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An Introduction to the Mediterranean Table: How to use Haloumi Cheese

The Mediterranean table is one of the most delicious and healthiest you will find in the world. The crazy thing is, not many know of the goodness of this way of eating. It’s all about fresh, seasonal produce pulled together to create a healthy and tasty dish, just like the vegetarian pizza pictured above.

I grew up eating Greek village salad, Moussaka and baklava. It was a way of life to sit down with others and eat food made from scratch, every time. It wasn’t until I met my Aussie husband and discovered people ate canned spaghetti, they poured salad dressing out of a bottle and they spread tomato paste on their pizza base (I know many still do this so no offence meant here, just emphasising how different it was to what I was used to).

Maybe you’re one of those lucky ones where your parent or grandparent would always cook from scratch…you can remember the aromas wafting through the house, that chocolate caramel slice, or the lamb roasting slowly in the oven or the smell of buckwheat pancakes early in the mornings.

During the winter months, my mum would make flat bread on the weekend. This bread was extra delicious because instead of baking it in the oven, mum would fry it in a shallow frypan with a little olive oil. If I was being a little lazy and staying in bed that little bit longer on a Saturday morning, the smell of olive oil heating up in the pan and knowing there was creamy feta cheese on the menu, I would jump to my feet and race into the kitchen ready to feast on this deliciously good food.

But my fondest memories of food in our home was when my dad would fire up the barbecue with coals and kindling and prepare lamb chops, spicy sausages and his delicious marinated chicken wings – oh those were the days! We used to proudly proclaim to our friends he was the Barbecue King and if they were lucky enough to visit us during a barbecue in our backyard, they too would wholeheartedly agree with us.

Gathering around the table with loved ones has a way of creating long term memories not only for you, but also for your children, something that is important for their wellbeing as kids and as they step into adulthood. When you gather around the table, you have a captive audience, an opportunity where everyone can talk with each other, share your own stories when growing up, have a laugh together, a place where natural connection is developed and not forced.

One of the many gatherings I treasure is Greek Easter. It’s a time where we celebrate our faith in God and our gratitude for the family we have. In our home, the Saturday before Easter Sunday was often filled with music as we prepared traditional Greek savoury and sweets for Sunday lunch. It was ‘all hands-on deck’ as most times we had 30–40 guests joining us the next day and you know what they say, ‘many hands make light work’ and truly it felt easy because everyone got involved. The whole lamb (as pictured above) was the centre of all our celebrations as we gathered around it waiting for the first cut to test if it was cooked through – oh we would all squeal with delight as soon as that succulent tender lemon infused lamb hit our taste buds!

Today, with our three daughters all grown up and we now have a couple of grandkids, we are making sure we continue these traditions centred around our Mediterranean table so they too will grow up with the best of memories, and a healthy way of eating!

One great love of ours is Haloumi cheese. The traditional way many Greek families prepare this cheese is to make Haloumi Saganaki. Saganaki simply means to fry. We slice the cheese first, then dip it in a bowl of water to wet it, before dredging it in a bowl of plain flour. We add a little oil in a small shallow frypan (okay a lot more olive oil) and once the oil is heated, we fry the cheese on both sides and then serve with a squeeze of lemon and freshly baked crusty bread. So delicious! But there are so many ways you can use Haloumi and one of them is to add it to a salad once you’ve fried it. Below I have included an easy recipe I love to share with everyone. Seriously, it’s so easy and so delicious, I hope you try it and if you do, please send me photos – I always enjoy seeing your creations!

Chickpea and Pumpkin salad with Haloumi (Serves 4)

400g pumpkin seeded, peeled and diced into 3cm cubes

1 teaspoon ground cumin

4 tablespoons olive oil for drizzling on pumpkin

1 teaspoon ground paprika

2 cups baby rocket

2 cups of chickpeas, cooked and drained

3 spring onions, finely sliced

¼ cup sliced sundried tomatoes

2 tablespoons fresh mint, finely chopped

Olive oil for frying haloumi

8 slices haloumi, lightly coated in plain flour

Sesame seeds (optional)

Honey Mustard Dressing

½ cup olive oil

¼ cup red wine vinegar

2 teaspoons of honey

1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard

salt and pepper, to taste

Method

Preheat oven to 180*C and prepare a lined baking dish. Place cut pumpkin on tray, drizzle with oil and sprinkle spices on top. Bake in oven for 30 minutes or until cooked through.

In four small salad bowls, evenly distribute baby rocket, chickpeas, spring onions, sundried tomatoes and pumpkin. 

In a shallow frypan, heat oil and cook halloumi for a couple of minutes on each side or until golden. Place two slices of halloumi on top of each salad.

Mix together dressing ingredients and pour evenly over salad. Sprinkle sesame seeds on top and serve immediately.

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6 Keys to Raising Kids to love Wholefoods

Key 1: Create an environment where your kids appreciate wholefoods

 

One of the keys to teaching your kids to be lovers of wholefoods is to surround them with good food choices. Exposing them to a variety of foods from different cultures free of preservatives and any other nasties will give them a taste for real food and real flavours. The first few years are foundational to building good habits.

Key 2: Expose kids to a variety of foods, even the ones you don’t like eating

Now this is a biggie for me. So it’s confession time – I don’t like eating raw tomatoes! I wish I did because they look scrumptious hanging from the vine in our summer garden. But when our kiddies came along, I was determined not to pass that dislike onto my kids. The first one was fine, she ate pretty much everything but then my next two didn’t. I would even go to the extent of pretending to eat the raw tomato when sitting at the dinner table but nope it just wasn’t in them. I tried! So my advice is – give them the opportunity to decide for themselves, don’t say anything to put the idea in the head and in the end, they will choose what they like and what they don’t like.

Key 3: Food is primarily to nourish you not to emotionally comfort you

Hands up if you are guilty of this one? Both my hands and feet are up! I like eating chocolate but there are some days when you just need that big bowl of pasta to make the world right again. It’s important to role model to our kids that food is first and foremost there to nourish us, give us good health and not to look to food to meet our emotional needs.

Key 4: Reward kids with your presence not food

A few years ago, in my other life, I was completing a Bachelor of Early Childhood Education and went on my first practicum. Being a home schooling mum, I didn’t last, it was just too restricting and regimented for my liking. But what really took me by surprise was the jar of lollies on the teacher’s desk. I was amazed with the epidemic of childhood obesity surrounding us that the Department of Education would allow this but that’s a conversation for another day. My love language is quality time and if I am going to reward my grandie, she gets me! My time is her reward not food. Let’s face it, most of us grew up being rewarded with lollies but it’s a new day and time to do things differently!

Key 5: Get your kids involved in the planning, shopping and creating dinner

This is my favourite! I love teaching kids how to cook and so when my kiddies were in their growing years, I would involve them in the cooking process. As they grew older, I would have them plan a meal once a week, write out a shopping list, I would go to the supermarket with them, let them meander up and down the aisles and them I would wait for them at the register to pay for the food items. Then we would go home and the cooking would begin. Today they are all very capable and fabulous cooks! My next adventure is with my grandies!

Key 6: Practice hospitality and gather your family and friends around the table serving wholefoods

Now this is at the heart of who I am. I love to gather my family and friends, opening not only my home but ultimately, my heart. I love to cook from scratch and present to them wholesome food filled with love. There is only one table and everyone from every generation gets to sit at it. There are no ‘children’s’ tables to one side or let’s get the kids fed so then we can sit and eat – nope we gather young and old and together we feast. This is one of the greatest keys you can hand to your children.

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5 steps Grandparents can choose towards healthy habits for their grandkids!

I came across an article recently discussing the issue of when grandparents are caring for their grandchildren they may be negatively influencing the dietary intake and weight status of their grandchildren. Grandparents love to treat their grandkids. My daughters knew when they went to Great Aunty Joy’s home, they could always help themselves to the lolly jar, grab a biscuit and try on her glamorous shoes! That’s what you did and it was fun. But seriously with the childhood obesity epidemic knocking on our doors, we do need to look at doing things differently.

So here are 5 steps to start with and positively influence our grandchildren’s eating habits.

Step 1 – Grandparents make homemade treats using wholefood ingredients

I am all for ‘spoiling’ our grandies and being a foodie, what better way to say ‘I love you’ through food! Try swapping the sugar you put in your cakes or biscuits with raw honey and adding half the amount. Adding berries or bananas to the mix is also a great way to ‘sweeten’ up your creation. If your grandie doesn’t have a nut allergy, I also swap some of my flour for almond meal or milled rolled oats – a great way to add extra nutrients to their diet.

Step 2 – Grandparents love to treat their grandkids with fresh fruit when doing the grocery shopping

The supermarket is full of ‘goodies’! I love, how on entering the local supermarket, there is a designated basket full of fruit free to every child. I really appreciate this lovely gesture by the supermarkets. This is our first pit stop and I allow my grandie to choose a piece of fruit and eat it while we meander up and down the aisles. When my youngest daughter was the same age, she would always insist on grabbing some broccoli and munching on it as we did our shopping.

Step 3 – Grandparents involve their grandkids in the cooking process

Often we may think it’s easier to just do it ourselves and save the mess! What I love about involving my grandie in the cooking process is that she is not only learning about food, but she is also developing self help skills that will take her into her growing years and ultimately into a capable and resourceful adult. I also don’t worry about the mess created on my floor, on my benches or on my appliances. The learning experience continues into ‘let’s clean up together… really, it’s a win/win for everyone. But most importantly, we want our kiddies to grow up knowing how to take care of themselves, to be able to cook for themselves, clean up after themselves and so on.

Step 4 – Grandparents encourage rest time for their grandkids even if it’s just reading quietly on their bed

The need for rest for our body, soul and spirit is underestimated in our fast-paced society. I love how in Greece, my relatives still practice siesta. When I was growing up, I always remember coming home when we’ve been out and my mum putting us to bed for a rest in the afternoon. I did the same with my children and now I choose this important habit for my grandie. She doesn’t always want to go down for a rest, but when she wakes up, she’s ready for a fun afternoon of activities without grizzling because her body is tired. Have you ever noticed in yourself when you are tired you just grab easy food, often processed or packaged because you couldn’t be bothered cutting that salad? I have for myself and therefore I prioritise rest.

Step 5 – Grandparents just want to have fun with their grandkids

As a grandparent, I didn’t want to be the disciplinarian in my grandies life. I am all for discipline, but wanted to leave that to my daughter and son-in-law. What that says is, I have faith in their parenting, they are doing a great job parenting and all I need to do is build fun memories with my grandies. This is the legacy I want to leave with them. I’ve recently come across an article where they state spending time with your grandies extends your life. Whether that’s true or not, I sure feel that my life is richer and much more funnier with them in it and what a fabulously healthy habit for both of us! When our love tank is filled through healthy relationships, we are less likely to look to food to emotionally fill that void.