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Hello, again

Well, hi there.

It’s been nearly a year since I last blogged, although if you follow me on Instagram (@eatwellwithmoira) you will see that I’m still posting photos of food and bits of life. Without getting into all the yucky details, I want to share that last year was the most stressful and challenging year of my life for emotional and logistical reasons, luckily not for health reasons.

One message that kept coming into my head, after suddenly finding myself without my partner of 20 years, and raising my two children on my own, was the age-old expression: If life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Okay, seriously now… When life truly gives you lemons, those lemons usually sit in your fruit basket rotting, because for at least a brief while, you are so lost or panicked dealing with the new paradigm and day-to-day demands, that lemonade is the last thing on your mind.

Once I’d made it through the roughest patch, I thought about starting to share some recipes, and essentially just picking up where I left off without any explanation. But that’s not me… I don’t just pretend everything is rosy when it’s bleak, or pretend I’m feeling positive when I’m really feeling sad, angry or frightened. And although I’m through the worst of it, I think there’s a lot more value in me sharing my experience in an honest, straightforward way. For the vast majority of us, our lives don’t always go as planned. Some of us handle things better than others. Some of us learn to handle challenges better over time. Some of us may always be challenged.

Just when I started seeing the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel and a clear path forward, COVID-19 arrived. The impact to work, my children, etc. resulting from the pandemic, has added to the stress I’m still dealing with in my new life paradigm, while working more hours, sorting out my finances and raising two children on my own. I experienced a brief, this can’t be happening now moment, and for a split second I wanted to throw up my hands, throw myself face down on the sofa, and later, move to a remote corner of the globe.

Instead, it made me think I want to share my situation with friends and followers. I want you to know I’ve endured a lot of pain and uncertainty, but I recognize many people are going through what I am, and that whatever pain and uncertainty are relative. Millions of people around the world aren’t just struggling with a new paradigm; they literally fighting every day for their very existence. Even people who, like me, enjoy a safe and comfortable life are now enduring added stress and uncertainty, and many are experiencing the pain of losing loved ones to complications from the virus. We are all stressed by the pandemic, and these are seriously difficult times for many people. But now is the time, more than ever, for us to have compassion for others. It’s also the time to share information about health–not just healthy eating and cooking but emotional health, and to share delicious, fun recipes. Let’s be honest, most of us are spending a lot more time at home, not eating out at all or eating out far less, and we’re cut off from the face-to-face social interactions that play a key role in our emotional well being. More and more research is showing the connection between emotional health and physical health, so I would like to share information on what you can do to stay healthy, incorporating what has worked for me over the past year.

What are the basics to trying to stay healthy during this time?

  1. Eat a nutrient-dense diet. Yes, I have upped my intake of Vitamin C (and D3 on the days I can’t get outside or its cloudy), and I have my arsenal of propolis (general immune booster) and Enzyme Defense (attacks proteins in a virus) at the ready, but nothing can replace a nutrient-dense, balanced diet. Of course, many of us are craving carbs and carb-laden comfort foods because we’re stressed, but those only aggravate our health and wreak havoc on our hormone and immune systems, so try to limit them to an occasional treat.
  2. Get a good night of sleep–7 to 8 hours. I admit, I’ve binge-watched some Netflix and Prime Video series just to keep my mind off other things, but I also admit I feel the knockdown effects of too little sleep and less-than-relaxing plot lines the next day.
  3. Wear a mask. All the reports said not to at the start of the outbreak, and that was likely to prevent people from hoarding them, but now we know one of the reasons Japan has handled the crisis better than others is because 80 percent of Japan’s population is wearing a mask. From what I’ve been reading, while the N95 masks are the best, even surgical or homemade masks provide some protection.
  4. Don’t touch your face and wash your hands throughout the day–really wash them for 20-30 seconds with soap.
  5. Move your body. Exercise boosts your mood, lowers stress levels and improves your sleep. Make sure you are getting at least 40 minutes of exercise at least four days a week. It doesn’t need to be 40 consecutive minutes, and there are many great online sources supplying workouts you can easily do at home. (I just tried a great one from Tracy Anderson Instagrammed by Goop this Wednesday!) Simple exercises you can do at home even if you don’t have weights or benches include pushups, planks, sit-ups, mountain climbers, leg lifts and wall chairs.
  6. Manage your stress. People have been telling me to manage my stress for years, and aside from the stress-reducing aspect of physical exercise, I have ignored them for years to my detriment. There are countless ways to help manage stress these days, and most of them are simple, easy to learn and free.
    • Introduce a simple intentional breathing exercise into your day–closing your eyes, slowing down and deepening your breath, holding your breath after you inhale, and observing your breath. It might take a few tries to get the right rhythm, but once you do, you’ll find it incredibly relaxing.
    • Take a few minutes each morning to acknowledge or write down what you’re grateful for. I had implemented a gratitude practice with my kids at dinnertime, but from what I’m reading, the greatest benefit comes when you do this in the morning or at whatever represents the start of your day. Once again, science is proving that a gratitude practice will make you a happier person.
    • Introduce mindfulness into your life. Having never previously taken the time to understand and develop a practice of mindfulness, even during my personal chaos last year, the added stress from the pandemic was the push I needed. I’m currently reading a wonderful, practical book by a professor friend, Dr Shauna Shapiro, called “Good Morning, I Love You.” I think it speaks to everyone regardless of his or her unique life experiences, and Shapiro shares valuable insights and practical tools for helping you use mindfulness to improve your outlook on life and how you navigate through it.
    • Meditate–whether it’s a simple quieting of the mind and focus inward or something more official like transcendental meditation, the benefits are proven and the time well spent. There are many free sources for guided meditations online if you don’t know where to start and can’t take a physical class due to current social distancing measures.

Look for other simple ways to make your current experience easier or more joyful. For example, the Shelter order in California hasn’t stopped the construction workers coming who are completely renovating the home next door to mine and my home office. After trying to juggle homeschooling and work against a background of hammering and belt-sanding (think unrelenting dentist’s drill), I invested in a pair of noise canceling headphones. They don’t block all the noise, but they definitely add a measure of quiet and peace that allows me to be more productive and feel more calm.

I also took up painting again. It’s a mental expression through physical work, and incredibly rewarding for me. Find something old or new and/or creative to do that you enjoy and that takes your mind off of work, the kids, the pandemic, etc.

Involve your kids in cooking–either in helping prepare meals or just cooking fun healthy treats. Savor the extra face time you have with family members, and be mindful that this difficult time affects people differently. As I’m always saying to my kids, “live your life with kindness and compassion.”

Here’s to your health–emotional and physical!

 

 

Have you ever visited a place for the first time, and instantly felt an affinity for it? Paris was like that for me… I had read at least a dozen books, both non-fiction and novels, about Paris, but when I finally visited the City of Lights–at the age of 32, I almost felt at home. Paris remains my favorite city in the world, but after spending just 36 hours in Buenos Aires, I’m in love with it, too. Of course, both cities should be on anyone’s bucket list, and many of us will be lucky enough to visit these cities multiple times in our lifetime.

Here comes the caveat… I visited Buenos Aires from São Paulo, where I’ve been living for the past year. I am not a city girl. I am a country girl, and despite São Paulo’s many wonderful attributes (which I’ll blog about soon), it has been challenging for me to live in a place that is so massive, so dense (population, design, energy), and with the worst traffic I’ve ever experienced, and this coming from the girl who’s lived in London and Manhattan and who has visited Tokyo and Hong Kong.

Nearly 3 million people live in Buenos Aires, but the city still seems incredibly open, with its wide boulevards, wide sidewalks, bicycle lanes and many parks. The food is nothing short of amazing, and the service impeccable. It offers a lot of the Latin experience but with a distinctly European flair.

My husband and I went for our anniversary, but could only manage one night, traveling in one day and out the next. We chose to walk everywhere so that we could really get to know and appreciate the city. We walked about 10 miles the first day, ate an amazing dinner at Proper then went to see the Rojo Tango Show at Hotel Faena. Because we only had one night, we spent up for the Palacio Duhau Park Hyatt in Recoleta (first photo), which is lovely and grand with a beautiful courtyard between the two buildings on the site. Even if you don’t stay in the Palacio Duhau when you visit Buenos Aires, do go for brunch, lunch, or a cocktail.

We didn’t visit the museums, which I plan to do next time I go (should I get that lucky), but we shopped the cute boutiques in Palermo Soho (great for leather goods or the coated skinny jeans I’m wearing below!), toured the Japanese gardens, walked around the landmark building in Puerto Madero and visited the famous Sunday flea market in San Telmo.

 

 

The two biggest surprises for us: 1) how safe we felt; and 2) how many people speak English.  The hotel passed out a flyer on street safety when they heard we were going to walk across town, but the flyer only cautioned against pickpockets. Homes and apartment buildings look just like they do in most cities in the U.S., only with more interesting architecture in my opinion. They don’t all have massive spiked or electrified walls with guards behind bulletproof glass, and/or double gated entryways like in São Paulo. Lots of locals were walking around us, with seemingly carefree attitudes. We expected more people to speak English in Buenos Aires compared with São Paulo since Buenos Aires is a major holiday travel destination. However, we were pleasantly surprised to discover that everyone we encountered, from the bellhop at the hotel to the random taxi or Uber driver to the person clearing our dishes in the restaurant to the sales clerk in the boutique, spoke very good English.

If your plans to take you to South America, either for work or vacation, make sure Buenos Aires is part of your itinerary, and hopefully you’ll have more than 36 hours to spend there!

 

Green powerhouse drink

 

This post is to share one of my favorite green smoothie drinks, but first, I want to report back on another morning ritual drink I’ve incorporated into my life.

If you happen to follow me on Instagram, you may have seen me post my current celery juice “practice.” With all the recent hype about the wonders of celery juice (e.g., anti-inflammatory, detoxifying, cancer fighting, etc.), I naturally wanted to see if the hype had merit.

I’ve been drinking it first thing in the morning nearly every day for the past 2-3 months, and I have to say, I feel healthier. I almost never get sick in the conventional sense, such as getting a cold, flu or stomach bug, so I can’t say whether I think it’s improving my overall immunity. However, my skin seems clearer (I’m prone to getting roughness on my cheeks or small bumps on my upper arms), my seborrheic dermatitis lessens, and I just feel better–stronger and more energized. Yes, this is just anecdotal evidence from one person, but combined with what the research suggests, a lot of other people’s anecdotal experience, and the fact that it costs next to nothing to make, I recommend trying it for at least several weeks to see if you notice improvements, too.

I can’t say it tastes delicious, but if you haven’t tried it yet, I can tell you that you will get used to the taste. And if you drink it really cold, you will notice the taste less. So I nearly always start my day with about 6 oz of celery juice, and try to hold off on breakfast for at least 30 minutes. When I want to feel really energized, and since I’m still on a quest to incorporate greens into nearly every breakfast, I like to follow with this powerhouse drink and an egg.

This smoothie drink does tastes delicious and gives you several serving of fruits and vegetables in a glass, along with a healthy dose of Vitamins A, C and K (K is important for preventing osteoporosis, lowering cholesterol and reducing your risk of several cancers, including breast, colorectal and kidney) from the collard greens. Romaine, although low in fiber, is high Vitamins A, K and C as well as folate. Pears and apples both provide dietary fiber.

If you alternate this drink with my green paleo pancakes, you will supply your body with a lot of vitamins, minerals and fiber important for achieving good health. In short, you will do your body a lot of good!

 

Ingredients (for 2)

1/2 a pear, core removed

1/2 an apple, core removed

2-3 leaves of romaine lettuce

2-3 leaves of collard greens or chard

1 banana

2 stalks celery

1/4 of a lemon, seeds removed

ice

Optional

2 tbsp fresh parsley

or

1 tbsp fresh mint

 

Preparation

Blend everything together in a high-powered blender (e.g., Vitamix) until smooth. Add ice to suit your personal taste of how cold you like your drinks.

 

Enjoy!

 

 

 

This cake has become my family’s favorite easy-bake, easy-to-make, cake. It’s essentially banana bread masquerading as banana cake, but the cake shape makes it seem more special. It’s crazy moist, contains very little added sugar (because how much sugar do you need with all those bananas in there?!), and it’s a great way to use ripe and/or spotty bananas. We buy tons of bananas in Brazil because they are super inexpensive. However, I don’t even like raw bananas, so I literally buy 20 bananas a week to use in my Green Paleo Pancakes, Green Power Shake, oatmeal pancakes, breads, cakes and muffins.

I have ordered Bolo de Banana several times in Brazil, and while I’ve always found the cakes here overly sweet (not to mention full of gluten), I like how they incorporate so much banana into their recipes. So I tinkered with my gluten- and dairy-free banana muffin recipe to come up with this recipe. It uses 4-6 bananas, and instead of blending the bananas with the wet ingredients, I only mash the bananas a little with a fork so there are lots of chunks of banana in the final cake. Topping the cake with slices of banana makes the cake look more festive, and the banana caramelizes in the baking making it taste better.

 

Ingredients

1/2 Tbsp butter or oil

1 scant cup gluten-free all-purpose flour (I like this brand)

1/2 cup plus 1 Tbsp almond flour

1/3 – 1/2 cup sugar*

1 tsp ground cinnamon

3/4 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp sea salt

1/4 tsp nutmeg

2-4 ripe bananas

1-2 yellow bananas

2 eggs

1/4 cup coconut oil

1/2 cup plant-based milk (I like almond or coconut)

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

*I’ve used as little as 1/4 cup of sugar, and the cake is still delicious!

 

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C). Grease and flour a standard cake tin. Place the tin on a piece of parchment paper, draw a circle using the base of the tin as a guide, cut out the circle and set it inside on the bottom of the tin. Set aside.

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients until there are no lumps and everything looks thoroughly combined. Set aside.

Peel the 2-4 ripe bananas and mash with a fork until broken down but still very lumpy in consistency. You need 1-1/2 cups for this recipe, but the recipe is very forgiving if you have slightly less or slightly more. Whisk in the eggs and vanilla. Whisk in the oil and milk. Pour the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and using a rubber spatula, fold until combined, but do not over stir. (I’ve read and been told that you can’t over stir anything made with gluten-free flour. However, in my personal experience, particular when baking cakes, one should never over stir.) Pour the batter into the prepared tin and give the tin a little jiggle to evenly distribute the batter.

Carefully slice the remaining 1-2 less ripe bananas into strips approximately 3/8-inch in thickness. Depending on the size of your banana(s), you may only need one banana. I aim for three to four strips. Lay the strips on top of the batter, and pop the tin in the center of the oven. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

 

Enjoy!

 

 

My son asked if we could make scones this week, and I realized we haven’t made any in the past several months. Have you noticed that at times, you completely forget to make something you really like and/or something your family loves? Do you find that sometimes, a favorite dish just falls from memory for no particular reason?

Luckily, I had an orange, some dark chocolate and all my regular gluten-free flours on hand, so we make these super flavorful and delicious scones. These are very similar to my orange current scones, but the dark chocolate chunks make them more of a treat for my kids.

 

Ingredients

1/3 cup coconut oil, melted and cooled

1/3 cup almond (or other) nut milk

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1/2 tsp almond extract

Finely grated zest of one orange

6 Tbsp of fresh-squeezed orange juice

1-1/4 cup almond flour

1-1/4 cup all-purpose gluten-free flour (I like this brand)

1/3-1/2 cup evaporated cane juice

2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp sea salt

1/4 cup vegan chocolate chips or 1/3 cup of a dairy-free dark chocolate bar cut into small chunks

 

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Whisk all the dry ingredients, except for the chocolate, together in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Whisk the wet ingredients until well blended. Pour the wet mixture into the dry using a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides. Fold the wet and dry mixtures until just blended. Fold in the chocolate chips or chunks. Using the spatula, scoop out the dough onto a lightly floured cutting board or directly onto the parchment paper-lined baking sheet.

Gently pat the dough into a disc shape, approximately 1-inch thick (flouring your hands if necessary to prevent the dough from sticking). Using a chef’s knife, cut the disc into 6-8 pieces (3-4 cuts). Carefully separate the pieces roughly 1-2 inches apart.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until a light golden brown color develops on the tops and edges. Remove and allow to cool 5-10 minutes before serving. Leftovers can be stores in an airtight container for 2-3 days, once the scones are completely cooled.

You can add a little honey or raspberry jam to these, but they’re so flavorful and yummy on their own, they don’t need anything extra.

Enjoy! 

 

 

 

 

Shortbread cookies hold a special place in my heart for many reasons. I have been eating them my whole life. They remind me of my parents–who are entering their twilight years, and who both love shortbread over all other cookies. I used to relish opening a new tin of Walkers assorted shortbread cookies, carefully selecting different shapes. And I like shortbread because I generally distrust sugar and love butter.

I also like that I don’t mind giving my children a shortbread cookie as a sweet treat since they’re relatively low in sugar (emphasis on “relatively”), yet my kids still see it as a cookie, a treat. They also enjoy helping me make the cookies, which can be whipped up in 30 minutes. Well, full disclosure here, it is currently so hot in Brazil, that by the time I incorporate the butter with the dry ingredients, it has melted so much that I have to chill my dough before rolling, cutting and baking it. But in most parts of the world, shortbread cookies can be made quickly and easily with so few ingredients.

Perhaps the best part about shortbread is that you can add just about anything you want to the dough. Here, the recipe is with fresh-grated lemon zest, but you can add chocolate chips or chocolate chunks, grated orange zest, ginger, lavender, or chopped nuts and dried fruit as seen in my holiday recipe for pistachio cranberry shortbread.

 

Ingredients

8 tablespoons (112 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature or slightly cooler

1/3 cup sugar (also good using just 1/4 cup)

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

zest of one lemon (finely grated)

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

3/4 cup (140 g) all-purpose gluten-free flour, I like this brand 

1/3 cup almond flour

 

Preparation

In a medium-size bowl, or food processor, combine the butter and sugar until evenly incorporated. Stir in the vanilla extract and lemon zest.

Whisk together the flours and salt in a small bowl and add to the butter mixture. Stir until thoroughly mixed. Turn out onto a floured surface and roll into a rectangle that’s approximately 3/8-inch in thickness. Cut into bars roughly 1.5 inches by 3 inches or use cookie cutters to cut into different shapes. Place cookies on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Bake at 325F for 20-25 minutes or until lightly golden brown on the edges. Allow to cool on the cookie sheet for at least 5-10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack or munching. These cookies keep for several days if you store them in a airtight container after they’re completely cooled.

Enjoy!

 

I thought that after moving to Brazil I would be trying all sorts of local dishes and generally cooking up a storm. However, between work, and my oven, which doesn’t have a broil function, and my burners, which don’t allow any simmering, I have reduced my cooking ambitions enormously. Add this to the fact that everything I do here in Brazil takes longer than it did in California. For example, I used to ride my bicycle to take my son to school, which roundtrip amounted to approximately 20 minutes. Now I go by car to take my children to school and it takes 50 to 60 minutes–and another 50-60 to collect them in the afternoon. So my cooking has suffered, but we are making the most of living here by visiting some beautiful beaches.

Here’s a snapshot of some of the beaches we’ve visited thus far, along with a few photos of each.

Porto de Galinhas – The town itself is fairly touristy with only so-so food, but the area boasts expansive beaches, clear water and natural pools in which you can safely snorkel. We stayed at the beautiful Nannai resort outside of town, where we overate at every meal since the buffet spreads (I posted a a few pics on my Instagram) were out of this world and just too tempting to resist. The area is easy to access by flying into Recife then taking a one hour car ride south.

 

Praia dos Carneiros – We first visited this beach just for a day as part of our trip to Porto de Galinhas (it’s about an hour’s drive south), but we immediately wanted to go back. So a few weeks later, we made a special trip Praia dos Carneiros and stayed in a modest pousada.

We love this beach because it has a very sleepy, underdeveloped, and even still wild aspect to it. Everywhere you see jungle that looks impenetrable even though it’s probably not. There’s a fairly famous (at least to Brazilians) restaurant, Beijupa, right on the beach.

 

 

Buzios – Often referred to as the St Tropez of South America, Buzios is a charming town with great little boutiques, amazing food (many of the best restaurants are owned by Argentines), and crystal clear water for snorkeling and diving. Twenty-eight beaches surround the town, some of which are easier to access than others. I saw incredible sea creatures I’ve never seen before, and coral that looks like giant red potatoes. (Too bad I don’t have an underwater camera, and that the waterproof case I bought for my iPhone is impossible to use in the water!) I celebrated my birthday at Rocka Beach Club and Lounge which has a picture perfect view overlooking the beach.

Buzios is slightly more difficult to get to in that you have to fly into Rio de Janeiro then make a 4-5 hour journey by car to the actual town, but I loved it. We stayed in a modest but comfortable pousada on the hill above one of the beaches, and even though Brazil is a long, long way from home (California), I can envision having a home to retire to in Buzios.

Happy trails!

 

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