Pecan brownie bliss balls

helen and her daughter reaching for the bliss balls

I LOVE bliss balls. I didn’t know what they were 12 months ago, and now I’m obsessed. My discovery came about when my eldest decided to drop his midday nap. No longer could I put him down for a sleep after his lunch and then munch on chocolate in secrecy. I had to find some sort of filling sweet treat that was clean eating, good for you, and tasted delicious. and then I found bliss balls!

Bliss balls in their purest form are blitzed up dates and nuts rolled into balls. Perfect for dairy free, gluten free, refined sugar free, guilt free snacks. No need to sneak these in while the kids are napping, or while the family sleeps at night Nigella-style. And because they are high in protein and fibre they fill you up so you don’t end up over-indulging. 

This particular bliss ball recipe combines my own passion for chocolate, my husband’s passion for pecan pie, and my children’s passion for dates. or anything sweet for that matter! And then there’s their cheeky outer layer, which adds another level of taste as well as pretty decoration. I make them aaaaall the time:

– I use the coconut coated ones as snacks to keep in a Tupperware pot in my kit bag for post workout alongside a pint of milk – they are delicious washed down with milk, and combined the snack provides the perfect 4:1 ratio for post workout recovery (see the nerdy bit for the science behind this).

– I also used them in little see-through wrappers for my daughter’s birthday piñata – the children loved them and we avoided any psycho sugar highs!

– If you want a pretty looking after dinner treat for guests these work well too – nice and easy to prepare in advance, I like to bring them out with coffee after a BBQ or dinner party.

– They are basically always in our fridge to be taken post exercise, post pre-school, post long day at the office. sports bottle and bliss balls on grass

Pecan brownie bliss balls
Yields 20
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Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
10 min
Total Time
15 min
Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
10 min
Total Time
15 min
Ingredients
  1. 20 Medjool dates (400g)
  2. 150g pecans
  3. 3 tbsp cocoa (use 100% cocoa or cacao powder)
  4. 1 tbsp peanut butter
  5. 2 tbsp pure maple syrup (or agave/ rice malt syrup)
Instructions
  1. Blitz up the pecans in a food processor until they’re crumbs
  2. Add the remaining ingredients and blitz until it clumps together
  3. Roll teaspoon sized balls between the palms of your hands
  4. Coat with chosen coating, or leave plain as they are
  5. Pop in the fridge or freezer for an hour to firm up.
Nom Nom Nerd http://www.nomnomnerd.com/

 

…and now for the nerdy bit:

4:1 recovery

One of these bliss balls taken with a small 150ml cup of semi-skimmed milk provides you with the ideal 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates: protein needed for optimal recovery post exercise. This is best taken as soon after exercise as possible, preferably within 30 mins during your ‘recovery window’. If your body weight is around 60kg this will provide you with sufficient carbs, but if you are closer to 80kg you should increase to two bliss balls and 300ml milk to reach you recommended target of 1.2-1.5g carbohydrate/kg/hr post exercise.

Carbs taken during this recovery window help you restock your muscle glycogen stores giving you more energy for your next workout, preventing that feeling of heavy legs when you’re doing lots of training. The dates and maple syrup in this recipe contain significant amounts of glucose, an easily digested simple carbohydrate, so will get into the muscles quickly. The carbs will also result in the release of insulin encouraging muscle growth.

Protein from the milk and nuts will then be available for muscle growth and repair, leading to increased muscle bulk and strength, and preventing injuries and over-training. Good quality protein like meat, eggs and dairy contain all essential amino acids. The milk in this recovery snack will therefore lead to more muscle growth than if the protein was coming from just nuts or vegetables.

I personally have a bit of a journey home post workout, so I usually take an insulated drinks bottle with me containing milk to keep in my kit bag & take with the bliss balls asap – I’m always starving and so so thirsty after exercise, so I find this recovery snack really refreshing. But if that doesn’t appeal you can always just grab a pint of milk from a newsagent post workout, or eat your bliss ball with a take-away latte, perfect for after an early morning session – yum!

Check out the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand on Nutrient Timing (2008) http://www.jissn.com/content/5/1/17

Front of pack nutrition labelling :

Nutrient per 100g %RI per 131g serving %RI
Energy kJ 551 6% 720 8%
Energy kcal 132 6% 172 8%
Fat 5.9g 8% 7.7g 11% Med
Saturated Fat 1.3g 6% 1.7g 8% Low
Total Sugars 15g 16% 19g 21% Med
Salt 0.10g 1% 0.10g 1% Low
Protein 3.6g __ 6.2g

Pick Your Own Broad Bean Perfection

helen and baby eating strawbs in front of 'no eating in field please' sign

oooooo, yeah – it’s Summer in Blighty and I’m reminded of why we moved back here from downunder. Warm sunny looooong days spent in lush green fields eating the freshest tastiest produce our local farms have to offer. Well OK, it’s not like that everyday, but today it totally was!! 

To some people ‘pick your own’ means strawberries. Fair enough, they’re bloomin’ tasty, and the kids love it. But to me I think of the VEGGIES. Long lines of courgettes with their pretty golden flowers, the greenest crunchiest runner beans, and broad beans in their cute fury jackets just waiting to be popped open and devoured. 

kids shelling broad beans

But hold on… am I really getting excited over broad beans?? What to do with the vegetable that as a child was the only thing I would refuse to eat. The rubbery wrinkly grey things that appeared every so often next to the lamb chops at dinner? 

I have a recipe that will turn any broad bean hater. After tasting this you will hunt those poor overlooked beans down and pick sackfulls of them, stocking them up in the freezer for the months to come. There is nothing quite like the taste of a lunch that has been freshly picked that morning. Thank you Ottelenghi for providing the inspiration for this dish. I just never knew you could pop the tasty bits out of their skins. And your secret tip for adding a bit of oomph to any dish – just add lemon juice, feta or coriander? well here we’ve got all three…. OOMPH!! bowl of broad beans, yum

Broad bean & feta summer celebration salad
Yields 4
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Prep Time
20 min
Prep Time
20 min
Ingredients
  1. 300g broad beans
  2. 200g asparagus
  3. 1/2 shallot finely chopped
  4. 1 tbsp lemon juice
  5. 2 tbsp olive oil
  6. 100g feta cheese
  7. small handful coriander
  8. salt & pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Blanch asparagus for 3 minutes in a pan of already boiling water, then run cold water over to stop them cooking.
  2. Blanch broad beans for 6 minutes, run cold water over, then press gently to remove skin.
  3. Place greens in bowl, add remaining ingredients, mix and EAT!
Notes
  1. If you like strong flavours try adding red chilli and sesame oil.
Nom Nom Nerd http://www.nomnomnerd.com/

 
…and now for the nerdy bit!

So I’m feeling all virtuous for eating my vibrant green salad, but what’s actually so good about bread beans?

Broad beans are a great source of folate. Folate is necessary for red blood cell production, tissue repair, and cell division. This is why folate is necessary for women trying to get pregnant (to prevent neural tube defects), for men at this stage also (for spermatogenesis). It also means it’s an important vitamin for athletes due to the high red cell turnover during intense training. Athletes are often conscious to have enough iron in their diets, but Folate sometimes gets left behind. There has also been reported a link between folate intake athletes reducing homocysteine levels, and therefore reducing risk of cardiovascular disease.

One portion of this salad provides 60% of your folate needs. Take a bowl of breakfast cereal in the mornings to meet the remainder, a handful of spinach in your lunchtime sandwich, red lentils, broccoli and avocado are also great sources.
folate

Hot Yoga Thirst Quencher

Helen looking sweaty after a hot yoga class

Who is this lady in the image above? Has she just jumped out of the shower? Has she been caught in a sudden downpour? Nope. She’s just put herself through 90 minutes of 40 degree hot26 yoga. A wonderful child-free, stretch beyond the stretch 90 minutes of unimaginably sweaty yoga. But unfortunately I could not clear my mind and focus fully on aligning my chakras. I’m a nerd and I cannot help it. I had questions swirling around that needed answers – how much body weight will I loose in sweat during the class? What carbohydrate percentage would be appropriate for a hot yoga class? Should I ignore the yoga teacher and down my drink in one or will that really be worse for me and make me dizzy? 

Well, after recapping on the science in this area, and putting this into practise in the kitchen and studio I’ve come up with the ultimate Hot Yoga Thirst Quencher. All the science I quote here is from the American College of Sports Medicine position paper on Nutrition and Athletic Performance, which is still the holy grail of sports nutrition. Have a read!

We need to avoid dehydration. Water deficit in excess of 2-3% body mass decreases exercise performance. But the amount we need to drink to avoid this varies from person to person. I personally have the remarkable ability to sweat from literally every pore in my body. Even my thighs were sweating today, and yet the ladies around me seemed to have had more luck with their genes as only a couple of beads glistened on their brows. It’s important not to drink too much as then it just sits in your stomach making you feel uncomfortable, or even worse making you need the loo mid asana. 

So how to judge your sweat rate and hydration needs? The best ways to self monitor hydration are urine colour and body weight. Pre- and post workout urine should be the colour of straw, any darker pre and you’re not drinking enough in the lead up to your workout. Any darker post, and you haven’t taken enough in during. Weight is a shocker. I lost 1.7kg of pure sweat during my hot yoga. Try to weigh wearing the same thing – preferably just underwear as your clothes will hold onto the sweat. Aim to keep you weigh the same, but if you are losing you need to replace every kilo with 1-1.5L fluids. 

It’s recommended to replace carbs during exercise 30-60g/hr especially if exercise is over 60mins, if not eaten well before, or if exercising in an extreme environment (ie heat!). This should be a 6-8% solution for best absorption. Sodium and potassium will replate sweat electrolyte losses, and sodium stimulates thirst and fluid retention. Caffeine can also help in a sports drink, but more for alertness to enhance performance.

But why am I telling you all of this? The nerd that I am, I have already number crunched and taste tested and come up with the perfect sports drink to be taken alongside your workout. Just follow these golden rules for hydration and glug away:

– Monitor your urine colour during the day regularly. Keep a pee chart stuck to your bathroom door. If your urine is darker than straw…. drink more!

– Weight yourself pre and post workout. Drink 1-1.5L water for every 1kg lost. 

– For exercise in extreme heat or lasting over 60minutes add carbs to your drink in a 6-8% solution. Also add electrolytes. Add caffeine to improve alertness. 

So should you drink during hot yoga? Well yes, but it’s up to you and how you tolerate fluids during exercise – this sort of home-made sports drink is specifically designed to be absorbed quickly by the gut, not sit in your stomach like water can. Try it. You may find you’ll need to drink before and after the class rather than during. But absolutely no need for commercial sports drinks, just make your own. recipe right here.

Hot Yoga Thirst Quencher
Yields 1
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Ingredients
  1. 200ml Green tea - brewed for 10min then cooled
  2. 300ml apple juice, unsweetened
  3. 1tsp honey
  4. a squeeze of lemon
  5. 1 pinch salt
  6. a sprinkle of cinnamon powder
Instructions
  1. prepare the green tea and add honey to dissolve whilst it's still warm
  2. Once cooled add to drinks bottle with all remaining ingredients and give it a shake
  3. Tastes great chilled from an insulated drinks bottle
Nom Nom Nerd http://www.nomnomnerd.com/

…. and what would the label say?

I think nutrient labels are brilliant. A child can work them out. A quick scan of the front of pack nutrition labelling and you can see if you’re being healthy – green is for GO!, or if you’re being very naughty – red means STOP. However, things are not always so black and white, or red and green as we have here! After running this recipe through the nutritional analysis software we have green for go for fat and salt, but need to stop at red for the sugar content.

It’s true, if you’re going for a 15min stretch followed by a 10min walk on a treadmill at the gym a sports drink – homemade or commercial – is only going to give you unnecessary calories. But if you’re actually breaking out into a sweat from effort, and the workout lasts longer than an hour the sugar is justified and that red for sugar changes to a green for you! Remember nerds, carbs can be your friend, use them to your advantage.

front of pack nutrition labelling