Friday, 28 February 2014

Further down the rabbit hole....

Appointment three was had with the allergy specialist yesterday. Another day, another fistful of cash. I know people say you can't put a price on your health, but those people have lots of money, or at least more than I do. It's been a while since I updated about the progress of my diet. Mostly because I'm sick to tears of talking about it. Now, I love food. I love eating it, I love reading about it, I love cooking it and I really do love talking about it. But when all you're talking about is what you're not allowed to eat and the minutiae of all the myriad reactions you have to various foods, it gets pretty dull pretty quick. So here's a quick run down of how the rest of my re-introduction of various foods went. 


That's kind of all you need to know. I feel like I had some sort of reaction to most foods. The things I didn't react to, oddly, were sugar and tea. I reacted to all the grains on there and the eggs and dairy. Also, my mood was hugely affected on the days when I was eating grains and I was pretty much a nightmare to be around. Not a reaction I was expecting but no doubt unpleasant for those in my immediate company. So, slowly but surely, as the diet went on I started to feel more and more like my old unhealthy, tired, wheezy self. Hangovers without the pleasure of drinking anyone? 

Understandably frustration and confusion crept in and last weekend I was pretty much ready to pack the whole thing in. So when I went back to the doctor yesterday I really was hoping for some answers, but as I'm learning, this is a long road and answers were few and far between. The upshot is, the elimination was fairly inconclusive and a new tack is to be tried. 

And so we come to my new prescription diet - the candida diet. For those of you who've never heard of it, it's aim is to try and combat an overgrowth of candida bacteria in your gut. Nice. It can be caused by a whole host of things from bad diet to stress and boasts a long list of symptoms. The symptoms are so wide and varied it can be pretty hard to diagnose, but according to my doc, the fact that I had reactions to so many different foods could point to a problem in my gut rather than an actual intolerance or allergy. O how I love the vague nature of our little chats.

This diet is to take 30 days and is essentially a low sugar low carb diet, designed to starve the bad bacteria of the sugars they need to grow coupled with a targeted intake of good bacteria to replace them. Sounds sensible. It's slightly less restrictive than the last diet. Hurray. I can introduce things like beans and pulses. Also live yoghurt is encouraged as it is packed with good bacteria. I'm encouraged to try eggs and dairy even though I thought I reacted to them before - confusing. Eating out is now not impossible but still restrictive and I've even convinced him to agree to my having a small bit of alcohol and a square of really dark chocolate every now and then - so my social life has at least a small chance of recovering. Good news. 

The diet may not be as hard as before but after a long month of self denial and self examination, I'm exhausted and confused and the last thing I can cope with is a whole new set of rules and restrictions. With an upcoming trip to the states next week, I can't go to New York and behave, I've decided it's time for a break and I will revisit this next stage when I return. Now, where to for lunch??

Monday, 24 February 2014

Brunch Club

I've had a few days to let the dust settle after Saturday's brunch club and am only now getting to process the whole event. It was great to be back hosting again and fabulous to be sharing the experience with Sarah from Wild Oats. The porridge was a huge hit. Sarah did two special varieties on the day, a savoury porridge made from pinhead (steel cut) oats with walnuts and blue cheese and a  turkish delight porridge with lemon, rose and pistachio. Unfortunately due to my overly restrictive diet right now I wasn't able to taste any but judging from the clean bowls and smiling faces they did nicely. I had to take my hat off to Sarah who braved the bitter February air to cook her porridge under the gazebo on the back patio. Needless to say I spent minimal time out there but Sarah, who would appear to be made of stronger stuff than I, barely gave it a second thought. Good traits for a budding marketeer. (Wild Oats will be coming to markets near you in the coming months!)

wild oats doing her thing

Aside from the speciality porridge on offer, there was also a porridge bar where people could add there own toppings to a bowl of plain porridge. The usual fruits and honey were on offer alongside more decadent items such as peanut butter, nutella, seeds, cranberries and chocolate shavings. There was also toasted muesli, yoghurt, date muffins, carrot and orange salad and heavenly bread from the Bretzel Bakery lathered with butter and jam should you so desire. Fresh juice, bloody marys and as much tea and coffee as you could drink washed the whole lot down. 

For my part it was an exceedingly unusual experience preparing food for people when you aren't allowed to sample any of what you're making. As a result I was approaching this a little blind, although I couldn't resist sampling a bit of the bloody mary mix. Hardest of all was the bread. There's nothing like a fresh loaf of bread, crusty on the outside, beautiful and soft inside. And to top it off the torment of the smell of that bread then being toasted. It's too much to bear but bear it I did. 

The informal buffet set up meant that people could eat as and when they wanted and also were free to move around and mingle. This was great for us as hosts as it meant we were free to grab a chair for a minute or two when the opportunity arose and could interact more with our guests than my regular supper clubs usually allow. A definite bonus for this type of hosting. 

the happy brunch clubbers

DIY porridge bar

So now the only question is when is the next one? And where the hell are the keys for my patio doors? Last seen last Saturday evening. Planning of next brunch club key dependent. I will keep you posted.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

The experimentation continues

I am now on day 7 of the re-introduction phase of my food intolerance test. Apart from getting easier, it's getting harder. Maybe my will power is simply waning, but the more foods I'm allowed to eat, the more foods I want to eat. Also, judging whether or not I've had a reaction to something is proving somewhat difficult. The eggs, were obvious. I felt like I'd been hit by a train. Grand, no problems there. The citrus fruit and corn was more subtle. I could feel symptoms of sinus inflammation creeping back in on those particular days. I also developed an ache in my back and a seriously low mood. The back ache is coming and going now and the mood has picked up since I stopped eating the corn. But to be honest the more foods I introduce, the more I'm slowly beginning to feel like my old pre detox self. Am I just intolerant to everything? I am a very intolerant person. Or am I doing this all wrong? Who knows. 

I tried dairy in the last couple of days. The milk seemed to go fine, then I tried yoghurt and the next day cheese and butter. I'm suspicious of my reactions to the yoghurt, cheese and butter with my sinus symptoms persisting and a growing lethargy that had me falling asleep on the couch at 10 o'clock both evenings, it would seem that something might be be amiss. 

Or was I just really tired? How much of what I'm feeling should I be attributing to the intolerance or how much is just me loving sleep? To add to the mix I have had serious back and neck ache for the last few days. So that's fun too. No idea if that's diet related. I'm beginning to go back to the 'this is confusing and a waste of time' way of thinking. 

The next 3 days I'm due to introduce wholegrain wheat. Three forms have been recommended on the diet sheet - 100% shredded wheat, wholewheat bread such as McCambridges (actually specified on the diet - maybe they're in cahoots) and wholewheat pasta. So far if I had an inkling that something might be contributing to a reaction, I've been cutting it out again once I noticed the reaction. My will power with the dairy though seems to be hampering me this time. A bowl of shredded wheat with milk for breakfast, how else are you supposed to eat them? And now I'm fantasising about a snack of brown toast and butter. I'm so excited about the melted butter and the crisp toast that even though I have an inkling I reacted to the butter previously, I can't seem to stop myself from pushing the button on the toaster. I even have the butter out of the fridge since last night to soften in preperation. I've waited so long for this. What harm? If you don't know you shouldn't do something, is that the same as knowing you should?....I will let you know if it kills me.

In other exciting news, plans are in full flow for Brunch Club on Saturday. Although it's proving incredibly difficult to make tasty treats when you have no idea what they taste like. So far I've made what looks like a tasty granola and some sugar free, gluten free, dairy free date muffins, which it pains me not to be able to try. The muffins disappeared within hours so that's a good sign and I'm assured the granola is as granola should be. There's something decidedly wrong when you make everything free muffins and you're still not allowed eat them. I'll post the recipes for both below as they're winner recipes, especially if you're interested in being a bit healthier with your snacks.

Toasted Muesli
I got the recipe for the toasted muesli from the beautiful cookbook 'What Katie Ate' by Katie Quinn Davies. I highly recommend it. Full of delicious recipes from her blog and so beautifully styled you want to eat everything. Here's her blog

Here's the recipe:


500g rolled oats
75g wheatgerm
60g shredded coconut
150g sunflower seeds
200g pumpkin seeds
160g almonds
140g hazelnuts
3 tbs rapeseed oil
3 tbs honey
3 tbs maple syrup
280g sultanas/currants/raisins/or a mix
70g chopped dried dates or figs


preheat the oven to 130c
mix together the oats, wheatgerm, coconut, seeds and nuts. (I chopped the nuts a bit so there was some whole and some pieces)
divide the mixture into two bowls
heat the oil, honey and syrup in a pan until it is thin and runny
pour over one bowl of mixture and stir until everything is well coated
bake for about an hour shaking the trays occasionally to ensure they cook evenly - you want it to be a golden colour when done
remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before adding to the other half of the mixture
add the dried fruit and store in an airtight container

Date Muffins

gluten free, dairy free, sugar free date muffins

The recipe for the date muffins can be found over here and comes from a really interesting blog by Tania Hubbard which is all about eating gluten and grain free but with a really non preachy commonsense approach which is very refreshing. I recommend having a read of some of her stuff if you're interested in exploring more about gluten free living.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Almond Milk

It's a few days yet before I will get to reintroduce cow's milk back into my diet and to be honest I haven't missed it too much so far. I can't abide drinking  the stuff and I only really have it in tea and porridge, both of which are being denied me at present. I'm much more concerned about the fact that cheese has been taken away from me but fingers crossed that won't be for too much longer. 

While exploring this diet I've been doing a lot of reading about the the various food choices that are available to us every day. There's endless approaches to healthy eating out there, each one with a more zealous proponent behind it than the last. Whether it's getting back to your inner caveman and going paleo, embracing your inner vegan, or 'simply' going gluten or sugar free (in my experience, this is anything but simple) there are several staples which keep cropping up in recipe after recipe. Coconut oil seems to be this season's new must have product, but at roughly €15 for a 450g jar this seems like a rather prohibitively expensive alternative to butter if you're using anything more than a spoonful per recipe. Likewise coconut sugar is nearly a tenner for 250g. Ok, maybe your baked treats will be 'guilt free' but clearly only the more well to do among us are entitled to a clean conscience. Nut butters and nut milks are also big on the list. Cost aside, I'm a bit suspicious of alternative products anyway. They are often hailed as the next best thing only to have their guilt free claims dashed a year or two later, all be it often in a quieter fashion and when not so many people are paying attention. Health is big business (a quick search on coconut sugar brings up plenty of articles negating it's claims of a low glycemic index).

Sorry that's the cynic in me. I suppose I'm just traditional in the sense that treats are treats because they're bad for us. Maybe we should just try to retrain our sweet teeth rather than fooling them with super expensive alternatives that may not really be that good for us anyway. Sugar after all, no matter where it comes from is still sugar. 

I digress. 

The reason for my post today is that one alternative I have experimented with is almond milk. As I said, I don't really have much use for milk generally but so much of the reading I was doing was mentioning nut milks I got curious about it. Also, yesterday was the day I had to introduce corn. The diet sheet specified to eat fresh corn 3 times a day for 2 days. I couldn't quite get my head around corn on the cob for breakfast so I found a recipe for corn cakes online. This one required eggs and milk and looked really promising. I was quite excited about trying it. That was before I had my hopes about eggs dashed so spectacularly. So eggs were out. Obviously I couldn't have the milk part either and shop bought nut milks were out as I'm not allowed anything processed at all for the duration of the diet. Thankfully the internet provides and I came up with loads of recipes for nut milks and it seemed super easy. All you need is a blender and some muslin cloth. I'll give the recipe below. 

So not to be deterred, I doctored the recipe a bit, used my almond milk substitute and the result wasn't all that bad. Maybe they're a bit much for breakfast every day but if you're a corn fan they'd certainly make a nice lunch alongside some salad or a side for dinner. I would say they definitely need a bit of sauce with them. I made a guacamole to go with them which worked well but a tomato salsa would be quite delicious too. I imagine the eggy version would be a bit fluffier and so more forgiving.

So far so good with the corn. Although I do feel as I introduce more foods my willingness to admit to a reaction is decreasing and my patience with the diet is waning. I really don't want to have any food intolerance and so when I feel a reaction coming on I tend to put it down to something else. The amount of self examination involved in figuring this diet out is quite exhausting and my willingness, or lack thereof, to comply could become an issue in getting over the last few hurdles. Fingers crossed I'm just in a slump right now and positivity will prevail tomorrow. 

Anyway, here are the recipes of yesterday's experiments. Enjoy.

Almond Milk

You can really use any nuts you want for this. Cashews and brazil nuts are also mentioned quite frequently in many of the 'healthy eating' recipes.

1 cup whole almonds
2-3 cups water (depending on the consistency you want your milk. I used two but the more water the more economical your milk is!)

Soak the almonds overnight in cold water. They should plump up and soften.
The next day drain them and rinse.
Put them in a blender with the 2 cups of water and blend until smooth.
Strain the milk into a jug through a muslin cloth squeezing out the pulp to get the most milk out that you can. (If you're luck enough to have a vitamix blender you may not need to do this as it will blend the nuts so smooth that there won't be much pulp left. How I want a vitamix blender.)

straining the milk from the pulp

The milk will last 2-3 days in the fridge. The left over pulp, while not very flavourful on it's own, can be dried out in the oven and used as a topping for cereal or added to muesli or granola. Or here's some other recipes I found which look interesting. If I was going to do this regularly I would definitely need to come up with a good way of using up the left over pulp as it seems too wasteful otherwise.

You can use the milk any way you like. It's great in tea, muesli, porridge, rice pudding or baking.

It's worth experimenting with the water content to get the milk consistency that's right for you. You could also try adding some vanilla if you want a sweeter flavour, especially if you're going to be using it in puddings or deserts.

Corn Cakes (my egg free version)

1 cup corn flour (finely milled cornmeal not the thickener we're used to calling cornflour)
1/2 cup fresh or tinned corn kernels
1/2 cup milk of your choice
1/4 bulb fennel chopped finely
1/4 red chilli chopped finely
salt to taste
butter (if you're allowed butter)
oil/butter for frying

Puree half the corn in a blender or mash it with a fork.
Mix the corn flour, blended and whole corn, fennel, chilli, and salt in a bowl.
Add the milk and mix to a batter. You may need a little more milk than stated depending on consistency. The mixture should be fairly wet and fall off a spoon easily.
You can mix in some melted butter at this point if you're allowed.
Heat the oil in a frying pan. Spoon the batter into the pan (this should make 4 patties) and allow to cook until brown on one side then flip and brown on the other, reduce the heat and let cook for a minute or two.
Remove from the pan, drain the excess oil on kitchen paper and serve.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Intolerable intolerances

2014 is getting off to a slow and miserable start it seems. As if the weather wasn't enough to get you down I have now inflicted on myself the most miserable punishing diet known to man. I've never been one for diets, but after pretty much a lifetime of stomach upsets, skin issues, fatigue and generally feeling not great, I've always had a sneaking suspicion that there's something going on in my diet which is having an adverse effect on how I'm feeling. That coupled with a stubborn repetitive strain injury, meant this was the year I finally decided to get down to doing something about it. There's plenty of info online about elimination diets and I suppose I could have tried to do it on my own but I decided that I would need some guidance in this as I really had no clue what I was doing and there's widely varying ideas out there. So at great expense I took myself off to an allergy specialist who is either taking me for a complete ride or is going to change my life. Fingers crossed for the latter.

One of the things I've learned to date is that I never could have done this on my own. The initial diet is so limiting that I never would have had the willpower to stick to it had I not had someone in a white coat, to whom I was paying a sizeable sum of money, to answer to at the end of it. (I'll give details of the initial diet below so you can sympathise with my misery - basically nothing processed, no flavours not even pepper, no grains or soy and rice is the only carbohydrate you're allowed - awful.) At first I had great notions of coming up with lots of exciting recipes to try and make it interesting but I quickly gave up. About the most interesting thing I was able to come up with was a nice cashew and herb crust for a piece of fish, but that's hardly life changing now is it?

The second thing I learned was that this was going to cost me quite a lot in grocery bills. Although I'm probably making great savings on treats and booze, nuts my friends are not cheap.

Thirdly, I learned that the initial diet was probably the easy bit. I'm now in stage two and it's time to start reintroducing foods. Which is great. Until they start reacting badly with you and 1) you feel terrible and 2) you realise that you may have to say goodbye to this food, possibly forever.

First to be reintroduced was potatoes. Went without a hitch. Second came eggs. I woke up thrilled at the prospect of having a real breakfast for the first time in 10 days. (many of the last week's breakfasts consisted of some form of the dinner from the night before) I made myself two delicious poached eggs and some nice fried potatoes, wolfed them down and within an hour nearly fell asleep at my computer. I haven't felt a wave of fatigue like that in quite some time and the instantaneous reaction from the breakfast was quite startling. I had asked my doctor how I would know if I was intolerant to something and his reply was 'you'll know'. At the time I found this a totaly unsatisfactory response and I left his office marking one up for the 'you're wasting your money' column. I suppose today the columns evened out a little. As if that wasn't bad enough, I then attempted some gluten free, sugar free baking.....more on this experiment later perhaps....and have had a stomach ache since. Given that everything else in the 'cake' had been in my diet in the last ten days I guess eggs are the culprit.

The next two weeks will see a slow reintroduction of various foods so the experimentation continues. In the meantime it's still no eating out, no booze, no sugar, no fun. 

Life it seems is a little dull.

the offending diet

Thankfully I have managed to salvage some enjoyment out of my misery. In the search to find some sort of post dinner treat that will sate my need for after dinner sweetness I have discovered the delights of dairy free/sugar free 'ice cream'. Lest the name fool you there is no cream involved and rather the whole thing can be made from frozen fruit. It's surprisingly tasty and has a lovely texture somewhere between ice cream and sorbet.

It couldn't be easier to make although it did nearly finish off my little mini blender, but it was on it's last legs anyway. Note to self - save up for a proper food processor.

Here's the how to:

Dairy free/sugar free ice-cream

whatever flavourings you desire/are allowed to have - things like cocoa, nut butters, honey, vanilla, coconut, fruits, you can be as creative as you like really. I used raspberries as that's what I had and that's what I'm allowed to eat.

All you need to do is peel and slice some bananas and freeze. When they're frozen you blend them up with your flavour of choice. (I used about 1/2 cup raspberries for 2 bananas). The consistency should be something like soft serve ice cream at this stage. It helps to blend the frozen fruit in small batches too if your blender is as weedy as mine. Transfer the mix to a freezable container and return to the freezer for a few hours. It doesn't need any stirring like regular ice cream, just leave it be and it will turn out delicious.

I served mine with some chopped nuts.


Thursday, 30 January 2014

Settling into a new year

A wise man once said 'a good blog never ends'......actually he didn't. Wise men probably have much better things to be ruminating on than blogs, but I kind of felt those words apply to me regardless. I've abandoned this blog many times for different reasons but still find myself returning to it time and time again. So either I once again have something interesting to blog about, or it being January, the quietest month in my year, I am once again bored. Either way, here I am again.

I've been itching for a while to get back into a routine of cooking for people. The last year has for various reasons seen me more out of the kitchen than in it. A summer spent between Brussels and Dublin meant that I was much more interested in trying out new restaurants than eating any of my own creations. Autumn and winter seems to have vanished without me noticing, leaving nothing but a mountain of receipts to prove it existed! But now that I'm back home and settling into a new year I find I'm keen to get things going again.

This motivation may have a little to do with finding inspiration in the endeavours of others. A good friend, with a new found obsession with all things oaty, is embarking on an exciting venture to bring oats from the dark ages into the hearts and kitchens of all. It's great to see someone putting all their efforts behind their passion and really going for it and I'm not afraid to say, I'm stealing a few crumbs from the table of her motivation. It's quite impossible to be unmotivated around motivated people, and I'll take it where I can!

To this end, my next culinary endeavour will be to resurrect the Arbutus Supper Club, only this time with a twist. We'll be moving to brunch and I'll be teaming up with Sarah to bring delicious and surprising porridge creations sure to change even the most stubborn porridge hater. And if you still can't be convinced of the porridge, there'll be plenty of other treats to keep you sated too.

Sarah's Wild Oats porridge adventures can be found over at her lovely blog.

picture courtesy of @wildirishoats

Our first brunch club will be taking place on the 22nd of February so watch this space for more details!