A different colour scheme for the garden

I’ve been playing with some colour combinations for the entry garden, trying to incorporate the orange tulips and roses that were already present. This is a design in progress obviously, so the final planting may well turn out to be completely different.

My own preference has always been towards blues, and initially thought that orange would be quite complex to work with. I surprised myself by being able to use blue, silver, and gray foliage as foils for orange.  Purple was another colour to bring in, as there are purple hazels among a hazel hedge nearby. Plants such as Hyppophae with its bluish leaves and Vitamin C-rich orange fruits or Abies koreana with its blue-green needles and purple cones in spring; certain irises with blue-green leaves and orange and purple blooms; and Berberis with purple foliage and reddish-orange berries helped me see that these combinations are natural complements. Euphorbia species provide much-needed zing to brighten up the purple and silvery greys with acid green (acid yellow, if you prefer) and some, like E. ‘Great Dixter’ and E. ‘Fireglow,’ have orange and purple tones in their leaves and flowers as well. One of my finds is of a new Miscanthus, ‘Ghana’, which colours up orange and purple in the autumn. Exciting!

The design is for an Eastern exposure on a slope, with clay soil, which is very sticky when wet and cracks during the summer. I suspect the soil is acidic but have yet to do a proper test. There are colonies of honey fungus (Armillaria mellea and related species) during the autumn, so plants have to be fairly resistant.



Liver is good for you


Liver is one of those foods that were forced on me as a child: that and green vegetables. Liver then to me was so bitter, and so were the vegetables:  one of which is actually named bitter gourd. No surprise then that I didn’t particularly like eating these foods when I was younger. But fast forward several decades and… surprise, surprise! The hated have become much loved, and liver and green veggies are on my favourite foods list! Ok, I have to qualify that a bit: chicken or other poultry liver; other types of liver, unless gently cooked, become quite tough and so are not high up on my liver preferences.  For the past few years however, liver has been saddled with such a bad rep that I haven’t cooked it in ages. When a craving for liver strikes, I indulge with the occasional liverwurst or pâté, but feel slightly guilty because of all the added fat and who knows what other waste meats go into it during processing. I know, I know, and I realize the inconsistency in my logic: I banished liver from my kitchen and have no hesitation buying processed liver with diverse additives. Such a pity, because I adore chicken liver.

The Perfect Health Diet (PHD) encourages liver once or twice weekly (at least 115 grams per week) as an excellent source of copper.  And what pleases me no end is that, if one eats chicken, duck, or goose liver, an additional 30 grams per day of dark chocolate ensures adequate copper intake. Now there’s another excellent reason to indulge in chicken liver!

The other day I made chicken livers pan-fried with garlic and spring onions in duck fat, partnered with curried vegetables and rice. For dessert, M and I shared 3 chicos (Manilkara zapota, also known as naseberry) and a large Navelina orange. There were enough leftovers for one person’s lunch. To drink, I had 200 ml of red wine and M had 200 ml of carbonated mineral water. As a newbie to PHD, I’m curious to see how this meal breaks down into its macronutrient proportions.


Weights for fruits for this meal (rounded to nearest whole g): 3 chicos 183 g for 2 persons or 92 g per person; 1 large Navelina orange 355 g for 2 persons or 178 g for 1 person;  Total: 538 for 2 persons; 270 per person. Vegetables for this meal, including garlic cloves  (rounded to nearest whole g):  925 grams; for 2 persons (~2 lb); 462.5 grams, rounded up to 463 grams (~ 1 lb) per person.


Chico (Manilkara zapota)

Total fruits and vegetables for this meal: 1463 g for 2 (3.2 lb); 731.5 g per person (1.6 lb). Safe starch (short-grain rice) only for me: 150 g (1/3 lb). Total plant foods (safe starches, sugary fruits, green vegetables) for me for this meal (731.5 + 150):  881.5 g or 1.9 lb.

The weight of the leafy vegetables (Chinese cabbage and rocket) of 286 g for 2 persons or 143 g per person, and the garnish of basil leaves can be ignored,  as the PHD considers the caloric intake of greens and fermented vegetables roughly equal to the energy required to digest them. So, my amended total plant foods for this meal is 881.5 g minus 143 g, which comes to 738.5 g or ~1.6 lb.

N.B. Metric conversions: http://www.onlineconversion.com.



Leftovers from dinner made enough for a lunchbox the next day


Garlicky Chicken Livers à la Vivian

I usually marinate chicken livers in vinegar and garlic:  a method I learned from my friend Vivian, whose signature dish this was, when we were students in Tokyo. I remember her fondly every time I prepare liver in this manner. Vivian’s method firms up the liver and neutralizes any unpleasant smell or bitterness.  The added spring onions and use of duck fat are my variations on Vivian’s recipe. Serves 2.

 350 g chicken livers

3 tablespoons any vinegar, but not balsamic

4 cloves garlic, chopped

3 stalks (45 g) spring onions; white parts sliced thinly crosswise, green parts sliced in 1-inch (2.5 cm) lengths (keep them separate)

salt and freshly milled black pepper to taste

2 tablespoons duck fat (substitute butter or olive oil)

4 sprigs basil or other herb leaves for garnish

Preparation: rinse the livers in cold water, place in a bowl, and pour the vinegar over them. Ensure that the vinegar comes into contact with all the surfaces. Leave to marinate for 15 minutes. Quickly rinse the livers in cold water, drain, and return to the rinsed bowl. Stir in the garlic, white spring onion slices, salt, and pepper.

Cooking: heat the duck fat in a heavy-bottomed frying pan with a cover at medium heat. Put in the livers (be careful as the hot fat will splatter) and quickly cover the pan. Don’t move the livers about at this point or they’ll stick and tear. When they have firmed up sufficiently, after about 3-4 minutes, gently turn them over and arrange them to lie in one layer.

Cover the pan again, reduce the heat, and continue cooking for 10 – 15 minutes more, or until livers are no longer bloody but still tender. You will notice blood oozing out of them; once the oozing stops, the livers are quite done. Slice through to make sure.

Sprinkle with the green parts of the spring onions. There will be a small amount of flavourful juices in the pan. Cover to keep warm until ready to serve.


Curried Mixed Vegetables in Coconut Milk

I made this with the vegetables that were rattling around in my fridge before I restocked. You don’t have to use the same ones in this recipe; the beauty of mixed vegetable curry (and that goes as well for a mixed stir-fry) is that you can use any you’ve got on hand.

I noticed from the comments on the PHD site that a number of people are daunted by cooking from scratch or without a recipe. I’m detailing my way of cooking vegetables to make it easier for others to create their own dishes with whatever veggies they’ve got on hand. Seasoned  cooks may want to skip this and the following paragraph. The order in which I cook vegetables depends on the texture and colour that I want for the result. In general, I put the harder vegetables, that is, those that take longer to cook first, like carrots. However some people prefer their carrots crunchy and rather raw, so they can put those in fairly close to the end of cooking. I wanted the sweet pepper flavour to infuse the coconut milk, so I put them in early as well. But there’s no reason not to add them last, as sweet pepper can be eaten raw. And they’re perfectly sweet that way.

The size of the slices also determines how long vegetables take to cook. I had fairly thick slices of broccoli, but cut a lengthwise slit along the stalks to enable heat to quickly reach in. Obviously thinner, smaller slices will need less time. Leafy green vegetables are usually added last, as I like their colour to be bright green and not faded and unappetizing. The Chinese cabbage stalks take a bit longer than the leaves:  those go in a minute or two earlier. Leaves, especially tender ones, take just seconds to cook. Often there is sufficient residual heat to cook them, so you can turn off the heat as soon as they’re in.

I’ve provided weights for the vegetables I’ve used, but not so that you should use the same quantity, but rather for my own reference as I begin being more mindful of the PHD. The vegetable ingredients in this dish total 913 grams (roughly 2 lb). For 2 servings


1 teaspoon Thai green curry paste (more if you like it really spicy and hot)

1 cup (~200 ml) thick coconut milk

¼ cup (50 ml) water (or as needed)

fish sauce or salt to taste

8 cherry tomatoes, chopped or halved, 101 g

1 carrot, sliced into 2.5 cm (1-in) long strips,107 g

1 sweet red pepper, sliced into strips, 236 g

small section broccoli, sliced into florets,138 g

4 leaves Chinese leaf (aka Chinese cabbage), stalks sliced crosswise in thin strips, leaves quartered lengthwise, 256 g

generous handful rucola (arugula, rocket), 30 g


Prepare the curry-coconut cream sauce: in a saucepan, whisk or mix the curry paste into the coconut milk. Stir in the water to have about 1 cm (½ inch) of liquid in the pan. Turn on the heat to low. When the mixture starts to simmer, taste it and add fish sauce or salt.

Add the tomatoes, carrots, and red pepper. Cover the pan and allow to simmer for about 10 minutes until the red pepper and carrots have softened slightly.

Stir in the broccoli and the stalks of the Chinese leaf. Turn up the heat to medium high and allow to cook for 5-7 minutes, or until the broccoli is tender but still crisp and bright green (note that it will continue to cook further, affecting the colour). Reduce the heat if necessary, if the coconut cream is starting to catch.

Stir in the leaves of the Chinese leaf and cook another 2-3 minutes or until crisp-tender.

Turn off the heat and stir in the rucola. Serve at once, with rice or other safe starch (potato, yam, taro).

Calculating Macronutrient Caloric Values

Plant foods

The PHD rough calculation gives: fat = 9 calories per gram; carbohydrate = 4 calories per gram; protein = 4 calories per gram.  Alcohol = 7 calories per gram. For the starchy and sweet plant foods  for this meal, I  use the PHD calculation.

My plant food portion = 738.5 g (1.6 lb). Instead of calculating each fruit and veg separately, I’m converting to total calories by multiplying X 4 (4 calories per gram carbohydrate) =  2,954 calories.

Additionally I used coconut milk, which (according to nutritiondata.self.com), has 445 calories for 226 g (or 1 cup), apportioned into fat 403, carbohydrate 25.8, protein 15.8.

Animal foods

What about the caloric values for the chicken liver and duck fat?  My calculations are based on data from nutritiondata.self.com. The chicken liver at 350 g totalled 602 calories: protein 385, fat 203, carbohydrate 13.65. To my amazement, chicken liver does contain carbs. Duck fat totalled 224 calories for 2 tablespoons. The total for animal-sourced fat: 427 calories.  Animal-sourced protein: 385 calories.

Carbohydrates, Fats, and Proteins

There are carbs of 39.45 calories from the liver and coconut milk which need to be added to that from plant foods of 2,954. Grand total carb calories = 2,993.45.  Definitely over the 600 calories of carbohydrates recommended by the PHD! But hang on, there were leftovers from this dinner which went into my lunchbox.  Rather than dividing the totals by 2 persons, it would be more accurate to divide into 3 (meals). Thus, for each meal the macronutrient calories consumed were: fats = 276.66; carbs = 997.82; protein =133.6.  Each meal thus provided 1408 calories.

Daily Caloric Intake

The PHD recommends 3/4 of daily calories to be sourced from plant foods  and 1/4  from animal foods. Nutritiondata.com gives my ideal daily intake at 1800 calories, (actually 1829 calories but I’m sticking to whole numbers for ease of calculation), thus 1350 ought to come from plant foods and 450 calories from animal foods.

Calorie-wise, this evening meal of 1408 calories per person meant I would still be able to consume an additional 392 calories to meet the total of 1800 per day. On average, over a day I have two rice crackers (64 calories), 2 pats of salted butter (72 calories), 1 medium banana (105 calories), and 2 mandarin oranges (106 calories), which altogether total 347 calories. Still within the limit. However, 20 g of dark chocolate at 120 calories would push me beyond by 75 calories. Coffee, which I take black, does not contribute any calories.

Balance of Plant Foods and Animal Foods

How do the calories work out in terms of plant foods to animals foods for this meal? Total calories from plants were 2954 from the vegetables and 445 from the coconut milk, thus 3399 for 3 meals, or 1133 calories for 1 meal per person (recall that I had the leftovers for lunch the following day). From above, the recommended proportion of plant-sourced calories for me should be 1350. Adding the calories from rice crackers, banana, and mandarin oranges as above (275) bring my total plant-food calories to 1408 or 50 calories over the recommended proportion. I could’ve done without that second mandarin at 53 calories!

And animal-sourced calories? They came to 427 fat calories and 385 protein calories, for a total of 812. I divided that by 3 meals and got 270.66 calories, animal-sourced per meal.

After those tedious and long-winded calculations, my results came to 1408 plant-based calories added to 270.66 animal-based calories: a total of 1678.66 calories for the liver meal and snacks. This is well within my daily recommended calorie intake of 1800. If, however, another meal, say the lunch box, with the left-overs from dinner were to be considered, I would definitely be over the limit.

The lesson I have gleaned from this meticulous accounting is that I need to limit my sweet fruit and other carb intake. I have confirmed that I consume too much of the former, in particular of sweet fruits. Time to consider more leafy greens! If you have been following thus far, congratulations. And by the way, I left out one item from the calculations. I just couldn’t face another round of calculations. Any guesses as to what the missing item is?





Apple and teff cake

I love having something sweet when I drink coffee, and I’m certain that so do many other people. And when I think of something sweet, it usually means cake or cookie. This is my biggest challenge when contemplating going completely 100% gluten-free and refined sugar-free. I experimented recently with teff (Eragrostis tef), also called tef, a grain originally from Ethiopia and Eritrea which goes to making the traditional flat bread called injera. Although teff is a cereal grain (among the smallest), it does not stimulate the same negative response in people with celiac disease, as found by Liesbeth Spaenij-Dekking and colleagues from Leiden University in the Netherlands (see Spaenij-Dekking L et al., 2005, The Ethiopian Cereal Tef in Celiac Disease, New England Journal of Medicine http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMc051492). What this means is that although teff contains gluten, it is not the same kind as that found in wheat, barley, or oats. (Please note that my mentioning this does not constitute a recommendation to use teff for those who do have celiac disease.)  I do not have celiac disease, and am currently experimenting with  teff and other low-gluten or gluten-free ingredients, because of autoimmune issues from Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. My immune system has been extremely vulnerable lately, and I’m hoping that following the Perfect Health Diet (PHD) and its suggestions to eliminate gluten and sugar may help.PHD APPLE TEFF CAKE WHOLE APPLES TEFF FLOUR PACK_8935

Teff flour is Teffmehl in German, and is available at some organic food stores (Bioladen). I found this in the organic shop near Bonn Central Station. It ranges in colour from white to dark brown: I used a beige-coloured one. PHD TEFF FLOUR_8954As refined sugar substitutes, I used honey and a Belgian fruit spread, called Delice de Liege, made from apples, pears, and dates. The fruit spread is not, however, entirely sugar-free: there is a small amount: how much, though, is unstated on the package. For every 100 grams of fruit spread, the product claims 180 g of pears, 160 g of apples, and 60 g of dates.BELGIAN FRUIT SPREAD

I am in gradual transition from my normal diet to the PHD, starting with eliminating wheat. At the same time I am also trying to reduce my refined sugar intake, by substituting honey or other products that do not contain sugar, and I must confess to not entirely succeeding, as I do love baking and eating pastry. Thus these experiments with suitable wheat-free and refined sugar-free alternatives.

This is a not-too-sweet cake that goes well with coffee, tea, or any hot drink and, may I add, also cool or cold milk.  It can be served with yogurt or cream, and goes perfectly well with vanilla ice cream (for those not eliminating refined sugar entirely from their diet): especially while the cake is still warm, making for a nice apple-teff cake à la mode. The teff and apples produce a moist crumb, so best to give the cake sufficient time to rest before slicing. If you wish to bake this in a different shaped pan, such as an 8- or 9-inch (20 – 22 cm) square or rectangular baking tray,  reduce baking time to 25 – 30 minutes.

Apple and Teff Cake


3 apples, peeled, cored, and diced

½ cup / 70 g sultanas or raisins

¼ tablespoon cinnamon

½ cup Belgian fruit spread, honey, or sugar-free jam

3 ½ tablespoons / 50 g melted butter

1 cup /140 g teff flour

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon vanilla essence

4 ½ tablespoons / 65 g butter, diced

2 tablespoons honey

1  egg, beaten

¼ cup milk or yogurt

2 tablespoons butter, diced (optional)



Butter a round cake pan, 8 in diameter x 4 in deep / 20 cm diameter x 9 cm deep, and dust the surface evenly with 1 – 2 teaspoons teff flour. Shake off the excess. Preheat oven to 325°F /165°C.

Prepare the fruit: in a bowl, combine the apples, sultanas, fruit spread, cinnamon, and butter. Set aside.

Prepare the dough. In a large bowl, mix well by rubbing with the fingers or in a food processor or mixer the teff, baking powder,  baking soda, salt, vanilla essence, butter, and honey. The resulting mixture will resemble coarse meal. Make a depression in the middle of the dough mixture and mix in gently the egg and milk until completely incorporated.

Mix two-thirds of the apple mixture with the dough and spoon the mixture into the prepared baking pan. Spread the remaining apple mixture on top. Dot with diced butter, if you wish.

Place in the middle shelf of the oven and bake for 45 – 55 minutes, or until a wooden skewer or toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out dry. Leave the cake inside the turned-off oven with the door ajar, to rest and firm up for 30 to 45 minutes before slicing.

Bon(n) appetit!