and ready to go.

Walking on the creek on Wednesday got me thinking - what is going on with this weather? I looked to the south and I saw this:

 I walked a little further and then looked north and saw this:

There were two seasons competing with each other - winter in the south and spring in the north. "That's just Melbourne", I thought, "Four seasons in one day, etc". And then I saw this:

And I thought, "That's right, wattle blooming in July. All very normal". But what is going on with this?

The daisies in my front garden are going bonkers! That only ever happens in spring - not in winter as far as I can remember. Feeling mildy baffled, I checked the current temperature for the northern suburbs and discovered it was 18.4 C! That doesn't sound like a usual Melbourne winter to me.

So with all this conflicting energy competing in our external environment, how is it affecting our internal environment - our general health and well-being?

Recently I have been seeing people in clinic with skin irritations, disturbed sleep and hayfever. All these symptoms are connected to Kidney energy (that is put under stress in winter) not being strong enough to ground the Qi and subsequently allowing the Liver energy - which governs Qi and can become imbalanced in spring - to force the Qi to the upper part of the body. I usually see these symptoms in spring, so obviously they have been exacerbated by this unseasonal weather.

How can we create some balance for our internal garden? A great way is to begin by nourishing the Kidney energy through:
  • Going to bed before 10pm
  • Spending some time each day just finding a quiet place and watching your breath
  • Walking in nature. Slowly
  • Eating healthy, nourishing, grounding foods such as lentil soup, fish stew, chicken soup, barley risotto, miso glazed fish - all with lots of vegies (especially the root variety) and wholegrains
The next step is to harmonise the Liver Qi by:
  • doing gentle exercise such as yoga, dancing, qi gong, walking
  • having fun
  • eating foods that are cleansing and support digestion - focusing on leafy greens, wholegrains, legumes and seeds
  • avoiding overly rich, greasy food that puts stress on the liver
Balance. That is the key. A bit of movement, some nourishment for the body mind and spirit, and you have a simple equation that adds up to a sustainable and healthy life.

And when I think of nourishment, a recipe I have been making lately for my beloveds comes to mind. It is a dish that warms the belly and when eaten in good company, the heart also. It is a traditional Iraqi pomegranate stew called Shorbat Rumman. The version I cook is from British food writer Mimi Spencer. Traditionally it is made with yellow split peas, but I find them hard to digest so I subtistute them with French puy lentils. Try it and feel it warm you down to your bones!

(Iraqi pomegranate stew)

2 tsp olive oil                   1 litre vegetable stock
1 large onion, diced              100g brown basmati rice
2 garlic cloves, crushed          1 cup of kale/chard, chopped
1 cinnamon stick, broken          2 spring onions, sliced
1 tsp ground cumin                1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp fenugreek                 1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
pinch of saffron strands          salt and pepper
100g puy lentils, washed,         handful of coriander, chopped
soaked and drained                handful of mint leaves, chopped
1 vegetable stock cube           

Heat oil in a large saucepan and saute onion until softened. Add garlic and spices and cook for a further few minutes, then add  puy lentils, stock cube and stock, and simmer for 45 minutes or until just cooked, stirring occasionally to check the stew is loose and and not sticking (add some water if so). Add rice and cook for a further 20-25 minutes, again watching the consistency. Stir in kale and chard, wait for that to soften and add spring onions, lemon juice, pomegranate molasses (this makes it special, so don't forget it!), salt and pepper. To serve scatter with coriander and mint and a final twist of cracked pepper.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Fish ladders and Buddha nature

My dog Maggie needed a walk on Monday and so did I. Not just a quick half an hour along the bike path, but a long, rambling wander somewhere different, somewhere to honour the glorious gift of sunshine that autumn had given us, somewhere that would help shake out the cobwebs, feel a little wildish and somewhere within a short drive. So after school drop-off, Maggie and I headed to the Darebin Parklands. It's still in the depths of suburbia, but there's something a little wild about it. There is space and rocky outcrops overlooking the creek and if you wander far enough on a week-day morning, it is highly likely that you won't see another person for quite a while. For me, that was perfect - I needed a little bit of space externally and internally to help me find a way of overcoming some obstacles that were proving very stubborn.

As I walked, I tried not to think too much - I trusted that being in nature would lead me back to myself; to that part of myself that knows the answers to all the kooky questions that life throws at me. And just as I came towards a creek crossing - there it was. The answer...and it was so simple it made me stop. One step at a time, m'luv. Oh. I had been getting so overwhelmed by all that needed to be done and achieved that I had missed this simple truth. All I needed to do was to slow down, take a breath and do what needed to be done - one step at a time. 

The next thing that happened made me laugh out loud. I walked another couple of metres and came upon a big rock with a plaque on it. This is what it said:

There must have been some very strong 'one step at a time' energy floating around that spot. Maybe it was a Songline. Maybe the country was singing to me. Maybe so many people had contemplated 'one step at a time' in front of that plaque that it had infused into space around it. Or maybe it was my Buddha nature. My still place. Fortunately it had spoken strongly to me and I needed to listen. So Maggie and I followed the trail, crossed the creek at the fish ladder and climbed to higher ground.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

The day before shopping day is also the mother of invention.

Monday was a busy day. Three clients to treat and a child at home recovering from a bout of some horrible autumn something or other. What she required at the end of the day was a soup that would nourish her post-illness and help her harmonise the autumn/Lung energy. My first thought was potato and leek soup...leeks are a fabulous autumn food - pungent energy, in season and tasty. The potato aspect bothered me a little. The teacher that first introduced me to shiatsu and inspired me to become a shiatsu practitioner, Takao Nakazawa (the founder of Oki Do in Melbourne), always used to say that potatoes made you stupid and lazy (hence the not-so-kind name 'couch potato'). Now, I love a carb-rich potato feast, but Takao's words always ring in my ears when I consider eating or cooking with too many - I definitely do not want to inflict stupidity and laziness upon myself and those that I love! 

When I looked in the cupboard for ingredients, there was a definite lack of spuds - I only had 3 and my recipe required 
1 kg. The day before shopping day predicament had struck again! Not much in the stores and a great cooking idea that must come to fruition. I searched a little further and the cooking goddesses were smiling upon me - I found at the bottom of the veggie drawer 3 parsnips and half a celeriac. What better way to nourish the Lung qi and yin than with a soup containing parsnip and celeriac - seasonal vegetables perfect for our body's energetic needs in late autumn.

I am pleased to say that Indigo loved her 'autumn nourishing' soup. In fact we all loved it and I thought that you may want to nourish yourselves and those you love with this recipe.

Autumn Belly-Warming Soup

2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 celeriac, peeled, cut into 1cm cubes
3 parsnips, peeled, cut into 1cm cubes
3  potatoes, peeled, cut into 1 cm cubes
1 leek, cut in half, washed well, finely sliced
1 medium brown onion, peeled, finely chopped
5 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 bay leaves
1 litre home-made chicken stock (or vegetable stock for vegetarians)
sea salt and fresh ground white pepper
2 tbsp flat leaf parsley, finely chopped for garnish

Heat oil in a large heavy-based pot. Add the celeriac, parsnips, potatoes, leek, onion, garlic and bay leaves and cook on a low heat, stirring frequently until the leeks have softened.

Add the stock and simmer, covered, for about 25 minutes or until the vegetables are very tender. Remove the bay leaves and puree the soup until smooth. Season to taste. 

Ladle into bowls, garnish with parsley and serve with crusty bread.