FINDING MY ‘NEW NORMAL’ POSTPARTUM- holistically addressing perinatal anxiety, weight loss & more

*Breathing in deeply*
*Exhaling*

It’s Midsummer’s Eve here in Sweden and, rather than sharing a festive recipe, I am sharing reflections from a deeply personal journey. I believe inspiration comes in many forms. I could show you a picture perfect side of my life, or talk only about the appealing side of things, or not share at all and keep things surface. I can’t edit myself or style my life the way I edit and style my food images. Personally, I question whether much of the content we come across online is really “inspirational” in a life-changing sense, or whether it serves rather to create more unhappy comparison, lowered self-esteem and greater distance between those who are #goals or #inspo and mere mortals.

I want to honour where I am in my own imperfectly perfect journey, right here and now. And there might be someone out there who relates to what I am about to share.

Going through all of the emotional and physical stuff I have been while being more active via social channels and more public with my life as a result has been hugely confronting. And, at times, I have had to draw upon all my self-love resources and all the tools I have learned and earned after literally years of self-help/therapy/conscious growth, etc, in order to not buy into negative self-talk and feelings of not enoughness.

I am currently 16 months postpartum and several things have led me to this point in my own health story; a point at which I’ve found myself refocusing attention on making positive, long-lasting changes through taking daily actionable measures… holding myself accountable and reaching out to others who “get it”.

I must begin this story by stating that I honestly did not mind eating more Thai take-away food and veggie burgers than could be considered balanced in the first weeks after bringing Oliver home from the hospital. I didn’t mind lounging around in bed eating beetroot chips and dark chocolate as I recovered from the birth experience and my husband simultaneously recovered from an accident (and broken ribs). It didn’t make me feel “bad” or lazy. I welcomed the opportunity to just bond and chill the heck out. It was a quiet, cosy, nurturing time that we spent cocooning with our third baby and the furthest thing from my mind was “bouncing back”, fitting into my old clothes or anything of that nature. I wanted to rest. And when I wasn’t resting, I wanted to nest. As seems to be the way with me when pregnant or immediately postpartum, I let my instincts take the lead. And it served me well during those first weeks.

HAVING IT ALL MEANS
BEING ABLE TO ENJOY HAVING IT ALL

Listening to my body hasn’t always been easy, but with concerted practice over several years, it has become more so. I moved through the initial healing from birthing – the stitches and so on – and, as time went by, I started to venture out a little more. My schedule began to fill up steadily (as it does!) and by autumn of last year I found myself in the eye of an anxiety storm. And it caught me completely off guard.

On the outside, things looked great; 3 healthy, happy children, loving husband, new home to move into, a course that I was studying (and loving), lots of opportunities (creative and professional) coming my way. I was grateful, happy and excited.

At the same time the overwhelm was immense. I developed urticaria (or “stress hives”) seemingly out of nowhere for the first time in my life and my immunity in general weakened. I didn’t even know what the hives were exactly, and at one point – as crazy as it may sound – I feared I was allergic to my baby Oliver, because I would break out in hives when he touched me. Of course, that supposition in itself was distressing. But not identifying that the stressful happenings in my life, exhaustion, anxiety and the hives were interconnected, I simply took antihistamines (which had only very limited effect), drank coffee and tried to soldier on.

At the culmination of this period I found myself at Arlanda Airport after about 45 minutes of sleep, literally shaking and fighting the impulse to be sick from extreme exhaustion, with 3 kids in tow facing a long-haul flight to America. I broke down in tears in the departure lounge and told my husband that I feared I was losing my mind. He responded calmly and earnestly, “You’re not crazy. You’re just really, really tired.”

It was only after we had travelled and settled into our new place (and I’d had time to sleep properly/reflect/be/breathe) that I realised the connection. The hives? They completely disappeared – no medication required. The anxiety, likewise. And then the residual postpartum weight started to shift also.

I don’t intend to suggest that anxiety of unmanageable proportions has been a constant since Oliver was born, but for many months there has been an undercurrent of not-100%-rightness that I have felt, both physically and emotionally. And this has been punctuated with seemingly random (though not random!) flare-ups of intense overwhelm. In any case, anxiety for me tends to be of the high functioning sort which sees me take on more in an effort to gain control of the situation. Which causes me more anxiety. Yay!

COMPARING MYSELF TO PREVIOUS VERSIONS OF ME

When Oliver turned 1, I couldn’t help but compare postpartum me of 2011 and 2013 with the current version. By the time Louie and Lillian where 12 months old, I had lost all of the so-called baby weight without any dieting and no overbearing exercise schedule. And I had a LOT of extra weight to lose (at the end of my 1st pregnancy, I weighed 102 kg and at the end of my second, 92-93 kg). My approach was balanced, my attitude was great. And it worked.

In the first image below I am 31 weeks pregnant (yes, I still had 9 weeks of pregnancy and weight gain to go) with Lillian (aka Cupcake) in December 2012. I have no idea how much I weighed as I don’t own scales, but I was well on my way to 92 kg.

I didn’t mind, by the way. For those of you who don’t know, my pregnancy will Lillian was high risk. I had a blood clot inside the wall of my uterus that was larger than she was, that caused massive intermittent bleeding episodes and threatened her very existence. Weight gain was the least of my worries. I was thrilled to make it to 31 weeks, fat ankles and all. As seems to be the case when the actual big stuff happens, you don’t sweat the “small stuff”.

The second and third images are of me at 10 months postpartum the following December, weighing 58 kg (according to my parent’s bathroom scales in Adelaide). I look tired because we had literally just arrived back in Australia after long-haul, non-stop travel from Sweden via Dubai during which I had become unwell… and then headed out to a party after arriving in Adelaide! But I was genuinely very happy. And yes, I am drinking lemon squash with actual sugar in it in the image below because I really did consume what I felt like (all things in moderation, of course).

And so, given my history with pregnancy weight gain and postpartum loss , at the end of pregnancy 3 I wasn’t worried when the hospital scale revealed I was back at 93 kg in February 2016. But in February 2017, at 12 months postpartum and still 10 kg overweight with a body fat percentage of 34, I started to suspect that something was amiss.

Despite healthy eating and partaking in regular exercise, the natural, gradual and rather effortless shift back to my normal weight had completely stalled. And, what’s more, I was waking up routinely at 2-4 am with a racing heart and mind. Yes, anxiety was back too, only wrapped in a different package. During the day I’d be out and about… there were social and food situations galore, particularly when we were traveling in America and Australia for 4.5 months. All the while I was operating within an uncomfortably juxtaposed emotional reality; a genuine sense of excitement/happy gratitude (seriously, it’s pretty darn amazing to be traveling the world with your husband and children, meeting and making friends wherever you go!) and an uneasy, persistent, damn annoying background hum of not-100%-rightness that would sporadically ignite into episodes of full blow anxiety.

Through my course (more on that later) I was learning about the connection between cortisol, anxiety, weight gain/retention and sleep. The modules on this very subject couldn’t have come at a more apt juncture in my life! It’s safe to say that between pregnancy insomnia, co-sleeping with babies/toddlers and breastfeeding on demand and working late at night to achieve things that I can’t with the kids around across a 7 year span of time, I have rarely – if at all – during this “motherhood period” had 8 consecutive hours of sleep.

And my natural response to feeling low energy or under the weather? Keep going! Heaven forbid, don’t stop or you’ll crash*!

*Which is exactly what tends to happen.

It’s a vicious cycle. And all the kale in the world wont cure it.

This is what it looks like for me:

Feel motivated and driven > take on too much > feel tired > drink coffee or exercise to increase focus and stamina > sleep less > feel anxious > try to regain some semblance of control > take on more obligations/must-do’s > feel increasingly tired and overwhelmed > caffeine becomes necessary for “functioning” (but causes unease) > exercise is done to maintain a sense of control/restore “normalcy” (but seems to heighten the “tired but wired” factor)  > sleep situation worsens > immunity deteriorates > anxiety increases… and so it goes on.

THE ANXIETY+WEIGHT CONNECTION

Whether or not I have experienced full-blown adrenal fatigue, I’ve certainly experienced adrenal imbalance brought on by long-term stress (from lack of sleep/modern life/my own people pleasing tendencies, etc.). And adrenal imbalance causes both insulin and cortisol to remain elevated in the blood, leading to extra glucose being stored as fat. Guess where? That’s right; the tummy area. It’s a total myth that excess activity always leads to weight loss. In fact, when our adrenals are pushed to the max, we can remain stuck in a perpetuating cycle of excess weight/fat retention (more on that later!).

Add hypothyroid and breastfeeding hormones to the equation and what do you get? Weight (and a post-baby belly) that wont budge. Diastisis recti will only serve to amplify the visual effect of it all. As a result of the postpartum combo deal (weight gain deluxe with a side of hypothyroid and diastis smothered in cortisol, super-sized), I looked like I was in the second trimester of pregnancy for a good year postpartum!

Excess tummy is very normal after having a baby; I know this from personal experience (x 3). But I also know what it is for my body to find its own balance again and “release” excess weight naturally over time through sensible diet/exercise and breastfeeding.

What happens, however, when you do all the same stuff but the formula doesn’t add up to the same result? That’s where I have been the past few months, despite having come a long way if looking at the weight factor alone (which I do not).

My journey back to me is motivated by self-love and a desire to have balance in my life. And because I truly believe that the weight/sleep/emotional overwhelm/anxiety issue is actually the same thing in different manifestations, the only way for me to move forward has been to look at things holistically.

If it’s running on the performance/burn-out treadmill that perpetuates imbalance, then the cycle has to be stopped, firstly. Clearly I can’t abandon all my pursuits and responsibilities to go on a retreat or chant in a cave somewhere. After all, I have three young and very dependant children to care and provide for. I can, however, take simple actions towards prioritising myself again.

Jumping back to the topic of my course, some of you may be aware that I have been studying Health Coaching for the past year. It has been an absolute revelation, not merely in terms of knowledge acquired. The greatest lessons have been those of a personal growth nature. Having said that, one interesting fact that I learned in a recent lecture with Deepak Chopra* (*hello! I am still pinching myself that after years of doing his meditation experiences [as documented on this very blog], he is one of my lecturers!), that weight loss programs have a 24% success rate when a person engages solo, and a 55% to 66% success rate when done with emotional support. To me this is further proof of what I have seen to be true in my own life; that our physical and emotional lives are inextricably linked and taking care of both is the key to optimal health, balance and happiness. Health Coaches may refer to the non-nutritional elements that “feed” us as primary food. These things include our careers, relationships and spiritual practices. What we consume in terms of nutrition is referred to as secondary food. As a result of doing my course and practicing health histories and consults with other students, I have been getting ample support in various areas, particularly in primary food. I feel like I have been in therapy. In a good way. 😀

WHAT IS WORKING FOR ME:
ACHIEVING BALANCE WHILE DIMINISHING
PERINATAL ANXIETY & EXCESS WEIGHT

Looking at both my primary and secondary food areas, these are the things that have worked for me and have resulted in a MASSIVE reduction in anxiety (as in, I haven’t had it at all for a few weeks now!), a huge difference in my belly and simultaneous weight loss of around 5 kg over a 4 week period.

Eating healthy food at regular intervals. So not nothing at all, followed by massive meal, followed by endless snacks at midnight 😛 , in other words.

Cleansing. Eating “clean” in smaller portions. Drinking lots of water (more than I think I need!).

Eating nutrient dense foods for sustenance rather than reaching for something sugary/empty processed carbs/a caffeinated drink. This should be a no brainer for someone who has been around IQS circles as long as I have, but it still can happen.

If taking supplements works, I do it. I am not a big fan of taking medications for symptoms (unless absolutely necessary), but I don’t have any problem with adding certain supplements to my diet. These can included multi-vitamins (I took prenatal ones daily throughout all my pregnancies), probiotics and so on. Personally, I find zinc and B12 have a positive effect on me. And making sure I get enough vitamin D living in Sweden is crucial to my mental and physical health.

Disconnecting. I fully appreciate that these may not seem the easiest things to do in a fast-paced world with an A-Type drive, but I have started implementing a few simple things that are so easy to incorporate into my daily routine that it seems absurd not to do them. These include using the timer system to help me maximise my productivity while minimising my time engaging in one activity. For example, if I have email to respond to, I can set a timer for 30 minutes and attempt to cover as much as possible within that time frame. Once the timer goes off, I take a break, drink water and move on to something else. Another things that sets me on a good path for the day is morning meditation or breathing exercises. I am a huge fan of discovering simple meditation practices and yoga flows online (thank you, YouTube!) and there are several 10-minute practices that are great. Another is a simple breathing exercise that involves breathing in to a count of 4, holding the breath for a count of 7 and exhaling to a count of 8. This is a go-to of mine. It works.

Getting moving. In my experience, when my adrenals are under pressure, certain types of activities that I ordinarily love and gravitate towards only exacerbate the problem. Having said that, movement of some form always elevates my mood and is a natural vitality booster. I love running and hot yoga, but they don’t always love me back. In fact, during periods of anxiety they can add to the downward spiral and manifest in weakened immunity. Opting for walking, laps in a pool, yin yoga, Pilates or Body Balance classes can be much more health affirming during times of stress. The key is listening to my body.

Getting organised. I can’t tell you how much simply writing things out helps me clear the head clutter. What’s more, scheduling my day into digestible portions of time (such as allocating 30 minutes to answering email before taking a break or prioritising 10 minutes for breathing exercises) not only helps me curb my multi-tasking tendencies but also helps me focus as I am engaging in the activities that I have determined matter most. My day is more productive, my head space is clearer and any time left for just being can be enjoyed without guilt or an undercurrent of anxiousness about commitments left unmet.

I created my own daily plan with all my “minimums” included (such as drinking water, etc). I literally use a timer to keep track of my activities, lest I get sucked down the overcommitment rabbit hole.

Just stopping… and sleeping! We all know that an excess of belly can be a spin-off from pregnancy, but stubborn belly fat is also a common sign of adrenal fatigue. Not only does the stress hormone, cortisol, activate glucose, fats and amino acids to keep our body fuelled between meals, but it maintains blood sugar levels and helps our cells absorb glucose. Fat cells have special receptors for cortisol, and there are more of these receptors in our abdominal fat cells than anywhere else in our bodies. Thus our bodies can respond to the stress by inviting more fat to be deposited in this area, perpetuating the cycle of adrenal imbalance. One of the top recommendations for people suffering from adrenal fatigue is to simply slow down and rest as much as possible (aiming for 8–10 hours sleep per night if possible and maintaining a regular sleep pattern). Eating less food late in the day (when we eat, our cortisol levels are elevated), “unplugging” from all technology two hours before bed and trying to be asleep by 10 pm are all simple ways to promote a better quality of sleep and deeper rest.

Focusing on joy. In the midst of emotional crisis and times of healing, there are still things to be grateful for. Gratitude lists and affirmations have served me well for the past 18 years and, although ideally I would do them daily, I will always come back to them in times of need. Having fun, lightening up, laughing and indulging in pastimes that are enjoyable should be prioritised as a matter of self-love and self-care. For me this means cuddles with my kids, fun family activities (such as cooking together), and scheduling time for creative pursuits and exercise.

Decluttering. My anxiety kicked off in full force around the time we were getting ready to sell our last home. It’s when the boxes started emerging from storage that the extent of our possessions (and my overwhelm) met with the light of exposure. I’d long considered us to be minimalists of a fashion. But no. We had stuff. It was just hidden from view. With every box that emerged from our basement came an added sense of emotional heaviness, a mental burden (“What the heck are we going to do with this stuff?”) and a physical, logistical issue of moving/clearing/rearranging. And that’s where Marie Kondo and the KonMari method came into my life. I will share more on that in future posts (an entire blog could be dedicated solely to her method). Suffice to say, it works. I describe the experience as being semi-traumatic and ultimately utterly liberating. I wont go into the clutter and excess weight correlation in this post, but there most definitely is one!

Saying no and setting boundaries. This has been a challenge and a theme in my life for, well… my whole life! Interestingly, just as I was in the process of drafting this post, I took a short break and this article from The New York Times immediately popped up in my Facebook feed.

“Humans are social animals who thrive on reciprocity.
It’s in our nature to be socially obliging, and the word no feels like a confrontation that threatens a potential bond.
But when we dole out an easy yes instead of a difficult no we tend to overcommit our time, energy and finances.”

That absolutely resonates. But for me, as a highly sensitive person with a Type A drive combined with people-pleasing predisposition, I have been known to take “yes” to extremes. And pay dearly for it.

And so I am practicing not only that art of saying no, but saying no without justification/guilt. F.R.E.E.D.O.M!

WHERE I AM AT TODAY

I am still a work in progress in every way (as are we all), but in terms of the physical manifestation of the changes I have made in my life recently, I thought it would be interesting to share  what has occurred over a one month period. I feel it MUST be said that weight loss has not been my primary goal. I’d rather be slightly overweight, comfortable in my own skin, happy and kind to myself and others than skinny, desperate, unhappy, burdened with self-loathing and riddled with judgement of others.

However, for the past few months I haven’t been entirely happy… or comfortable in my own skin. No one with the anxiety levels I had could be! And, as mentioned earlier, I instinctively knew that postpartum weight retention, exhaustion and anxiety were connected in my case. I was convinced that addressing one issue would automatically mean addressing all of them.

As has been the case throughout most of my adult life, the changes I have made have come from a place of self-love rather than self-hate. So that’s my disclaimer.

I am not sharing a perfected, filtered version of reality to make someone else feel bad. I am sharing this because hopefully someone out there can relate (and may possibly feel less alone in their own health/postpartum journey).

I am actually rather shocked when I compare these images, especially considering that during the month these changes have taken place I have embarked on long-haul travel, eaten far more food than I would have otherwise while on our cruise with Royal Caribbean (albeit on the healthier side [more on that in a future post]) and come down with a couple of colds (thanks nursery school germs! 😛 ) that have prevented me from exercising for a week and a half in total.

My husband took the pictures and though we tried to replicate the first stance/angle/position and shoot at the same time of day, of course we couldn’t 100%. The images are un-retouched, entirely unglamorous, utterly unflattering and feature messy morning hair (not Instagramable “styled messy”), 14 year-old leggings and a 6 year-old nursing bra. How’s that for #keepingitreal 😛 ? It’s uncomfortable enough sharing this as it is, so if unkind comments pop into your head, please feel free to leave them there.

I still have a few kilos (3 or so) to lose to be back at my so-called ideal weight (according to BMI charts, not according to a self-imposed number). The diastisis recti is a work in progress but definitely in better order and I continue to do certain exercises specifically to heal it. As you may be able to see, I still have a linea nigra (the dark line that can appear on the belly during pregnancy due to hormones) and stretch marks (which I did not acquire so many of during pregnancies 1 and 2). It will be interesting to see what happens with those things over time. Feeling good and emotionally stable as I do right now, I am in no hurry. Plus they don’t really bother me.

My skin does at times, however. Here are two images to show you what I consider to be a pretty amazing transformation. Image 1 was taken on the same day as the ‘before’ pictures you see above. Image 2 was taken on the same day as the ‘after’ images. Yes, I have some freckles and hyper-pigmentation (mostly acquired during my pregnancies, as is common), but as you can see, skin that was arguably extra “hormonal” is now “clear”, less puffy and more hydrated.

There have been invisible physical changes too. For example, I had a health check done before we travelled and my metabolic age had gone from 42 to 33. Over a 3 week period.

How can I not believe that all my issues are interconnected? It is glaringly obvious.

To sum up, for me a cleanse or reboot goes beyond drinking juice for a couple of days or eating raw food/low carb/soup/grapefruit/bananas for a couple of weeks. If things don’t happen holistically for me – if the root causes of an issue remain unexplored – the solutions I apply to the problem are proverbial band aids without longterm impact. The saying goes that happiness is an inside job. And I agree. But that “inside job” can have external manifestations too (hence including the images in this post)!

If you’d like me to share more about this particular journey of mine, let me know.

And if you’re in the process of your own health journey, looking for support, tools and an accountability advocate, I have more news. With one week left until I graduate (!), I am now able to offer a free consultation in the form of a one hour Skype session to a handful of balance-seekers on a first come, first serve basis. So please drop me a line if that interests you.

And regardless of where you are on your path, I send you thanks for your time spent reading this and I wish you a happy Midsummer/Midwinter!

❤ Marisa xx

*For your reference, non-metric people, 102 kg is 224,872 pounds and that is the most I have weighed as a result of pregnancy (or at all). 

POTATO & RED PESTO PIZZETTAS WITH ROCKET

Short on time? I empathise! So here’s a short post and a quick recipe.

Yes, I am back with another pizzetta variation. And once again the recipe title probably suggests this isn’t pizza in any traditional sense. But if you’re on the search for something tasty, simple and a little different, why not give it a go? I first made these last year along with a couple of other oat bread “pizzettas” (basically because we had oat bread that required usage!), and by far this recipe was the one most enquired about. So for those who asked, I am happy to oblige… albeit in a rather belated fashion.

Varsågod, as we say in Sweden!

And glad nationaldag to all my Swedish friends and relatives who had a lovely day of sunshine to enjoy on this public holiday!

❤ Marisa

PS If you happen to use the same brand of oat bread I did, it comes in triangles. Ready-made pizza slices, in other words! 😀

POTATO & RED PESTO PIZZETTAS WITH ROCKET

Serves: 4

INGREDIENTS
6 tablespoons red pesto
8 Swedish oat bread triangles (or 4 medium-sized flat breads)
4 new potatoes, parboiled (peeled if you like)
A pinch of dried rosemary
A pinch of thyme
Organic olive oil

Salt & pepper to taste
Lemon juice
A couple of handfuls of fresh rocket/arugula

PESTO INGREDIENTS*

150 g marinated sun-dried tomato halves in oil* (approx. 24)
90 ml oil reserved from jar*
A handful of basil leaves
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder (optional)
30 g pine nuts (approx. 5 tbsp)
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp white/red wine vinegar

DIRECTIONS FOR PESTO

Blitz all ingredients in a small food processor until desired consistency is reached.

*If not using sun-dried tomatoes in oil:
Cover 24 sun-dried tomato halves with boiling water in a medium-sized bowl and let soak for around 20 minutes. Replace garlic powder with 2-3 cloves chopped fresh garlic and add 100 ml olive oil plus salt to taste to the mix with all the other ingredients listed above. Blitz all ingredients in a small food processor until desired consistency is reached.

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 220°C (fan).
  2. Spread pesto evenly over bread of choice.
  3. Slice the potatoes ¼ cm thick and lay them on top of the pesto. With a silicon brush, coat the potato slices lightly with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with a little rosemary and thyme.
  4. Cook in the oven until the potatoes have started to brown and crisp at the edges and appear fully cooked through (if sliced very thin, they will have a translucent quality).
  5. Remove from oven, scatter over fresh rocket, squeeze over a little lemon juice and serve.

 

GRILLED NECTARINE & AVOCADO PIZZETTAS (and some reflections on anxiety)

As summer creeps back in (thank you, Sweden*!), it’s time to celebrate with family, friends and perfectly summery festive food! These pizzettas are a take on my popular Nectarine & Avocado Toasties of a couple of years back. Made simply with Mexican pita breads and cashew cheese, they’re a light, simple lunch or wholesome addition to your party table or BBQ.

On the topic of wholesome food and living, I am currently in the process of a cleanse (detox, if you will). As a result my brain is a little foggy, my skin is atrocious and at times I question why I am doing it at all. But with Oliver slowly weaning himself, my hormones out of whack, finally starting to bounce back after months of intermittent perinatal anxiety, and yet another change of timezone and climate now that we are back in Sweden, I find myself craving total recalibration.

There are a few things I am doing to address this. A cleanse is one, and others include daily meditation, writing ‘morning pages‘, daily yoga (albeit just 10 minutes some days), daily movement in some form for 60 minutes, baths, reading a book instead of having screen time before bed, limiting time on social media/responding to email. It really seems to be working already. And despite the fact that Oliver is still breastfeeding on demand during the night, my overall amount of sleep has increased… as has the quality.

I have finally finished reading two books that are now rather dear to me: Marie Kondo’s the life-changing magic of tidying up and Sarah Wilson’s first, we make the beast beautiful. I don’t know if these books came into my life at this time as a result of need – a student is willing, teacher appears kind of scenario – or whether I would have read them regardless of anxious status (probably the latter). But the fact is that both books have been a huge help. Firstly, I see clearly that I am not alone in my feelings about “stuff”/my home as a sanctuary/my anxiety as a gift-curse conundrum (but ultimately a gift). Secondly, being presented with suggestions for actionable strategies to deal with everything from clutter overwhelm to emotional overwhelm is fabulous for a person like me who loves a challenge (and also has tendencies towards analysis paralysis if left to my own overthinky devices).

Half way through first, we make the beast beautiful, back in
our friend’s beach house in South Australia

 

I won’t dwell too much more on this now, but I do hope to write further posts with retrospective reflections when I am on the other side of processing this remarkable/challenging/beautiful little hump in my life.

❤ Marisa xx

*It was literally snowing here two weeks ago and I don’t have words to describe how that makes me feel!

 

GRILLED NECTARINE & AVOCADO PIZZETTAS

Serves: 2-4

INGREDIENTS

4 small thick pita breads (or flat bread of choice)
2 large ripe avocados
2 ripe nectarines
A handful of fresh rocket/arugula
1/2 a lemon
A pinch or two of dried chilli flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil for griddle pan

CASHEW CHEESE INGREDIENTS

250 ml raw cashews (soaked for at least a few hours, then drained)
80 ml water (extra if needed)
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar (or lemon juice)
2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp sweet paprika
Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

  1. Make the cashew cheese by blending all the cheese ingredients in a food processor or high power blender until a smooth, cream cheese-like texture is achieved.
  2. Heat a griddle pan over medium high heat.
  3. Slice each nectarine into wedges (approximately 14 per nectarine depending on size).
  4. Cut the avocado in half, use a butter knife to cut slices of avocado of an even width, then use a spoon to scoop the avocado flesh out.
  5. Add olive oil to the griddle pan and place nectarine slices onto it in rows. After a couple of minutes check to make sure they have griddle marks, then flip them over and continue cooking for a minute or two on the other side. Remove from pan and set to the side.
  6. Repeat the process using the avocado slices.
  7. If desired, toast pita breads.
  8. Spread each pita bread generously with cashew cheese.
  9. Arrange nectarine and avocado slices on top of the pita breads, season to taste and sprinkle with chilli flakes. Top with rocket. Dress with a squeeze of lemon.
  10. Serve immediately.

*The gorgeous little plate you see in the top corner is the work of my friend Kate Kneipp. Her pieces are truly sublime!

 

 

FAMILY FARM STAY REFLECTIONS FROM BACK 2 EARTH, SHOALHAVEN (+ cashew yogurt breakfast pizza recipe!)

*Post update, June 2017* The Rescued Animal Adoption Program at Back 2 Earth is now live. I am very grateful to have been a small part in its conception and I wish Marc, Jenny and animal rescuers/advocates everywhere the very best. To get to know the animals, donate or get involved head here: https://back2earth.net.au/adopt-an-animal/

 

After exceeding 2000 km of cross-country car travel, I arrived in Berry on the 21st of March, travel-weary, newly on antibiotics and still very much under the weather. My travel companions – my husband (aka Designated Driver), hungry one year-old Oliver, plus Louie and Lillian – were, like me, rather keen to stretch their legs after hours on the road en route from Kariong. Pulling in at Back 2 Earth, we were immediately struck by the tranquility of the place. I think I may have audibly sighed with relief. The pups who enthusiastically bounded over to greet us did nothing to disturb the serenity. In fact, they added to the pleasantness of the warm welcome we received from Jenny and Marc.

Having spent so many days on the road, staying in many places merely overnight, I was beyond tired. Hence my body was unable to fight off whatever it was that I’d come down with in Sydney and, after over a week of pushing on regardless, I conceded surrender and found myself in a doctor’s office in Newcastle. Antibiotics were prescribed (as I knew they would be). And so was rest. We had originally planned to stay just one night at Back 2 Earth. My exhausted body said “Stay for two!”, and once my body and brain reached a consensus, it felt right to extend our visit. Oh, the relief of having a place to call home for more than a night.

THE ACCOMMODATION

And what a place! I was delighted to find our self-contained cottage style B&B accommodation was generously appointed and featured a comfy open plan living and dining room, a separate kitchen (complete with all cutlery/crockery/mod cons) and several other features just perfect for a motel-weary family. The large bedroom was furnished with a comfortable queen bed and the children had a cosy bunk bed to share. The bathroom was a welcoming amalgamation of homely comfort and day spa. The veranda was the perfect place from which to greet the morning. And though it was too warm to justify using a log fireplace, I imagine reading a book in front of it would be a wonderful way to relax at the end of a leisurely day.

There are three accommodation options for visitors – all with gorgeous veranda views of Berry Mountain and the paddocks – including the Cozy B&B where we resided as a family.

Aside from the high standard of accommodation, there are some offerings that make Back 2 Earth rather unique in the realm of farm stays. The first is that the farm animals are not “working” farm animals, but rather rescued animals for whom the farm is a sanctuary and a “forever home”. The second is that Marc and Jenny continue to practice their respective pre-farm professions from specially designed buildings on the farm, meaning that Back 2 Earth is a farm meets holistic health retreat, where float tank experiences, massage therapy and psychotherapy sessions are all on offer for those who are interested.

Not only does the 5-acre farm produce its own organic fruit and vegetables, but the entire operation is run on the principles of sustainability, environmental awareness, zero waste and self-sufficiency. And it’s all the more impressive considering Marc and Jenny created it all themselves in an ambitiously short period of 3 years!

Exploring the farm in the rain

One thing that I love about the manner in which this particular farm stay operates (we have glamped on organic farms before in the UK), is that guests can design their own experience. From romantic getaway, to health & wellness retreat, to an opportunity to introduce your children to farm life and animal care/welfare, the experience of staying at Back 2 Earth can be… well, just what you want it to be!

THE FOOD

If you hang out on this blog for the food content, you will no doubt be curious about the culinary aspect of the Back 2 Earth experience. The main thing to note is that the catered option is raw vegan. And whether or not you are familiar with raw vegan cuisine, you are in for both a surprise and a treat. Aside from the catered packages which can be tailored to suit your needs (we had one dinner and two breakfasts plus snacks), the self-catering option is generously complemented by the guest harvesting allowance; teas and vegetables can be picked fresh from the gardens for personal use!

Fresh fruit & veg juice to start the day

Marc is the chef on-site, responsible for most of the dishes and recipes that leave the farm’s strictly vegan kitchen. Aside from teaching interested guests about farm life, Marc also runs raw food workshops which can be tailor-made to suit specific areas of interest or health/dietary needs. My workshop included recipes and demos (plus hands-on experience for myself and the children) for raw burgers, cashew cheese dip, raw yogurt, golden milk turmeric chai lattes, choc mint pralines (with amazing raw mint fondant), and more! And yes, I did get to sample everything!

Raw food workshop

I asked Marc and Jenny how they came to adopt the raw vegan lifestyle. They explained that, while traveling in the U.S., Marc began to suffer from debilitating diet related illness. At some point in the trip after Marc had required a period of bed rest, they found themselves in a raw food café. Browsing through the book collection, they became engrossed in the vegan lifestyle-related literature. By the end of that day, they’d worked their way through several books and decided to embrace raw veganism. They haven’t looked back. And I am happy to report that all is well on the health front for Marc these days too.

If you are labouring under a misapprehension that eating raw food equates to subsisting on salads of leafy greens, rest assured the food at Back 2 Earth is anything but boring; think cashew yogurt unicorn smoothie bowls, coconut granola, 3-layer smoothies, bloomed wild rice stuffed tomatoes, spirulina crackers, golden milk lattes, organic fruit platters and dehydrated apple & cinnamon birds nests. Families visiting the farm with kids in tow may well discover what we did. Our little foodies were delighted by some of the most interesting, whimsical and inspired food we’ve eaten since we left Sweden… and it all happened to be 100% refined sugar-free, gluten-free, grain-free and plant-based (I think Marc is part chef, part magician 😀 ). The vibrant, nutrient-dense & delicious catered raw food options at Back 2 Earth are available at an additional cost if desired, and some are included with special accommodation packages.

3-layer fruit smoothie

Incredible breakfast spread for the whole family

 

THE R & R FACTOR

If there’s anything that will snap you out of an under-the-weather-melancholy funk, it’s fresh air, good food and a big old dose of perspective. On my second morning at the farm, I walked out onto the verandah to witness the sun rising over the farm. Playful puppy, Squishy, bounced around excitedly by my feet. At the recollection of his story (just weeks before he’d been left to die in a trash can), tears sprang to my eyes. I consoled myself by watching him happily tiring himself out, knowing that he’d found not only rescue but a love-filled home, thanks to Marc and Jenny.

A tuckered out little Squishy

Marc led me to the building that houses both the massage area and the float tank room. He explained the mechanics of the float tank process, such as wiping the glass area above your face with a wash cloth to avoid salt water dripping down.

Although the physical aspects of the float tank process are easy to relay (step in, wipe glass, close hatch, etc.), the internal process I went through during that hour is still very difficult for me to articulate. If you’ve ever had issues “sitting with yourself” then it may well bring some things up for you…. much like silent meditation, but intensified. For an hour I floated with myself, mostly in silence. I swung from finding myself in what I would describe as a semi-relaxed state to borderline anxious. As I watched my many (many, many) thoughts come and go, my body felt weightless, but my heart felt heavy. I felt claustrophobic, not because of the tank itself, which is surprisingly roomy and a very pleasant temperature, but rather because I was bombarding myself with “my stuff”; my thoughts, self-imposed obligations, insecurities.

As I bobbed on the surface of that incredibly salty water, my emotional stuff rose to the surface of my consciousness. And you know what? It is fine that it did. In fact, it is good that it did. The distractions and to-do’s that I often find myself wading knee-deep in prevent me from being with me. Or rather, just being. Anxiety starts to flare up as a result. And some of the best ways I have found to restore the equilibrium are to slow down, to sit with myself, to feel, to be in the moment… and, when all else fails, to cry.

As much as I found the experience confronting, I also found it healing in a kind of uncomfortable “break through” kind of way. The ol’ spiritual-awakening-in-the-form-of-a-rude-awakening scenario, that I am all too familiar with! At one point right near the end of the experience, I had to open the hatch a crack. There was just too much “me” in that space. I thought about all the people out there who naturally “get” relaxation. People who fall asleep on massage tables (what? Are you kidding me?)… or in float tanks. I am fairly certain we are wired differently. Or maybe I just have a ton of work to do on myself before I get to that point. Or maybe it’s not about work… maybe it’s about surrender. Or something.

The music that signalled the final stretch of floatation time began to play and I felt relieved. My session ended, I stepped out of the float tank, showered, changed, paused briefly to examine a crystal in the room (wondering if I’d receive some magical healing benefit by osmosis) and left the building. Marc met me outside and asked me how I had found the experience. I opened my mouth to answer that I’d found it “challenging”, then promptly burst into tears. At this point I feel I need to add that my husband – who, on any given day, is likely to be balanced emotionally without any concerted effort – loved the floatation experience, not because it revealed anything to him, but rather because it was thoroughly relaxing! In an understanding in manner, clearly unfazed by my tears, Marc nodded and explained that emotions can indeed surface as a result of the experience. My understanding, however, is that many (if not most) people, will experience what my husband did: serenity and deep relaxation.

THE ANIMALS

Feeding the rescued animals was of course a highlight (and something the children still talk about now), but there is a lasting impression made too by the stories of the animals and how they came to live at Back 2 Earth.

The farm began with Marc and Jenny’s dream “to live a life based on kindness and compassion, to heal our health and to have as little footprint on the environment as possible”. From that initial spark of inspiration came a farm, a raw vegan, organic health retreat, farm stay and an animal sanctuary… which is now home to 75 animals!

One such animal is Alphie. As robust, friendly and somewhat mischievous as he is today, Alphie didn’t always feel so spritely. In fact his journey to the farm started with a horrific accident, when the gate of a speeding truck he was being transported in (along with many other baby goats), flew open. Alphie was one of the survivors but required medical care and rehabilitation, after which he was shuffled from home to home before finally finding love and stability at the farm.

Cheeky Alphie was a favourite

Jasper and Puddles (horse and donkey respectively) were rescued as a duo. Jasper had suffered abused as a young colt and, as a result of being beaten on the head and otherwise mistreated, he arrived at Back 2 Earth just a few weeks ago, skittish, dishevelled and dirty. Now well-fed, loved and housed with his good friend Puddles, Jasper is acclimatising to his new home, and each day is a little more curious, friendly, and confident. He finally has a safe home and haven. He finally knows something of human kindness.

REFLECTIONS

I typed the following words on my phone on our last day at Back 2 Earth. As they still ring true in summing up my feelings about our stay, I’ll share them again here…

“The culinary experience here is amazing and it has opened my eyes to possibilities. But beyond that this place has had a profound and unexpected effect on me. As we prepare to leave for our next destination, I feel grateful… both for the chance to rest and recuperate (feeling much better, thank you to my friends who asked) and the wake up call. I want to contribute more to the world through kindness and Back 2 Earth is a fabulous inspiration.

As I sit here and type, I feel both strangely relaxed & slightly overwhelmed by my experiences. To be clear, this place is all about rest & recalibration. There is, however an element of #inspo (for lack of a better term) that provokes a deep emotional response in me. Perhaps it’s Mark & Jenny’s steadfast dedication to the raw vegan lifestyle coupled with an understanding, inclusive stance towards their non-raw vegan guests, some whom are here to heal. Perhaps it’s the fact that they built all of this on a dream, in a ridiculously short amount of time and with no prior knowledge/experience either with raw food or farming. And one cannot help but be moved by the rescued animals at the centre of this story and the new, happy lives they have been afforded as a result of Mark & Jenny’s incredible dedication to the betterment of circumstances for all beings.”

Literally within minutes of first arriving at the farm, my 4 year-old daughter exclaimed, “I want to be in this family!”, and no doubt now we have left she has taken her Back 2 Earth farm stay impressions with her both in memory and heart. I think we all have.

❤ Marisa xx

PS Want the chance to treat yourself and your loved ones to a fabulous Back 2 Earth farm stay experience? Visit me on Instagram for details and you could be the lucky recipient of a 2-night stay for up to 4 people including a delicious raw breakfast in the cozy. Valued at $600 AUD.

NOTES

Some notes for allergy sufferers: If you’re lactose/dairy protein/gluten intolerant, you are in luck. All the food made here will be suitable for you. My husband is allergic to animals (particularly horses), grass, pollen and some foods, but interestingly had no symptoms during our stay. He did bring allergy medication with him just in case and I would recommend doing the same if someone in your party has allergies. Our daughter, who has very sensitive skin, had a mosquito bite that came up rather nastily on the last day, and en route to our next destination we stopped at the pharmacy in Berry (just 5 minutes from the farm) where the staff were wonderful, advising us on the best treatment for our daughter’s skin. If you have a very serious seed or nut allergy, you should be advised that the catered options at Back 2 Earth probably wont be suitable for you, but self-catering on the farm could be a possibility.

For wellness seekers: From therapeutic and relaxation massage, to Eastern cupping, reiki, floatation tank usage and EFT, there is much to be experienced in the way of healing treatments. Marc is a specialist oncology massage therapist and Jenny is a clinical psychologist who offers individual psychotherapy, couples, parenting and pre-marital counselling onsite for interested parties.

For food lovers: Aside from enjoying the on-site catering options or participating in Marc’s workshops, house made snacks and treats can be purchased directly from the farm or online. The crackers, dried fruit roll ups and gluten-free granola clusters are all delicious, as my family can attest! 😀

For vegans: Welcome home! You will love it here! If you want to know more about the benefits of raw food or the art of cooking it, Marc’s personalised workshops have you covered. You can chat with Marc about your specific areas of interest, or do as I did and allow him to make a few suggestions for your raw food demo that will cover some different bases; sweet, savoury or both.

For omnivores: Welcome home! You will also love it here! In fact, Marc and Jenny find themselves endlessly surprised by the number of people who visit Back 2 Earth and decide to adopt lasting, healthy changes when they return home (for example eating organic food, enjoying meatless Mondays or instituting some other practice as a result of what they have learned at Back 2 Earth about sustainability and wellbeing).

For families: It goes without say that most children will find themselves fascinated by farm life and enchanted by the animals here. The opportunity to be involved in the daily workings of the farm, learning which animals eat what, how to gently approach and interact with animals, and how to care for/feed them is a fabulous hands-on experience for young and old alike.

For couples: Something I wasn’t aware of before we visited the farm is that Marc and Jenny run couples retreats that comprise a host of inclusions, including therapy sessions with Jenny. The purpose of these retreats is to strengthen connection, rejuvenate and reconnect, and I can absolutely see how this offering could be of benefit to any couple, but particularly those whose schedules have made it hard for them to touch base in an emotional way day-to-day.

For groups:
 Back 2 Earth allow groups to utilise spaces on the farm for their own events, workshops and retreats. Catering can be arranged if desired.

For animal lovers: If visiting the farm, the close encounters with the animals will be a highlight, but if you’re keen to be a part of the Back 2 Earth family and contribute to the rescue and welfare of these very special residents, an adoption program is currently being set up. This means that very soon friends of the farm – near and far – will be able to connect with the animals, hear their stories and be part of their healing process.

CASHEW YOGURT UNICORN
BREAKFAST PIZZAS

A recipe by Marc Hammond

We ate these tasty treats for breakfast (‘we’ as in, my entire family, including baby Oliver). And they were so lovely that we found ourselves negotiating with each other over remaining bites and crumbs! I appreciate that some people find themselves unsure about “unicorn food” (or fantasy food), but if you’re curious and looking for an easy, wholesome recipe to try with a touch of whimsy thrown into the mix, this could be the perfect one for you!

CASHEW YOGURT

INGREDIENTS

Flesh from 1 young Thai coconut
250 ml cashew nuts
125- 250 ml water
2 dried figs (or 1 tsp maple syrup)
½ vanilla bean (optional)

DIRECTIONS

  1. Blend all ingredients together in a high-speed blender or Vitamix.
  2. To create different colours/flavours, blend fruit* (or superfood powders such as spirulina) with the yogurt mix.
  3. Refrigerate overnight and serve as is, or use to decorate breakfast pizzas or other treats.
  • Purple – blueberries
  • Red/Pink – raspberries/strawberries/watermelon
  • Orange – mango/rock melon/persimmon
  • Green – kiwi
  • Yellow – pineapple

 

GRANOLA PIZZA BASE

INGREDIENTS

3 tbsp pumpkin seeds
3 tbsp sunflower seeds
3 tbsp chia seeds
1 cup date or fig paste (soak dried fruit overnight and blend to make your own)
Additional dates or figs, chopped
2 apples, peeled and grated
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla powder
1 tsp maca powder (optional)
1 tsp baobab powder (optional)

DIRECTIONS

  1. Combine all ingredients. Measure out approximately 125 ml of mixture, spread and flatten into round circles.
  2. Dehydrate for around 15 hours or until as crisp as desired.
  3. Decorate with organic cashew yoghurt, fruit, coconut or nuts.
  4. Enjoy!

*Our thanks to Marc, Jenny and the animals at Back 2 Earth for sharing their home (+ food and recipes) with us. And though we were treated to this fabulous experience, I gladly and faithfully share my impressions here in gratitude for the wonderful time we had.

*Thank you to the staff at Broadmeadow Medical Centre and Strachans Pharmacy for being so thorough & kind when we stopped by en route to Back 2 Earth.

 

PEACH & STRAWBERRY MUFFIN BAKED OATS (+ a couple of foodie reflections on Byron Bay)

Firstly, a Happy Easter Monday to all who are celebrating! The recipe that follows below is simple, delicious breakfast treat; one that definitely errs on the side of wholesome in the midst of chocolate-drenched April. Secondly, I apologise in advance if the next few posts I write defy the laws of chronology, but such is life on the road that I can never quite keep up with myself, let alone all the ‘happenings’. As it is, I recently found myself in possession of a punnet of organic edible flowers from Byron Bay. And so, having used them to decorate the very dish I’m sharing with you today, I have decided to start this patchwork quilt-esque series of posts there; on the coast of New South Wales, in hippie-meets-hipster ville Byron.

We left Sweden in January to embark upon a series of adventures that started in Connecticut (I’ll come back to that one) and has led us all the way back to Adelaide again after a road trip loop that saw us cover thousands of kilometers. Literally. Our road trip began in Adelaide, taking us to Hay, then on to Sydney, Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour, before we even made it to Byron Bay. I will attempt to fill in the blanks at some stage (oh, for the luxury of time and space to write), but for 3 years of my life on Instagram, I dreamed of #ByronBay. More specifically, I suppose, I dreamed of the food I would eat there whilst seated at tables previously occupied by the likes of Sarah Wilson and others who shared their Byron inspo from afar!

So as we approached real life Byron, hungry and in need of caffeine, we headed straight for hipster joint No. 1* (*not its real name) while I browsed the restaurant’s reviews on Tripadvisor. Perhaps it was a mistake, perhaps it was a godsend… I might never know now. But there seemed to be a pattern: “Great food. Rude service”, “Excellent quality of food. Terrible place for children”, etc.

My husband was nonchalant. “If the food’s good, do we care that much?”
To which I responded, “I have too much self-respect not to care!”

I decided to duck in quickly to gauge the “vibe” of the place before committing to hanging around. The menu did look amazing, but lack of seating, the bad reviews I’d just read and the half-smile the woman at the counter gave me when she looked down and spotted my daughter standing with me sealed the deal. We were out of there, and onto a distinctly non-hipster venue, Byron Corner Store.

Toasted sandwiches, veggie burgers, smoothies, good coffee, friendly smiles, sharing long tables with strangers in an unpretentious setting… what’s there to complain about, really? The prices were reasonable, the grilled veggie sandwich and the veggie burger were tasty and unfussy. The kids seemed happy with their fare too. Yes, I may have preferred some quinoa + salad type of meal over something bread-based, but it was more than passable and worth it for the chance to feel relaxed about eating lunch out with our 3 young children.

Veggie burger at Byron Corner Store

I was glad we didn’t stay at venue No. 1. There may have been a time in my life when I went to night clubs/bars/restaurants and put up with whatever the standard of service/friendliness (or lack thereof) was because it was “the place to be”. But I have a very low tolerance for that stuff now, especially when my kids are in tow. If I eat out, I expect good food and friendly service. There’s no place for attitude in customer service, in my opinion. Especially in the hospitality industry!

And that brings me to Folk. Two amazing east coast girl bosses brought me there: Louise, from We Print Nice Things and Amanda from Probioskin, with whom I had scheduled consecutive meet-ups. Pitching itself as being “organic, ethical, plant based”Folk Byron Bay ticks a whole lot of wholesome boxes before you even glance at the menu. Located on Ewingsdale Road, adjacent to the Discovery Holiday Park, it’s a foodie hub set away from the main Byron thoroughfare that attracts locals and the transient Byron population alike. Upon arriving, I was immediately struck by the lack of seating space. People were spilling out onto the lawn and most of the tables were occupied by groups of backpackers who didn’t seem to be consuming anything at all, but rather merely waiting around listlessly. Louise arrived, remarked that Folk is not ordinarily so busy and, right on cue, a table was vacated and we had a quiet nook in which to sit and enjoy a coffee.

I almost became teary with happiness when I read the menu. Though the options are few, the food is absolutely my kind of food (as in, I’d eat it everyday if I had the means and time). The prices are far better than I would expect of similar meals in such an establishment, especially when comparing them to the prices we paid for stock-standard, far more pedestrian veggie meals elsewhere on the east coast and well-known cafés attracting a similar patronage in the major Australian cities we’ve visited. I was fond of the understated rustic charm of the place… the copies of Lunch Lady magazine left on tables, the macramé touches, the wooden bowls. The coffee, as promised by many a favourable review, was good. The music was not obnoxiously loud and, when the backpackers started to disperse, the space was even more subdued and there were tables enough for the lunch crowd.

And – hallelujah! – the staff were very friendly.

Louise departed and I was joined shortly afterwards by Amanda who brought a care package of gorgeous, lovingly crafted organic Mayella wellness products with her; a timely gift, given my under-the-weather state (little did I know I’d end up in a doctor’s office in Newcastle the very next day!). It was a muggy, sweaty day and the refreshing organic hibiscus iced tea with lavender, citrus and ginger was just the thing to accompany lunch. Without much deliberation we ordered the nourish bowl and the purportedly ever-popular Folk burrito. The nourish bowl changes seasonally, I believe, but the one I had included brown rice, quinoa, raisins and cumin roasted pumpkin. I opted to skip the haloumi, but it’s offered as an additional extra. The menu comprises a tasty selection of wholesome, vibrant dishes, and even the carnivores among the patrons are sure to find something appealing.

Hibiscus Iced Tea at Folk Byron Bay

Nourish bowl

When I met with Sarah Wilson and Jo Foster for breakfast in Sydney recently (go on, pinch me!), I mentioned that my Byron Bay memories of “darker days” amount to nothing more than a hazy recollection of being perched on the edge of a roadside gutter eating “veggie nachos” (which back then meant corn chips with a bit of cheese). I was on tour with the band that I’d found myself in and the entire east coast experience of that time is a bit of a blur, to be honest. But I am happy to report that my culinary experiences of Byron (and my east coast travel experiences in general) this time around far surpass those of my past! 😀

I have meandered long enough back to the organic edible flowers from Byron Bay that I mentioned at the start of this post. And so, as Sweden embraces frosty spring in hopeful anticipation of summer, and in Australia the days are getting milder (I can’t bring myself to write ‘colder’ as 29°C is hardly that, but it’s relative I suppose!), this breakfast dish is a humble ode to changing seasons.

I hope you’ve had a wonderful Easter weekend if you’ve celebrated… and I hope you’ll enjoy this recipe if you try it!

PEACH & STRAWBERRY MUFFIN
BAKED OATS

Serves: 2

INGREDIENTS

250 ml gluten-free oats
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
A pinch of nutmeg (optional)
1.5 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp baking powder
A pinch of salt
200 ml cashew milk (or plant milk of choice)
1-2 tbsp rice malt/maple syrup (optional)
6 large strawberries, chopped
1/2 a peach, chopped
50 ml flaked almonds

OPTIONAL TOPPINGS

Extra strawberries and peach slices
Edible flowers
Coconut yogurt

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees C (fan) and lightly grease 2 large ramekins/oven safe jars (350 ml capacity each) with a little melted coconut oil.
  2. In a medium-sized bowl, mix oats, spices, baking powder and salt.
  3. Add wet ingredients – minus fruit and berries – and mix to combine well.
  4. Gently fold the fruit and berries into the porridge mix (you can anticipate jammy fruit pockets to form as your oatmeal muffins bake).
  5. Spoon porridge mixture into ramekins/jars and top with flaked almonds.
  6. Bake for 25-30 minutes, depending on desired consistency (a longer baking time will produce a firmer set).
  7. Let stand for a few minutes (the ramekins/jars will be very hot at first), then top with a scoop of coconut yogurt, extra fruit, and fresh, edible flowers if you like. The baked porridge pots be kept covered in the fridge (after cooling) for at least 3 days, and make a wonderful, portable breakfast treat.

* If you like this recipe, check out the one it is based on; my Sweet Potato Pie Baked Porridge Pots!

**Heading to Byron? Check out Folk Byron Bay at Lot 1, 399 Ewingsdale Road, Byron Bay for wholesome, delicious meals (at a surprisingly budget-friendly price point) in a charming locale. For simple yet tasty sandwiches, coffee and such, check out Byron Corner Store at 47 Jonson St, Byron Bay.

Folk Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

WATERMELON CELEBRATION CAKE (100% fruity fun!)

At this time last year, I was being transferred from the delivery ward to the maternity ward at SÖS. That’s right; Oliver (aka Baby Marzipan) has just turned 1. I could cry. Oh, wait. I already have! 😛 We’re celebrating the big baby milestone in Australia… in 36°C heat (thank you, Adelaide)! And there couldn’t be a more appropriate and refreshing centrepiece than a cake made entirely from the fruit of the season.

I had intended my next ultra-belated blog post to be about an event in snowy Sweden, or perhaps our more recent trip to wintry Connecticut. Truth be told, there are several posts I have drafted that are awaiting publication. However this one was pushed to the front of the queue for what I assume are obvious reasons. So summer + Australia + baby milestone celebrations + current news + fruit it is.

To the cake. Firstly, the concept is not original. Actually, I first saw a watermelon cake pin several years ago on Pinterest (this one from Instructables, I believe), but I was keen to avoid lashings of sweetened whipped cream and the ice-cream suggested for serving, partly because my kids enjoy fruit just as it is, and partly because I just want to keep it simple. Not having to deal with melting ingredients in sweltering Adelaide heat is one less #momlife issue to deal with during a 1st birthday party.

The watermelon cake is one of those novel ideas that, since I first saw it, I’ve thought might be fun to try out/customise at some point. And when we came across a perfectly sized organic baby watermelon at The Marketshed on Holland on the weekend, I knew the time was nigh. Add to this the roaring success that was Oliver’s first taste of dragon fruit at About Life in Crows Nest (on another recent Aussie adventure), and a fruit cake – or rather, a cake made entirely of fruit! – seemed to cater perfectly not only to the current climatic conditions, but also to Oliver’s tastes.

Hopefully this highly customisable take on cake will cater to your tastes too!

Much love to all of you from sunny Australia to wherever you happen to be!
❤ Marisa xx

missmarzipan_watermelon_celebration_cake

WATERMELON CELEBRATION CAKE

INGREDIENTS

One watermelon of size of choice
(ours was around 3 kg)

Fruit and berries of choice
(We used:
1 kiwi fruit, sliced thinly
1/2 a pink grapefruit, sliced thinly
1/4 dragon fruit
A piece of rock melon
A few strawberries
A few raspberries
A few blueberries
A couple of mint sprigs)

OPTIONAL

Lime wedges or passionfruit pulp for serving

DIRECTIONS

  1. With a large, sharp knife, cut the both ends off of the watermelon.
    The size and shape of the watermelon will determine how much you have to remove in order to eventually end up with a cake-shaped cylinder, but we had to remove around 4 cm from each side.
  2. Stand the watermelon upright, using one of the flattened ends as a base.
  3. Use a bowl or cake tin of a suitable size as a guide. Place it on top of the watermelon and, using a small sharp knife, draw a line just inside the circumference of the rind. This will help you determine how much to cut away and still maintain an even shape.
  4. Using a larger sharp knife, cut the rind away in increments, tuning the watermelon, cutting some more rind away and continuing around the whole circumference until the rind is removed and you are left with a cake-shaped watermelon cylinder.
  5. Move the watermelon cake to a cake stand/plate.
  6. Decorate your watermelon cake as you please, simply piling berries on top for an easy option, or slicing some fruit and arranging something a little more elaborate (as pictured below).

    missmarzipan_watermelon_celebration_cake3

  7. Using cookie cutters to create some shapes (à la Taline Gabriel of Hippie Lane fame) creates a pretty alternative to the plastic/fondant/chocolate /candy decor that customarily adorns children’s celebration cakes. To make them stand in the cake, I used skewers and tooth picks; easy to remove before serving slices to little guests and easy to cover if desired by strategic threading of blueberries.
  8. To serve, simply slice the watermelon cake as you would any other cake, pop it on a plate and enjoy!

    missmarzipan_watermelon_celebration_cake2

 

 

PANCAKE CAKE (with whipped coconut cream & banana)

As I sit here and type these words, I find myself feeling nostalgic about last Christmas already. Less than a month ago, on Christmas Day, my family and I enjoyed this very Pancake Cake as part of a lazy brunch that lasted literally half the day.

24 days into 2017 and aspects of my New Year’s vision board are already unfolding before me, with travel featuring prominently as we get set to embark on a 3.5 month (at least) journey that will take us from Stockholm via Amsterdam to Connecticut, then onto LA… before my feet eventually touch Australian earth again in beautiful Sydney. I am feeling rather emotional at the prospect of connecting in person with some people who have been very supportive and dear to me from afar and reuniting with family and close friends who are ordinarily separated from me by oceans. I look forward to having some time/space to process things (both internal and external), to spend time with my family on the road and, in essence, to examine what “sparks joy”… and grab it with both hands!

But before I am able to share some of those yet-to-be-experienced experiences with you, I will share this recipe and the simple assembly technique (which was created on the fly with the ingredients we happened to have at home on Christmas Day).

If you have a favourite pancake recipe or different toppings on hand, by all means check out the video below for construction tips and experiment with this idea. And let me know if you do!

I hope your year has started beautifully, that your resolutions are going strong (if you made some!), and that you and yours are happy and well.

❤ Marisa xx

missmarzipan_pancakecake

PANCAKE CAKE

with whipped coconut cream, toasted coconut,
banana, pecans & cranberries

 

To make 8 thin pancakes

(use this recipe or a favourite one of your own)

INGREDIENTS
200 ml organic flour
2 tbsp rice malt/maple syrup
1/2 tsp baking powder
200 ml cashew or other plant-based milk
1 tbsp organic olive/melted coconut oil
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
A pinch of cinnamon
A pinch of salt
Extra oil for greasing the skillet pan

DIRECTIONS

  1. In a medium mixing bowl, combine ingredients without over mixing.
  2. To a skillet pan over medium-high heat, add approximately 45 ml of pancake batter.
  3. Cook for around 2 minutes or until centre is bubbling and edges appear well set. Flip pancake with a spatula.
  4. Cook the reverse side for a further minute or until cooked through as desired. Repeat until batter is used up and you have 8 pancakes of an even size.

 

To make Pancake Cake

PANCAKE CAKE COMPONENTS

8 thin pancakes of choice
2-3 ripe bananas (depending on size), sliced
125 ml toasted coconut flakes
165 ml whipped coconut cream
Cinnamon for dusting
A handful of dried cranberries or fresh berries of choice
Extra toasted coconut flakes for a final sprinkle
A handful of pecans or nuts of choice, chopped

ASSEMBLY DIRECTIONS

  1. Once pancakes have cooled, place one on a plate & spread with 2 tablespoons of whipped coconut cream.
  2. Add a layer of banana slices and top with a second pancake.
  3. Repeat the process, this time adding a sprinkle of toasted coconut before topping with the next pancake.
  4. Repeat, alternating between coconut & banana layers until all pancakes have been used.
  5. Top with approximately 4 tablespoons of whipped coconut cream, chopped pecans, berries and more coconut, then dust with a little cinnamon.
  6. To serve, simply slice as you would a cake.

 

 

2017: LET’S DO THIS & DO IT WELL! (my annual visualisation mood board)

In amongst the cooking prep in our brand new place, the study (new for 2016), the content creation work (also new for 2016) and being with all three children (yep, another gift of 2016) there’s been one big thing on my mind over the past two days; setting my intentions (or #goals, if you will) for 2017. I don’t think I am alone in feeling as though 2016 was a challenging year! In my case, on a personal level, the year was one of huge circumstantial changes and massive introspection. As a result, despite the many positives that have come my way, it has been exhausting and a little emotionally tumultuous! Let’s just say, I am ready to be done with this year and to move onto 2017, with hopes that it will be more grounded, balanced and even more fruitful than this year… not just for me but for the entire planet! I think we deserve a break from the intensity!

So, to my vision board. You may know by now that I swear by them, and my personal New Year’s ritual (which also includes meditation) would not be complete without the creation of one. You may also notice that my mood board themes are spookily similar. Personally, I don’t find it strange. There are subtle differences, but certain things such as family, food, wellbeing and travel are always going to be important to me… so they’re bound to feature heavily.

missmarzipan_2017_moodboard

From my pre-NYE Instagram post:
“Some last reflections for 2016. I realise I’ve spent much of my life downplaying ‘me’, worried about what others would think of me if they saw it all; my triumphs, my fears, my battles, my talents… the whole package. In my past I often settled for second (or third 😜) best from others whilst knowing I was probably worth more. There’s a saying that you have to teach people how to treat you (something along those lines, anyway). I was a person who was afraid to do just that. Particularly since having children, I have learned some tough lessons about boundaries. One of which is that you will surely get what you are prepared to accept. That’s across the board. As soon as I started saying to myself “Hold up… I deserve better than this!”, I inevitably got better (whatever “better” was in that instance). ‘Yes’ is a powerful word. It opens the way for new opportunities. But so does the word ‘no’. I’m someone who not only grows attached to things, but feels guilt about letting go/letting down/moving on. I see more & more that the BIG #konmari question “Does this spark joy?”, is a question I not only ask of my possessions today, but of *everything*: opportunities, relationships (on all levels), etc. I don’t have the energy nor the desire to keep up pretences in the face of fear of judgement. There’s no reason why I/you/anyone can’t be all that we’re meant to be *unapologetically*… while also encouraging others (who are keen!) to shine their light. And, as I put the final touches on my vision board for 2017, one of the squares in my collage is a quote I found: “Surround yourself with people who get it”. If you’re reading this and you “get it” thank you very much for being here & hanging out with me! And if you’re shining, SHINE ON! Downplaying to make others ‘comfortable’ is a disservice to them, you & the world! 2017, WE GOT THIS👊🏻!”

With that, here’s to the New Year! May 2017 be happy, healthy, love-filled, peaceful and kind (above all things) to all of us!

 MM xx

*Borrowing yet again from my post back in 2012, if you want to create your own, you can do so using images sourced online** and a page layout program such as InDesign or make one using magazine images and ye olde cut-and-paste method. If really pressed for time, why not create a Pinterest board called “2017” and fill it with pins of the things you’d like to see manifest in your life with this coming year?
** Picture credits: In this vision board, I have included images by Elsa’s Wholesome Life, Nourish Atelier, Nectar & StoneLois AveryDonna Hay, Food52, @robineleyartistBarefoot Blonde, The Food Club, Matcha Mylkbar and loads of others (without credits attached, sourced from Tumblr). Please let me know if one of these images is yours so I can credit you! I always try to credit where possible. x

Previous mood boards:
2013
2014
2015
2016

PEPPERMINT & STRAWBERRY CHOCOLATE BARK (a revamped version of an old classic!)

Firstly, much love and warm Christmas wishes to all those celebrating today! Over 4 years ago (I cannot believe it was so long ago!) I posted a recipe on this very blog for homemade Peppermint Chocolate Bark after seeing the famous Williams Sonoma original all over the internet and several variations of DIY “imitations” on Pinterest. Interestingly, the other day I took part in a live chat on Twitter – the theme of which was #barkyeah – with feedfeed, Williams Sonoma and some other food enthusiasts. It reminded me of my long-lost and embarrassingly poorly illustrated “teacher gifts” post featuring my own Peppermint Chocolate Bark… and provided me the impetus to revisit and revamp that old recipe.

Although I can’t compete with the Williams Sonoma bark, it is hard to improve on such a delicious flavour combination. Yet with the aid of my kitchen helpers, Louie and Lillian (aged 5 and 3 respectively), I may have stumbled across a new variation that will please traditionalists and more adventurous eaters alike.

So here it is; Peppermint Chocolate Bark, revisited… with strawberries! Just in the nick of time for anyone looking for a last-minute Christmas treat recipe that can literally be prepped in minutes. 😉

I hope you are having a wonderful, peaceful, happy weekend!
❤ Marisa xx

I dedicate this post, with a heavy heart, to Katherine of Pillows A-La-Mode, one of a few bloggers who I met around the start of my blogosphere journey who supported me (and many others), stuck around and was always about on WP with a wonderful crafty project, great community spirit and a kind word for her fellow bloggers. She will be greatly missed and I send my love and thoughts to her family.

missmarzipan_peppermint_strawberry_chocolate_bark1

 PEPPERMINT & STRAWBERRY
CHOCOLATE BARK

INGREDIENTS:

100 g dark chocolate*
100 g milk chocolate*
200 g white chocolate*
2 tbsp crushed freeze-dried strawberries
1 crushed peppermint candy cane

*Dairy-free/refined sugar-free chocolate varieties work just as well as any other!

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Line a pan* with baking parchment.
  2. Melt all 3 types of chocolate in 3 separate bowls.
  3. Add the crushed freeze-dried strawberries to the white chocolate. Mix.
  4. Pour the dark chocolate onto the prepared baking pan and smooth out into a rough rectangular shape with a silicone spatula or back of a large spoon, then drop spoonfuls of the melted white and milk chocolate on top. Use a wooden skewer to create swirls in the chocolate.
  5.  Sprinkle crushed candy cane pieces evenly over the bark. Add some extra crushed dried strawberries too, if desired. Chill in the fridge until set, or use the freezer for a super-fast option.
  6. Cut/break into shards to serve. Store unused pieces in freezer.

 

*I used an IKEA Drömmar pan, dimensions: 37 x 25 x 3 cm

missmarzipan_peppermint_strawberry_chocolate_bark2

 

NUT BUTTER BROWNIE TRUFFLE BITES (plant-based, gluten-free & low-fructose)

Call me crazy, but after much deliberation followed by a split-second decision, I started doing PIIT28 last weekend. If you’ve ever heard of Pilates enthusiast extraordinaire Cassey Ho, you probably know what it is. For those who don’t know, it stands for Pilates Intense Interval Training and is a 28-day fitness reboot that’s done in 28 minutes per day. And, yeah… I was a little nervous (it’s tough!). And, yes, it’s Advent (and, yes, I love treats!). But I am at the point postpartum that I want my energy back. I want to feel “myself” again, despite still breastfeeding and even though, after 3 babies in a row, looking like the “old me” is unlikely to improbable. This postpartum period has involved less exercise, and decidedly more cake than my previous two. But I am determined to reclaim a little ‘me’ in my life right now and start prioritising my health again.

Years ago when I used to do 70 minute-Pilates sessions on a regular basis, I felt taller somehow. My core was strong and I rarely found myself hunching over, despite long hours of university study and an otherwise rather unhealthy lifestyle. These days I seem to catch myself in bad posture mode as regularly as I find myself in yoga pants (not doing yoga, mind you 😛 )… and that’s quite a lot.

And so, in anticipation of Christmas and in the spirit of not wanting to deprive myself of treats, I created these little yummies which are to be stored in the freezer (a way to curb the stress eating I have been doing lately). And they are delicious, not-too-sweet and very satisfying!

If you happen to make them, do let me know. And if you are on Instagram, I am hosting a little Advent cooking share challenge, so if you think your festive eats are love-worthy, feel free to use the hashtag #happyhealthyadvent and tag me when you share your Christmassy food creations.

Love, Marisa xx

PS I’ll update on the PIIT28 situation when I have more soon. So far I am 6 days through week 1 and modifying a fair bit.

missmarzipan_nutbutter_truffle_bites3

NUT BUTTER BROWNIE TRUFFLE BITES

INGREDIENTS

200 ml nut butter*
1 block (100 g) 85-90% chocolate
2 tbsp coconut oil, melted
1/2 tbsp rice malt syrup (or raw substitute)
3.5 tbsp raw cacao

TO DECORATE

Cacao/matcha powder, coconut, flower sprinkles or whatever you fancy

DIRECTIONS

  1. Line a small baking tray (13 x 13 cm/5 x 5 in) with baking parchment.
  2. In a ceramic/glass mixing bowl over a water bath (pan with a little water in it) over low heat, combine chocolate and coconut oil. Melt together.
  3. When melted and smooth, add nut butter and mix through.
  4. Add rice malt syrup and cacao. Mix well.
  5. Remove bowl from heat. Tip mix into prepared tray and smooth down with a spatula.
  6. Decorate with sprinkles of choice and set tray in freezer for around 1 hour or until mix is firm and set.
  7. Cut into pieces, store in the freezer and serve cold.

 

*I used crunchy peanut butter for the ones pictured here, but hazelnut is also fabulous and tahini works too, for a nut-free option.

** Truffles will be very soft at room temperature so do remember to serve them direct from the fridge/freezer.

missmarzipan_nutbutter_truffle_bites4 missmarzipan_nutbutter_truffle_bites4