The past couple of weeks have been full of more ups and downs than is usual for me. Nothing major, just stuff that could be done without. And really, as of today (I started this post yesterday), I feel the stress ebbing away to a manageable trickle.
I am naturally a person who likes things on an even keel. I absolutely do not thrive on stress – I would be quite the worst business person. Certainly you will never see me cowering before The Dragons’ Den dragons, touting an idea. Or even pitching up in a pinny for The Great British Bake-Off, like my brave and talented friend Urvashi. That’s just not me. With the exception of GBBO I don’t even like to watch shows with conflict, confrontation or stress. Well, an exception for House of Cards, too. How can anyone resist Kevin Spacey’s sly, to-camera asides, delivered in that snake-oil Southern drawl?When I feel too stressed I am one of those people who ‘forgets’ to eat: by the looks of me you will see I haven’t been too stressed lately! But in the distant past I have undergone stressful times where eating ended up being an unenjoyable chore. Something to be got through. It seems almost unthinkable that I, a food writer, recipe developer and health educator, would not enjoy food. That food would be as hard to swallow as cardboard, and taste similarly. But that it has.
I see a good deal of people on my cancer nutrition courses and individually who find eating difficult, not only because of stress – from their diagnosis, family reactions to diagnosis, fear of the treatment, etc – but also because of the changes in digestion, appetite and taste that can occur with chemotherapy treatment. This reality tends to put my own issues in perspective.
And with stress often comes tiredness. That’s where this simple little recipe comes in. (You were probably wondering where I was going with this little pity party.) Not only is this matcha yogurt breakfast bowl extremely nourishing, with contrasting textures – which you can customise if, like some of the people I see, you have a sore mouth or swallowing issues – it is quick, light and pleasing to the eye. Cheerful even. Who can resist a lurid green yogurt? Like something from a child’s recipe book. Or worst nightmare, perhaps? I posted a pic of my matcha yogurt breakfast bowl a few weeks ago on Instagram and it seems people were intrigued rather than repelled. Which is always reassuring!
The nutritional properties and benefits of yogurt are legion. We all know that good yogurt – the live stuff – is, of all the dairy products, massively beneficial for gut health (almost always an issue as we get older and our gut, ahem, slows). But it is also be good for the immune system too. And thick, Greek yogurt has the added bonus of being especially high in protein. This means a smaller amount is satisfying. Probiotic vegan yogurt is a great alternative.
For an omnivore I don’t eat many dairy products – the occasional cheese binge, a once in a blue moon ice cream. I tend to rely on non-dairy food sources like fortified almond milk, dark leafy greens, tofu, beans and nuts for most of my calcium.
But we all like good yogurt in our house, and recently it came to me that matcha (powdered green tea leaves), honey and yogurt might be a nice idea. And it certainly was/is. I also had some seasonal-for-now blood oranges on the windowsill and walnuts in a nearby jar. In they went and down it all slipped. Quite easily. And nothing tasted of cardboard. Just a heavenly, herbal-sweet creaminess punctuated by the raspberry tang of the dripping-ripe blood orange. The walnuts added the texture hit I wanted, but one could easily do without – or blend the whole thing into a smoothie – if swallowing is tricky. I could hardly remain blue or stressed in the face of such colours and tastes, now could I? It is sometimes the little things that tip us over, but also little things that pick us up.
And interestingly, despite the matcha containing caffeine – which I cannot normally ‘do’ – it also contains a significant amount of l-theanine, an amino acid that reduces mental and physical stress, aids cognitive function (clearer thinking), boosts mood and increases alertness. Quite an interesting blend of benefits, I’m sure you will agree. Like the equally intriguing spice turmeric, I add matcha to loads of likely and unlikely foods and drinks. You will see both in quite a number of recipes on food to glow. Here’s a link to some interesting facts from cancer.gov about tea and cancer prevention.
Matcha is easily available online, but any good health food store will carry it. The good stuff – organic and not ‘cut’ with anything or flavoured in any way – will cost a pretty penny. I am not one for spending lots on luxury things. I wear the same old clothes and shoes day in and day out. I shop at Lidl. But I make an exception for matcha. Some brands are just not that great and can be bitter. I use VitaLife (the ceremonial grade, not cooking grade) because they do a handy 3 for 2 offer, and the unopened tins last forever. It tastes terrific – clean, bright, gently herbal. But I have also used, and like, Teapigs (my favourite), Steenbergs and Clearspring. I buy the large pots as Miss R and I drink it cold daily and I add it into smoothies, like my Pretty Green Tea Smoothie, Green Smoothie for the Green-phobe, this Tummy Tonic Juice/Smoothie (it can be either very easily). Even this cake. And these blondies.
If you have never tried matcha before but would like to do so, perhaps purchase a small tin and follow the directions, which basically involves mere whisking. Mostly people drink it hot (not boiling hot as this impairs the principal phytochemical, epigallocatechin-3-gallate), but I prefer it cold. When I drink it I nearly always add some fresh lemon or lime as this not only tastes fab it also helps us better absorb all of the healthful catechin compounds, of which there are numerous.
Matcha isn’t soluble so it won’t behave like the powdered flavoured black teas you get at the supermarket – you are drinking finely ground leaves with all its fibre, after all. Once whisked I tend to give it a stir with a spoon once or twice while drinking it. I used to give the glass a quick swirl to redistribute the silty green powder, but that almost always led to me wearing more green tea than drinking it.
Here is a link to the proper, Japanese way to whisk matcha, and the traditional implements with which to do so. And here is a great little blog post on kitchen butterfly, with words and pictures about whisks around the world, including the Japanese chasen. The Nigerian author is a real whisk and kitchen tool enthusiast who writes lovingly and authoritatively about these humble tools. Be warned: you may want to start your own collection!
Do you like matcha? Do you find it helps with stress, alertness or mood? Or, do you just drink it because you love it?
Miss R’s track of the week: Midnight by Coldplay. Love ’em or loathe ’em, this is still quite atmospheric.
The green of this yogurt is not just a St Patrick’s Day novelty, the green signifies some pretty nifty health-promoting plant compounds too. Add in some berries, orange slices or other fruits, plus some nuts or seeds of your choice – maybe green pumpkin seeds to continue with the green theme? – and you have a filling and really quite special breakfast. Whenever I eat a small bowl of this I am always surprised at how satisfying and satiating it is. And the colours are so cheerful too. Enjoy x
150-200ml (2/3 – ¾ cup) yogurt* of choice – as a general rule, Greek yogurt has the most protein
1 tsp matcha (finely ground green tea)
Honey or maple syrup to taste (start with a little – the matcha is not at all bitter here)
1 blood orange or other orange – peeled and sliced
Palmful of walnuts, pecans or almonds – chopped if you like
Add the yogurt to a mixing jug or bowl and sprinkle over the matcha and drizzle in a little honey or maple syrup; whisk in thoroughly. Pour into a serving bowl and top with sliced blood oranges and crumbled walnuts. Eat immediately.
Other possibilities: berries and chia seeds; grated apple and muesli (for a green Bircher-style muesli); cherries and almonds.
For a solo dessert you might like to top the yogurt and fruit with a crumbled amaretti biscuit, ginger oatcake (eg Nairns) or a gingersnap. Or layer it up with these ingredients for a quick dessert to share with others.
* If you are currently undergoing chemotherapy you may have been advised not to have live yogurt. If this is the case, substitute with non-live yogurt (often the supermarket’s own brand ‘set yogurt’ is not live) or use from age frays or Quark, which tastes similar to yogurt but is not cultured in the same manner.
Soft food diet/swallowing difficulties: blend all (including walnuts) in a powerful blender, perhaps adding a little ice to thicken and cool. Pour in a tall glass and drink immediately.