Delicious Christmas (root vegetable!!) Brownies

Image Credit: Vanessa Jaich via Alive&Thrive.

I made the most delicious root veg chocolate brownies at a Christmas market this weekend… and everyone loved them…even before I mentioned how healthy they are. I used chestnut and tiger nut flour. This gives the brownies a subtly sweet flavour and a lovely gooey texture. The dates and coconut sugar serve as the low glycemic sweetener. There’s also great fun in using whatever leftover roasted root veggies you have in the fridge! I’m partial to sweet potatoes as they’re loaded with anti-oxidants, but parsnips, roasted pumpkin bits, even butternut would work. And if you use beetroot, then you’ll add a lovely pinkish hue. Happy baking!

For the Brownies

– 200g leftover roasted root vegetables (either sweet potato, pumkin, parsnip, beetroot)

– 1 tbsp coconut oil

– 100g medjool dates

– 120g ground almonds

– 100g chestnut flour

– 100g tigernut flour

– 4 tbsp of raw cacao

– 1 tbsp carob powder

– 1/2 tsp vanilla powder

– 2 tbsp coconut sugar

– a pinch of himalayan salt

For the Ganache

– 1 tbsp cashew butter

– 1 tbsp almond butter

– 1 tbsp raw honey/maple syrup

– 2 tbsp raw cacao powder

– 2 tbsp coconut oil


Preheat the oven to 170C (325F). Peel the sweet potato (or any root vegetable) and cut into quarters. On a baking tray, mix the vegetables and 1 tbsp coconut oil (use more oil if needed). Roast for approximately 30 minute, checking halfway through. When the vegetables are ready a skewer will insert easily. Remove from the oven and add to a food processor with pitted dates. Blend until completely smooth. In a large bowl mix together all the dry ingredients, ground almonds, chestnut four, tigernut flour, raw cacao, carob, vanilla, coconut sugar and salt. Add to the date and sweet potato mix. Add the oil and mix well. Pour the mix into a prepared baking tin 20x20cm (8×8 inch) and bake for for 20 – 30 min. While the brownies are cooking make the ganache by mixing all the ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. Place the ganache in the fridge to firm up. Brownies are ready when they are light but firm to touch. Leave tocool completely before icing, otherwise your ganache will melt! Stir the ganache lightly and and spread over the cooled brownies. Cut into squares and serve.


Tigernut and Chestnut flour can be replaced with other gluten free flours such as buckwheat, rice, gram, oat flour or basically anything.

If you don’t have carob powder, you could substitute with another tbsp of cacao powder.


Nigella Lawson’s ‘SECRET’ weight loss

Between 2010 and 2017, celebrity chef and eponymous domestic goddess Nigella Lawson, has gone from a ‘voluptuous’ size 16 to a ‘svelte’ size 12. These are not my words, but the words of lifestyle magazines and tabloids, who have endlessly focused on the way that women in the public eye, like Nigella, look.

Image Credit: via Unsplash.

It’s a trend that seems unlikely to change, but Nigella has credited one particular form of exercise for her ‘miraculous’ weight loss – that’s right, yoga.

In two separate interviews with Good Housekeeping magazine, in 2015 and 2017, she was repeatedly asked about how she had lost weight. She replied that it is her yoga practice that has helped to keep her in shape, but Nigella also kept trying to steer the conversation away from how she looked and what she weighed, instead responding about how doing yoga has made her ‘feel’.

In 2015 she told the magazine, “It’s certainly true my weight went up – that happens in life sometimes”.

But, she said, “I have never been on a diet to try to lose weight. I feel like I haven’t lost weight, but I’m possibly in better shape. I am doing a rather slow form of yoga now called Iyengar.”

She emphasised this again to the magazine when she said, “As you get on in life, you value feeling well as opposed to looking well. Yoga certainly makes you feel great, and you want to carry on feeling great. I just do a bit in a very slow way. Sometimes, lying down!”

Feeling well, not just looking well

Nigella has hit the nail on the head with her response that she values ‘feeling well as opposed to looking well.’ It’s taken some time, but I’ve now come to the same conclusion as Nigella, as well as some other stars, such as Kate Winslet.

In a recent Graham Norton show, Kate revealed that she hadn’t weighed herself for twelve years and it was ‘much better for the mood’ not to know.

But how many of us can put our hands up and honestly say we started yoga to ‘connect with our inner calm’ or some other mindful reason? Probably not many. Most of us, myself included, started going to yoga as part of a personal campaign to ditch the flab and tone up. Many of us, inspired by the endless pictures of insta-yogis looking ‘abs’-olutely fabulous on a beach makes us think that if we do yoga, we too could look like that.

It’s only once we commit to yoga that the true motivation for sticking to the discipline reveals itself: internal well-being.

Feel Happy, Look Happy

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The truth is that real beauty and health come from the inside first. Beauty radiates out of every pore of someone who is content. B.K.S. Iyengar, the father of Iyengar yoga – the style of yoga that Nigella has said that she practises, says:

A great boon of yoga, even for relative beginners, is the happiness it brings, a state of self-reliant contentment.

He doesn’t say, that a great boon of yoga is that you will ‘lose those extra pounds’, or ‘look svelte for your selfie‘. The fact is that if we stop looking for happiness by changing the way we look, we find happiness by changing the way we feel.

In 2017, the same questions on weight loss came up, and Nigella answered,

I do yoga three times a week,’ she said. ‘I have to do something I enjoy, otherwise I wouldn’t do it.” Again, she stressed her commitment to her yoga practice, and the way that it makes her feel – NOT the way it helped her look.

Yoga DOES help with Weight Loss

The fact is that most forms of yoga are an excellent way to keep fit and burn off extraneous calories. But yoga helps your physical health in many ways, not just through the strenuous physical effort involved.

In an article for LiveScience, Beth A. Lewis, Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota School of Kinesiology in Minneapolis, states that ‘yoga can increase one’s mindfulness and the way one relates to their body. So, individuals will become more aware of what they are eating and make better food choices.’

Through yoga the mind and body become more in tune, which often leads the student of yoga to adjust their lifestyle. Personally, I have completely given up drinking any caffeinated drinks due to the effect it was having on my body. I ignored the symptoms for years, but after taking up yoga, I found that I became hyper-aware of the negative physical and mental effects.

Lose Stress first, the rest will follow

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The fact is, when we are out of balance emotionally and mentally, the body will also be out of balance. Our attitude to yoga should be that we should address the internal imbalance first, and the rest will follow.

Beth A. Lewis again:

“Additionally, many individuals eat more when they are feeling stressed and yoga can help combat stress, which can influence one’s energy intake.”

In the high-octane, busy modern world that we live in, there are more and more ways that we can get stressed. We can stress about our jobs, about our relationships, our children and the way we look. But stress only adds to the unhealthy cocktail that leads to weight gain and long-term to disease.

As B. K. S. Iyengar says,

‘the essence of yoga is not about external display but internal cultivation.’

If we cultivate our inner balance, the external display looks after itself. Just like Nigella.


Change Your Diet in 21 Days

Image Credit: Eli DeFaria via Flickr.

Good dietary habits can revolutionize the way we eat and have an impact in our health and quality of life. But why is it so hard to keep them up and what do we need to form them? Think of a dietary habit that you would like to form. Maybe you want to eat more fruits and vegs? Or perhaps quit having an extra biscuit with your tea? The “why” or the reason you’d like to achieve this new habit is your “motivator”. Once you know what you want to achieve and why you want to achieve it, then you can apply strategies to form and maintain your new habit. However, it will take longer than 21 days. Sorry! But read on…

Why it will take you more than 21 days

The first step is to prepare for the time and effort in making a new habit. The idea that you can create a habit in 21 days came from a book titled Psycho-Cybernetics by a surgeon called Dr. Maxwell Maltz. In his book, Dr. Maltz described how after plastic surgery it took an average of 21 days for his patients to become accustomed with their new faces.

A more recent study from University College London (UCL) determined that it actually takes 66 days to form a new habit. Researchers from UCL also observed that this time could vary according to the characteristics of each individual. They went on to report that it could take from 18 up to 254 days for a new habit to stick. Let’s be optimistic – it likely won’t take you 8 months to create a new habit! But setting a realistic expectation of 2 months will increase the odds of creating and maintaining your new habit.

4 factors to make your habit successful:

Step 1: Visualize your habit

Think of a habit that you would like to introduce to your daily life. Reflect why you would like to achieve it and what you would gain.

Step 2: Repeat the behavior every day

Repeating the action you are interested in converting into a habit every day in the same scenario will help your brain associate your surroundings with that new action. Therefore, every time you become exposed to that scenario you will be reminded and pushed into your new habit. Try choosing a place and time of day when you would like to make this habit happen.

Step 3: Make your habit possible

Image Credit: Erol Ahmed via Flickr.

It must be possible for you to practice the new habit. For example if you want to limit your the number of biscuits you consume, but you work in a biscuit shop and have 20 back-up bags of biscuits at home, well, you have some significant odds! Or if your goal is to increase your water intake, you must have accessibility to water throughout the day. Finding an easy and practical way to achieve your new habit will increase your chances of keeping it for the long run. This characteristics is referred to as capability. Examples of capability if you wanted to increase your veggie intake would be to:

  • Having (or creating) a time gap to buy and prepare vegetables
  • No allergy or digestive problem for a rich veggie diet

Step 4: Creating opportunity

There must be a window of opportunity for you to engage in your new action and transform it into a habit. Coming back to the example of increasing your veggie intake, it could mean that you choose a new route to work which takes you past a fruit and veggie stand. Thus, you could buy your veg for the day. Other ways you could increase your opportunities of eating fruit and veg:

  • Go to a restaurant known for its prowess with vegetables
  • Spend more time with vegetarians or others who are trying to eat more veggies
  • Have someone show you how to cook a vegetable you’ve never tried

Step 5: Finding your motivator

Image Credit: Ethan Sykes via Flickr.

There must be something in your core that pushes you to create a habit. Examples of a motivator could be:

  • You have a condition you want to treat: say you’re prone to acne and increasing your water intake will get rid of it
  • You’re pregnant; increasing your veggie intake will ensure that your child will get all their required nutrients and a preference for veggies

The take-away message here is: repeat the action in the same scenario every day. It will take a bit of effort at the beginning but before you know it you will be doing it without thinking. Good habits change your life for the better!

The Yoga of New Things: Neophilia for Yogis

Neophilia is the love of the new. It’s not so much focused on love for brand-new, straight-out-of-the-box things, but much more on the seeking out of new experiences. Neophiles are people who love novelty, who seek the thrill of doing things they’ve never done before. And they’re not necessarily adrenaline junkies; you can be a neophile reading a novel you’ve never read, going on a walk somewhere new, or simply approaching your yoga mat from a different perspective.

In literature (where the term first sprung up, thanks to cult writer Robert Anton Wilson), neophiles are usually rebels and rule-breakers, but in reality they have a lot more in common with yogis. More to the point, here’s how embracing the new can deepen and enrich your yoga practice.

Staying in the present

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Atha yogas anushasanam, says the first of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras: now is the time for yoga, with the emphasis being on the now. The present moment is always new, and in that sense, so is good yoga practice. Keeping things fresh can be hard, given how life – and our notion of a disciplined yoga practice –  revolve around routine. When we want to spruce things up, we often lack imagination as a result of having become stale – it can be a catch 22. Of course this applies to life in general as well as to yoga: it can be all too easy to get stuck! So, as a first step towards welcoming neophilia into your life, here are

4 Easy Ways to Make Your Yoga Practice Feel New

  • Bring a Beginner’s Mind to the mat

Get curious and approach each pose as though your body had not encountered it before. Search for new areas of sensation and tune into the things you routinely ignore. If you know you’ve neglected your breath, for example, focus on that in more detail than your alignment, or if you’re normally preoccupied by pranayama, work with greater attention to your spine. Allow your practice to be a space for including new sensations. One way to make your practice new is to pretend to be a beginner again. Think you know everything? Begin anew with a two-day Foundation Course.

  • Practice in a different space

Usually practice inside? Then weather permitting, take your mat outside. And if the weather isn’t on your side, move your mat to a new spot, or if you’re pushed for space, even facing the opposite way from normal to make your brain work differently, which is what this is all about.

  •  Change what you hear

If you regularly listen to the same playlist, change it up, or go silent. If you normally practise silently, try moving to music. Notice the differences in how you feel, get quiet and curious within yourself as to how sound affects your experience.

  • Go to a new yoga class

Challenge the power of habit by attending something different! Place your emphasis on experience rather than result – the point is to do something new and learn in the process, not necessarily to like it. If we only ever did things we liked, or thought we’d like, we’d live much more boring lives!


Practising a different kind of flexibility

The point is not to change your practice permanently – far from it. The point is to make adaptability part of your practice, just as it has to be a part of life. Science is full of evidence suggesting that new experiences keep us young, mentally as well as physically, and can also have a dramatic effect on our mood and general wellbeing.

Keen to put this to the test, I set out to find a way to introduce more new experiences into own my life.

An Experiment For The Intrepid

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There are of course all sorts of ways to try new things, but key to all of them is a shift in mindset, and that can be hard to muster up in the throes of a busy everyday life. So, why not make a commitment to get you going? Nothing like a good challenge to get you going…

A couple of months ago I read an inspiring Facebook post from a friend who who is currently working overseas for the British Government in Pakistan. Seeking a way to make the most of living in a foreign country and not letting the richness of that slip by, she pledged to do a new thing every day for a month, and to track her progress online as a way of making herself accountable. A seriously interesting series of posts followed, ranging from mountain explorations to new dishes sampled and new languages spoken, and it occurred to me that I could benefit greatly from doing the same thing. I had recently moved to the other side of the world, and so I set about to see what novelty New Zealand could bring each day, for a month.

Six weeks or so after I began this journey, although my Facebook documentation of the process has been a little lacking, the reason for that is that more has changed than I thought possible, and in a very exciting way – I simply haven’t had time. It’s been a brilliant experience. What it has highlighted has been just how much opportunity can turn on what can feel like a relatively minor decision. On Day 1 of my challenge, despite feeling a little ambivalent about it, I dragged my cousin along to a Slam Poetry event, because I’d never been to one before and had been meaning to for about six years. It seemed like the ideal first new thing, and it was.

Not only was it a great night, but the people I met there have become friends, and have gone on to totally transform what I’m now doing in Auckland. This has become a journey of new things I had been wanting to do for years including going on a road trip, taking a play on tour, writing and putting on my own, and developing my yoga practice towards what I have long-since wanted its focus to be: yoga for performers.

I’ve met a whole new community of people, moved forward with more of my creative ambitions than I ever could have hoped to, and become (a bit) better at day-dreaming less and doing more. Highlights were gazing at the Milky Way and capturing it on camera lens at 1am on a deserted beach, making my own pasta by hand, going rock climbing, and buying my first car, finally, at the grand old age of 26.

Image Credit: Debbie R via Flickr.

Just like my friend found in Pakistan, the pressure, which at times it was, to try to experience something new each day meant that I dithered less, and seized the day – even if it was at 9pm, doggedly kneading pasta dough. Doing new things forces you to let go of old stories, and helps you to realise that there is so much possibility all around us – all we need do to tap into it is adjust our perspective.

And this, of course, is yoga at its best.

World’s BEST Kimchi recipe

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If you’ve never tried to make Kimchie, or you’ve made it a thousand times, this recipe is easy, delicious and compliments every dish imaginable. The ginger stimulates the secretion of stomach acids and therefore aids digestion. The lacto-fermentation process produces various strains of probiotic bacteria that promote gut health. The cabbage provides fiber with high levels of nutrients whereas the ginger and tumeric have powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects on the body. The combination of ingredients below are packed with a range of vitamins such as vitamin A, vitamin B1, vitamin B2 and vitamin C. It is also rich in essential amino acids and minerals such as iron, calcium, selenium. Basically, this Kimchee recipe is a party for your body!

Turmeric Ginger Kimchee (Makes 500g)

2 tbsp sea salt

600g Chinese cabbage

4 carrots

1 large daikon radish

2 garlic cloves

50g ginger root

25g turmeric root

2 tbsp turmeric powder

2 tsp chili flakes

  1. Combine the cabbage, carrots, radish, garlic, ginger and turmeric root in a large mixing bowl.
  2. Add the sea salt and massage into the vegetables until the vegetables are soft and a liquid has formed. This may take up to 5 minutes.
  3. Place the chili flakes into the bowl and combine thoroughly.
  4. Place the kimchee into fermentation jars. Make sure the liquid covers the vegetables. Set aside to ferment at an ambient temperature between 1 – 4 weeks. Transfer to a fridge where it will keep for up to 2 weeks.

Zen Monkey, a sub-division of YogaLondon, is an online conduit for yoga students and teachers to share ideas and develop a catalogue of content that is informative, creative and fun. We are a community founded from the collection of writers and yogis we've mentored, worked with and been inspired by. Together, we are building a tribe that shares the tools, the inspiration and the motivation to lead a healthy, mindful and sustainable life.