Valerie O’Connor suggest a number of infusions and recipes using ingredients which can boost concentration and memory Keeping it calm for the exams


Teens and keeping it green: Remaining calm for the exams

Valerie O’Connor suggest a number of infusions and recipes using ingredients which can boost concentration and memory Keeping it calm for the exams

Teens and keeping it green: Remaining calm for the exams

Valerie O’Connor suggest a number of infusions and recipes using ingredients which can boost concentration and memory Keeping it calm for the exams

EXAMS are around the corner and my youngest is now in the state of mind that every day in school is like another on Alacatraz, except we figure that in a high-security prison you can probably get to do a degree with more ease and definitely get out to get more fresh air and exercise, than the average Irish teen.

Fortunately neither of my sons think they’re in the cast of Peaky Blinders with those daft haircuts that boys have now — like a cow pat on their head and some tight jeans to match. So I guess I’ll just have to put up with the incredible sulk for the duration and do what a Mammy can do, give him his dinner and make him eat fruit and veg, sorry, encourage him.

So, parents of Ireland who are pulling your hair out with a poor frantic youth in your home, what to do? Like all generations, I don’t remember there ever being so much stress about exams or as much pressure, then again I went to art school and pretty much slept in for three years.

All we can do is be here and stick their clothes in the washing machine and make sure they get out and do something relaxing or sporty in their down time.

When my eldest was in his leaving cert year I kept giving him mugs of Rosemary tea which he drank as he’s easy going and probably figured it better than arguing with me.

Rosemary is said to be great for cognitive function and helps with concentration and memory. Just boil the kettle, stick a sprig of the fresh herb in a mug and cover it with the boiled water, leaving it to infuse under a saucer to keep the oils in, for five to seven minutes.

You can take out the sprig then so your child doesn’t think you’re trying to poison them and let them chug it down — have some yourself, it’s very calming. You can do the same thing with lemon balm which is said to be great for your nerves, and if the anxiety levels of some teens is to be considered, this needs to be on everyone’s daily menu. Make the tea in the same way.

Herbs, in general, have so many beneficial properties and taste amazing too. Basil is one that we’ve come to know and love and is also a herb that helps us to deal with stress by reducing inflammation. Basil has high levels of antioxidants including magnesium, which is often used to help deal with low moods and sleep problems, it also stimulates neurotransmitters that regulate the hormones which make us feel energetic and happy.

Basil is easiest enjoyed with a huge bowl of pasta in the form of pesto, or you can have it on bread, spread it on fish and fire it in the oven too. Of course nothing tastes quite as good as the stuff you make yourself, even though it uses a lot of basil, the flavour intensity is off the charts.

It’s easiest to make pesto using a food processor, just pop the ingredients in at different stages. If you can get organic basil, all the better. Dish this up to the exam-stressed child and to yourself and the family too, basil keeps in the fridge for at least a week.

It’s worth toasting the pine nuts or walnuts on a dry pan for about 15 minutes on a medium heat, turning them often until they are nice and brown. For a vegan version just leave out the cheese and add extra nuts

Classic Pesto

  • 50g pine nuts (or walnuts which are much cheaper)
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 100ml olive oil
  • 4 cups basil leaves
  • 50g freshly grated parmesan or pecorino cheese
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • Turn on the food processor with the chopper blade fitted. Drop in the nuts and blitz them up. Now add the garlic, let it get chopped and then pour in the oil. Follow with the basil and the cheese and blitz for about 30 seconds, add some salt to taste, it should have a lovely light and zingy flavour. Pour over a little extra olive oil to store the pesto in the fridge in a jar with a lid.

    Classic Hummus

    I remember a time when I didn’t know what hummus was, I was working in London and this girl had a hummus sandwich and I couldn’t get my head around what it was — she thought I was from the back end of nowhere.

    Anyway, hummus is now as common as baked beans and it varies so much in quality that it’s as easy to make your own, it costs little, takes no time and tastes the way you want it to taste. You can add as much or as little tahini as you like, make it more lemony or throw in a cooked beetroot for mad looking pink pesto. Same with cooked peppers or chili, or even, pesto. If using beets, Dunnes do vaccum-packed organic ones which saves on all the extra effort.

    In the Middle East there are hummus wars around its origins and which region makes the best. That’s how important it is as a staple food.

    I’m sharing this recipe which I featured in my book Val’s Kitchen as it’s totally authentic and has no olive oil in the dip, you just pour it on top to keep it fresh. This is a very handy snack for your cramming teen, it’s high in protein and they can have it with sticks of raw carrot, celery and apple slices or stuff it into a warm pitta with some salad and feta cheese, and it’s also great in a lunchbox. Store this in the fridge in a couple of clean jars with lids, it will stay fresh for about one week.


  • 1 x 500g tin, preferably organic, cooked chickpeas
  • 140g tahini
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • Juice of 1 lemon — 3 to 4 tbsp depending on how zingy you like it
  • ½ tsp cumin seeds, toasted lightly on a dry frying pan and ground
  • 60ml ice cold water
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • Grind or two of black pepper
  • Olive oil and some whole chick peas to serve
  • Method

    Throw everything except the cold water and olive oil into a food processor or sturdy blender, blitz until things are getting mushy, pour in the water and keep blending until you have a silky smooth texture. Spoon it out into a bowl and mix in your salt and pepper. Smooth over the top and pour on some olive oil and a few chick peas for appearances, sprinkle over a little parsley or coriander

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