Making Habits

Slap- bang in the middle of January we are feeling somewhat under siege with the warnings of a nasty flu virus, orange, yellow and red weather alerts, floods and pestilence. Batten Down The Hatches. It is winter.
In a post-Christmas slouch we are urged to transform our lives in a New Year lifestyle of change and miraculous transformation. Habits that are destructive need to be changed and it is this confrontation that proves most challenging to our weary bodies in the dark early weeks of the year. It is perhaps more realistic to make small ‘doable’ shifts in our patterns and to move the furniture around to remind us of our new aspect. Getting out of bed from a different side or eating breakfast from a different angle can propel you forward with a new energy for the day. Changing one small physical habit can have a knock on effect which can shake up our general winter weariness.
Understandably, in the season of colds and flu, many of us are reaching for food supplements to boost our immune system. There are no quick fixes with food supplements but if you consume them habitually I’m sure they must do what it says on the tin, after a period of time. Whether you feel the need for them or not, it is pertinent that you top them up with a bit of real immune boosting food! We all know, in theory, that fresh fruit and vegetables are essential for health and wellbeing. It can be a quite another challenge to make a habit of preparing and eating them. If you are struggling with something you have given up in your New Year diet be sure to add something new in its place. Like the aforementioned supplements, food will rarely be a quick fix to cure a cold or flu but it will be a much more enjoyable experience and all the better for becoming a habit in your daily routine.
Warm layers of clothing defend our bodies from the cold and so too we need to ply ourselves with wholesome food to protect ourselves from the chilly weather. Layers of scrumptious winter root vegetables can be a great way to try new tastes and the perfect way to introduce the pungent benefits of garlic, turmeric, ginger and horseradish; all having powerful reputations in the department of defence against viral infections and colds. These spices have been used medicinally for thousands of years and it is their anti-inflammatory properties that make them very appropriate this time of year. Using some or all of them on a regular basis will help boost your intake of essential vitamins and minerals. Making a habit of including these foods in whatever form you prefer will prove valuable in the maintenance of your general health.
Here are a few suggestions for jazzing up some of the less glamorous vegetables that are currently seasonal and packed with the essential vitamins and nutrients that our systems are calling out for. Inspired by the classic French potato gratin, you can play around with combinations; try vegetable stock instead of cream or milk, mix and match carrot, parsnip, beetroot, celeriac, swede and potato. Add layers of finely sliced leek, fennel or onion for extra flavour.
Potato and Celeriac Gratin
The knobbly celeriac is not the prettiest of vegetables but its flavour is well worth the effort it takes to peel its knarled outer skin.
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This is a basic potato gratin, substituting half of the normal potato quantity with celeriac. The result is less calorific, though the cream is a bit of an indulgence. Vary the recipe by using fennel or leeks instead of celeriac. Either way it is a perfect accompaniment to fish or just with a green salad. Use a mandolin or food processor to slice the vegetables consistently thin. Not everyone likes too much garlic but this time of year I like to up the ante. Use it to your own taste.
2 medium potatoes
½ celeriac
3 large garlic cloves
200ml Double cream or milk
Sea salt and black pepper to season
Process the potatoes, celeriac and garlic into evenly thin slices. Place the ingredients in a bowl with the cream. Season, mix and set aside to marinate while you prepare a dish. Rub some soft butter around the base of a shallow baking dish. Layer the potatoes and celeriac alternately, overlapping the pieces and continue until the dish is almost full. Pour over the seasoned cream, cover with foil and bake in a moderately hot oven for about 40 mins. After 20 mins remove the foil and press down the veg with a spatula to help the moisture to be absorbed. Continue to bake, uncovered until it has a sizzling golden top.
Swede and Sweet Potato with Ginger and Turmeric
This is a similar layered bake, using coconut milk instead of cream and the warming combination of fresh root ginger and turmeric. Carrots and parsnip will work equally well.

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1 medium sweet potato
1 small swede (or ½ large)
2cm fresh root ginger (approx…)
2 or 3 garlic cloves
1 cm fresh turmeric (or ½ tsp. Dried)
200ml coconut milk
Small bunch of fresh coriander (stalks included)
Sea salt and black pepper to season
Peel and slice the swede and sweet potato. Scrape the skin from the ginger and turmeric with the edge of a teaspoon. Peel the garlic. Chop the coriander, garlic, ginger and turmeric before placing in a pestle and mortar. Grind the ingredients to a paste and add the coconut milk. Pour this liquid over the sliced vegetables, arranging them in a shallow oven proof dish. Cover with foil and bake for about 40 minutes in moderate oven. Towards the end remove the foil and allow it to cook for a further 10 minutes.

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These layered vegetable bakes are an easy way to pack in a lot of nutritious oomph during the chilly months. Try lacing beetroot with horseradish as an alternative or use a vegetable stock as an alternative to the richer sauces. Fresh rosemary, sage or parsley will add another dimension. If there are any leftovers they will make a perfect base for a soup for the following day’s lunch.
Keep warm.

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Beets, Roots and Leaves

beetroot and yacon

After the excesses of the seasonal binge, there is still a need to comfort ourselves in these dark and watery days of January. The early months of the New Year bring a particular need for sustenance and recovery. It doesn’t have to be dull. This is when we can really benefit from the potent pleasures of winter vegetables which can offer a colourful and cleansing boost to our weary souls and bodies.

Hibernation is a necessary phase in the cycle of life and interestingly now is the time to enjoy the hearty wealth of food that has been gathering its force from underground. Root vegetables come top of my list for comfort and nourishment.

The sweet earthy flavour of beetroot is a seasonal gem which has gladly become fashionable again and when shredded raw is a perfect accompaniment to a salty goat’s cheese. If you prefer to cook your beetroot, I find it is best to bake them whole (don’t top or tail), wrapped in foil. This method ensures their goodness doesn’t bleed away. A warm beetroot salad served with a tahini dressing and green salad will add a colourful compliment to a bowl of soup.


I recently had the pleasure of eating a beetroot and yacon salad here on the farm which was a real surprise. Yacon is a South American tuber, now growing here, also known as ‘water root’ which has a pleasantly mild flavour close to pear, apple and celery. Its texture is similar to water chestnut. Research suggests some very interesting benefits of this new crop; not least it’s value in the battle against diabetes. This is due to its unique source of inulin which is hailed as a valuable source of sweetness for diabetics. High in fibre and low in calories, it promises many benefits to the digestive system and is all the more inviting for its refreshing crunchiness when eaten raw.

Yacon tends to discolour quickly once it is sliced but this can be solved by quickly dressing it in citrus juice or just combine it with an equal quantity of shredded beetroot; the yacon will absorb the lovely crimson juices to blend into a crisp, refreshing and robust salad.

Above ground, my favourite green is the sturdy kale Cavalo Nero.

Cavalo Nero 1 Cavalo Nero 2

*Please note that these fantastic vegetables are available at Manna Organic Store in Tralee.


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