Sunday 6 February 2011

Oats so simple!

   Nana Northcott 103 yrs and Nina 5 yrs - NZ 2009    photo: Dean Northcott
Two weeks ago Dean’s (my husband) grandmother turned 105!!! And a very energetic 105! On our last visit to New Zealand, we went to see her and, as a recently graduated nutritionist, I was curious about her diet over the years, about what she used to eat, what she enjoyed cooking for herself etc. I wanted to discover the nutritional secret of her amazing vitality.  

Hazel Northcott was born in New Zealand in 1906. She grew up in a dairy farm and went on living in a dairy farm after getting married. She used to eat fruit and veg which they grew in their gardens; and meat raised on the farm. She always drank raw milk direct from the “factory”, also known as the cow. She comes from a time when organic food was the norm, simply because... well, that’s how it was. Her cooking has always been simple but wholesome. 
Until a few months ago she was still living by herself. So incredible!  Whilst we were there visiting, she cooked lunch for us and refused help with setting the table. What I realized about Nana Northcott (that’s how she is known in the family) is that her food is not the only thing that has been keeping her healthy all these years. More importantly, it’s her state of mind. She watches very little TV, still knits (she sent my daughter Nina a beautiful cardigan she knitted for her birthday last year), does Sudoku, crosswords and puzzles every day, and plays bridge with her mates two to three times a week. 

Last year, she also took part in the town parade which featured a float competition, with hers coming in first place. She was the star attraction on the float dressed as, erm… Kate Perry. Now, who would’ve thought that a 104 year old lady would be up for a “Teenage Dream”? I am very proud of her, and very happy that Nina got to know and spend some time with her great grandmother - something I didn’t have the opportunity to do with mine. 

One of the healthy longevity “secrets” she revealed to me is that she eats porridge in the mornings and drinks 1-2 glasses of red wine with her meals every day. 

So here is my porridge recipe inspired by Nana Northcott and her attitude towards life. 

The ingredients

Place all ingredients in a pan

For the porridge, put the oats in a pan and add the milk of your preference
My porridge served with spiced fruit compote

Nana’s Porridge with spiced winter fruit and wine compote

This is a perfect dish for those who suffer from constipation as the fibre from oats, figs and prunes will give your digestive tract some help. But, remember to drink loads of water during the day.

It seems a bit unorthodox to "have" wine for breakfast, but when cooked, the alcohol evaporates leaving only the juices which accentuate and enhance the flavour and aroma of the other ingredients. It is a good dish for a weekend brunch. You can make the compote days ahead and keep it in the fridge.

For the fruit compote

10 organic dried figs, soaked in water for 1 hour
10 organic dried prunes, soaked in water for 1 hour (you can also make it with fresh plums)
1 star anise
1 cinnamon stick 
2 pears, peeled and cut in cubes
2 apples, peeled and cut in cubes
zest and juice of 1 tangerine
150ml full-bodied red wine
150ml water 

Put all the ingredients in a large pan and bring to the boil. Leave it until the liquid reduces slightly and becomes syrupy (approx 10-15 mins). Leave to cool. Remove the whole spices from the compote before serving.

Serve warm or cold with porridge or organic natural yoghurt

For the Porridge

1 cup of organic porridge oats
2 cups of organic milk of your preference or water. I use either buffalo's * raw organic cow’s **, goat's or oats milk***. It depends on what I have available in the fridge. For this recipe I used oats milk as, in my opinion, it is not too creamy and goes best with the fruit compote

Place the oats and milk in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Once the mixture has reached the boil, turn it down to simmer and stir continuously for 10-15 minutes. Keep stirring to make sure no lumps occur. When the mixture has thickened, your porridge is ready.
Serve with the winter compote above.

The ingredients and their functional properties

Dried Figs (Ficus carica) are high in natural sugars, minerals and fibre. They contain high levels of calcium (250mg per 100mg compared to whole milk with 118mg); magnesium, potassium, iron, copper and manganese. 

Prunes (Prunus domestica) are high in antioxidants, good source of vitamin A and potassium. They are very rich in fibre and help increase the absorption of Iron; this may be related to their vitamin C content. Prune juice is used as a natural laxative making them a common remedy for constipation. 

Star anise (Illicium Verum) is prescribed in China as a digestive aid and to help treat colic in babies. Due to its anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, star anise helps in the treatment of asthma and bronchitis. It can also be used as a natural breath freshener. One of its main compounds, Shikimic Acid, is extracted to be one of the most important ingredients used in the drug Tamiflu to fight Influenza. If it is good enough for the government... 

Cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum). Studies have shown that cinnamon moderates blood sugar, making it beneficial to people with diabetes. It also has been shown that cinnamon reduces triglycerides and LDL (the "bad" cholesterol) and lowers blood pressure. It also contains phytochemicals with antimicrobial activities (eugenol and geraniol) which can help treating Candida. It is used to treat nausea (due to a compound called Catechins) and indigestion. It helps prevent formation of gas in the gastrointestinal tract. Cinnamon is a natural analgesic and antioxidant. 

Pear (Pyrus communis) contains pectin, which helps lower cholesterol levels. Pear juice enhances the liver function. Contains potassium, phosphorus and calcium. Helps eliminate excess mucus, moistens the lungs and throat. Used for constipation, loss of voice and gallbladder inflammation and obstruction. 

Apple (Malus domestica) like pear, contains pectin which helps remove cholesterol, toxic heavy metals, and residues of radiation. Apple juice is a very good internal body cleanser and beneficial to the liver and gallbladder; helping to soften gallstones. It remedies indigestion and inhibits the growth of bad bacteria in the digestive tract. Basically, "One apple a day..." 

Tangerine (citrus reticulata) can be used as a general tonic for weak digestion and poor appetite. They have good levels of vitamin C. They make good substitutes for commercial oranges since they have most of the same properties but are sprayed with far less chemicals. 

Red wine contains one of the most potent antioxidant (polyphenols) called Resveratrol. Studies concluded that it exhibits anti-cancer properties and also have shown that it may delay the aging process. It can raise good cholesterol (HDL), reduce blood clots. But, this does not mean you should gargle down a bottle of red wine everyday, as high consumption of alcohol is not good for you. If you are unsure about drinking alcohol, just about every antioxidant found in red wine can be found in fruits and vegs, and you can get resveratrol by eating red skinned grapes. 

Oats (Avena sativa) helps reduce LDL (bad cholesterol), lowers blood pressure, and provides sustained levels of carbohydrates for the production of energy. Oats can cleanse your intestinal tract and your blood. It also helps to stabilize insulin levels. It is rich in the B vitamins, vitamin E, potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc and contains a very good balance of amino acids. They stimulate the release of testosterone, increasing its level in both sexes. Oat's milk is a very good alternative for people who are lactose intolerant. 

Organic raw milk, from a nutritional perspective is superior to pasteurized milk in terms of its beneficial enzymes, but you need to make sure the source you are buying it from is certified free of harmful microorganisms. It contains fat-soluble nutrients such as vitamin A and D, calcium and other minerals. You can read a very good article by Dr. Ron Schmid, on raw milk here: 
                      * You can find Organic Buffalo’s milk here:
                      ** Organic Raw cow’s milk here: or organic cow’s milk pasteurized but not homogenised: 
                      *** Oats milk: You can find it in major health food stores.

                      With that, I finish my blog this week raising a glass to Hazel Northcott: to a long and healthy life! Happy 105, Nana!!!  

                      Till next week!


                      1. Wonderful! I'm glad to read this, mainly about red wine... Here, in Portugal, we have a very good one.
                        By the way, Dean's grandmother is a very nice "girl". Congratulations

                      2. Dear Rose,

                        Lucky you! Maybe one day I will come to Portugal to enjoy a glass or two of some of those wonderful wines, from Douro Valley, with you!

                      3. Muito inspirador! Vou correndo tentar a receita de porridge, ça a l'air délicieux!

                      4. I know nana, I used ti call her Nana when she visitrd me in the supermarket, she was still knitting and she knitted me coat hanger things which I still have today, would love to come back to palmy and day soon and visit her.

                      5. Hi Fiona! What a small world! Nana is doing really well, she turned 106 in January and still going strong! Do go and visit her, she would love that! All the best!


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