03.09.12

Since July I’ve been trying to ease some of the symptoms of my ME/CFS with dietary changes. I strongly believe that every body is different, and that no one particular diet is right for everyone. I have patched together a few different ideas, based on my personal symptoms, my history with food/health, and a large amount of trial & error. It’s taken a few weeks, but I’ve figured out what works pretty well for me. I’ll share it with you, but I’m not saying that it would necessarily work for anyone else with ME/CFS or any particular illness. It might help with symptoms, it might not. But I think anything is worth exploring.

So, as woo-woo as I think the whole subject is, this is basically a leaky gut diet. The idea being that if you have a leaky gut (which can be caused by lots of things, one of which is being celiac, which I am, and another being taking lots of painkillers, which I have), it can provoke an immune response, which shows up as inflammation in various ways in the body. I don’t want to say that I’m utterly convinced by the theory, but I must admit, the diet has helped tremendously, and when I deviate, it does provoke quite an extreme reaction, so perhaps the proof of the pudding is in the eating…….. except you can’t have pudding!

I’ve had to stay off gluten for years, no wheat, barley, rye, etc. But I’ve now expanded that to include ALL grains & cereals, including corn, quinoa, rice, buckwheat, etc, and all legumes, including lentils, beans, peanuts, soy. There’s a whole theory about lectins, which you can Google if you are intrigued. I’m also staying away from all dairy, and from potatoes. And, for the most part, sugar & alcohol.

If you’re used to eating anything you want, that probably sounds appallingly restrictive. I’m not used to eating anything I want. It’s been many years since I could do that with impunity. I have an easily offended digestive system, in addition to the ME/CFS. Oh, and migraines. So it’s not too much of an adjustment for me. It’s been a little tricky to eat like this and not go too low carb, which I can’t afford to do because of my history with depression. If I don’t get enough carbs, I can’t sleep (I’m a sensitive little flower, you know). So I’m having more fruit, especially bananas, and sweet potatoes, and root vegetables like squash and beetroot. It’s working.

And more to the point, it’s working. My number of sick days has dropped by about 50%. My symptoms are more under control than they’ve been in a long time. I’m bouncing back from things faster, like the show last week, which I thought would send me to bed for a week – I had a few bad days, but nothing like I expected. My joints have stopped hurting (unless I cheat, like I did last night when I ate potatoes, and ouch did I pay for that). My PMS has completely gone (although my periods are worse – but that’s a swap I can live with!). So it’s worth it to me.

I’ve never minded the challenge of dietary restrictions. I love food, and I’ll find a way to make stuff taste good, one way or another. I’ve been doing a lot of baking with ground almonds, I’ll share a couple of recipes below. Most people trying this way of eating would drop some weight, but not me, I love food too much, and that really isn’t my goal anyway. But I have noticed that my appetite seems more regulated eating this way – I don’t have the urge to eat unless I am hungry, and I get satiated far quicker.

One of the books I’ve got on ME/CFS is very much against making extreme dietary changes – the reasoning being that it can trigger a flare up, since anything out of the ordinary will do so. I took that into consideration when deciding whether to give it a go. But then, as I said, it hasn’t been an extreme change for me. I was already off gluten grains and most dairy. Perhaps if you went into it from a regular diet, you might get a bit more of a reaction. I’m not necessarily recommending this, but I’m sharing it with you, because……. you never know. Okay, onto a few recipes.

Firstly there is a splendid Nigella cake, a clementine almond cake. You can find that easily via Google.

Pear & Almond Cake

  • 3 cups ground almonds (almond meal)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Spices to taste – I used 1 tsp cloves, 1 tsp nutmeg, 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup oil (coconut is good, but I used mild olive oil)
  • 3 tbsp honey
  • 5 eggs
  • 3 pears, cored and chopped (leave the skin on), or apples would be good too

Mix the dry ingredients in one bowl, the wet in another, then combine well and fold in the fruit. Pour into a greased cake pan (I used a Bundt pan) and bake at 175c (350f) for around 40 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool well before turning it out.

Almond Brownies

  • 1.5 cups ground almonds (almond meal)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 tbsp good cocoa (I use Green & Blacks)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp instant coffee
  • 3/4 cup palm sugar (or regular sugar if you can’t get that)
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3/4 cup oil (again, coconut is good, but I used olive)
  • 1 cup chocolate chunks and/or walnuts (I didn’t have either, but it would be lovely with them)

Same as before, mix the wet together, mix the dry together, then combine, and pour into a large greased square cake pan, with baking parchment in the base. Bake at 175c (350f) for around 20-25 minutes, until the top looks set and it doesn’t jiggle when you shake the pan. I don’t recommend the toothpick test for these, because you actually want them to be a little fudgy, so it might not come out quite clean but they are still done.

Almond Rock Cakes

  • 2 cups ground almonds (almond meal)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • Spices to taste (I used cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and mixed spice)
  • 1 tbsp palm sugar (or regular sugar)
  • 1 cup sultanas
  • 1/2 cup chopped dates
  • 1/2 cup chopped cherries (dried or glace)
  • Zest of an orange
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 tbsp oil (I used mild olive oil)
As before, mix dry together, wet together, then combine well. Fold in dried fruit, and scoop into lined muffin tins. I got 12 out of this recipe. Bake at 175c (350f) for 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. They don’t rise very much, but they are awfully good nonetheless.

Finally, a word on sweet potatoes. So many recipes online have you add sugar to them, or maple syrup. THIS IS JUST WRONG. I CANNOT TELL YOU HOW WRONG. They are already soooo sweet, you want to cut that sweetness, not make them even more sickly!! I cut them into thin wedges, and roast them on a very high heat, with lots of salt and pepper and a little chili spice for kick. They are good with pretty much everything, but especially with homemade burgers, or tuna steak, or sausages. And they are so nutritionally superior to regular potatoes. I fancy having a go at doing a corned beef hash with them – not sure how that will work out, but I will let you know.

Cupcakes!!

One of my very best friends is getting married on Saturday. I’m one of her bridesmaids, which is an honour. Last night we went out with a few friends, for dinner, and then back to their house for cupcakes. Boy, I have been agonising over the perfect cupcake for the occasion, and settled on pink champagne cupcakes with a boozy strawberry on top. Festive and pretty, don’t you think?

I’ve never baked cupcakes before, and never iced anything either, so it was a bit nerve wracking, but I’m thrilled with how they came out. Tooth achingly sweet, but isn’t that what cupcakes are all about?

We had them with extra champagne (it would have been rude not to, don’t you think?), sitting up late, chattering and giggling, lit by fairy lights and candles. The perfect evening. Food, friends, fun.

This is Mama Val, someone very dear to me, a friend, a mentor, an inspiration, a comfort, a joy, and the source of some of our colourway names! I don’t know how I would have got through the last 6 months without her strength and wisdom and love. If the lighting wasnt so wonky, you’d be able to see her awesome hair – cherry streaked, ready for the wedding day (she is mama of the bride). She rocks. I hope that one day I’m half as cool/funny/plucky/creative/fun/naughty as she is.

I LOVE this photo. These are my girls. From left to right, Sarah, my right hand woman at Posh HQ, funny, feisty, down to earth, easy to be around, loves food as much as I do, always cheers me up however I’m feeling. Rebecca, my fellow bridesmaid, sister of the bride, and Rachel, the bride herself. These two girls are more like family than friends, and I love them dearly. We had one of the most fun trips I’ve ever been on when we went to America together in 2009. They speak my language. They know when to laugh and when to cry. They always make me feel like I matter. They love food, and wine, and Anthropologie, and fairy lights, and fresh flowers, and fabulous shoes. When I was really bad with depression, they checked up on me all the time, drove 15 miles just to give me a 5 minute hug, brought me flowers, and generally kept me going.

I can’t wait for Saturday. I’m going to take (and have Tony take) a million photographs. It’s going to be such a special day, and I don’t want to forget a minute of it.

Bake-a-holic

One of the hardest things about being sick was that I had to hand over my oven gloves to Tony (symbolically, he doesn’t actually bake!). I love to cook. I didn’t feel like a woman, not being able to cook a meal for my husband at the end of a day’s work. I’m old fashioned like that.

Since getting better, I’ve been cramming in an insane amount of cooking. On Friday I was cooking up cinnamon buns with cream cheese frosting for the Posh staff, and baking bread, while taking the week’s photos. It got a little crazy! I love baking for people. It only takes a little time, and people’s faces just light up when you hand them something fresh from the oven. Try it and see. It’s addictive!

I had one of the cinnamon buns on Friday, and a slice of spelt bread, and then rediscovered how sick wheat and spelt make me. Urgh. So yesterday I tried making a batch of gluten free bread for myself. I used the gf flour from Doves, and just followed the recipe on the packet. I was extremely dubious when it was mixing, because it looked more like cake batter than bread dough, but it came out pretty good.

This may be the first – and last – loaf of bread that I ever sliced well!!!

The bread was too sweet and too eggy, so I think I’ll make some tweaks next time, use less eggs and sugar, and add some xanthum gum to help it rise. I’ll let you know how it goes. But already this bread is better than the stuff you can buy in supermarkets.

That’s the thing about baking – it is always better than shop bought baked goods. That’s why people love home made cakes and bread and cookies. And yet so few people take the time to bake any more. Such a shame, because as well as fantastic results, it’s very therapeutic. It makes the house smell wonderful. It’s calming and soothing. A cook shop is almost as much fun for me as a yarn shop. Cookie cutters! Piping bags!! Silicone mats!!!

I’m Dee, and I’m a bake-a-holic.

This was a cherry pie, baked for a dinner with two good friends who just got engaged! I made cherry & Amaretto ice cream to go with it.

Baking For Britain

Lately I have become mildly obsessed with baking. Cakes, especially. There’s something so very comforting about baking a cake. Weighing out and mixing the ingredients, the warmth from the oven, the sweet smells wafting around the house, the sense that you are doing something that women have done for generations. It’s very soothing. Whenever I feel like the darkness outside is creeping into my soul, I go and bake a cake.

I’ve been doing it a lot lately.

At this rate I will never lose those last 10lbs. But hey, its winter. I need some insulation.

I’m especially drawn to old fashioned, traditional cakes and recipes. The sort of thing I remember from my childhood, and Tony from his. Did you grow up in a house where there was always something homemade in the cake tin? I did. I like that. Not good for the waist, but good for the soul. (If I could master the art of breadmaking, I’d like to always have homemade bread in the bread tin as well. Although this soda bread is pretty fantastic.) It’s nice to be able to offer guests a slice of something homemade, especially if you can do so casually, in a I-didn’t-bake-this-because-I-knew-you-were-coming-I’m-just-the-kind-of-cook-who-always-has-something-delicious-on-hand kind of way. Makes you feel like a domestic goddess.

Some of the recipes I’ve baked recently include: Nigella’s Clementine Cake (keeps beautifully, and naturally gluten and dairy free), Hot Toddy Fruitcake (I had high hopes for this one, but missed a crucial step in the instructions - double line cake tin with baking parchment - so the sides and bottom burnt black), Parkin (so utterly delicious that I made it twice in one week), Hot Cross Buns (left in the oven too long, they were a bit bullet-like), and Malt loaf (not as good as shop bought, disappointingly).

Do you like to bake? If so, what are your favourite recipes?

Good Food, Bad Food, Just Food

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything in the Posh Nosh category. I must confess that my eating habits have not been up to public scrutiny. As you know, for more than a year I was vegan, and my diet was about as squeaky clean as you can get. Then I started to feel ill, weak, strange. I decided I needed to reintroduce dairy, fish, meat into my diet. And, as the all-or-nothing person that I am, I swung the opposite way to my squeaky clean diet, and ate almost nothing but meat, cheese, potatos, pasta, even *shock!horror!* some junk food. It’s taken me a few months of that to get it out of my system. I think I’m ready for a more balanced diet now.

I think I might have muttered something about not being a vegan any more, but I didn’t proclaim it loudly. I was a little embarrassed. It doesn’t feel like the kind of thing you should change your mind about. Being vegan felt so right, so good, so how things should be. Until it stopped feeling so. But I didn’t want you to be disappointed in me. Because I was pretty disappointed in myself.

I found it very difficult to change my eating habits again, almost as difficult as giving things up in the first place. I felt so guilty every time I ate a piece of cheese, or a rasher of bacon, like I was defiling my body. I think I had become a little too obsessed with my ‘clean’ diet, and was identifying virtue and vice a little too thoroughly with certain foods. This seems to be a trend, and it’s something I’ve seen happen to other people (but didn’t think would happen to me). I would have been extremely indignant if someone had accused me of ‘righteous eating’ while I was doing so, but looking back, yes, there was the beginning of a problem. There were too many self imposed rules, too much inflexibility, too much reliance on the perfect diet to prevent all ills and woes.

Please don’t misunderstand me – a good diet is invaluable, and eating sensibly is something we should all aim for. And not everyone who is vegan, or who follows any other restricted way of eating, has a problem. Far from it! But if food becomes an area of control for you, whether that’s in quantity or quality, then perhaps it’s something you need to pay more attention to. I know I did.

So, it’s taken me a few months, but I’ve managed to swing back from one extreme of eating to another. I can eat a bite of chocolate now without breaking out into a sweat of guilty shame. I can eat a salad because I want to, not because I have to. I’m ready to start mixing up my carnivorous meals with some extra vegetables. I might even have some avocado on toast for lunch, instead of my daily cheese on toast.

I think what I’m trying to say is this: I’ve got my love of food back. Good food, bad food, any food.

(Thankfully, I’ve got my love of running back too. Otherwise I’d be in some serious trouble.)

Now what’s for dinner tonight……