Finding my peace

Today was the beginning of a new day.

It started with my alarm going off at the usual 5.15am. But without the pressing need to get up for work (hello only working one job now!), I rolled over.

At 7am I was woken again to a delightful melody of birds in the darkness of pre-dawn. Singing at the top of their voices on my doorstep, I caught myself in the briefest moment of their raw emotion: the joy-filled promise, belief and celebration of a new day dawning. Maybe it was the unseasonal autumn warmth, the gentle pitter-patter of rain, or the recent new moon but I feel the shift. Big one.
(yeah, it may also have something to do with me recently downsizing on stress/moving house/changing jobs too!)

I climbed out of bed and up the nearest hill here at my little farmhouse, just in time to sit a moment on a rock whilst I witnessed nature’s blessing: sunrise.
With every metre I climbed up that hill I stepped out of the dark cloud I’ve existed in for the past week. And at the top the rewards was waiting for me – a stunning autumn sunrise complete with epic clouds rolling in.
That moment I realised one more big thing:

I am right where I need to be.

This was nature’s way of reinforcing to me something I had ignored for the past few months…

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Rewind about four months when I was living what I thought was every girl’s dream: a carefree, inner-city life full of potential and opportunity, great friends and the job I had always wanted. Except, my health was failing. I was feeling badly alone: hormonal imbalances had left me fighting depression, anxiety, disrupted sleep and horrible mood swings. I was proceeding to feel less “alive” and even less motivated to explore Melbourne, the city that had captured my heart mere months before. I had pain and digestive issues that saw me eliminating more and more of the foods I loved and enjoyed. Where was the light at the end of this tunnel…?

But still, I felt trapped into putting on a brave face – I had everything I needed to be happy, didn’t I??

See, the thing my body was trying to teach me is that you can’t buy happiness living other people’s dreams….not a new dilemma for me, but one presented to me with a sense of urgency given my poor state of health.
There and then I made a decision to tackle these challenges, and their lessons I was destined for. When my mental and physical health miraculously improved during a three week holiday in late December, the path was clear: my whole lifestyle needed a reboot. With that, I worked on moving back to the country, to a job working outside in nature, and to a slower pace of living.

I became quickly attached to this change being a solution for all my angst. This would surely be the catalyst for my happiness to return: to eliminating stress, anxiety making way for joy and fear being replaced with courage, excitement. Of course, that is not the way this story goes. I found myself stuck between two worlds – not quite ready to jump off the safety step into the future unknown. Clinging to what I had lost, rather than focussing on the future potential I had made room for.

So I hid myself in a world that was busier, more chaotic and unsettled that I had previously known: we’re talking 50-60 hr work weeks, plus driving between two cities, bunking with friends and taking on way too much responsibility in my new job. Oh, did I include moving house, to live on my own for the first time in my life? (yeah, like a real grown-up!).
As expected I did my best “just-cope-and-get-through-the-chaos” performance…but I cracked.
Well, once again my body did. As has happened before – brave “game face” on as long as necessary then crash and burn.

Fast forward to last week when I completed my hospital work in Melbourne (i.e. free time and fresh country air) I did what anyone in denial does: flip out, ramp up into an anxiety driven ball of stress then curl up in bed with a block of chocolate and listen to my harsh inner-critic in overdrive…..why wasn’t I instantly “happy” now that I wan living the life I had wanted all those months ago? It culminated in yesterday finding myself working away on the farm exhausted, shaking and anxious (at 7am!) for no obvious reason. Looking over the edge into darkness again…

Today, though, is a different day. I woke up to find it was easier just accepting my world as it is. I’m OK with this ongoing battle with anxiety and managing my health. There will be no quick fix, no escape, no remedy that doesn’t include a lot of reflection and hard work. I’m pleased to say by the end of today, my list of “should do’s” is gone and replaced with my shortlist of things I do just for me, of things that bring me joy and make my head find peace. My stomach has unknotted. And my heart is filled with gratitude for my lesson taught by the glorious Mother Nature.

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My kind of chocolate cake….

Fact one: I love sweet stuff. Sweet tooth might be an understatement…

Fact two: Processed sugars (i.e. fructose) messes with me something chronic – I’ve figured out by trial and error over the years that it’s just not worth feeling like shite for a piece of cake. Instead of missing out, I’ve experimented over the past few months on some “healthier” options.

But I have finally discovered a recipe that ticks all my sweet treat chocolate-ly boxes without the harmful side effects of eating a tonne of the white stuff. Don’t be put off by the “healthy” tag. It’s a delicious moist rich cake good enough to eat for breakfast, or dress up for the next birthday bash.

A recipe that you might even be able to get kids to eat their vegetables without protest. And convert even the harshest sugar addicts……

The key ingredient is: beetroot.
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I came home from the farmer’s market a fortnight ago with the cutest beetroot “family”…just waiting to be transformed into something yummy!

Enter day off, and waking up at 5.30am (stupid body clock!).

Enter google and blog searching whilst snuggling under my doona…..and voila – I had a gluten free, sugar friendly chocolate cake to make for breakfast. I can’t take the original credit for this recipe – I’ve modified a few that I liked. The amazing artist Liza Zenni (also mother and cook) runs a pretty cool blog – go see her version of the cake here. There’s also “The Healthy Chef” Teresa Cutter’s version of a red velvet cake with an addition or raisins/prunes. And Sarah Wilson has a cupcake version in her latest IQS book  all on chocolate, sans fructose. Squeee!

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It’s kinda a “choose your own adventure” baking session, there are options a plenty to play with – depending on your dietary preferences, or what’s in your pantry. Hell it’s chocolatey…you can’t really go wrong! As the pictures attest I am not the cleanest or more pedantic baker…just have fun with it!

Red Velvet Chocolate Cake

[GF, FF, DF]

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup grated raw beetroot (approx 1 large beet or 2-3 baby beets – smaller are sweeter)
  • 3 free range eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 oranges – juice and zest*
  • 2 tbs rice malt syrup or honey or maple syrup**
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp bicarb
  • 200gm almond or hazelnut meal
  • 1/3-1/2 cup cocoa/cacao powder (depending how rich you want it!)
  • 2 tbs rice flour or coconut flour ***
  • 1 tsp vanilla powder or essence
  • 1 tsp ea of allspice and cinnamon

*you can swap the juice or oil if you like (I cook with coconut) to eliminate fructose. But I like the chocolate “jaffa” flavour it adds….

**as a sweetener, rice malt syrup is “healthier” option as it has virtually no fructose; find it in health food shops or “health food” section of your supermarket. Honey and maple syrup do contain some fructose.

***if gluten free is no concern to you it works well with a good quality wholemeal flour. Coconut flour will make it a denser cake.You may need to add another tbs or two of liquid with coconut or wholemeal flour if the mix is too thick/dry.

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Method:

1. Whisk together eggs, juice and/or oil, zest, sweetener and spices, then stir in beetroot.

2. Add dry ingredients and mix well.

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3. Spoon into cake tin (or muffin cases).

4. Bake at 170 degrees Celsius, for 25-35min (15-20min for muffins) – until skewer comes out clean from middle.

5. Remove and cool before slicing.

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Licking the bowl clean for breakfast…

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Baking at 7am in my PJ’s….rocking it!

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6. Served best fresh with vanilla cream (vanilla powder whipped into pure cream) or yogurt or DF frosting of choice. And of course, a compulsory cup of tea.

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Happy baking, happy eating!

KEY: GF – gluten free; FF – fructose friendly; DF – dairy free.

When your body speaks, listen well.

I’ve been laid low in recent weeks, and last Monday everything came to a head.

I found myself sprawled across my bed, barely able to move. The whole right side of my head, face and neck felt hot and inflamed; like it was on fire.
My brain fogged and my limbs were heavy.

My back had locked up – just one spot right behind my right shoulder blade.
And my digestion stalled – I was experiencing some not-so subtle signs from my body, highlighting what I have tried so hard to ignore over past months.

I had it coming my way for sure – a result of hectic travels on my recent holiday (3 states in 7 days), the long work days here on the farm, and ignoring the transition in weather this chilly autumn. My body was trying to speak to my mind: stop running and deferring, start dealing.

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So I gave into my body’s demands – I shed the “everything’s OK” story, lost my “brave face” and HAD to rest.

I must admit it was very very hard to hear what I was being told; as a perfectionist and meticulous analyser I find it hard to admit when I’m gone wrong. I also find myself regularly paralysed by indecision and fear – so hard to act when I’m so caught up in the “what ifs” and making the “right choice”. But my body insisted that my mind needed to LET GO.

LET GO OF IT ALL.

Let go of others’ expectations for me.
Let go of right and wrong, black and white.
Let go of things that no longer serve me.

Ironically, the only way forward to recovery was to relax and seek more space in my life. Where I would normally go into overdrive to fill my days with busy-ness – to do more, be more, see more – I was forced to stop and watch. To retreat and listen not to others’ but to my inner self (a hard thing for me always!)

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A little over a week on and I’m feeling more centred. More content. And there’s definitely more space and time in my life. But I’m working hard at it – meditation, lots of sleep, staying warm, and [most importantly] good eating. No caffeine, no grains, limited dairy. Plenty of fresh and greens.

Now that I write all this down, it seems like a simple lesson. But one that I’ll cherish – I am reminded how enriched our lives can be with the addition of conscious “pauses”; to reflect, assess and recalibrate. For that, I am grateful I chose to listen well to my body.

Morning Rituals: how to make every day a good one.

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sunrise from my kitchen: full moon setting behind the pink hills

We are creatures of habit. You can deny it only so much, we humans do the same thing day in, day out – with little variation.

Sleep, wake, eat, work, eat, exercise and eat again before sleep.

But for me, there is a great deal of comfort and stability in this – in a world where everything revolves faster and change is a given, I have some things I can depend on to help me set the right intentions.

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