Wednesday, April 5, 2017

When Karen met Callie

Behind every great book is another story entirely, and I thought you might like to hear ours. If I had a pound for everyone who has told me I really should write a book about their life, I would now be reclining on my superyacht in a Heidi Klein bikini in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

So when I took a call one sunny Sunday morning in June two years ago from my lovely and very well meaning mother in law about a new book idea she had for me, I was a little sceptical.

Jean volunteers as a community car driver, ferrying people who can't drive themselves to and from hospital appointments. She had been chatting to a lady called Julia as she drove her to hospital. Julia was talking about her grandson Deryn and the remarkable recovery he was making following several years of illness and how much his mum Callie would like to write a book about him.

'My daughter in law is a writer and journalist, she's just written a book, maybe we should put them both in touch?' Jean volunteered. Julia agreed that it was a great idea. Jean could hardly contain herself and told me it would definitely be a bestseller. We chatted for a while longer and when she hung up, I went back to devouring the Sunday papers.

I couldn't get Deryn out of my head however, so I started checking out his story online. Sure enough, it stacked up to an amazing tale, a real triumph over tragedy which had already attracted quite a few headlines in the local and national press. I emailed Callie that afternoon to ask if she fancied having a chat about the possibility of working together on a book. She was overwhelmed and told me she had been waiting for something like this to happen. It seemed almost too serendipitous to be true. We kept in touch, and planned to meet up later that summer while I was visiting family in the UK.

I'll never forget the first time I saw her. We had arranged to have lunch together at a gastro pub in a small village near her home in Watton. I didn't really know what to expect but I had a warm feeling inside when this exuberant yet nervous bundle of smiles with bright pink hair walked towards me. Several hours later, we were still sitting there, my dictaphone running as she relayed the most amazing story of Deryn's incredible battle for survival to me. It's fair to say I was hooked from that moment.

She took me to meet her lovely mum Julia and a somewhat shy but utterly charming Deryn, together with his little brother Dylan and I drove back to Jean's that evening feeling like something pretty momentous had happened that day.

Callie and I knew we had an amazing story to tell but we had no real idea at that stage just how much it would captivate the rest of the world. All we knew was that it needed to be told, frankly and fully with no punches pulled, and that it might, just might, change attitudes towards alternative treatments for pain relief and critical illness. It was a huge risk for her to tell the story as honestly as she has done but it was never an issue for her.

You will have read, heard and watched much over the last 12 days about Deryn's inspiring and courageous story of survival but there is so much more to the The Boy in 7 Billion than the headlines and news stories of the last week or two. It's on sale from today so if you happen to walk past a Smiths or Waterstone's, please pop in and take a picture of it on the shelf for me.

Serendipity, fate, a it what you like, one thing I can tell you is that this book will restore your faith in hope, human nature and the goodness that is all around us if you look hard enough.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Three shots a day keeps the doctor away

Happy new year! After eagerly blurting out that I was going to be blogging regularly every week, it’s with some shame that I notice the last time I posted here was nine months ago. Oops.

In my defence, I have been very busy with some amazing new projects, helping to edit a wonderful book called And Breathe with Rebecca Dennis, which is now in all good bookshops and currently flying off the shelves, as well as writing another book which is being published this spring…more on that to come soon.

Fresh from an amazing New Year spent in Vietnam en famille, I’m kicking off 2017 with a timely little heads up for anyone who is feeling the effects of too much carousing, drinking and eating over the festive season.

As we checked into our hotel on the beach in the glorious and unspoiled south of Vietnam a couple of weeks ago, I spotted the spa and hotfooted it over to check out the treatments before even unpacking my case. A daily massage was included – a choice of shiatsu with bamboo, aromatherapy, Thai tiger or hot and cold stone EVERY day – what joy!

Then I spotted a little wooden sign on the spa reception desk. ‘Pick up your daily three shots at My Soul spa before meals’, it said. Wow, this is a forward thinking spa, I thought, who knew it was good to neck tequila before being manipulated by the tiny but amazingly powerful and talented masseuses?

These shots are as powerful as any tequila but they are also a whole lot better for you. The Balinese spa manager Yoman makes up a potent cocktail of different shots every morning aimed at boosting metabolism, immunity and detoxification, combatting ageing, reducing inflammation, improving skin tone, digestion and bowel function. Yoman has spent years setting up holistic spas in Bali and Vietnam and what he doesn’t know about how to get your body working for you isn’t worth knowing frankly.

We all signed up on the spot as it is something the Vietnamese, and other Eastern cultures, have been doing since time immemorium to keep the doctor at bay naturally. My favourite was the ginger, turmeric and lemon shot. The apple cider vinegar and honey shot was an acquired taste but the ginger, lemon and cayenne was also quite palatable.

Within a few days, I felt energised in a way I didn’t expect, and my body seemed to be working at an optimum level, despite the odd cocktail or glass of bubbly in the evening. I wasn’t the only one to notice a difference. Everyone else reported feeling energised, with improved bowel and digestion function and this was after just a couple of days.

The trick is to stick to one type of shot all day and not mix them up, but you can make three in advance first thing in the morning and stick the other two in the fridge. Who knows if I will keep it up but even if I can do a three or four days a week, it’s got to be better than nothing, right?

You can see my efforts from this morning here. To make three ginger, lemon and turmeric shots, I blitzed three lemons, a large knob of ginger, two capsules of powdered turmeric and a tiny amount of water to loosen the mixture (if you can find fresh turmeric root, even better.)

Like tequila, it’s best knocked back in one go, with a small glass of water afterwards if you need it. Let me know how you get on!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Getting Inspired

I'll admit it. Food has become my life. It comforts, heals and energises and there are few greater buzzes than a wander around the Monday morning market at Pre du Lac, checking out all the local sellers and buying whatever happens to be in season to concoct a delicious lunch or supper. Well okay, a little trip to Cape Town (where the food is amazing) probably tops that but my average Monday is all the brighter for a mooch among the familiar stalls.

Yesterday I bought some of what has to be the last courge (butternut squash) of the season, which was grown just down the road in Vallauris, 20 minutes drive from here. Radishes and a little chèvre rond from the local goat's cheese producer and voilà, suddenly I had the key ingredients for a delicious and colourful lunch based on a dish I ate a couple of weeks ago at a lovely little cafe in Camps Bay.

When people ask me about recipes for getting inspired in the kitchen, my advice is to pick the freshest, lushest looking produce available and get experimental with it. There's very little you can't jazz up with lime juice and the holy trinity of ginger, garlic and chilli.

On a chilly day, a seasonal veg or two simmered in a fresh stock with herbs and blitzed when cool makes the most filling and nutritious soup you could ask for. It guards against infection, builds immunity and fills you with protective vitamins and minerals as well as plant chemicals and enzymes which improve digestion, boost resistance and fight off illness.

And when the sun's out, the challenge is to get as many colourful fruits and veggies on the plate as possible along with a little protein, (halloumi, feta or goat's cheese maybe), a drizzle of home made dressing and a few fresh herbs scattered across the top. I defy you to crave a KFC or double cheeseburger after that. And if you do get a craving, check out this graphic on what to go for instead.

Last week I met one of the directors of Breast Cancer Now, the UK's largest breast cancer charity , to talk about the importance of diet and nutritional advice at point of diagnosis. It was fantastically productive and really gave me a glimmer of hope that things are changing, slowly but surely. But you don't need to wait until you get ill to start eating better....

The cliche you are what you eat has never been more true, so make sure it's a rainbow of beautiful fresh locally sourced or home grown produce and you can't go too far wrong.

Cape Town Rainbow Salad

This is one of those ‘use what’s left in the fridge’ salads. You can swap ingredients if certain things are hold to get hold of (roasted carrots for roasted squash, goat’s cheese for feta, watercress or rocket for spinach etc). It’s colourful and delicious, and the tartness of the goat’s cheese works beautifully with radishes and the sweet nuttiness of the squash – summer on a plate! I tried this in Cape Town a couple of weeks ago, where they used spinach leaves, feta and no pomegranate, rosemary or courgette – it was just as delicious.

200g butternut squash or carrots, chopped roughly into thumb size pieces
2 large handfuls watercress, spinach or rocket
I small young courgette, finely sliced
Sml handful toasted pine nuts
Six sun dried tomatoes (drained from oil and cut in half longways)
I small round goat’s cheese (I buy mine at the market) or 100g crumbled feta
Five radishes, washed, trimmed and cut in half
1 sprig rosemary leaves (optional)
Sml handful pomegranate seeds (optional)
Fresh home made vinaigrette (recipe in guide)

Toss the squash in extra virgin olive oil and roast for 15 mins until lightly browned. Leave to cool. Lightly coat the thin courgette slices in leftover oilive oil and lightly fry in a dry frying pan for a minute or two on each side. Remove and leave to cool. Toast the pine nuts for a couple of minutes in the same pan and reserve in a bowl.

Place a handful of salad greens on the plate, arrange the tomatoes and radishes in the leaves then layer the cool courgettes across the top. Add the cooled squash, cheese, pine nuts and drizzle with vinaigrette. If you’re adding pomegranate and rosemary, do this last.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Grow Your Own

This time of year is wonderful for a forage around on my walks with the dogs. Spring is sprung and everything is starting to bloom which is perfect timing for Bar sur Loup’s annual Fete de l’Oranger at Easter, when the whole village is decked with oranges and the main street is lined with stalls selling home made orange produce, be it vin d’orange, marmalade, cakes or sweets.

Depending on the time of year, you can find figs, grapefruits, olives, lemons and, of course, oranges (this is the orange valley after all) on my walk. Our mandarin tree is heavy with fruit right now so I came up with a great twist for dessert. Squeeze the juice from three mandarins into a pot of mascarpone and mix well along with the finely chopped rind from half a mandarin. Serve a spoonful (or two) with a piece of gluten free chocolate mud pie…delicious!

There is nothing quite like growing your own, wandering around the garden in the sunshine with a basket collecting figs, plums, chives, parsley, lemons, mandarins and rosemary. Cutting strands of herbs from pots on the windowsill is better than taking them out of a plastic packet in the fridge. But if you can’t grow your own, it makes sense to buy from the local producers who sell seasonal fresh fruit and veg at daily markets.

I have been buying from them for some years now, and if I happen to grab the odd bunch of carrots from a supermarket, Issy (who likes hers raw) refuses to eat them because they taste of chemicals. She solemnly advised me to avoid Spanish produce because it’s high in GMO. Another good reason to buy from local French and Italian growers.

I have just finished marinading my first harvest of olives. The crop wasn’t as plentiful this year but they still taste good, especially when rinsed and marinaded in some fresh lemon juice, garlic and rosemary.

It’s inevitable that I would talk about food today after a week-long stint at the VivaMayr clinic in Austria. When you are existing on 600 calories a day, it’s not surprising that you become obsessed by food. At one meal, I nearly cried when I dropped a cracker on the floor. If the dining room had been less busy, I would have picked it up and wolfed it down without a second thought.

On the upside, I did emerge a few weeks ago feeling lighter, brighter and more energetic after a barrage of exotic and bizarre beauty and medical treatments that keep Hollywood’s A list and various European heads of state running back for more. You can read all about my adventure in Austria in the first of my reports in The Good Spa Guide (spot the deliberate mistake regarding my age!)

As if one hard-core detox was not enough, I did a second self-imposed one last week to keep the FiveDays gang company. It was a walk in the park compared to vegetable broth, herbal tea and not much else in Austria. We finished last Friday with lots of fab feedback, kilos shed and people experiencing less inflammation, better sleep patterns and all round better general health than they had at the start of the week. If that doesn’t deserve a glass of champagne, I don’t know what does. I'm currently road-testing some delicious vegetarian spring recipes for the next FiveDays in early April.

Helen sent me a great tip for making pineapple tea using the skin and core of a fresh pineapple from a great blog called Now that the sun is shining, it's definitely one to try.

Bon weekend!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Perhaps The Best Work Trip Ever....

For the last couple of weeks, my head has been stuck in a book called The Swiss Secret to Optimal Health by Dr Thomas Rau. The Swiss know a thing or two about health. They have mountains to ski down, lakes to swim in and doctors who are light years ahead in terms of 21st century thinking on nutrition, digestion and the correct diet to follow to avoid disease and achieve great bien-etre.

Dr Rau’s Way is an oft repeated mantra in the book…and his way is an alkalising diet, lots of soups and green leafy vegetables, no fresh fruit after 4pm (it can ferment in the gut and place stress on the liver), no processed foods and a little of what you fancy from time to time.

It makes perfect sense to me, so much so that I am off to find out more this weekend, not at Dr Rau’s Swiss clinic, but at the world renowned VivaMayr Clinic in the spectacular Austrian mountain resort of Lake Maria Worth.

Now I’ve been lucky enough to land some very jammy press trips over the years (brace yourself *namedrop alert….Tahiti, Bora Bora, Australia, South Africa, Zambia, the Maldives…) but never have I had the reactions I am getting when I tell friends I am off to experience the Detoxification Cure at the VivaMayr.

‘Whaaat?’ ‘Sooo unfair,’ and ‘How the hell did you wangle that?’ has been the general consensus. After breathlessly ranting to Milly about the treatments on offer, she could barely contain herself. ‘You are the only person I know who has ever actually looked forward to a colonic irrigation,’ she mused.

It’s tough at the coalface of international investigative journalism but someone has to do these jobs and it might as well be me. You can read all about my adventures and colonics in The Good Spa Guide when I get back.

Readers including my dear husband will be relieved to hear that apart from undergoing the rigours of massages, relaxation techniques, yoga, mountain hikes and hydrotherapy, I will also be doing some real work in the shape of an interview with one of the Mayr’s leading medics Dr Schuscha.

While I have plenty of questions of my own to ask, I am intrigued to know what the biggest and most pressing health concerns are amongst my generation of 40-somethings, so if you want to pitch in with a question for the good doctor, please feel free. How to keep middle aged spread at bay seems to be top of the list so far.

Meanwhile, following a very successful FiveDays programme last week, I am back on the recipe trail testing out new dishes to add to the next plan which starts at the end of this month.

It’s been a busy week so I missed Shrove Tuesday but made up for it with pancake Thursday this morning. Use 100ml almond milk, 65g spelt flour and a dash of vanilla to make the most scrummy light and healthy pancakes. Cook them in a tiny blob of hot coconut oil, then serve with freshly squeezed lemon juice, xylitol and some fruit. I might need to conjure these up in my head next week when I am chewing 80 times per mouthful on three-day old rye bread at the Mayr (apparently learning to chew properly is one of their specialities.)

I experimented with the recipe below after wondering what to do with the almond meal that was left over every time I make my own almond milk. It is gluten, refined sugar and dairy free and delicious with a moistness that is missing from the flour only version. Only problem is, I am baking one every two days!

Gluten-free Banana and Almond Bread

100g spelt flour
75g almond meal (from home made almond milk)
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 teaspoons gluten free baking powder
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract/vanilla pod
Good shake of sea or Himalayan salt
125g organic butter
100ml organic agave syrup
2 large eggs
3 medium bananas, mashed

Mix the flour, almond meal, baking powder, salt and bicarbonate of soda together and set aside. Melt the butter in a pan on low heat, remove from the heat and mix in the agave syrup. Once cooled, whisk in both eggs and then the mashed bananas and vanilla.
Gradually beat in the flour mixture until you have a batter. Pour into a greased and lined loaf tin and bake at 170 degrees centigrade for around one hour. Allow to cool in the tin for five minutes before turning onto a rack. Delicious with a cup of green tea!

Okay...just one more picture as you asked so nicely.....(screams inwardly).

Monday, January 25, 2016

I'll Be Your Substitute

I vividly remember the first time I went into a health food shop with an actual list. It was almost five years ago and on the advice on my nutritionist Simone, I was looking for healthier substitutes for sugar, regular flour and dairy produce. It was another planet to me. I had no idea what I should be looking for as I wasn’t familiar with half the things on my list in English, let alone in French.

There were few disasters. (Soy cream…do not even go there. It is DISGUSTING.) Rice milk (I’m aware rice milk has its fans…some of them are even my friends…but it doesn’t do it for me.) And does anyone out there actually like quinoa crisp breads? Mine tasted like pieces of old cardboard and soaked up so much saliva that I couldn’t physically swallow them unless they were slathered in Boursin or taramasalata, thereby rather defeating the object.) Let the photo above be a warning to you.

In fact, look closely and see if you can tell the difference between the crackers and a piece of old cardboard. I thought so.

There were some success stories too. Green tea (who knew this would replace my daily morning cup of beloved Earl Grey?) Vollkornbrot (in other words, rye bread which is delicious for breakfast if it’s well, and I mean well, toasted with scrambled eggs, bananas and linseeds or mashed avocado and black pepper.) Best of all, unlike normal bread, it doesn’t make me look five months pregnant after one slice. Spelt flour (hurrah, I didn’t have to give up banana bread or lemon drizzle cake, I just had to start baking my own.) Dark chocolate (as a self confessed chocoholic, I thought I would struggle with the milk/dark swap. I didn’t. I merely replaced one addiction with another.)

There’s competition for the top spot but I’m going with Xylitol as my favourite and most life changing discovery in a health food store. A natural birch sugar, it looks suspiciously like refined Tate & Lyle, works in baking and on pancakes and has figured in more than 300 studies indicating it can play a significant role in preventing – and even reversing – tooth decay. Best of all, it tastes nice. Try it, you won't look back. As you can see from the picture below, home made always beats shop bought hands down.

Of course, the biggest challenge was making these ingredients seem normal in a house containing two teenagers and a man with a very sweet tooth. In truth, I am still working on that one but it’s gratifying that for the most part, my cakes and bakes get eaten eventually (and not just by me.) Sometimes they even get a raised eyebrow followed by a bemused ‘This actually tastes really nice! Obviously you didn’t use your ‘special’ ingredients today.’ Er, yes I did.

You’ll know I’m not normal when I tell you that these days, I prefer to spend an hour browsing around my favourite little ‘indie’ stores in Lewes, Twickenham, Greenwich and Mouans Sartoux talking to the usually very well informed assistants about turmeric tablets instead of languishing in the furniture section of Heals or Liberty’s shoe hall. It’s also easier on the bank balance, and that’s one thing him indoors is eternally grateful for. Even if it does mean beetroot brownies for dessert.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Food Wars and the ‘FiveDays’ Clean Eating Plan

Those of you who are regular readers of my blog and have also read Breathing Out will know that my youngest daughter is perhaps my sternest critic and the one I have never quite managed to win over on the food front. We have had many food wars over the years - not unusual for a mother and a sugar addicted teenager, I know.

So when she recently started quizzing me about the best health supplements to take and volunteered to quit the junk and start eating a greener diet, you could say I felt I had finally arrived. All those years of gluten free and sugar free baking are finally coming good!

Over the last five years, I have learned an enormous amount about nutrition and healing yourself through food and exercise. It wasn’t a career plan for me, it was a necessity after being struck down by a critical illness. It didn’t take much research for me to decide to make food one of my doctors.

Since then, I have given advice to dozens of people with health issues, addressed a major medical conference, met with the UK government’s Chief Cancer Advisor at the Department of Health and influenced leading oncologists to embrace diet as an additional route to treating cancer patients.

Modesty sadly does not prevent me from telling you that I was also a key in the foundation of The Super Elixir, the world's leading super greens supplement, introducing Elle Macpherson to my amazing Harley Street nutritionist Dr Simone Laubscher, and the two subsequently went onto develop The Super Elixir together. Here are Simone and me celebrating the first anniversary at Elle's super fabulous supper at the Grace Belgravia last October.

There's a pattern forming here, right?

I love cooking and my best days are spent experimenting with ingredients, creating and adapting recipes and trying them out on friends and family. I'm passionate about health and fitness too, so combining the two to create a simple, delicious, easy to implement eating plan that will educate, illuminate and give you the foundations for a cleaner, healthier lifestyle (without forgoing the fun) seems like a no brainer to me.

It's not a weight loss plan and yet the pounds seem to drop off quite naturally. The really clever bit, however, is being able to maintain what you have achieved. It's not rocket science but it works, as my two guinea pigs Paula and Karin will attest.

Here’s what Paula, a journalist and personal trainer who founded the Fitter, Stronger retreat with Olympic Rowing champion James Cracknell at Chewton Glen in Hampshire, had to say about it.

‘I thought a five-day detox – my first ever – would be hard work. In fact, I really enjoyed it! I’ve learned a lot more about my body and how it reacts to what I put inside it.

‘I stopped feeling bloated, was generally more alert and had more concentration. I had much more energy than I expected too. I used to feel tired by 9pm but on the plan I didn’t feel sleepy until 11pm or later.

‘After five days, I had lost 5.5 lbs and friends remarked how well I looked and how sparkly my eyes were. I would definitely do this again every two to three months and have already recommended it to friends. Thanks Karen!’

Karin had this to say. ‘I have been on a diet for most of my life (and just got bigger!) Every time I try and be good, I fall off the wagon quite quickly. I have been successful when I’ve attended weekly meetings with Slimming World and Weight Watchers.

‘I know how important regular check-ins and motivations are. Karen’s programme and the frequency of supportive texts and messages within our group made me feel she was there watching me and meant that I didn’t want to cheat, I wanted to push on…and that’s a first for me!

‘Added to that, the recipes are so tasty and filling that I never felt hungry. After five days, I feel great! I’m brighter and definitely less tired in the evening.’

As of next month, I am going to be running a regular ‘FiveDays’ Clean Eating Plan which can be done physically here in France or remotely wherever you are in the world. Here’s what I can promise you…it won’t be difficult to stick to, it won’t run across a weekend (because we all deserve some joy…and bubbles…after a hard week), you won’t feel hungry and you will be eating delicious, nutritious food. It’s not a diet – I hate that word and don’t believe in diets – it’s a lifestyle that can be incorporated into your regular family way of eating.

Please sign up on the blog to keep posted and get in touch with me on if you would like to find out more!

Meanwhile, it's a busy week for health orientated features. My review of the Fitter, Stronger retreat, where the emphasis is on embracing nutrition and fitness as a way back from serious illness or injury, appeared in S magazine (that's me on the left being put through my paces by trainer Mitch).

And my chat over this delicious alkalising supper with The Body aka Elle about how she healed herself and launched a dynamic new business as a result is the cover interview in this month’s Red. Enjoy!