Coping with stress, restoring balance and getting my kicks.

Karate came into my life about a year ago now (¬†and frankly I am not sure how I coped without it…..especially in the context of the month I have just had (am still kind of having). Even when things are on an even keel though it’s always good to have highlights / high points…..OK….highs!

People have many different ways of coping with stress. And when I say stress, I am referring to distress not eustress (the positive sort that gets you going and focussed / on target).

Many people talk of having a medicinal brandy or retreating to a bottle. Personally I prefer a medicinal dose of bunkai to get my brain thinking hard about something else (ie not ruminating about whatever situation is stressing me out) and retreating into some basic drills to clear my mind.

Some people like a relaxing spa to recharge their batteries. I can relate to that…..I find sparring recharges my batteries too. There is nothing like having a fist or foot flying toward your head to wake you right up! ūüôā

Recreational drug users find ketamines useful in escaping reality. I find using kata helps me to escape…..I even managed this earlier in the week when the sheriff officer accidentally left the door from the jury room to the corridor unlocked¬†after lunch delivery……got in some basics and some “claustrophobic kata”…..amazing what you can fit in 1×2 metres of space really….but I digress.

I am not a drinker (I have never been drunk and now rarely have any alcohol). I don’t use and have never used recreational drugs or smoked. I don’t find much solace in sitting idly watching television (I don’t have the patience or attention for it unless it is really gripping…..mostly I find that it isn’t…) and although I like reading, if I am really stressed and or tired I can’t find the focus I need to absorb stories. My stress relief needs to be active (mind and body) and non harmful to my health.

I have several recreational outlets /¬†“passions”, if you will.

Singing and playing music (and even writing it) and writing poetry / lyrics can sometimes be useful for me but I have to have a level of inspiration for the latter and I have to be in the mood for and awake enough for the former. It can also depend on repertoire (which is not always my own choice).

I do yoga regularly (have done for 7 or more years) and I also try to meditate but find that unless I am quite active (and on my feet) one or both of two things result depending on my state of mind and my level of sleep deprivation at the time. 1. My mind wanders off in sometimes less than useful directions and / or 2. My mind switches off completely……and I end up asleep¬†(and let’s face it; snoring in class is kind of embarrassing!)

Cooking and food preparation are things I generally enjoy and can be used as a mindfulness meditation but ultimately they are something that I have to do and if I am really worked up about something my mind will still wander.

Enter Karate: Perfect medicine for me in good times and bad.

1. Can be done anywhere and no need for special equipment. – check!

2. Can be done alone or in company. – check!

3. Is active. – check!

4. Is challenging physically and cognitively. – check and check!

5. Requires 100% attention and concentration (leaves no room to think about anything other than the task at hand – well for me that is the case anyway). – oh yes!!

6. Gets your heart going and your muscles pumping producing all those happy chemicals for a natural high. – Check!

OK so it probably isn’t for everyone but it works for me and when you are onto a good thing, stick to it.

Orange and poppy seed cake (Naked Raw and Delicious)

20150401_155555I recently saw this recipe on Bianca’s Wholefood Simply Site. you haven’t gone to her site¬†then you probably should. The recipes on there are fantastic and generally uncomplicated, as the name suggests. I have tried (and modified) too many to count and I don’t think I have encountered any real duds at all. Many are favourites in our house.

I was waiting for the time and energy to make this recipe though. I haven’t had orange and poppyseed cake since pre vegan days and it was then one of my favourites… this cake was made primarily for me!!! If you are not an orange and poppyseed cake person you could try her similar banana one or the chocolate one (I have tried the banana one and it rocks).

Today was a day to “celebake” (end of jury responsibility) and to “procrastibake” (put off – well temporarily at least, packing and spring cleaning duties), ok so it wasn’t baking in the “turn on the oven” sense but that’s how I roll generally (call me unconventional)….and hey….I mean who doesn’t like cake.

So my deviations from the recipe in the link above were based mostly on convenience and taste (and my constant urge compulsion to tweak things).

Instead of going the whole 4 cups of dessicated coconut, I used 2.5 cups of that and 1.5 cups of almond pulp (ie¬†the remains of the¬†1 cup of soaked almonds which I had just used to make almond milk)….It was such a beautiful coincidence that the amount of almond pulp and the amount of coconut I had in the jar matched up so well with my idea of division of quantities.

I didn’t have medjool dates so I used standard dried dates (about 3/4 cup or 30 or so dates) and soaked them briefly in the orange juice.

I also added a teaspoon of cinnamon and a 1/2 teaspoon of ginger to the mix – I like to spice things up!

The recipe took about 5 minutes to prepare (including washing up) and about 3 hours in the fridge to set. If you have a group of friends around it would probably take 5 minutes to eat too but fortunately there is a good deal left in the fridge still since we were restrained and only had a small slice each.

Very very yummy.

Note: The picture shows my next batch; the left was basically the same as the recipe outlined above and the right a variation outlined in the comments below for a lime version.


3.5 cups desiccated coconut

0.5 cups buckwheat groats or about 1/3 cup buckwheat flour (or just use 4 cups dessicated coconut)

3/4 – 1 cup dried pitted dates soaked in the rind and juice of 4 large or 5 small limes

small handful of fresh baby spinach leaves (optional but for colour)

1/2 teaspoon spirulina powder

1/4 cup poppy seed

Blitz buckwheat in mill if using and put aside.

Puree soaked dates with juice and pulp in the mill.

Blitz coconut in food processor until it starts to get warm and stick together

Add date puree and buckwheat flour / milled groats if using and blitz to combine

Add poppy seed and pulse to mix in

Press into lined tin and refrigerate for at least an hour or so. Slice in thin slices and enjoy. This is nice and tangy – if you are not as much of a lime fan as I am just reduce the number of limes / zest. Can be frozen but keeps in fridge wrapped in paper / foil for at least a week (unless you eat / share with friends and then a bit less than that ; ) )

Being “courted” – part two – The jury rap – a poetic catharsis of the “trial” I have just experienced.

Twelve complete strangers,

One shared story,

First hand, second hand?

Evidence is gory.

Emotive or emotionless?

Rational? Inferred?

Motive or motive-less?

Possible? Preferred?

What’s agreed fact? What’s really real?

How many times can evidence be sifted?

We only tell time by the mid-day meal.

And only tell progress by opinions shifted.

When a verdict swings wildly

There’s a lot that you can tell;

It becomes clear peer pressure

Is much alive and well.

Twelve opinions must merge

Into a distinct majority.

If you go against the flow,

You’re in the marginalised minority.

Victimised and bullied,

Disrespected and unheard,

I¬†can’t escape this holding cell,

Or try to leave the herd.

They say to judge the facts

To arrive at a decision,

Put emotions to the side.

Send the right people to prison.

I’m not here to make a friend.

I am here to do a job.

I’ve used the facts; made up my mind.

I refuse to join the mob.

Twelve file into the court room

For the very last time

To give Judge an opinion

On who committed a crime.

Some jurors show nothing

Some of them are weeping

I am numb and struck quite dumb

But know I’ll have no trouble sleeping.

They send us home, providing cabs

Like the wounded from a war

And I now attempt to pick up life

Where I left it weeks before.

A rewarding experience?

On that fact the jury’s out.

I can’t see it’s been proved to me

Beyond reasonable doubt!

Chocolate banana caramel peanut butter ice cream slice


It’s been a challenging week to say the least. I had been kind of volunteered to host our family Friday night gathering this evening. Had I anticipated last Friday just exactly¬†how¬†challenging my week was going to pan out I may have made more of an objection to the idea.

When I host, I like to do things properly. And when I mean things, I (obviously) mean food! On this occasion though, I knew I would have to have something that could be quickly easily reheated and assembled just in case I wouldn’t actually be there in time to actually serve it up (which very nearly happened as it turns out…..but that my friends is another story for my “being courted – part two” post!!)

Preparation has been fairly piecemeal and has been fitted in around my (what has panned out to being) very little available time. It started in fact last Friday with the making of a vast quantity of frijoles which became (somewhat by default) the basis of the meal.

For mains I served what I would term “mexican bowls”. I made some quinoa (mixed) last night, whipped up some vegan queso (recipe may follow) and roasted some sweet potato (likewise) arranged for my brother to bring guacamole, a friend to bring some salsa and jalapenos and my mum to bring some home made tortilla chips which she and my daughter made on their day together while I was doing my¬†duty.¬†I also got mum to bring some fruit to go with whatever I was able to assemble for dessert.

I can’t even remember when I managed to whip up dessert but I remember thinking I should write this down if it works to my satisfaction. It was taste tested tonight and I think enough people (myself included) liked it enough for me to write it down before I forget it. My husband said he prefers my peanut butter caramel slice though as he found it too banana-y ūüė¶ That was his fault for not eating enough bananas before they got very ripe….Oh well – always some critics!

Anyway…..without further ado. I give you my new dessert recipe.

Makes about 20 serves (I used a square lamington tin (about 30x30cm or slightly bigger).


5-6 very ripe bananas (peeled and broken in half approximately)

3-4 heaped tablespoons cocoa

1- 1.5 cups oat bran (or use oats for courser texture), for GF buckwheat groats may also work if ground a bit first

1 cup almond pulp from making almond milk (or almond meal)

To prepare:

Line tin with baking paper.

If using oats or buckwheat groats process until they are a course meal then add other ingredients and blend. Otherwise put everything in the food processor and blend until you get a sticky mix.

Spoon mix in tin and smooth over with baking paper.

Cover and put in the freezer while you work on the next layer.

Banana peanut butter caramel layer

6 or more (depending on desired thickness of layer) very ripe bananas (peeled and broken in half approximately)

1/2 cup smooth (or crunchy) peanut butter

1 cup date pur√©e (about 3/4 cup dates soaked in water for about 15 minutes and then pureed will make enough and it won’t matter if you have extra you can use or freeze it – mine I had in the freezer already so I just defrosted it)

1 tsp vanilla

To prepare:

Put everything in food processor and process until thick and creamy.

Spread over the base. Return to the freezer for a couple of hours or more (covered with baking paper) to set.

Chocolate top

This layer is optional but makes it prettier. It is easy.

1-2 tablespoons rice malt syrup

2-3 tablespoons cocoa

1 -2 tablespoons softened smooth peanut butter (or coconut butter)

water to thin down to desired consistency.

To prepare:

Combine syrup, cocoa and peanut butter or coconut butter in bowl and combine. Thin with water. If you want to spread leave slightly thicker than if you prefer to artistically drizzle it.

Either spread or drizzle (it will set like ice magic as you go) over your set caramel layer, cover and return to freezer for an hour or so.

Precut if you wish. Best left sitting for 5 minutes before eating.

Lessons learned from teaching

Last Sunday in the jiyu renshu (free practice) kata part of the class, I was asked by Sensei to help the juniors learn their kata, San Dan Gi (which was one that has only recently been introduced to all of us and is now a replacement for Sanchin dai Ichi, the kata I did for my initial grading). I practised the kata I have been working on once or twice before being asked to help the juniors with theirs.

On the one hand I was honoured to be asked and on the other I wasn’t sure whether I should feel honoured. I wasn’t sure exactly what it meant about me (or my kata) if anything. I tried not to think about that too much (I have been making a concerted effort not to assign intention to others’ decisions or actions). I was certainly happy enough to teach¬†though, if a little surprised to be asked.

This isn’t the first time I have taught something in karate or offered encouragement or praise to others in class – it’s that kind of atmosphere anyway, although I have never been asked to teach in a formal sense (ie in class) or been referred to as a “Sempai” before. I have taught things as I was learning them before, kata and kihon included, but only to my son to help him catch up on what he missed in class when he stopped participating!

In my other life I am pretty familiar with teaching motor skills but it is generally relearning things like walking or particular movements or activities (eg how to stand up, how to get up from the floor), rather than complex movement patterns which are not yet second nature to me. However, movement analysis and observation inherent in my “day job”¬†did actually help me when working out what the juniors needed help with.

I knew the basic kata and all the stances, strikes and blocks involved and knew what it should look like.¬†I tried to take the same approach that Sensei takes by modelling (and leading) first and then watching and giving feedback afterwards. This didn’t really work so well ……one of the older juniors was ok about getting feedback but really struggled to implement it (even with demonstration – stances particularly were not correct and I was very aware of these as it was something I struggled with a lot and still do in various kata). The 6 year old wasn’t really focussed and it was hard to keep him on task at all. Then I remembered that teaching kids is different to teaching Adults (this is why I never did paediatrics!!). Unfortunately by the time I was thinking how to turn it all into a game it was time to move on to kumite…..oh well perhaps I will get another chance some time! I will have to think up a game with it to make it more fun between now and then.

After class I was talking to Sensei about the kids (my son particularly) who has been pushing the buttons constantly at home and trying hard to do the same in Karate. Positively, Sensei doesn’t take any nonsense from him, and while he is in class and I am in class the arrangement (which I am exceedingly happy with) is that I am a student and not a mum and consequences are Sensei’s to decide on and to implement. This helps everyone get the most out of class.

He said feels my son is making progress (even if sometimes I find myself rolling my eyes when he doesn’t do what he is asked in class). I misheard him at first and thought he had said I was improving. When we had established what he had actually said (and I got over my slight embarrassment) he ¬†said he doesn’t give praise to people over 15. This made me think about my learning needs (internal and external). After all, everyone learns differently (not just kids vs adults but each individual).

I am someone who has pretty good internal motivation to learn, especially if I am interested in the subject or task at hand. However when I am learning a new skill (like I am with karate) I need feedback as to whether I am getting it right in order to have the confidence to practice it and know I am not repeating it wrongly over and over again.

I find I need to seek out this feedback, which can be humbling, but necessary. Sometimes I find I get an answer that makes sense straight away and I can implement, but sometimes I just have to smile and pretend to understand even though I am still not getting it….and then in a few days after it sinks in I have an “ahah” moment and can’t work out why I even had to ask. This happened the other day when I asked what I was doing in ¬†part of¬†Saifa¬†as I knew it wasn’t quite right and I couldn’t work out how to fix it. Sensei gave me some analogies (music related) which I understood at the time but couldn’t for the life of me apply to the actual pattern I was trying to achieve. Having mulled it over for 24 hours though, I found I was able to transfer it across without having actually physically done it in between times. Now I won’t forget it hopefully!

In a more general sense it would be nice to know that I am improving overall but I guess at the same time, it could be quite demoralising if I find out that I am not since I am training hard and feel within myself that I am starting to get somewhere. Luckily there are plenty of other Sensei and Sempai in our network who don’t mind throwing an occasional word of encouragement in my general direction.

Watermelon Slushie

This is my favourite rehydration beverage during / post karate training. It is also a favourite of Mr J! You can have it neat or use ginger and or mint. It is also nice occasionally to use grape juice in place of or to replace some of the water. Alternately frozen grapes can be added. Just put everything in blender and blitz until slushy.


2-3 cups frozen watermelon chunks

water (enough to allow blending) about 2 cups or more is generally ok

Optional add ins and variations

handful frozen grapes or frozen raspberries

1/2 teaspoon ginger

small bunch of fresh / frozen mint leaves

sub in part grape juice for water for sweeter slushy (when not using grapes).

Rachel’s breakfast smoothie

This is my go to breakfast. You don’t have to put in all the optional extras but I do as I want to pack in as much as I can. This makes enough smoothie for 2-3 normal people but I have it all. It keeps me going for at least a couple of hours. To make blend it up in a blender – you may need to eat it with a spoon which is how I like it.


2 frozen bananas (chopped)

zest and flesh one orange

double handful baby spinach (optionally snap frozen)

1 tray ice cubes

3/4 – 1 cup water or almond milk (or other non dairy milk)

2-3 tablespoons cocoa

Optional add ins:

1 teaspoon creatine (only for over 16 and people who work out)

1 teaspoon maca powder

1 teaspoon turmeric powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon powder

1/4-1/2 teaspoon ginger

1 teaspoon linseed meal or LSA (linseed / sunflower / almond) meal

1 teaspoon psyllium husks

1 teaspoon vanilla

Chocolate and black sesame smoothie

Tahini is apparently good for heart health. It is full of zinc and protein and lots of other good stuff and if you don’t care about anything like that, another good reason to eat it is that it tastes great!

Obviously tahini (I always was brought up calling it techina) is great in savoury dishes like humus but it is fabulous in baking, desserts and smoothies. It adds a lovely creaminess to smoothies and a similar taste and texture as do nut butters.

I bought some black tahini (made from black sesame seeds). I love it but unless you don’t mind your humus looking like cement then it is probably best used in things that either are meant to be on the grey side (like my black sesame icecream), use it neat (I used it once to make a spider web design on a plate once for a savoury vegan cheeze ball spider at Halloween), ¬†or disguise it to a similarly dark colour…..hence the addition of cocoa.


1 frozen banana sliced

1 cup almond or other non dairy milk (or water)

2 teaspoons black tahini (you can use normal tahini if you don’t have though and it will be fine though less dark)

2 heaped teaspoons (or more) cocoa.

Put everything in the blender and blitz until smooth and creamy. If you like it thicker you can blend in some ice cubes too.

Being “courted” – part one

The “invitation”¬†came about 6 or so weeks ago and to be honest it felt like I was in trouble. You see a letter from the Sherrif’s office waiting for you (as it was that night, when I got back from training, on a real high) and you immediately jump to the conclusion that you have done something wrong……especially when you open the letter and see words like “summons” and “failure to appear” and “fine of $1800 per day”…….I will admit it; it put a bit of a downer on my night.

March was shaping up to be a very busy month for me already without the added potential stress of being a Juror. However after looking at the circumstances which gave one the right to defer or decline it, it appeared I did not have a good enough excuse to do so. So I informed my family and my work and prepared myself emotionally and logistically. Neither of these things were easy.

Emotionally I was worried about how it would affect me (in an immediate and delayed sense) if I had to deal with something awful eg a murder or sexual assault case. I called a friend who was on jury duty before and she set my mind a little more at ease on this.

Logistically I had to arrange childcare for my young family for the days when I would normally not be at work and prepare my family for seeing me less and relying on me less (that including extra batch cooking so they wouldn’t have to live on baked beans for a month!). Arrangements have¬†had to include the cooperation of various members of my immediate and extended family and friend networks as well as childcare and out of school hours care. I also had to arrange contingency plans for work since I normally have booked appointments and couldn’t do this as I would only find out the afternoon before if I was available or not the next day.

The first day arrived and I attended an orientation session with about 200 or so people who had been selected. We were told about what would be expected of us, shown a video of what happens in court, sworn in (in sections) and then shown a court room. To be honest I think I felt more nervous than reassured after all that. It’s a pretty big decision that rests on a jury really when you think about it. Your decision will affect the lives of many people which ever decision it it is.

Then came the first of a series of daily texts and emails stating appearance requirements for the following day. My section was called in on the first sitting in March. I attended as instructed and¬†we were briefed on the case we would be required for. There were actually 2 sections (about 60 people) called to court and from this group a jury of 13 were selected. I was the second juror selected “unchallenged” by the lawyers and accused. (Jurors are selected by number out of a ballot box and the lawyers have a list with the names, ages, occupations and suburb address which they can refer to – your position on the jury can be challenged as you walk to the jury box…..this happened to about 10 others but not me). As I sat in the jury box I felt very strange. We had been advised this was to be quite a long (2-3 week) trial¬†and the nature of the alleged crime was indeed very serious. And….there I was sitting facing the accused in the dock.

Once jurors had been selected, and the remaining people had left, the judge started the proceedings without further ado. It became more and more surreal as the day went on and then the following day and the next.

(to be continued)……

Note: Obviously I am not allowed to disclose any details about the case or anything related to it, but my next post will be a reflection of the experience of being on a jury.

NOTE: you can see part 2 in all it’s poetic glory here:

“No-poo” review!

Um….no this is not a review on how to relieve constipation (if you are troubled by this you may want to consider upping your fruit and vegetable consumption and fluid intake!). This is a review on caring for your hair without using Shampoo and conditioner or other products.

I came across the “no-poo” method about 12 months ago on various blogs and to be honest I was pretty sceptical about it working and certainly about it working for someone with hair like mine. For those of you who have met me you know that my hair is a bit of a defining feature. It is thick¬†and¬†long (to the level of my sacrum) and fairly wavy if left to dry without being tied up. I had various concerns about not using any “product”. Primarily I was worried that my hair would smell odd, that it would lose shine and that it would get quite wispy without using leave in oils. My other worry was how to deal with heavy sweating – which happens to me 2-3 times a week at least when I train if not more often. I was less concerned about what is referred to as the “transition period” where you let your hairs natural oils adjust to not being stripped by shampoo. Having hair like mine the most I wash it is about twice a week anyway and this period seemed to mostly affect people who washed it daily.

So what is the “no-poo” method. Before you wash you brush your hair to distribute the oils from your scalp and then you move on to the washing / conditioning part. Basically instead of using shampoo you use a mix of bicarb soda and water. For my hair this equates to about a third of a cup of bicarb with enough water to make a thick paste. You wet your hair and rub the paste into your scalp then rinse it off. To condition your hair you put through a rinse of vinegar and cool water and then rinse with cool water (otherwise you may smell a little like vinegar). After that. Towel dry your hair as normal and brush it and let it dry (I never dry mine with a hair drier but I don’t see why this would pose any problems.) You may wish to put a little coconut oil in the ends when it is still wet, every so often, ie if they look dry, but otherwise, that is it.

I have been using this method for 2-3 months now and I can honestly say my hair has never looked or felt better. I am glad I tried it out. My concerns were completely unfounded. Added bonus is it leaves the shower cleaner rather than leaving conditioner and soap residue!

Additional note:

Apparently for hair that has been sweaty you can freshen up with a water rinse and then some lemon juice and vinegar……I am going to try this now as this morning was a bit of a sweat fest at Karate (yay….my toe is now letting me do more!)