Pesto pasta-a mother’s best friend

Where would I be without pesto? At least once a week, I’m faced with a situation of searching my scarily empty cupboards. There, staring back at me is my saviour jar of organic Sacla Italia pesto smugly knowing it’s about to save the day. Or better still, to save me from the impending tantrum of my two hungry little girls who’d happily wolf down pesto pasta for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I only wish it was that easy. I guiltily feed the girls this once, twice or maybe possibly thrice weekly. Guiltily, because I know that fresh pesto is relatively easy to make and although, I buy the organic jarred pesto, I know it’s still not as healthy as homemade stuff.

The added benefit of homemade pesto is that you can also add lots of green vegetable to it and cunningly feed them to your unsuspecting children. I’ve made homemade pesto a few times, but this time, I decided to do something different with the help of my lovely neighbours.

Giant courgettes on my doorstep

I have come home a few times to be greeted by giant courgettes on my doorstep. This may sound dodgy, but believe me it’s even dodgier seeing them unsuspectingly sat on your doorstep. If you’ve never seen courgettes of mammoth proportions, let me tell you it’s quite a scary sight. Not only did it leave me wondering how the hell they got there, but also how I’d attempt to cut them, let alone eat them. When I did eventually get over the initial shock, after scanning the road with the hope of spotting the prankster responsible for goading possibly the only part-time vegetarian on the street. I came to my senses with the realisation that it must have been my neighbours who had kindly left my enormous surprise. No, they are not giant courgette knock down ginger, pranksters. They are a lovely couple who have an allotment and regularly drops round yummy goodies namely giant courgettes (that have lost the plot when it comes to size). This instant it wasn’t a giant courgettes but a big bag of  boringly-average sized broad beans which they personally dropped round, saving me the surprise. Armed with my big bag of broad beans I decided to treat my family to home made broad bean pesto.

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Deliciously fresh allotment broad beans

The raw broad beans tasted really fresh and fabulous. Much nicer than the shop bought ones. Well I guess you can’t get any more organic than local allotment broad beans. Making the pesto was so easy. I decided to make a massive batch, so I could store extra in the freezer. The whole family loved it. I took along my much loved pesto pasta to a picnic with friends, who were also impressed.

Next time I’m greeted by a massive courgette at the door, instead of panicking, I’ll positively beam at the idea of making courgette pesto……better stock up on containers.

Recipe for broad bean pesto

Serves 12

Ingredients

150g Basil

3 Garlic cloves

90g Pine nuts

90g Broad beans

90g Parmesan grated

1 Lemon

250ml Olive oil

Method

Preperation time-40 minutes

1) Peel and remove broad beans. Boil them in water for around 5 mins. Once they have cooled, remove from their coats.

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2) Toast the pine nuts.

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2) Place toasted pine nuts and broad beans in a blender with basil leaves, lemon juice, peeled garlic, grated parmesan and good quality olive oil.

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Vegetarian Italian food-music to my ears

I love food. I love, love vegetarian food. I love, love, love vegetarian Italian food. So when I found a restaurant that specialised in organic Italian vegetarian food I was ecstatic. The restaurant in question is Amico bio based in London’s Holborn and Barbican.

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As their logo so eloquently states “green thinking, better living”. I was so excited that I immediately texted a very good friend, who I’ve known since the heady days of university a good 20 years ago, asking her for a lunch date. Between us we have 5 children, so getting together with the kiddies and attempting to have a conversation is always that frustrating stop, start kinda dialogue. Coming away feeling absolutely exhausted and not really having communicated anything to each other, but having had in depth negotiations of every single topic imaginable, with the children. Often, I leave feeling unsatisfied but my girls have had a great time playing with “their friends” (AKA my friend’s children ((SORRY TO TELL YOU THIS MY LOVE BUT SHE WAS MY FRIEND LONG BEFORE SHE HAD YOUR FRIEND’S)). Anyway, a date was set and we decided to meet at the Holborn restaurant minus the children.

I decided to set off early and walk around London just so I can enjoy alone time. Since becoming a mum “alone time” is the most precious commodity known to humankind, as far as I’m concerned. Just the immense sense of freedom is euphoric. A simple activity like a shower, that I used to stupidly take for granted, is now my daily treat. So, just aimlessly walking around London with zero children was heaven. I enjoyed the smug feeling of seeing another mother attempting to coax her children to move faster, so they could get to where they needed to get to (probably an hour ago). The feeling of free appendages not carrying, pushing (buggy), pulling (scooter), tugging (me), separating, heaving, wiping is the best feeling in the world. Not worrying or even thinking about what to make for lunch so I could just experience the present and soak in the atmosphere was utter bliss.

As I was leisurely walking and soaking in the sights, I was surprised to spot a hero of mine comfortably nestled in the centre of a picturesque leafy square. It seemed the universe had bought me to him perfectly timed for the restaurant I was about to visit. He was serenely sat in the middle of Tavistock square, which appeared to be a memorial for all things peaceful and harmonious that it seemed to ooze these serene sentiments into the surrounding square. Or maybe that was just my state of mind at that moment.

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My hero sat there crossed leg in what seemed like deep meditation, looking old but wise. Mahatma Ghandi seemed to be very much alive in the spirit of Tavistock square.

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The few people in the square also seemed to be enjoying the peace this haven was providing. One in particular capturing the ambience of this green space by meditating under the warm summer sun.

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As I reluctantly left , I came across an interesting plaque that seemed to sum up my chance visit to Tavistock square, commemorating the people who consciously objected to military service, maintaining their right not to kill.

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As I approached my final destination I noticed Amico bio is nestled in the heart of Holborn on New oxford street amongst a scattering of natural health shops.

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Amico bio itself is an unpretentious rustic restaurant and the owner Pasquale Amico has put so much effort in making the restaurant homely. His passionate message about the vegetables served in the restaurant being organically home grown in his family farm in Capua, Italy, were colourfully decorated throughout the restaurant. Old black and white photographs of the family back in Italy added to the comforting homely rustic feel, making it stand out from the soulless chains that dominate this modern day globalised existence .

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From the moment my friend and I sat down, it was as it always is with old friends, without children to spoil our fun. The conversation was non-stop, unable to find a second to even glance at the menu. We were too caught up in each others worlds. The ambience was fantastic as was the waiter’s recommended organic vegetarian white wine and prosecco. We were surprised to see all the organic “vegetarian” and “vegan” wine listed on the menu and asked the waiter about them to which he responded dismissively “all wine is vegetarian”. Handsome Irish man later, shed some light on the matter by informing me that animal and dairy products are usually used in the wine making process. This new knowledge surprised me, so decided to do a little more research. I found that just before the wine is bottled, it is clarified and stabilised in a process called fining. Animal products like isinglass (fish bladders) and gelatin are commonly used as well as milk protein (casein) and albumin (egg whites).

When we finally got round to ordering, I decided on a starter of rice croquettes filled with mozzarella and peas and main of ravioli filled with potato and truffle served with pine kernel and pesto. My friend decided on a starter of rice milk mozzarella, red beetroot and basil dressing and main of wholemeal chicory risotto.

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The food was very fresh and but I was sad to say my rice croquette starter wasn’t particularly tasty. The salad was nice as was my pasta. The risotto was a surprise to both of us and was much lighter than we were expecting, with a very different slightly bitter taste (which I can only attribute to the chicory). All in all, the food didn’t live up to my high expectations (and boy were they high). But overall it was a good experience and I’d like to give it another try. I regretted not trying their Ayurvedic tea and dessert, which I will most definitely try next time.

The waiter informed us that the Barbican restaurant has a different clientele and hence is a little more up market. This information doesn’t influence my decision to go, as I prefer informal relaxed homely dining. Laid back and rustic is more my style, hence Holborn was perfect. But in order to experience a change of scene, I’d like to check out Amico bio in Barbican, which ironically is based in the meat market district of Smithfields.

Overall, the day was one of those perfect days where the sun was shining on my favourite city. The relaxed and comfortable atmosphere had allowed me to spend quality time with one of my most dearest of friend’s. Sharing our first experience of the organic vegetarian Italian restaurant, Amico bio.

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Fruit and vegetable play dough smoothie

I’m in love and have a spring in my step. I can’t stop boring my friends about the object of my affection. Handsome Irish man better be worried as he could find himself suitably replaced. I have now found a reason to jump out of bed in the morning to spend quality time with my new obsession. No, it’s not another man…….it’s the Nutribullet blender.

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Ever since my much younger, vibrant, stylish, fancy foot and child-free cousin introduced me to this wonder I have literally been obsessed. It’s really not like me to get hooked on such follies, but the smoothie she made tasted totes amazeballs (her words not mine). However, the appearance of the dull green sludge like liquid was anything but…..more like slimeballs. She informed me that it had spinach, banana, apples, blueberries, seeds, nuts and water. Basically a vitamin tablet in the form of a smoothie.

Ambitious A and Smiling S’s opinion

My constant companions Ambitious A and Smiling S were also impressed. I was even surprised that the dull green appearance didn’t put them off. My cousin nonchalantly informed me that she made one every morning. As much as I admired my young, carefree’s cousins healthy habit, I explained to her how it wouldn’t be as easy for me with my two little demanding diva’s in the morning……not to mention all the mess and washing up…..and where was I going to store another blender. My cousin was quick to reassure me by simply showing me the compact nutribullet and how easy it was to clean and make the smoothies. It basically has a simple formula. One green vegetable with four or five different fruits and topped off with boosting nuts/seeds. You can include the skin on fruit like apple and pears too, therefore less hassle to remove and healthier. Also it blends the fruits and vegetables to a really smooth consistency, which is an added advantage when little mouths are drinking it. I was convinced and ordered one as soon as I got the chance.

Play dough smoothie

The first morning after it arrived I hadn’t really planned what I was going to make so literally put whatever was in my fridge and topped off with some brazil nuts. Note to self-do not give test smoothie to your children. Especially when you are trying to get them to incorporate this healthy habit into their daily routine. Ambitious took one sip, swirled it around in her mouth like a seasoned smoothie connoisseur and responded with “mumma it tastes of play dough”……Me being the persistent (never pushy) mummy encouraged her to take another sip by insisting ” but darling you like eating play dough”….but being the headstrong mini-me she refused. Completely irritated by the fact she’d quite happily have continued, if it was actual play dough smoothie, but refused to drink a smoothie that had slight play dough flavours (I blame the brazil nuts). I despondently gave up and turned my attention to my Smily who wasn’t smiling at all but looking quite curious. I had high hopes for my little smiling angel whose tastebud weren’t as discerning as her older sister’s. As she swallowed her curious expression turned to that of confusion. Just as I was feeling expectant, she threw the cup of green liquid all over my cream wall…..thank god for washable paint. Second note to self-always give smoothies to Smily in a lidded cup. Handsome Irish man and I thought the smoothie was quite nice…….we must give play dough a try.

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again

I’m happy to say the following day’s attempt was a bigger success. I knew after the previous day’s disaster I would have to come up with a cunning plan that involved letting ambitious believe she was in charge of smoothie making duties. The deal was, if she made the smoothie she’d have to try it. Further convincing her by adding that it would taste amazing, especially as she was in charge. Of course she agreed.

As I cut up the apple and pears, I gave the girls their shiny new LIDDED smoothie cups to decorate with fruit stickers.

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Ambitious could hardly contain her happiness as she excitedly decorated the cups. Smily just sat back and watched, as she delegated the sticker decorating responsibilities to her big sister (a girl after my own heart).

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Ambitious delicately placed the spinach leaves into the smoothie cup, which was a surprise as she usually avoids it at all costs.

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She then added the chopped apples, pears.

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Followed by a banana, with a little taste just to make sure it was ripe enough.

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Pineapple for a burst of colour.

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A sprinkle of milled flax, sunflower, pumpkin and sesame seeds and goji berries.

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It was finally topped with some water.

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Blending commenced.

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The girls were definitely more impressed with this smoothie and proceeded to drink most of it.

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We’ve been having smoothie before breakfast every day for about two weeks and it’s been really easy with minimal mess and washing up. I’ve found my energy levels have shot up and I feel really happy that we’re all starting our day by nourishing our bodies with natural goodness.

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The scary scratchy throat symptom

I woke up the other day with an awful scratchy throat, throbbing headache and feeling absolutely exhausted, and NO I had not been indulging in any alcohol consumption the night before. I knew instinctively it was the start of a dreaded cold. Pre-kiddy days I would have gladly thrown the duvet back over my head and snuggled back into a scrumptious slumber, taking care of my body by resting it as much as possible. Unfortunately, post kiddy illness cannot be eased with such indulgences. Not only did I have to ignore the callings of my comfortable bed but had to take care of two completely incapable small people. Okay I was feeling slightly sorry for myself but if I didn’t, who would?!! Even a usually sympathetic handsome Irish man didn’t give a second glance as he rushed off to work. So there I was left with two hungry, half dressed children and a the start of a stupid cold to deal with. As I looked between my babies and my bed, never have I wanted to run and dive for cover as I wanted to in that moment. Unfortunately, the children won but the bed had seriously never looked sooooo appealing……

Instead of spiralling down a chasm of negative thought and self pity. I decided to tackle this cold with an attitude of mind over a matter and a cup of a natural tea. Generally, I’m not a fan of medicating myself for self-limiting issues which is quite ironic (note correct use of word Alanis Morissette), considering I’m a Pharmacist. But do occasionally reach for a couple of Paracetamols in times like these. This time, however, I decided to heal myself naturally with a hot drink of Manuka honey, ginger, lemon and turmeric.

I’m a massive fan of Manuka honey. This golden nectar from New Zealand has all sorts of healing properties. It has antibacterial, anti-fungicidal and antiviral properties which basically means it kicks the arse of any unwanted germs. You have to be careful to make sure it is genuine Manuka honey as there’s a lot of fake stuff out there. It’s also quite expensive, soley because of the fact demand outstrips supply. But it is magical stuff with a wonderfully woody taste.

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Lemon and turmeric, well just the sight of them make you feel like you’re doing something good to your body, but I guess that’s not scientific enough. Lemons are high in vitamin C which wards of infections and turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory hence allowing scratchy throats to feel, well, less scratchy.

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Ginger is warming and comforting, which in my mind could have been a nice replacement for my bed…..okay I’m clutching at straws now, but actually it does soothes sore throats and reduces coughing, especially those caused by the common cold.

So after the gorgeous girlies were dressed, fed and running havoc. I decided to lovingly make myself a cup of my natural soothing drink. It was pretty quick and easy. Once made, it smelt wonderfully healing and tasted pretty damn good too.

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Whist I sipped on it throughout the morning, I thought of all the benefits the ingredients were providing visualising it healing my body. By the afternoon I actually felt fine and was ready to face the rest of the day with my gorgeous gals, and my bed was but a distant memory.

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Ingredients and method

1) To a mug of hot water add 1/4 of tsp spoon of turmeric and 4 slices of fresh ginger.

2) Squeeze the juice of a whole lemon

3) Add Manuka honey to taste

4) Let it rest for about 5 mins

5) Drink, drink, drink and best of all ENJOY!!!!

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Zen and the art of baking with children

This baking episode was a bit like having children. I was really excited and hopeful at the prospect, but actually it was a lot harder work than the rose tinted glasses had promised. Ultimately though, I’m happy we embarked on this craaaazy journey as we’re better people as a result. I’m not sure if I’m talking about baking or having children any more. Oh yes, both….I think?!!

We made healthy summer blueberry and banana muffins over the weekend. With lots of yummy healthy ingredients including the obvious blueberrys and bananas as title of muffin suggests, as well as desiccated coconut (unsweetened), cinnamon, oats and honey.

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It took me a long time deciding this recipe. Being the fickle woman that I am, my loyal companion google was teasing me with far too many options, as usual. With the added pressure of mouthwatering photos of the finished products, tempting me further. I think next time I will employ the help of my three year old, Ambitious A, who is a lot better at the decision making process than me. I finally decided to take inspiration from a few recipes, but went mainly with one from the good food guide. I did, however, both intentionally and unintentionally make a few amendments, but more of that later.

My gorgeous gals, Ambitious A and Smiling S were ready, as usual, armed with their bowls and wooden spoons to embark on this baking battle. I was, of course, leading the way………okay okay Ambitious A was the leader, and Smily and I dutifully followed.

Ambitious A, was particularly excited about using her cute miniature baking set which a friend kindly bought for her christmas/birthday present. Yes, she shares her birthday with a particularly prominent figure but in Ambitious’s eyes Christmas is actually a celebration of her birthday. As she so eloquently exclaimed last christmas as we were walking around a beautifully lit up Kingston “look mamma the christmas lights are out for my birthday”.

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I put my meditation skills to good use during this challenging baking session. CALM was the word I kept repeating to myself throughout the bake off as Ambitious A, being as ambitious as ever, wanted to move onto mixing all the ingredients before we’d completed adding them all. In my haste of simultaneously trying to block my determined daughters efforts of mixing before we were ready, scanning through the method, trying to add all the ingredients quickly and checking smily was still smiling. I missed the all important step of separating the egg yolk from the white. I still have no idea what the purpose of this all important step is, so have deciding to fein ignorance. I/Ambitious A proceeded to add the eggs as they are (shell not included)……well maybe a tiny bit of shell escaped unintentionally (for added crunchiness).

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Ambitious A was getting increasingly frustrated at my attempts of getting her to exercise the virtues of patience and I’m sad to say it culminated in tears. Meanwhile, smily stared bemused at her older (but not wiser-yet) sisters antics, whilst munching on blueberries and bananas completely oblivious to what all the fuss was about. Following a few tear stained kisses and cuddles, Smily offered her sister a blueberry as a peace offering, on my behalf of course. So they happily munched away for a while.

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Tantrum forgotten, they moved on with intense focus onto the following steps including the mushing of the banana.

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The girls were finally relaxed, as we ploughed through the last steps of stirring the muffin mixture much to ambitious’s delight and adding them to the case with zen like tranquility.

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But of course, Ambitious had to impart her last words of wisdom upon her faithful subjects “you mustn’t try to stop me when I’m trying to do something”……..I resignedly look at smily thinking this may well be the story of my life……….

 

The muffins, in my opinion, were delicious and the girls and my neighbour’s 2 year old loved them. My sweet toothed handsome Irish man and neighbour also liked them but thought they could have been sweeter. The original recipe did state 75g of sugar. I decided to add 50g and the rest as honey for added healthiness. Please see recipe below with photos of the finished product.

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Ingredients

125g plain flour

75g wholemeal flour

150g rolled oats

50g desiccated (unsweetened coconut)

50g brown sugar

3tbs honey

3 tsp baking powder

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp salt

2 bananas, mashed

2 large eggs, separated or unintentionally unseparated in my case

3 tbsp coconut oil

250ml milk

125g blueberries

Method

Time taken-1 hour 25 minutes (with children-tantrum included)

1) In a bowel, combine the plain flour, wholemeal flour, oats, coconut, brown sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.

2) Create a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and add the mashed bananas, eggs, milk and coconut oil. Mix together gently with wooden spoon.

3) Add the blueberries and mix until distributed evenly

4) Divide the muffin mixture into cases and place in preheated oven at 200C/fan 180C/gas mark 6 for 25 mins until well risen and brown on top.

In the original recipe the eggs should be separated and yolks added in step 2. Then to whisk the egg whites into soft peaks and fold them in after step 2 is completed. In retrospect I’m glad I missed this step as too complex and time consuming with two munchkins. But I’m sure if they weren’t accompanying me in this baking journey it would have been a pleasure to do. 

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If you can’t beat them, bake for them

My eldest daughter ambitious Ariya, as I like to fondly refer to her, has a massively sweet tooth just like her daddy. They both love chocolates, biscuits and cakes so much that they seem to be a permanent fixture in our household, despite my numerous protests. I have no problem with the occasional sweet treat, but the idea of scoffing lots of sugar laden, shop bought rubbish with god knows how many additives leaves me with a horrible sickly sweet taste in my mouth. Having said this, I’m no angel and if you leave a bowl of crisps anywhere near me, you may mistake me for Paul Daniels-hey presto and they’ve gone. So maybe I should sympathise with half my family’s love of sweet treats. I’ve tried so hard to steer them away from sweets treats but my protests always seem to fall on deaf ears so I’ve made a decision. If you can’t beat them, bake for them. Yes, I decided to start baking healthy sweet treats for my family twice a week with the help of my dynamic duo daughters. My eldest, ambitious A, was ecstatic at the idea and proceeded to literally bug me every hour on the hour about when were we going to start baking. Now anyone who knows me knows that I am the polar opposite to a domestic goddess. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy feeding my family simple, quick healthy dinners but thats where it stops. The first bit of baking I ever did was to bake ambitious A a butterfly birthday cake for her first birthday. It was a good attempt but when I showed my disbelieving friends photos of my efforts they attempted to stifle giggles before asking what the weird shapes on the cake were. To which I incredulously replied “BUTTERFLIES OF COURSE!!!”.  So as you can probably tell, I found it difficult to share my gorgeous daughter’s enthusiasm at the prospect of baking healthy cookies but I’m happy to say WE DID IT and most importantly LOVED IT!!!

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It was a really fun activity and allowed the girls and I to work together which was a lovely bonding experience. All the while the girls were learning about all the yummy, natural ingredients and their benefits.

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Also, ambitious A being the determined little devil (ahem……angel) she is wanted to do everything, especially the things I find boring and laborious e.g. grating the carrot and crushing the nuts with the mortar and pestle. Boy that girl is strong.

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All the while my youngest, smiling Saoirse, was happily munching on bits of carrot.

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This was a great way to get both girls involved in a fun activity whist using lots of yummy natural ingredients to make nutritiously healthy cookies, hence a great learning experience.

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The girls munched on ingredients which I was perfectly happy with as they were yummy and natural e.g carrot, brazil nuts, almonds, walnuts, dried fruit ( raisins, cranberries, apricots), organic porridge oats.

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It took 40 minutes which was the perfect length of time to keep the girls amused , without them getting bored and irritable. Best of all it didn’t create too much mess.

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The finished cookies weren’t as aesthetically pleasing as shop bought ones but were incredibly tasty and all the family loved them (and some of the neighbours too). But best of all, the girls and I felt that proud glow of satisfaction knowing that we had a great deal of fun making the naturally healthy yummy cookies.

Here are the ingredients and method for the healthy cookies.

Ingredients

125g wholemeal or spelt flour

150g Organic jumbo porridge oats

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1/4 tsp sea salt

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

100g brown sugar

4tbs agave syrup (or honey)

1 large carrot, coarsely grated

100ml of olive oil or coconut oil

100g dried fruit (raisins, blueberries, dates, or apricots), chopped

100g nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, brazil nuts) roughly chopped or bashed in mortar and pestle

Prep: (without children 20 mins) (with children 40 mins)

cook: 13 mins

makes: 24

Method

Preheat oven 180 degrees celsius (gas mark 4)

Mix the flour, oats, bicarbonate of soda and salt in a big bowel, so the bicarbonate of soda and salt is evenly distributed. Add the remaining ingredients and simply mix.

Scoop it up by the tablespoon and press into rounds on an oiled baking sheet. Tidy up the edges. You’ll probably get a dozen per tray. If you don’t want two batches just freeze one batch for another day.

For chewy cookies, bake for 10 mins or till they are starting to set and go a little golden. For crisp cookies, flip them over and bake for another 3 mins or so.

Once cooked, they can store for a week in an airtight container. Perfect for those healthy sweet treats for the family and you can feel guilt free that the family is eating natural healthy ingredients.