Power balls…

Ok. So we know sugar is the proverbial Devil. Boo to sugar! We wave our banners and we join the marches to ban it from our lives before it kills us. Out! Out! OUT! Fists are shaken at the sugary world  around us and tears are shed about our waist lines. But all the while we have our minds on that secret Curly-Wurly in the glove compartment…right? Oh, just me then…#awks

Anyhoo…moving on.

One thing that is definitely true is that it’s harder to kick any of these worst habits when those around us are indulging happily and have no intention of paying any mind to the warnings from either their own bodies or any health experts. It takes mega will power and single minded focus. Of the many established barriers to healthy eating one is the thorny subject of who buys the food that comes into the household and why. This person is referred to in the health world as ‘The Gatekeeper’. A rather Hollywood title for the person lumbered with the weekly shop. We shall look at this minefield and enormously responsible job, that is fraught with pressure, elsewhere.

From the many people I’ve discussed this with I hear the same complaint and wrangle. Upon returning they are faced with the likes and dislikes of those that don’t do the shopping peering into the fridge and cupboards disappointed at the lack of their favourites. The lack of sugar laden, vitamin stripped empty calories which they see as the ideal foodstuffs. The stoic Gatekeeper then begins the Nutritional Value of Food lecture from the very top for the umpteenth time but gets the same response. Unprintable but easy to guess! I feel their pain and admire their tenacity but I also know, more often than not, it ends in a defeat. The biscuits and the crisps return alongside the mostly ignored healthier offerings…two types of bread now instead of one and so on…

In my house – I’m The Gatekeeper. I rule. BUT I also know that inside me there is a Curly-Wurly chomping, prosecco swilling version of myself with the the most alarmingly cavalier attitude to nutrition. So, I understand that look on His Nibs face that reads a tad disappointed that there isn’t a packet of dark chocolate covered digestives (the ideal breakfast apparently) and no Hoola Hoops (the ideal snack apparently – especially when eaten with a block of cheese! The Hoola Hoop becomes a kind of mini cookie-cutter when pressed into the cheese…oh lord…ok, I admit it’s rather nice actually but cannot be condoned!!)

So, the birth of the Power Nutrition Ball. The PNB.


These little beauties pack a sensationally healthy punch and provide sweetness that (hopefully) can satisfy the cravings. As you will know (and I’ve banged on about endlessly on here) sugar creates addiction and the weaning from it can take some doing. It should be a slow process that essentially begins with the retraining of your tastebuds away from sweet and into a more general, multi dimentional palate.

Just a note here to say that although sugar is usually targeted as a specific single item to avoid in its various forms – the word ‘sugar’ should also be taken to include all refined grains, juices, alcohol, processed foods and even fruit to some extent. Basically anything that ‘acts’ like quick release sugar in the body or has hidden sources of sugar in it. And I’m here to tell you that’s a hell of a lot of stuff. You’ll be amazed actually…

Even these PNB’s have dates in which some would argue are a concentrated hit of ‘sugar’ but more about that anon. I wanted to create something that would pack a good nutritional punch, be slow release and yet actually be nice to eat!

Here are a couple of my favourite mixes so far but honestly there are many more variations of this and you will want to adjust and exchange things as your palate and inspiration dictates.


You will need a food processor. I use a mini bowled one. Either way, but especially with the bigger processors, always check that the mixture is fully integrating as you go along. As with all my so-called recipes I am rubbish at amounts as I made it up as I went along. So the quantities below are a rough guide. There are a couple of things that I will point out. I would add the ingredients in the order below as the oats and seeds need to be pretty finely chopped/powdered.




Then add the other stuff slowly because if you go too far and want a drier mix it’s harder to add oats in later as they don’t chop finely enough and you’ll have to do them separately and blah, blah, wrangle, wrangle…

4 tablespoons organic rolled oats

1 tablespoon of mixed seeds (I used pumpkin, sunflower, sesame and flaxseed)

1 tablespoon cacoa powder (I use a blend that comes with powdered flaxseed and berries too)

5 organic medjool dates

2 organic prunes

1 organic dried fig

1 – 1.5 tablespoons nut butter (I used cashew here)

Makes about 25-ish

OR try these:


3 tablespoons organic rolled oats

1 tablespoon of mixed seeds (I used pumpkin, sunflower, sesame and flaxseed)

1 tablespoon cacoa powder (I use a blend that comes with powdered flaxseed and berries too)

2 organic medjool dates

11 raspberries – as that’s how many I had left!

1 tablespoon organic nut butter (I used almond here)

Makes about 15-ish – and the dry ingredient amounts here will perhaps need a tad of adjustment due to the fresh fruit element.


As you add the dried fruits the mixture may ‘ball’ together but remain ‘choppy’ – the nut butter will ‘clump’ everything together (these are all technical terms I’ll have you know!) What you are after is a mixture that presses together firmly and stays ‘glued’ – if it’s still crumbly when pressed then add more nut butter.

IMG_0594     IMG_0595

Keep in mind you will be chilling these so they ‘set’ a little. If you are making bars then you might even want the mixture firmer to hold that shape. BUT do keep pressing bits to check the consistency as you don’t want it too claggy as you’ll never roll the buggers and there’ll be temper tantrums. Guaranteed.

A heaped teaspoon full pressed and rolled firmly between the palms creates the finished product. If you’re old enough to remember plasticine or were poor like me (cue violins…) and plasticine was a considered a luxury toy (those violins are deafening…!) then you’ll know the technique for squishing this mixture together without any further ado. Others will take longer to master the wily ways of it. Some posh, flashy folk then roll these in cacao powder or desiccated coconut…the options are many! As with everything it’s all about your own tastes and experimenting to find the exact combination that rocks your tastebuds!

Keep them chilled and they last for a while and, of course, can be carried around for snacking during the day – keeping you away from that beckoning Curly-Wurly!

Good luck!

A smattering of nutrition info regarding some of the above:

OATS: Oats are instantly better than many processed grains as the hulling process doesn’t strip them of their ‘bran’. Also, they contain a soluble fibre called beta-glucan which can slow down the absorption of sugars creating a slower release of glucose energy into your system. It is also thought to bind to fats slowing their absorption too and subsequently assisting the reduction of ‘bad’ cholesterol.

Oats contain very good sources of the minerals phosphorous (bone structure, healthy functioning of cells) and magnesium (nerve and muscle function and key to the production of energy) and the trace minerals manganese (needed for bone and skin health and helps regulate blood sugar) and molybdenum (assists in the detoxification of the body). It has a good hit of B-vitamins and that all important fibre – both soluble, mentioned above, and insoluble too which ‘scrapes’ through the intestines keeping everything moving along nicely!

Oats are technically gluten free. However, they contain a protein called avenin which is similar to gluten so those who are coeliac may still be sensitive to them – but the real problem lies in the fact that many are prepared in places where other gluten rich grains like wheat, rye and barley are produced making them susceptible to cross-contamination and unsafe for coeliacs. So, if you are avoiding gluten then search for pure oats that have been produce in a gluten free atmosphere.

DATES: Dates are an ancient bite size powerhouse of vitamins and minerals bound with great fibre. Naturally sweet and easy to digest so you can make full use of their health benefits. All round lush then…!

CACAO: Cacao (cocao) is generally believed to be a good source of antioxidants but the presence of flavonoids gives it its current healthy image. Flavonoids are a class of phytonutrient (the chemicals plants use to fight disease and bacteria) which are responsible for the pigmentation in the plant. They are getting a lot of attention in research these days as consumption of them is thought to give vital support to the main body systems (like the nervous and cardiovascular) and they are powerful antioxidants too, plus have anti-inflammatory skills which also assist the detoxification of the body.

BUT before you rush out to buy ten boxes of Milk Tray – the powdered cacao bean is more nutrient rich than the end processed result that we know as chocolate. The further the original roasted and ground beans go into the processing procedures the less the nutritional value. That’s why a 80% dark chocolate bar is going to be heaps better for you than a Curly-Wurly…but you guessed that, right?!

Woolton Pie…

Writing about old family dishes led me to reading about Woolton Pie. This second world wartime invention was presented as a nutritious and filling dish in an effort to keep a nation on it’s feet. Apparently invented by the chef at the Savoy hotel in London and named after the Minster of Food, Lord Woolton. Lord Woolton had the unenviable job of trying to keep the food resources rationed out in a war depleted country. He was apparently relentlessly chipper about the various hardships facing the households of the time and although this dish was largely dismissed by the public it remains as testimony to the popularity of the man it was named after.

The recipe was published in The Times in April 1941:

You know me well enough to know that I can’t resist having a go at this and then attempting an updated version for my so-called ‘modern’ tastes. Actually I can never resist a pie…! I also think it’s interesting to note the recipe calls for a wholemeal pasty crust.

The initial decision as to whether you are going with a potato topping or a pie crust also determines the contents of the pie. Potatoes are the main focus of the decision making process as they will feature somewhere either mashed on the top or added to the filling. I like the idea of this being an actual pie (albeit a single crust so not really a proper pie) so I’m going with the pastry…

Well, I’m falling at the first hurdle as I don’t have any spring onions, and I can’t be faffed to go to the local shop, so I’ll fling a few bits of onion in and hope for the best. My instinct is that it’s not going to make that much difference as I’m not exactly holding out for the taste revelation of the century.

If you are going with the mash topping then bung the potatoes on to boil. Then chop up all the vegetables in vaguely equal size bits. The skins left on the potatoes definitely (whether for the top or the filling – there’s a fair bit of nutritional value just under the skin – don’t lose it!) and cauliflower can be left bigger if you like but don’t get too OCD, but it will mean they’ll all cook evenly – really it’s more about the aesthetics and mouth feel (can’t believe I just wrote that…!) It’s wartime so it’s the least of the problems facing the cook!  Anyhoo…

The addition of oatmeal is to serve as a thickener. I whizzed a handful of oats in the whizzer machine and made it as fine as possible. The end result will leave a soft grainy texture to the dish so factor that into the decision about oatmeal size…or just fling the oats in! The vegetable extract mentioned has puzzled me. The dividing thought seems to be that it was like a bouillon (I didn’t have a liquid one so I used dried) or was actually Marmite (or some such). So I made a pan of each to sample the difference. It is suffice to say the flavour difference is subtle – to even give it that much credit!

With dried bouillon powder on the left and Marmite on the right:

Cook all this for about 10 minutes (it’ll get finished off, as-it-were(!), when it bakes) and it will thicken up as it simmers. Transfer the whole thing to the pie dish. Below is a picture of what I mean by the soft grainy texture to the filling created by the oatmeal. It makes no difference to the taste (apart from the blandness) but it’s not the smooth texture we are all used to. I don’t mind it at all and can’t help but think that it is a healthier alternative to flour and butter as a roux or just tipping in cornflour. Oats have soluble fibre (beta-glucans) which are thought to reduce cholesterol (although no one really knows exactly why…who needs to know? After all we put a man on the moon what more could we want…) and they keep you fuller longer as they are a slow release of energy. They have lots of lovely antioxidants and minerals too so…get involved!

Sprinkle some parsley over it. I keep a bunch of parsley in the freezer and just snap bits off when I need them. The size of the bunches now are silly and they invariably go off before you’ve managed to get through ‘one hundred ways with herbs’, so the freezing option is a good one. Herbs are a brilliant source of nutritional bliss and a quick and easy way to add a dose of goodness to anything you are making. Keep a selection of the darlings frozen in a state of readiness in the freezer to unleash at a moments notice. Parsley is a fierce opponent to free radicals and it’s volatile oils a great friend in the battle against cancer (especially lung, colon and prostate), it has a good dollop of vitamin C (and iron which work in synergy together for maximum absorption) and vitamin A (beta-carotene) – these strengthen your immune system, connective tissue, skin, hair, bones and teeth…and assist with wound healing and fighting infection! Phew! – It also has a good slug of vitamin K which assures that the blood clots and the bones are strong. Folate is present in parsley and this B vitamin is essential in the regeneration of the body. Parsley also has anti-bacterial qualities and aids digestion. Crikey…

I didn’t make the pastry. No way. Life’s too short. I rolled out some I had in the freezer and flung it on (no it wasn’t wholemeal…forgive me father for I have sinned…) and I didn’t brush it with milk or egg as I’m pretty sure the wartime cook wouldn’t have done that either.

I peered into the depths of it when it was cooked and, although it didn’t smell bad, it’s pallid gloopiness didn’t really grab me in a way I might have hoped. I’m sure this is part prejudice at the idea and part because The Mother sneered so openly and completely at the idea, and wouldn’t even entertain going along with the experiment, as she was clearly traumatised by the real thing many a moon ago. Growing up poor during and after the war was no picnic and the rosy tint of retro cooking doesn’t cut the mustard, apparently!

…but, in truth, it wasn’t half bad! (the pie not growing up in the war…) Truly! I’ll admit a tad plainer than modern tastes perhaps but nonetheless quite palatable. What shone through was the simple tastes of the root vegetables. I then had it with a layer of mature cheddar between the crust and the vegetables, which was a hit. I think there is mileage in this dish and it could be a great accompaniment to a roast dinner for example. Hmmm…I shall experiment no doubt! I shall unleash it on unsuspecting guests (not The Mother as she is now on high alert) and see what they say…watch this space!

This recipe is oh so adaptable. Onions in the mash or in the filling, seasonal combos galore, creamier sauce or drier stacked filling and so on…let your spirit and cooking soul guide you and create your very own version which you must instantly name and claim as yours…and tell me how it goes!

The humble potato, the staple of millions of tables has a fair bit to offer though so rethink your opinion and, more importantly, your cooking methods. First don’t believe everything you read about GI indexes and all that because, in truth, the results vary hugely depending on considerations like type, origin, the method of cooking, even the temperature they’re eaten at, all play a part in how it breaks down in your body. Complex carbs keep you fuller longer and release slower so you have sustained energy. Potatoes have vitamins (notably C – just under the skin), minerals, fiber and a handful of those handy phytochemicals (plant compounds that are thought to help fight diseases) we need. Carrots are a fab source of beta-carotene. Beta-carotene has antioxidant properties that help prevent ageing damage to your cells, fights cardiovascular issues and the vitamin A that the liver creates from it keeps skin, hair and nails healthy, flushes toxins from the liver and helps your retinas stay in tip top condition. Phew! The swede originated in Central Europe some say while others go with Sweden obviously but was originally just used to feed cattle. It has good food benefits for humans too! High in potassium and vitamins A, C, E and K. Great for fibre too. Cauliflower is also a good source of vitamin C and also the mineral manganese (essential for strong bones and helps the metabolic progression of the body in many ways and assists with the maintaining of connective tissue, absorption of calcium, thyroid operation, regulates blood sugar and sex hormones (well, hello, cauliflower…). It is also a powerful antioxidant protecting the body from cancer causing free radicals). Cauli has lots of B vitamins and is anti-inflammatory (the cause of many chronic diseases in our bodies), and is therefore beneficial for the cardiovascular and digestive systems too.

Root vegetables generally rock!