Our Journey

Hi and welcome! I thought I’d better introduce myself and my family.
I’m Simone and I’m married to Stephen. I’m originally from UK and my husband is from NZ. I’m a qualified Social Worker and trained in UK. I met Stephen in Birmingham in 2004 and we moved to NZ back in 2009 after we had our 1st son in 2006. We then went on to have 2 more children, another boy in 2015 and a daughter in 2017. Yes the last two are close together; 18 months apart in fact! We now live in beautiful New Plymouth, Taranaki. I am fortunate that I am able to stay at home with our children.
We’ve been eating plant-based food for a month now and we’re loving it. Well, the children and I are loving it. My husband misses meat and does eat it when he’s at work. I’m sure he sneaks in a pie once a week. He also still has milk in his coffee and for his weetbix (it is like cardboard!) He can’t stand almond milk, and that’s ok. I’m working on alternatives for him to try; this is a learning curve for all of us after all. Although Stephen isn’t 100% plant-based yet, he does eat all the meals I cook at home and he’s supportive of the change.
We changed to this way of eating for a number of reasons. One is for our health, the second is for the environment and third is the animals. I have a condition called Sarcoidosis and I recently had to have tests as I found a lump in my breast. Turns out the Sarcoidosis has spread throughout my body in my lymph nodes. It’s an auto immune disorder which causes inflammation. After doing lots of research about my condition and finding out that there is no cure; I concluded that I needed to change my and my family’s’ diet and lifestyle.
Now I come from an African background where meat, starch and vegetables are the normal diet. I’ve eaten meat, dairy and animal products all my life, but I’ve known for a long time now that they aren’t that great for our health. I needed a reason to change my diet and my condition was it.  A good friend of mine had embarked on a similar journey, so she suggested some documentaries to watch to get me started. I have to say, these documentaries have changed my life! If you’d like to watch any, they are: What the Health, Forks over Knives, Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead and Cowspiracy.
What is the WFPB (whole foods plant-based) diet? Well if the food has a mum and dad don’t eat it! I love that phrase from Forks over knives. Whole foods are foods which haven’t been processed; the whole apple, the bean or grain. Plant based means food which comes from plants and not animals, so no meat, dairy, honey or eggs. Eating WFPB also avoids oils and refined sugars. I love the Forks over knives webpage as it explains it so much more eloquently!
So here on my blog I’ll be sharing our journey, how to start eating a whole foods plant-based diet, recipes, information, places to shop, places to eat, our daily struggles, meal planning, ideas for the kids, lunchbox fillers and anything else fun!
Whether you’re thinking about changing to this way of eating, converted already, want to incorporate more plant-based meals into your diet or you just want more information come and join me.

This week I was excited to be interviewed by Taranaki Community News. It’s great to be featured by a local news outlet who’s focus is on community issues, local projects and businesses.

I love that mainstream news outlets are starting to report positive stories about the plant based lifestyle. The more we talk about it, the less extreme it becomes.

It’s very humbling to be asked to share my story; I hope you enjoy reading it.

Here’s the link:

https://taranakicommunitynews.com/2019/03/08/cooking-with-plants/

Potatoes are one of my favourite vegetables. They so versatile, but also very filling and contain vitamin C, vitamin B6, vitamin A, fibre, potassium, magnesium and folate (vitamin B9].

We love hashbrowns, especially the crunchy bits on the outside. They go with anything and you can eat them anytime!

In my quest to cook them without oil, I discovered that using my sandwich maker or grill produced a crispy result while still being fluffy inside.

Depending on how many people you’re feeding, you’ll need to either cook 2 batches or like me, use both the sandwhich maker and the George foreman grill. This recipe makes enough to feed 2 adults and 3 children. I use 2 potatoes per person, so you can adjust that number as you need to. You can also sub some potatoes for zucchini, kumera, onion and carrot.

I top ours with pan fried vegetables cooked in liquid seasoning and fresh garlic. You can add anything you like!

Ingredients:

10 medium potatoes (any variety)

1/4 cup chopped parsley (or any fresh herbs)

2 chopped garlic cloves

1/4 cup nutritional yeast

2 tsp onion powder

1 tsp mustard powder

Method:

Pre heat your sandwich maker and/or grill to toast or medium setting

Scrub the potatoes and grate them into a clean tea towel

Squeeze the water from the potatoes

Place all the ingredients into a large bowl and mix everything together, making sure the potatoes are well coated

Spread half of the mixture onto the grill, making sure it is even. Repeat with the other grill if using

Close the grill or sandwich maker ensuring the lid is flat. Cook for approximately 15 minutes (each machine is different so adjust cooking time as needed). Be careful not to lift the lid too early. If the hashbrowns haven’t crisped up enough you’ll pull it apart.

Carefully remove your hashbrowns and enjoy on its own with a dipping sauce or top with your favourite vegetables.

The best bit is that you only need to gently wipe you machine, as no oil is required!

Simone’s Plant Based Cooking Classes are your gateway to creating and eating vibrant, mostly organic and healthy vegan food.

I believe that food should serve your body and mind well. The plant based lifestyle is a way of fueling yourself that is enjoyable, simple and sustainable.

This 3 hour transition class will give you the information, tools, motivation and recipes to start your own journey into discovering plant based foods.

The topics we’ll cover are:

* The science

* What is a plant based diet?

* Discover your why & motivations

* What to eat?

* How to start

* How to include your family

* Recipes

* Shopping lists

* Goal setting & planning
The cost of the workshop is $100 per person and includes:

* A work book with all the information you need, including motivational tips, resources and useful websites.

* My ebook of family friendly recipes (worth $25)

* Nibbles & light dinner
Numbers are limited to 10, so book early as places will fill up fast. Come alone or bring a friend, but you’ll leave with a new community of friendship and support.

It will be held at @the open space in New Plymouth 3pm – 6pm.

Email or call me to book your space.

Christmas is just around the corner. If you love chocolate as much as we do, then you’ll love this Christmas themed treat. I serve it with a platter of other goodies but you can serve it alone. I’ll also be giving away little bags as presents for my kids’ teachers. If you can resist eating it, you could wrap the pieces up for your tree decorations. 

I use 90% cocoa dark chocolate drops as its not too sweet, but you can use whatever you like. The cranberries add a chewy sweetness and the raspberry powder gives a sharp, sweet pop which you’ll love.

This recipe makes enough to line a 9 by 9 inch square pan. It comes out quite thin, so if you want thick chunks, simply double or triple the amount of chocolate you use! 

Ingredients:

1 cup dark chocolate drops 

2 tbsp almond milk

1/4 cup cranberries 

1/8 cup pistachios, crushed 

1 tsp Fresh As Raspberry powder 

Method:

Bring a small saucepan of water to the boil, with a bigger bowl on top 

Line your rectangular tray 

Add the chocolate and milk to the bowl and stir occasionally until melted. If the chocolate is too thick, add a little more milk

Once melted, pour the chocolate into your lined pan. Sprinkle over the cranberries, pistachios, then the raspberry powder 

Place the tin into the freezer for 20 mins until the chocolate is solid again

Once solid, remove the paper from the tin and roughly chop the slab into pieces

The slab will keep in an air tight container for a few weeks, but it won’t last that long! 

Blueberry & apple chia jam

Jam on toast, jam sandwiches, peanut butter and jam on crumpets……oh the childhood memories!

My kids love jam too, so I wanted to make sure they could still have it when we changed our diet.

This isn’t the traditional jam you’re used to. It’s not loaded with sugar and the chia seeds provide fibre, omega 3 fatty acids, carbohydrates, protein, antioxidants and calcium. That’s a whole lot of goodness for very little effort and huge taste benefits!

We love it on spelt & almond scones, pancakes and porridge. You can use any fruit you like, but I like to use frozen berries as a base because they’re available all year round.

Ingredients:

1 cup frozen blueberries

¼ cup chia seeds

1 grated apple, skin on

2 tbsp pure maple syrup (optional)

Method:

Cook the blueberries and apple with the pure maple syrup until soft

Add to a blender and pulse until smooth

Transfer to a jar and mix through the chia seeds

Allow to set in the fridge for at least 30 minutes hour before using

The jam will keep in the fridge for a week. Keep in mind that it doesn’t contain sugar to preserve it, so it won’t keep for more than a week.

Sub the pure maple syrup for any other liquid sweetener you like.

Sub the blueberries for any frozen fruit you like.

If using fresh fruit, be sure to cook it until soft with a little water before blending.

Feel free to blend the chia seeds with the fruit for a smoother consistency.

Enjoy!

Tofu; you either love it or hate it! We love it, but it hasn’t always been that way. We first tried it in an Asian style soup and it was simply cubed and dropped into the broth for a few minutes before it was served. It really didn’t taste of anything, and the texture was rubbery.  We’ve tried semi firm tofu cooked like scrambled egg. It’s broken up in the pan while cooking and you add flavour and turmeric for colour. We don’t like it like this either; it feels too much like egg in my mouth.

I came across this method while researching other ways to cook it. A recipe I saw dried the tofu in the oven on a low heat for a few minutes before frying it. The author was cheating, so as not to have to press the water out of the tofu for hours! So I thought, why not just bake it in the oven without oil.

Tofu is bland! It doesn’t taste of the soy beans it’s made from; it doesn’t taste like anything so you have to season or marinate it, so it takes on flavour. I use various methods of marinating depending on what I’m using the tofu for. This recipe makes the tofu nice and crispy, perfect for stir fry’s, wraps, summer rolls and burgers.  Tofu is very high in protein and it an excellent meat substitute.

I only use 1 packet of tofu in this recipe and it serves all 5 of us. Most recipes call for pressing the water out of the tofu block for at least an hour. This is because it has a high water content and most recipes deep or shallow fry it in oil. I don’t bother with that (who’s got that sort of time?!) Besides, we need a little water left in the tofu to dry out in the oven, making it crispy.

The picture along with this recipe shows the tofu on top of stir fried rice noodles and veggies. We don’t mix it into the noodles as it will go soggy and we don’t want that.

I use the Tonzu brand as it’s organic and made in NZ. You can find out all about this brand here: http://www.tonzu.co.nz/products/organic-tofu/

I prefer the Braggs brand of nutritional yeast, but you can use whatever you like. If you don’t like nutritional yeast, you can sub it for any other seasoning flakes. Onion flakes are a nice substitute. I wouldn’t use powder, as it will clump when it comes into contact with the tofu and the water. You can also change the All Purpose seasoning to suit your preference. This substitute can be a powder, it will sit on top of the previous seasoning layer.

Ingredients: 

1 pack Tonzu tofu (or any other brand of firm tofu)

5 tbsp Braggs Nutritional Yeast

1 tbsp Masterfoods All Purpose Seasoning

Optional:

Chilli flakes

Onion powder

Celery Salt

Method:

Pre-heat your oven to 200º Celsius

Drain the tofu block, being careful not to break it

Place a clean, dry tea towel on a chopping board

Put the tofu block onto the centre of the towel and cover with another clean, dry folded tea towel

Place something heavy on top of the tofu. I use 3 or 4 cook books. Leave it for 10 minutes

Line a baking tray with baking paper or a silicone mat*

Pour the nutritional yeast into a shallow bowl or plate

Remove the tofu and place it on a dry chopping board, or turn over the one you already used

With a sharp, straight bladed knife slice the tofu width ways, into 1cm thick slices and cut each slice in half

Using your hand, carefully coat the slices in the nutritional yeast, ensuring they are evenly coated. Place them onto the baking tray leaving a small gap

Once all the slices are coated and on the tray, sprinkle them with the All Purpose seasoning. They don’t need to be completely covered

Cook for 20-25 minutes until the edges are brown and the slices are crispy. There is no need to turn them over during cooking

Remove from the oven and try not to eat them all before you serve them with the rest of your meal!

*If you use a silicone mat, you will need to turn the slices over after 20 minutes to get both sides crispy.

Enjoy x

 

20180213_165631.jpg
Tofu cut into strips for wraps

 

 

We love lasagne so I’ve been trying some new recipes and this one is our favourite.

There’s no story today, just the recipe because its amazing!

Ingredients:

For the filling

1 red onion, finely chopped

2 small carrots, grated

2 celery stalks, chopped

1 tsp dried mixed herbs

1 cup dried brown lentils, rinsed and drained

1 tbsp Braggs liquid seasoning

2 tbs balsamic vinegar

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 tbsp white miso paste

1 700 ml jar of passata + the empty jar filled with water

1 tin chopped tomatoes

1 medium orange kumera, sliced into 1 cm discs (any thicker and you’ll have to pre cook them)

3 dried wholemeal lasagne sheets, ready to cook

 

For the cheese sauce:

2 cups cauliflower, steamed

1.5 cups cashews, soaked for at least 2 hours (overnight is best)

1/2 cup Braggs nutritional yeast

2 cloves garlic

1 tbsp Dijon mustard

2 tsp Braggs liquid seasoning

3/4 cup of water

*Vegan Parmesan for the topping

 

Method:

Pre heat your oven to 200° and move the rack to the centre

Add all the filling ingredients to a large saucepan and stir

Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to low and cover

Cook for 25 minutes until the lentils are nearly cooked. Check the sauce every 10 minutes. You may need to add extra water, half a cup at a time to ensure the sauce doesn’t dry out and the lentils don’t become gluggy. Stir after every addition of water

Remove the lid and continue cooking until the liquid has reduced to a thick sauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning to your taste

Once cooked, remove from the heat and allow to cool

In a high powered blender, add all the cheese sauce ingredients, (except the vegan Parmesan) and pulse until smooth. Taste and adjust the seasoning to your taste. Add a little more water if needed to ensure the sauce is smooth

In a large rectangular oven proof dish, add 1/2 of the filling and shake the dish to ensure it is even

Layer the kumera on top of the lentil filling

Layer the remaining lentil filling on top of the kumera

Layer the lasagne sheets onto the lentil filling, breaking them to fit

Spoon the cheese sauce onto the lasagne sheets and ensure all of the sheets are covered

Sprinkle the sauce with vegan Parmesan

Cook in the middle of the oven for 45-50 minutes until the kumera is cooked (check with a fork)

Once cooked, allow to rest for 10 minutes before cutting

Serve with a salad and enjoy!

 

  • If your oven dish is small, adjust the amount of lentil filling you use. Otherwise it will drip all over your oven
  • Place a clean baking tray on the shelf below just in case of dripping
  • If you’re using tinned lentils, reduce the cooking time of the filling. It will only take 10-15 minutes for the veggies to cook. Also reduce the amount of water you add by half. You won’t need to add any extra water while cooking either
  • If you don’t use all of the cheese sauce, store it in the fridge for up to a week. It makes a lovely pasta sauce

 

 

 

 

True or False: The iron that our bodies require is the same element found in a cast-iron skillet.

 

 

This question fools a surprising number of people. Iron is greatly misunderstood as a nutrient, especially when it comes to vegan and plant based diets.

The mineral is found all over the earth and is essential to red blood cells transporting oxygen and nutrients to every cell in our body, connecting us directly to the land we live on. Pretty amazing, right?

But iron deficiency is a very common nutrient deficiency. Symptoms include fatigue, pale skin, weakness and inability to maintain body temperature. And as vegans, it’s worth paying special attention to make sure we’re getting enough.

So how much iron do we actually need?

Recently in the U.S., the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) gave new recommendations for iron, specifically for vegetarians, that are 1.8 times higher than the general population. As Jack Norris points out, this increase is not based on actual research on vegetarians, but simply because the iron in plant foods is not as easily absorbed as the iron in animal products (more on this in just a minute).

As a result, many experts in vegetarian nutrition believe that these recommendations are much higher than needed.

My take on it: if you eat a varied, healthy plant-based diet that includes a balance of grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, and fruits and vegetables — and follow the recommendations below — I don’t believe it is necessary to keep close track of iron intake. As I always say however; I am not a nutritionist so please consult your doctor if you have concerns about your iron levels.

Iron from plants vs. iron from animals

To better understand what we need to do to ensure our bodies are getting enough iron, we first have to accept two facts about iron — painful as they are for vegetarians and vegans to hear:

  1. There are two types of iron — heme, which is found in animal foods, and non-heme, which is from plants. It is true that heme iron (the kind from animals) is better absorbed than non-heme iron.
  2. Vegetarians and vegans may have lower iron stores than omnivores.

But don’t fret over these issues. We’ll see that in fact it’s not all that difficult to get the iron you need on a plant-based diet.

As for #2, it’s important to note that while vegetarians have lower stores of iron than omnivores, they do not have higher rates of anemia. In the research, many vegetarians’ stores are “low-normal,” but this does not mean less than ideal! Actually, there’s some evidence that says low-normal iron stores are beneficial: improved insulin function and lower rates of heart disease and cancer.

How to get enough iron on a plant-based diet

You can start by making sure that you’re eating foods that contain substantial amounts of iron. Some of the best plant sources of iron include:

  • Legumes: lentils, soybeans, tofu, tempeh, lima beans
  • Grains: quinoa, fortified cereals, brown rice, oatmeal
  • Nuts and seeds: pumpkin, squash, pine, pistacio, sunflower, cashews, unhulled sesame
  • Vegetables: tomato sauce, swiss chard, collard greens,
  • Other: blackstrap molasses, prune juice

But here’s the key: It’s not how much iron you consume, but how well you absorb it.

So paying attention to make sure you’re absorbing your iron is just as important as making sure you’re taking in enough. And fortunately there is a lot you can do to increase the absorption of non-heme iron!

5 ways vegetarians and vegans can absorb more iron

1. The less you eat, the better it is absorbed.

Seriously! I know people who take one 15 milligram pill a day and think they are covered, but it doesn’t work that way. When consuming higher amounts of iron at one time, the percentage that our bodies absorb is actually lower than when your meal contains only a few milligrams. Plant-based foods may contain less iron than animal foods, but eating smaller amounts throughout the day is a great way to increase absorption.

2. Eat non-heme iron foods with vitamin C foods, and absorption can increase as much as five times.

Five times! Culturally these combinations are already happening: think beans and rice with salsa, falafel with tomatoes and hummus with lemon juice. The iron in beans, grains and seeds is better absorbed when combined with the vitamin-C found in fruits and vegetables. Bonus: some iron sources, like leafy greens, broccoli, and tomato sauce already contain vitamin-C.

3. Avoid coffee and tea when eating high-iron meals.

Coffee (even decaf!) and tea contain tannins that inhibit iron absorption. I recommend avoiding them an hour before or two hours after your meal.

4. Cast-iron skillets increase iron absorption.

The answer to the true or false question is true! Cooking with an old school cast-iron skillet increases the iron in your meal — especially when you cook a vitamin-C containing food in it.

Even better, a cast-iron skillet purchase puts you in the realm of official serious cook. I bought mine almost 10 years ago for $8 and it is one of my most valued possessions. (Yes, I’m that much of a food nerd that a skillet is one of my most valued possessions!)

5. It pains me to say this, but you may want to avoid spinach as an iron source.

Spinach contains oxalates that block absorption. Sucks, right? There is some disagreement in the research about this, but with all of those other iron-containing plant foods, why not try some new ones?

And for the record, even if you take an iron supplement, you should still follow the advice above.

Iron doesn’t have to be a problem in a plant-based diet

Follow these principles, eating good sources of iron throughout the day and keeping up with the absorption principles above, and you’ll find that it’s not hard to get enough iron in your diet, even as a vegetarian or vegan.

All of that said, iron is one of the few nutrients where a deficiency both immediately affects your health and is detectable, so if you have any iron-deficiency symptoms I recommend getting blood tests with your doctor. It is affordable, reliable and easy to interpret. And iron levels bounce back quickly when using the methods above or supplementation.

I’ll leave you with a fun fact about iron in plant-based diets (well, fun to a food nerd at least):

Some research shows that vegans have higher iron levels than vegetarians.

How?

The difference between vegetarians and vegans is eggs and dairy products, and the latter contain almost no iron. When someone goes from vegetarian to vegan they are replacing dairy products with plant-based ones, all of which contain some iron, therefore increasing the total iron in the diet.

With this information and a little effort you can get all of the iron you need from plants to be healthy and strong!

I only started making smoothie bowls a few months ago. I would see so many elaborate and stunningly beautiful pictures of them on Instagram and think ‘I don’t have time for that’.  I was so in awe of those amazing photos, I thought I’d give them a go. I spend around 10 minutes making them, with 2 toddlers and a tween telling me they’re hungry. If I can do it, you can too!

We love smoothies, but they can be a bit boring. My children love bright colours and food which looks different and fun. You can dress up a smoothie bowl with anything you have in your fridge and pantry. I use a mixture of grains, nuts, seeds and fruit. My kids love a smiley face on top of the brightly coloured base mixture. The trick to the floating face, is to make sure the smoothie is thick. You won’t be drinking it through a straw and you don’t want the toppings to sink! I like to use frozen bananas to make ‘nice cream’, which is nice and thick.

A smoothie bowl is typically topped with nuts, seeds and fruit which provide essential nutrients, vitamins and protein. Some people only use fruit and/or protein powder in the smoothie itself. That doesn’t keep my kids full for long at all. My favourite tummy filling, protein loaded things to add are:

* soaked oats

* cooked quinoa

* cooked buckwheat

* cooked kumera (sweet potato)

* Cannellini Beans

Mix it up a bit and try something different each time. I don’t use plant milk in smoothies, I only use water. This is only because almond milk is expensive. Water works just as well and if I want a creamier consistency, I use avocado.

If you or you children haven’t tired spirulina powder before, just try a little bit first and look out for a tummy upset. It isn’t recommended for children under 1 yr, so please consult a professional before giving it to your baby.

I hope you have as much fun creating these bowls as I do.

This recipe make 4 smoothie bowls. I make individual smoothies in my nutri bullet.

Ingredients:

2 cups rolled oats, soaked overnight in 1 cup almond milk

4 tsp spirulina powder

4 heaped tsp ground flaxseed

4 bananas

4 tsp chia seeds

4 tsp sunflower seeds

4 tsp blueberry & apple jam

8 tsp peanut butter

1/4 cup water

Pure maple syrup, optional (I add a tsp to each smoothie to dull the taste of the spirulina powder)

Method:

In the blender add: 1/2 cup of the soaked oats, half a banana, 1 tsp of spirulina powder, 1 heaped tsp of flaxseed, 1/4 cup water

Blend until smooth

Pour into a bowl and top with your favourite toppings and enjoy!

 

 

 

I love sundays. We always have a family outing in the mornings; today was spent at the beach. While the toddlers slept this afternoon, I got to cooking. It was a mega cook up for next week’s lunches.

I made:

1. crispy baked chick peas. They marinated for 2 days in braggs liquid seasoning, pure maple syrup and liquid smoke. They are so delicious, I had to force myself not to eat them all.

2. Brocolli and spinach tots. I used chickpea flour instead of breadcrumbs and they turned out absolutely delicious!

3. Blueberry and apple chia jam. I added the chia seeds after I had blended the fruit. It sets in the fridge and is good to eat after 30 minutes. It’s the easiest jam I’ve ever made!

4. Spelt flour and raisin scones. With only 4 ingredients, these scones only took 5 minutes to make and cook in 10! They’re lovely with the jam.

5. Date and peanut butter chocolate chip cookies. I use buckwheat flour for these cookies, as it creates an amazing texture alongside the peanut butter. I use just enough flour to hold everything together. They melt in your mouth.

6. Date, almond and oat cookies with vanilla are a favourite.

7. Potato curry balls coated in buckwheat flour and breadcrumbs.

8. Dinner was the potato curry mix as patties with rice and veggies.

I’ll only need to add veggies and fruit to the lunchboxes now which will make life much easier.

If you’d like any of these recipes, look out for my next lunchbox workshop!

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