Friday, June 29, 2012

Weekend Foodie: Pregnancy Superfoods (Part 1)

Yup, it's official. I am, as they used to say, "in the family way". I just reached the halfway mark (20 weeks) and am feeling great. I'm a big believer in the power of food to affect our well-being and health and this is no more important than during pregnancy. So here's a list of the superfoods that I've been tucking into with some suggested recipes for including them in your daily meals and snacks. Delicious and nutritious whether you're pregnant or not!

1. Eggs

Why the poor egg yolk has been so maligned during the past 20 years I don't know (I was astounded to watch someone in America order an egg white omlette with bacon, erm?). Yes, eggs contain cholesterol, but so do all animal products. As long as you eat them (and meat and dairy) in moderation, they are a fantastic complete food source. Eggs contain protein (more than chicken), iron (to help avoid fatigue and anaemia as your blood supply increases), vitamin B12 and phosphorus (both needed to produce DNA and also for development of the brain and nervous system, so very important in pregnancy). And that's just a few of their many properties.

Here's one of my favourite, and quick, ways with eggs that I often make for lunch. It combines all the goodness of eggs, with tomatoes for vitamin C, cheese for extra protein and calcium and basil, which can help ward off nausea and anxiety.

Tomato, Basil and Cheese Omelette (serves 1)

2 eggs, beaten
4 cherry tomatoes, chopped
very small handful of chopped basil
1/2 handful of grated hard cheese
wholegrain toast and olive oil, to serve

Gently cook the chopped tomatoes in a frying pan with a little sunflower oil, after a couple of minutes, add the eggs, scramble lightly then form into a round shape in the middle of the pan. Sprinkle the basil and cheese on top. When the bottom of the eggs is starting to cook and hold together, flip half of the omelette over the other half, cook for another minute and then turn over and cook a little longer to make sure both sides are lightly browned. Serve with wholegrain toast drizzled with a little olive oil.

2. Avocados

I'm a little obsessed with avocados. I can't get enough of them. They make a great and easy spread on toast (with a little olive oil and seasoning), as a salsa or dip (mix in some chopped tomatoes, chilli and a squeeze of lime or lemon), or simply chopped and added to a salad. And they are another great complete food source, being rich in calcium, omega 3 and vitamin B6 (both involved in baby's brain development), and folate (crucial in the first trimester). You may have been told they are high in fat, but not all fats are equal (neither are all calories) and the fat in avocado is the good kind - the kind that makes your skin lovely and soft and your brain function better, not the artery clogging kind.

* Tip: To avoid bruised or hard avocados, buy them when they are reasonably firm and store them right next to your bananas which will help ripen them after a few days (keep bananas away from other fruit that you don't want to ripen so quickly).

3. Bananas & Berries

Bananas are such a great food source and a handy snack, so I always make sure I have some at home.  We've all heard that they are good source of potassium, but they are also a good source of iodine, zinc and iron. As well as just eating them straight from their own packaging, there are so many things you can do with bananas: Mash them and add them to porridge (instead of sugar for sweetness) or spread on toast (see below), chop and add to muesli, make my Guilt-free Banana Loaf, or use them to make this dairy-free ice-cream:

Guilt-free chocolate ice-cream (serves 1)

1 banana
1/2 cup milk/oat milk/rice milk (whatever your preference)
1 tbsp cocoa powder

Chop the banana and freeze in a plastic food bag for at least 3 hours. Using a hand blender, blend with the milk and cocoa powder. Eat straight away before it melts. If you want to be fancy you can grate some dark chocolate on top and serve with some fresh rasberries. I was amazed how good this tasted when I first tried it. It's also a great way to use up bananas that are ripe.

I particularly love the combination of bananas with vitamin and antioxidant rich berries, for example in my Creative Juice Smoothie or as in this recipe for Mashed Bananas & Blueberries on Toast which I confess I have had on occasion for lunch although breakfast would probably be more appropriate (I simply added a little agave nectar, cinnamon to the mashed bananas and topped with blueberries):

* Tip: Cinnamon helps regulate blood sugar levels so is a great addition to anything containing sugar (even natural sugars in fruit can impact on your blood sugar levels).

4. Chickpeas

Cheap, convenient (if you buy canned) and full of goodness! Chickpeas are a great source of protein (especially when mixed with other plant protein sources), fibre and are a low GI (slow energy releasing) carbohydrate (so you don't feel hungry again so quickly).

I add them to stews or make a Hummous Spread, which is dead easy: I simply drain and rinse a can of chickpeas and whizz them up using a hand blender with a good glug of olive oil, some lemon juice and whatever herbs and spices I have to hand.

5. Canned fish

I don't know where I'd be without canned fish, like tuna, mackerel and sardines to throw into a quick dinner. They are another thing always on my weekly shopping list. When you're pregnant, you have to be a bit careful with eating large fish at the top of the food chain (like marlin, swordfish and fresh tuna) as it may contain levels of mercury which can be harmful to the baby. However, canned tuna, because it comes from smaller fish, is considered to be safe enough to eat daily. Mackerel and sardines are also smaller fish and, as well as being great value, are a great source of omega 3 and calcium, both vital in pregnancy.

I flake mackerel into salads, or use it in Kedgeree (fish and eggs are a great combo).

I have a fantastic sardine recipe to share with you in Part 2 of Pregnancy Superfoods. And of course, canned tuna is endlessly useful, again in salads, like the classic tuna nicoise or my Italian style Tuna, Bread and Tomato Salad:

or in tuna pasta bakes, such the one below, which has to be the easiest, laziest recipe ever. It takes about 3 minutes to prepare followed by 40 minutes in the oven.

Easy-peasy Tuna Pasta Bake (serves 4-5)

350g wholegrain pasta (I use spelt, but wheat is fine too)
2 cans chopped tomatoes
handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
(optional) pitted olives, chopped
2 cans tuna, drained
splash of balsamic or red wine vinegar
some sprigs of basil, spinach (or dried mixed herbs if you don't have any basil or spinach to hand)
a large handful of grated hard cheese, such as cheddar or parmesan

Preheat the oven to 200C/350F. Put all of the ingredients except for the grated cheese into a large baking dish, together with two canfuls of water, mix well and bake for 20 minutes. Stir, then top with the grated cheese and bake for another 20 minutes until the pasta has cooked and the cheese is turning brown. Serve with a lovely green salad, steamed broccoli or even some mashed avocado with chopped fresh tomatoes and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

In search of my style...

The Surface Pattern Design course I have recently undertaken has really got me thinking about what my design style is, or rather, what it will be, since I don't really feel like I've found my style yet. So how do you work out your style?

I think there are three main elements to this:

1. Working out what you like

The first step is to figure out what you like and don't like. This goes for any aesthetic or creative thing that you do, whether it's photography, painting, drawing, house-decorating or writing. I found PinInterest a really good tool for creating a visual moodboard of designs that appealed to me (although I must admit, it's a little addictive!).

I also think it's useful to put down in words what you like about certain styles.  Here are the key words that I would use to describe styles I like and that I would eventually like my own designs to be described as:


2. Evaluating your own techniques

This is the harder part. There might be other's styles who you want to emulate, but they work in different media. You can have a go at that medium and see if it suits you, but maybe you'll realise it's not your thing or that you have other skills and techniques that you love that you want to utilise in your designs. When you're starting out on a creative path, I think it's important to have a go at lots of things and see what you like.

Over the past year, you'll have seen on my blog that I have experimented with painting, collage, printing, pencils, pens, pastels, lino-cutting, printing techniques and digital illustration to name just a few things.  The irony is that through all this experimentation (and equipping my studio with various tools and media), I have now discovered that what I like best (alongside photography which is a long-held passion for me) is simply working with either a black pen or black ink with a fine brush.

This revelation came to me recently on holiday in Italy where I spent a LOT of time with my sketchbook and pen drawing all the beautiful plants surrounding the property we were staying in. I had a go with some coloured paints too, but really didn't feel that comfortable with them and didn't like what I was producing with them.

As to my actual drawing style - two key styles emerged from my sketches in Italy:

Simple outline drawings in fine pen:

Silhouettes in ink:

I started to be able to visualise how these drawings could work well layered with photography of similar subject matter.

3. Experimenting

The final step is to take the techniques and themes that you enjoy working with and start experimenting with making designs from them, all the while keeping in mind the key words that you want your work to reflect.

Here's a couple of designs I made from my photographs and sketches taken while in Italy.

"Bird & Trees - Mist" - I like the idea of this printed on a silk cushion

"Purple Flowers" - I think this could look good as a journal cover

Hmm,  I quite like these. Is this my style emerging? I could also develop some of the drawn motifs separately from the photographic backgrounds, for example for co-ordinating designs.

This process makes me think about the type of products that my designs might suit. Because I love the idea of using abstract photography as a backdrop to my work, it may be the case that I'm better off focusing on placement designs, for example cushions, scarfs and clothing such as silk dresses, where the design fills the whole space and doesn't need to be in a technical repeat. This is an interesting discovery for me, because many of the designs I am drawn to are very bold, simple repeats. But this isn't to say that I won't also experiment with repeats. I'll just have to see what works best with the designs I create.

This is just the beginning of my journey to find my style. I'm hoping with more practice and experimentation, my signature style will start to emerge. But I guess it's a journey that never ends!