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When I first arrived in London my whole approach to polenta was “limited” to its savoury possibilities. To me a polenta meal was meant only to be boiled and stirred for over an hour, with a great deal of effort, in order to make a heavy & super-warming preparation that often served to comfort my chilled bones after skiing.

Actually I have tried a polenta dessert once. Angel-white buckwheat polenta in a chocolate fondue. It was eye-catching and pleasantly served in a beautiful stone bowl, but then quite flat and it didn’t really go well with the strong taste of the cocoa.

So the very first time I saw a polenta cake, I was torn between disagreement and excitement. I couldn’t decide which one to choose until I tasted this soft and ultra-light gluten-free bliss. Then I forgot all the traditional ideas about polenta with its long stirring and I disrespectfully worked my way through all the possible variations of this light cake.

I found my personal recipe, born from necessity in the half-empty-cupboard which reflected my inability to go shopping. As I constantly juggle with 2 babies and the rest of my life, I had to really learn the art of improvisation and the transience of time, especially my own time. In the lack of ingredients my recipe came out quite summery and fresh. Not very autumn-friendly, but still good for a November fireplace resting with tea & cake. And, you know, life is full of exceptions. So, as I like an impromptu living of the kitchen I decided not to bother much about seasons and enjoy my new creation. So different from the heavy polenta dishes I always knew!

In the lectures “Six Memos for the Next Millennium” the Cuban-Italian writer Italo Calvino talks about lightness in opposition to weight. Favouring the values of lightness over weight which, he says, is not less compelling but simply there is less to say about it.
He describes lightness as the result of taking weight away, not simplifying things but making them lighter in order to increase movement and flexibility. A lightness of thought that makes us able to keep developing our skills against the petrification of the world around us. And only with this approach can we move forward in our lives, shifting the weight that we often encounter, with grace.

I guess that in cooking, as part of our strings of living, we should always consider this light & full-minded approach, that is basically the ability of being flexible.

Enjoy with me this light cake then and enjoy the discoveries of the unpredictable. It may remind you how much lightness we need to welcome in our lives.

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For this recipe you need:

26 cm diameter tin, 2 bowls, a grater such as Microlite, and maybe a good food processor to mill the almonds if you like to do so {if you can it is better to mill them yourself to enjoy all the nutrients, but if you don’t have time be easy on yourself and buy them ready ground}, and organic ingredients where possible.

Cake

3⁄4 cup of polenta meal (150gr)
1⁄4 tsp salt
1+ 1⁄2 Tbs organic baking powder
1⁄2 tsp pure vanilla powder
1⁄2 cup whole almonds finely milled (100 gr)
1⁄2 cup of coconut meal (50 gr circa)
1 cup of rice malt (300 ml)
2 super ripe fair-trade bananas
3 organic unwaxed lemons, zest + the juice of one
1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil or the virgin oil of your choice (100ml)

Preheat the oven to 150o C preparing a medium-low rack for the cake (tends to get too brownish on top before it cooks to the core)
Line the tin with grease-proof paper and grease with some olive oil.
Mix all the dry ingredients thoroughly with a fork.
Puree the bananas and mix with all the wet ingredients, adding the zest of the three lemons (grated with a Microlite or with the finest grater you have), and the juice of one of them only. You can use a food processor if it is easier.

Mix all together with the dry ingredients. Spread the result into a 26 diameter tin and cook for 35min.

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Lemon bliss topping (optional)

1 can of organic fair trade coconut milk refrigerated for 3 hours (to divide the butter from the water)
3⁄4 of a cup of white almond butter or 1 cup and a 1⁄4 of peeled almonds
the juice of one of the lemons above
1⁄2 tsp of pure vanilla powder
pinch of Himalayan salt or the unrefined salt you like
rice malt or raw honey to taste
1 extra lemon for decoration (optional)

Open the cans and carefully shave away the butter (that is now divided from the water).
With the most powerful food processor you have reduce the almonds to a butter, it doesn’t need to be completely smooth.
Mix the almond butter, lemon juice, the sweetener of your choice, salt and vanilla + the coconut.
Leave to settle until the cake is cooled down.
With the spatula mix the topping again and carefully spread it on the top of the cake. Don’t press too much. If it becomes difficult to spread wet your spatula with some coconut milk.

Decorate with the lemon slices or some coconut ribbons.

Enjoy along with a warming cuppa

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Your sense of self can so dramatically change. My priorities changed as well of course. But is my soul that has been spin on a roller-coaster over the last 24 months. Along came natural the desire to stretch boundaries, overcome beliefs and leave many old concept to fall apart. Some with ease some others with fear.

When I first thought how parenting would looks like and people told me about exhaustion, I was sure that the tiredness would have come from teaching them and ceasing them all the time, or from the long nights up. I actually discovered it comes from LEARNING. And mostly form learning from them, your children.

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They are straight and they start right from when in your belly. You’ll fight back, and believe me you’ll loose.
Because they know it better. They know before you do when is time to rest, they know you want to sit down for a nice soup more than having that salad on the go. They know that job is not quite right, you need to go to that interview you never went, or quit any job.

Where you usually did not allow yourself to go to, now they are going drag you there. Eventually you learn to listen, your confines stretch and shrink in a completely different way than before. You grow better boundaries while opening your mind+heart wider.

And then when they came out they get even harsher.
Sometimes you find that they may grow, but are they that bring you up. You may teach them to brush their teeth, but they teach you that your crazy obsession for having the toothpaste in that specific place,  is just a little product of your control freaking side. The toothpaste can sit somewhere else, even on the floor and your life will not get any bad (currently I have 3 tubes open and nobody knows where they are gone). Sooner or later you will get it and start to pay attention to what really matters in life.

They know how to push all your buttons. Little buddies loves that.
Because they need you to become a better being. Do you think you are an high self expectation person? Good luck with that my dear folk, they want more.
What they want is your soul and you heart, bare.  A friend of mine recently posted this : “Being a mother is like wearing my heart outside of my chest all the time“. My own interpretation of her quote is that all emotions, all desires, all that make you who you are, all these get unfold. We go real, now.

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Don’t take me wrong, I never had so much fun in my life.  And so little time for anything else! So I made my getaways, you do need your getaways! Moments to stay alone and maybe even do nothing. Just time from myself. And as it is usually short I start realize what really matters for me.

I love cooking, of course I do, however after having few ingredients for a chocolate cake sitting in my kitchen for a while, I had to face that I need a balance there as well. I don’t have to be always busy cooking for long to have good food. I can still have fab natural food spending far less time in the kitchen. At least something can be easy!

And as I never quite found a rich chocolate bar with the quality of cocoa I like, sugar free and vegan… well  here it comes! Heavenly rich + brainless simplicity.

Raw cocoa beans and mulberries contain a good source of magnesium and iron, really supportive nutrients for parenting.

For this recipe you need 2 heavy saucepan that can work together for a bain-marie. A whisk, some piercing paper and a oven dish or an other mold of your favorite shape, measuring 17cm circa.

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Ingredients

150gr organic cocoa butter
8/9 Tbsp of fair-trade Ecuador Cocoa or other fair-trade cocoa powder that match your taste.
1/2 cup of well dried purple mint leaves- purple mint works beautifully with chocolate but any other mint will do as well
1/4 cup whole almonds
1/4 cup of raw cocoa beans
2 Tbsp of raw honey or rice syrup
handful of dried mulberries
pinch or two of sea salt flakes

Method

1. Make a bain-marie and on a low flame melt the cocoa butter. Turn the flame off. – Note: You can now add a pinch of salt flakes or wait to the end and sprinkle on the surface a couple of them.
2. Add the cocoa powder little by little whisking until perfectly dissolved.
3. Take the pan out of the water and leave to cool down for at least 15 minute.
3 bis. While the chocolate is cooling, finely mince the mint.
4. Add the raw honey or the rice syrup. Mix and taste, adjust if needed. Add the mint and mix again.
5. Wet some piercing paper and adapt it to your mold.
6. Pour the mixture into the piercing paper and leave to cool down for 20 min or more.
7. In the meanwhile cut the almond on their length and roast in the oven at 170º until they become slightly gold.
8. Roughly chop the cocoa beans.

To decorate and serve:

1. Spread almonds, cocoa beans and mulberries + salt flakes on the chocolate surface. {Or you can go wild and choose your own mix: hazelnuts and vanilla, salt+ thyme and fresh raspberries salad on the side… }.
2. Leave in the fridge overnight to solidify.
3. Enjoy some rest, a fresh mint tea and your very own chocolate creation.

Love, xx.

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One year! I just blinked my eyes and one year has gone passed by! Seriously, one year is gone. So intense. So fast. I can say that it’s been the best year of my life so far!

I love family celebrations.  It is an occasion to strengthen family ties as we just focus on our love for each other. The best way for me to express my love to my family is to bake a cake to share. That’s why my celebration cake has to be guilt-free, scrumptious, super-soft, and most importantly, memorable!

I guarantee that this deep red velvet cake uplifts your heart with its warming colour, and the contrast with the super-white cashew marzipan covering is just perfect. The colour combination, texture, moisture… Everything is just perfect! Finally a wholemeal cake with an extra-soft texture!

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My life with my baby is like a roller-coaster. I know is a cliché but time literally flew. Having realised that the idiom is so true, I felt the urge to leave something for him — something lasting and authentic.

Then, I started my usual brain-storming (which means I made myself sick with doubts about my motherhood!). In this age of scarcity, and living in a society where we receive a constant pressure to conform and perform, I wanted to offer a compelling alternative for him. With my son, my perspective towards life already came deeper and broader, much more than I would think about my own life. In a spark of inspiration (when I started to see the light at the end of the tunnel of the self beating mode), I realized that just love and a sense of belonging can create a solid base for my child’s life, from which he can develop the sense of be enough and he can freely make his decision on what he would like to do in his life.

I have been questioning myself a lot about how to make this happen for us. When I came across some research on shame and vulnerability. The topic overlaps a lot with my holistic studies on health and happiness. To let my child embrace a true sense of freedom, I need to teach him how to be vulnerable. Being vulnerable requires being real, honest and authentic. I also need to teach him that mistakes are a part of the journey and – big lesson for me first- that we are not what we do nor how we do it, we are far more than that. I would like him not to buy into simple criticism, and the only way is to learn to overcome my self-criticism first.

Accepting the way we are and bringing integrity into our life is the key to own our stories and enables us to make our best choices, regardless of any circumstances. It sets us free.
The only way to pass this life lesson to my child is to learn it myself first. It requires a daily practice, and I am committed to it.
The same commitment I put in my daily cooking to actively make healthier and happier choices, so my child will learn from how I live and not from what I say. I really believe it’ s the only effective way to teach.

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And of course I putted my best energy and commitment in this cake! Without doubt, my child’s first birthday has been the most important family event of the year. I tried few times before to get this recipe just right. What I wanted to bake was a proper whole-food cake, with soft sponge layers that is not only firm enough to keep its shape but also easy to cut. And, of course, the super yummy angel-white cashew marzipan. Needless to say, is sugar-animal free!

Cashews are the best nuts to make creams. They are easy to blend and naturally sweet. As any tropical nut, they have a rich and milky flavour and  they make an optimum alternative to dairy creams.

These yummy nuts contain some important nutrients such as magnesium. Magnesium is one of the key nutrients for calcium absorption. Some recent studies claim that magnesium can be much more effective than vitamin D for this purpose.

Another benefit of magnesium is to relax muscles. Therefore, it is a great alternative to painkillers to relieve headaches and other symptoms due to muscle tension. Magnesium is also found in lots of whole-grains, nuts and seaweeds.

In terms of Yin and Yang (i.e. expanding and contracting energies), cashews are placed more on the Yin side, as they grow in a tropical climate. For this reason, they are more suitable in summer or a hot climate. (Phew! Some sun just in time!). I always use a pinch of salt and few drops of lemon to alkalies and balance their yin nature.

For this recipe you need 2 mixing bowls, 2 spring-form cake tins diameter approx.16 cm, parchment paper, a good food processor, a long bread knife and a spatula.

Ingredients (Source organic where possible)

For the cake

1 cup white flour
1 cup wholemeal flour
1 cup beetroot juice + a shot of beet concentrate
½ cup rice syrup
1/3 cup virgin corn germ oil
2 tbsp of chia seeds (if possible overnight soaked in the beet juice)
1tbsp organic baking powder or 1 tbsp baking soda + 2 tbsp cream of tartar
1 tsp apple vinegar
1 grated lemon zest (this must be organic)
A pinch of sea salt

Directions

  1. Into 2 separate bowls, divide the wet ingredients from the dry. (NB.Chia seeds go into the wet mixture.) Stir the wet ingredients well and leave it for 20 minutes for the chia seeds to soak up the moisture( if you have already soaked  your seeds skip this step).
    Tip. When you measure the wet ingredients, you can use the same cup if you follow this sequence : 1) beet juice, 2) oil and 3) rice syrup.
  2. Preheat the oven to 170º C or 300ºF.
  3. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry and gently mix together until no flour is visible. Avoid over mixing. This will keep your cake top flat.
  4. Divide the dough into the 2 tins and bake on the middle rack for 1 hour or until the stick comes out clean.
  5. When completely cool, remove from tins.

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For the cream

400g organic cashews, soaked overnight
1tsp of pure vanilla bean powder
½ cup rice syrup or to taste
1+ ½ tbsp lemon juice
A pinch of sea salt

  1. Rinse the cashews
  2. Put all ingredients in the blender and blend until smooth. Add a spoonful of water if needed.
    You can either cook the cream for a 5 minutes or leave it raw.The lemon not only helps alkalise the cream but also prevents it from fast oxidation. Even so, the cream will discolour within a couple of hours, changing from a pure white to light honey colour.

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To assemble

1. Slice off the rounded top of the first cake, if it has risen too much, This is to ensure that the cake layers will sit flat. Then slice both discs in half so that you have four layers.
2. Place one of the four layers on your favourite cake plate and cover with ½ cm of cream. Add the next layers, repeating the icing. Then, using a long spatula, cover with ½ cm of cream all around the edges. Decorate the cake with coconut flakes and beetroot ribbons.
Devour.

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all photos © Silvia Bifaro, no stealing please!

A little tip: during celebrations or when you consume a lot of sweet food, compensate with silicon rich whole-food (e.g. lettuce, celery, cucumber, carrots, millet and brown rice.). A great way to detox and refresh your body is to make a nice salad out of them, with puy lentils and a light seasoning.

Quick note about Chia Seeds
These lovely little friends has been a health buzz for a while now. When soaked they develop a jelly texture that helps to give cakes a fluffy texture as an alternative to eggs. They haven’t got any flavour, so won’t affect the taste of your food.

Chia seed contains many nutrients and are low in fat. And literally packed with proteins and Omega 3. are also a great source of fibre.
This super seed comes from a flowering plant native to Mexico and Central America and also grows in Australia. Some researchers claim that the seed was a staple food for the ancient Adzeki.

A little reminder. There are plenty of so-called “Superfoods” making a big buzz at the moment and I just want to mention that all wholefoods are amazing health booster superfoods.

I love Chia seed as it greatly eases my baking and also adds variety to my summer breakfast along with many other lovely seeds. However in some recipes, where their taste suits, I prefer to use the cheaper-and-still-very-good linseeds. These little friends have a distinctive flavour that works very well with some ingredients. And they also relax and detox your liver!! Such good buddies!

So, as spring is just around the corner and it is indeed the best time to cleanse the body, I will talk about them soon!

With love.

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Perhaps you are like me and you have a cute little baby crawling all over your flat. This means, by default, that you need to employ complex mathematical

equations to figure out when to cook. Or maybe, your time in the kitchen is tapering off for other reasons. However, you can relate how crucial is to prepare in advance basic ingredients such as whole grains.

The first time I made this macaroon I was attempting to make a vegan option of some famous Italians pastries. The challenge was to make them as soft as the original ones without eggs and butter, well…the most staggering benefit of cooking from leftovers is that you can change your dessert destiny just raiding the fridge. At the first glance cooked brown rice may seems unlikely match for macaroons, but when its smooth taste is swirled into the slightly nutty dough the result is irresistible. Sure enough, you’ll need quite a bit of will to do not eat the whole thing before it goes into the oven.

Whole-grain brown rice is not only tastier but also contain a plethora of nutrients and antioxidants missing in the refined white variety. Among them there are vitamins B and E. Vitamin B group is a great support for the nervous system. In other words it helps you feel good, calm and stable. I usually relay on food rich in vitamin B when I’m particularly tired. Vitamin E is a great antioxidant that prevent fat accumulation and helps  fight cholesterol.
An other essential point to understand the value of brown rice is the remarkable effect of the rice bran (the coating) on lowering blood sugar levels.
I have to admit that I love brown rice, it has changed my life. Since I eat whole food I experience more energy, clearer thinking and great mood. I use whole almond instead of almonds meal or peeled almonds, for similar reasons. Independently from the taste that is unquestionably better in the whole version, the oil in the nuts, when shredded or milled, gets very quickly rancid. This means you loose most of the goodness and subtile tastes get ruined.

For this recipe you need a little food processor or grinder, a medium bowl and perching paper.

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Ingredients

½ Cup of whole almonds

½ Cup of cooked brown rice

2/3 Cup of desiccated coconut meal; plus some for decoration (optional)

1/3 Cup of brown rice syrup; plus some for decoration (optional)

Direction

Mill the almond and the rice separately. You don’t want any single rice grain to remain entire. Add a spoon of water if needed.
In a medium bowl whisk all ingredients thoroughly . You can use a spatula, or in a less orthodox but very effective way, your fingers.
With damp hands, take a little portion of mixture and shape into a ball that is half tinier than a golf ball. Place on the perching paper and repeat with the remaining mixture.
Bake at 150º C for 15/20 minutes or until slightly gold. Set aside to cool down so you can handle.
If you have some spare time remaining, it is worth to invest it to decorate your macaroons. Prepare a bit coconut and a bit of rice syrup in two separate bowls.
Dip and roll the macaroon in the syrup, then roll in the coconut. Arrange on a plate and serve.

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This recipe has a startling simplicity which makes it perfect for dwindling time and listless cute-little-crawiling-baby-equipped cooks. However you can’t help but notice how quickly the macaroon wane from the plate and before long you will need to make them again. Personally I’m doubling the ingredients and store the macaroons, into the fridge in an airtight container. I cannot tell how long they last as in 3 days they are all gone!

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