December 13, 2011

Elimination diet starts today!

Steve and I went away to Lifehouse Spa over the weekend (it was a complimentary stay to make up for the bad experience we had there before) so I didn't want to start my diet until today, otherwise I would have missed out on lots of nice food!

I had to do a pulse test before eliminating dairy from my diet for a month. So this morning, before I had eaten anything, I took my resting pulse. This means counting the number of beats that occur in 1 minute.

I counted 67 beats.

Then I waited 10 minutes before drinking a glass of semi-skimmed milk (I could of eaten some cheese instead but I couldn't stomach eating cheese for breakfast!). Then I took my pulse rate again 10 minutes after drinking the milk.

I counted 66 beats.

Apparently if my body is intolerant to dairy then I should expect my pulse rate to increase. So I waited another 10 minutes and counted again.

I counted 67 beats.

Hmmm, not very supportive evidence that I am dairy intolerant. But I am committed to trying this elimination diet to see if I can get rid of my eczema.

So I tried rice milk made by Rice Dream for the first time in my tea. I tasted some of the rice milk on its own first and to me it just tasted like watered down milk and that's how it looked as well. When I used it in my tea I think I added about double the amount of normal milk, but I think this was because the rice milk didn't make the tea change colour as drastically as normal milk. So I was trying to match the colour as my normal brew, but I think you would have to add a lot of rice milk to get the same shade. I like my tea pretty strong and I think the rice milk actually allowed me to taste the tea a lot better as it wasn't as overpowering as normal milk. So I actually enjoyed my first lactose free cuppa!

So I'm feeling very positive about this new diet as there are lots of substitute dairy products available. If I didn't like the Rice Dream then I was going to try Lacto Free as their milk apparently tastes exactly the same as normal milk but the lactose has been removed. There's quite a lot of useful information on their website and tips on how to do an elimination diet as well.

I'm not expecting to see the effects of my diet on my eczema for a couple of weeks as it takes this amount of time to purge the body of dairy. I am also aiming to eat more oily fish, olive oil and avocados to boost the oils in my skin, so we shall see!

Eczema condition:-
Hands - on middle, ring and little fingers of both hands and a big arc between middle and little finger on the palm of my left hand. Skin is mainly very dry, not itchy and not cracked or sore.
Body - a small patch on the left side of my waist. Skin is itchy.

December 7, 2011

You are what you eat!

Today I went to see a nutritionist. It's something I've been meaning to do for a very long time, but I've kept putting it off for various reasons. But my eczema on my hands was getting worse and I was getting increasingly more and more tired, so it was time I did something about it. Also, I'd been watching The Food Hospital series on Channel 4 and it really spurred me on to try and treat my ailments through food.

Before my consultation I had to complete a questionnaire which included what symptoms I had, a short food diary and my general health and wellbeing. It was actually quite difficult to answer some of the questions as you have to be very honest. For example, I didn't tick the box which said I was an irritable person, but Steve said that was definitely a box I should tick! Charming!

The consultation lasted about 1.5 hours and I came away having learned a lot. I had already suspected that my blood sugar levels were all over the place and I now have to make sure I am eating a lot more regularly to make sure my energy levels remain constant, rather than peaks and troughs.

A surprisingly diagnosis was my eczema and tiredness might be caused by a dairy intolerance. My parents are Chinese and it's widely believed that because milk is not regularly drunk in China this has led to a lactose intolerance. So even though I was born in the UK and brought up on a mixed Western/Eastern diet, my genes are saying that dairy is not good for me.

So I need to do an elimination test, which means cutting out all dairy for 4 weeks. This will mean trying soya and rice milk for the first time! Apparently it takes 3 weeks to get accustomed to the taste of soya milk, so this will be interesting! When I think about what I have to cut out of my diet (milk, cheese, butter, ice cream, yoghurts) I don't think it's too bad and it could be worse having to give up something like wheat or my real weakness potatoes!

I am also severely lacking in B-vitamins so I need to get a good quality B-vitamin complex supplement.

I also need to increase my intake of fruit and vegetables, eating at least 3 different types of vegetables at dinnertime. This won't be difficult as I really enjoy eating veggies and it will force me to be a bit more adventurous and try new things to stop getting bored. More oily fish and olive oil will also help with the omega oils for my skin.

So, I thought I would blog about my new diet and it will be good for me to keep a record of my progress. But the diet is going to start on Monday as Steve and I have a nice foodie weekend planned so I don't want to miss out!

September 18, 2011

Dining dangerously at Westfield, Stratford


Steve and I visited the new Westfield at Stratford after our stay at Lifehouse Spa. It was a completely spontaneous decision as our train home from Essex stopped at Stratford and we thought we could stay in the new Premier Inn hotel beside the shopping centre and do a bit of shopping.

We'd been to a Westfield shopping centre in San Francisco and the food there was amazing so we were hoping for more of the same thing over in the UK. We'd arrived shortly before dinner time and as it was the opening week everywhere was completely packed so there were long queues for all the restaurants like TGI Fridays, Wagamamas, Las Iguanas and Giraffe. So we decided to go to the fast food part where there was loads of choice - literally food from around the World.



We found a great Thai place called Rosa's. I had the Black Pepper Beef noodles and it was fantastic. The meat was incredibly soft and tender and there was just enough pepper to give this dish a nice kick.



Steve had a Beef Massaman curry which he liked but it was too sweet for me. We also had the Chicken Satay which was nice but a bit cold because it had been sitting on the counter for a little while. The kitchen cooked everything fresh and they couldn't really keep up with the orders.

We'd just started our meal when the smoke/fire alarm went off and an announcement kept repeating that we should evacuate the area, but I didn't want to leave our food! So we stayed put as none of the staff was telling anyone to leave. I couldn't see any smoke or smell any fire so I thought it was just one of the kitchens having a bit of an issue with a burnt pan. It did make me realise it takes quite a bad situation for me to abandon my dinner! Eventually the alarm stopped and everyone went back to their food, but then it kept going off again as the reset system was messed up so the smoke screens kept coming down and going up again into the ceiling. It certainly made dining rather interesting!



For lunch the next day we went to Tortilla Mexican Grill for burritos. Steve had his with steak and I had mine with braised pork which was so tasty and tender. You can get it filled with all different fillings and I chose mexican rice, onions, peppers, cheese, sour cream, lettuce and some hot sauce from the bottle as I didn't fancy any of the runny salsas on offer (definitely get the hot sauce - Steve didn't see it so didn't ask for it and regretted it!). As you can see they really pack a lot in there and this was the best burrito I've ever had (OK I haven't had many, but the last one I had was at the Ferry Building in San Francisco and it was awful!). We had medium burritos and they were definitely big enough for lunch.

Unfortunately neither of these places are at the Westfield in Shepherd's Bush which is closer to where we live. Sigh. But they have other branches dotted around London so they are definitely places we would visit again.

Oh yeah, the shopping at Westfield isn't too shabby either - got myself some new trainers, a snuggly hoody and a new tee!

September 13, 2011

First taste of home-grown sweetcorn!


I decided to take the plunge and pick a cob today. This is the one I checked for ripeness the other day and you can now see how much the top of the cob is undeveloped. After I'd fully opened it up and squeezed one of the kernels closer to the base of the cob and the liquid that emerged was milky.


I boiled it for 3 minutes and it was lovely and sweet. However the kernels were quite small. They look quite plump but they are actually quite shallow so when you bite into it you don't get a satisfying amount of corn to munch on. But I'm still really pleased that I've managed to grow a new vegetable and it was edible! Most of my corn plants have double cobs, so we've still got a few more to enjoy!

you can read more about growing sweetcorn here

September 11, 2011

Blackberry & Apple Loaf



MUNCH RATING: 5/5

I've made this cake before but I didn't write a post, however it turned out so well again this time that I thought it deserved a mention. I really like this cake because it's so easy to make - you don't need to cream the butter and sugar together, just rub them together with the flour like when making a crumble. It's also lovely and moist but it has a crunchy topping for a great texture contrast.


Also this time I used blackberries that Steve and I picked from our local hedgerows, so that made it a bit more special. I'd frozen the berries and it worked just as well as the first time I'd made the cake. To freeze berries is incredibly easy - just wash the fruit and drain really well. Then I cover large baking trays with cling film to stop the berries from sticking to the trays and then just pop them in the freezer for about an hour or until they're hard and then pop them into freezer bags. The berries can be used straight from the freezer in this cake.

CHANGES TO THE RECIPE:
The recipe is from BBC Good Food, but I tweaked it slightly by using soft brown sugar instead of muscovado and using 75g less sugar as I always reduce sugar in cake recipes. The apple gives it enough sweetness and makes the cake lovely and moist.

I also used a silicone loaf pan which is slightly wider so my cake wasn't as deep, so it cooked more quickly.

you can find the original recipe here

  • Oven temperature: Gas mark 4/350°F/180°C
  • Oven shelf: middle
  • You will need: a 1.7 litre loaf tin 

  • 250g self-raising flour
  • 175g butter (I used Stork, at room temperature)
  • 100g soft brown sugar
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • 2 rounded tbsp demerara sugar
  • 1 small Gala apple, (not cored or peeled)
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 orange, finely grated zest
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 225g blackberries (fresh or frozen)
Directions:
  1. Preheat the oven to Gas mark 4/350°F/180°C. Butter and line the bottom of a 1.7 litre loaf tin (no need to do this if using silicone). In a large bowl, rub the flour, butter and brown sugar together with your fingers to make fine crumbs. Measure out 5 level tbsp of this mixture into a small bowl for the topping, and mix into it the cinnamon and demerara sugar. Set aside.
  2. Coarsely grate the apple down to the core and mix in with the eggs and the zest. Stir the baking powder into the rubbed-in mixture in the large bowl, then quickly and lightly stir in the egg mixture until it drops lightly from the spoon. Don't overmix.
  3. Gently fold in three quarters of the berries with a metal spoon, trying not to break them up. Spoon into the tin and level. Scatter the rest of the berries on top. Sprinkle over the topping and bake for 50 minutes and then cover loosely with foil and bake for a further 30 minutes. When done the cake will feel firm, but test with a skewer.
  4. Leave in the tin for 30 minutes before turning out, then cool on a wire rack. Peel off the paper before cutting. Will keep wrapped in foil or in a tin for up to 2 days.

Growing chillies, tomatoes and peppers


My chillies have actually done quite well this year and I've had a few that have turned red despite the poor summer. The secret of my success? It's because these plants were grown last year and I overwintered them. Before I read about overwintering I had always assumed chilli plants had to be thrown away after the fruits were harvested. But following the advice on the Chilli King website shows that the plants can produce again after a sleep through the winter. I admit that I cut a few corners with my overwintering process, in that I didn't put the plants in new compost. I simply pruned the plant to 10-15cm of the main stem.


I will try overwintering these plants again this year, however I think I will give them some fresh compost as I think they need a boost of nutrients. The stems are starting to look quite woody and I'm not sure if this is a good thing or not. I'm looking at it as a positive sign that the plant is just becoming more mature and since there appears to be new growth I'm not going to worry too much.

you can read about my chilli growing from last year here


Now onto peppers. These are called Sweet Mohawk Peppers and they're supposed to be small and bright orange. I bought this as a small plant from the garden centre so I expected them to have enough time to grow and ripen, but there is absolutely no sign of even a slight orange tinge to them yet! I find it strange because these peppers have been in the same mini greenhouse (the plastic type) as my chillies and they have already started to turn colour. I'm really not that keen on green peppers, so I'm really hoping these will turn orange! I don't think I'll bother trying to grow peppers in the future as we just don't have enough sun in the UK!


Finally these are my tomatoes. This is the first time I've tried a bush variety - these are Tumbling Toms. I love that the bush variety needs very little attention in that you don't need to pinch out the sideshoots like you do with the cordon variety. My tomatoes in the past have grown out of control because I haven't been prudent enough in my pruning and they have needed lots of support with canes. This bush variety has grown quite happily in a large pot, but unfortunately a lot of the fruits have turned red before they have grown to a decent size. They are still rather tasty and I will definitely grow these again next year.

September 10, 2011

Sweetcorn update!

The weather has definitely been on the Autumnal side lately, but today was actually really warm and lovely. So I decided to check on my sweetcorn to see if it was ready for eating.


Well the silks have now turned brown, which is apparently a good indicator of ripeness, so I had a little peak underneath the husks to see if my corn was ready yet.


Unfortunately it was still looking a bit undeveloped and pale - not the glorious burst of yellow sunshine I was expecting as I unwrapped my little maize parcel. When I squeezed one of the kernels the liquid that came out wasn't milky, so I wrapped this cob back up to be consumed another day.

read more about growing sweetcorn here


 

I've been growing carrots in the space around the corn in my raised bed and I decided to pull up the last remaining ones to give the corn all the resources it might need to finish ripening.

I was quite surprised how many carrots were actually left in the bed and how big some of them had grown! These were Chantenay carrots and I bought them as seedlings from Chessington Garden Centre (along with spring onion and leek seedlings as they were on offer 3 for £10) because I haven't had much luck growing carrots from seed.

The first few carrots I pulled out a few weeks ago were a disappointing size and were only good for using in a stir fry as a "carrot gesture". But these ones I harvested today were of a decent golf ball size. I'm pretty sure it's because they had longer in the ground, but also they had more space to grow after I'd pulled the first ones out. When I planted the seedlings they were in little clusters of 3 or 4 and I didn't pull them apart to space them out as I thought I would damage them too much. I also didn't thin them out when they were growing as I didn't want to encourage carrot root fly. As it happened my carrots didn't suffer from that pesky pest and I think growing spring onions in the same raised bed helped as the oniony smell confuses them. The only problem I had with my carrots was ants and aphids, which is what happened to me last year. My carrots were covered in ants and these other tiny white bugs which I initially thought were ant eggs. A search on Google revealed the white bugs were actually aphids and according to wikipedia:
Some species of ants "farm" aphids, protecting them on the plants they eat, eating the honeydew that the aphids release from the terminations of their alimentary canals.
So I waged war on the ants and grabbed an out of date jar of cayenne pepper and generously sprinkled it all over the carrots - boy did those ants run! Anyway, my carrots seemed to be fine after that and I will enjoy eating the fruits of my labour later this evening.

September 3, 2011

Anniversary Dinner at Roast

Yesterday Steve and I celebrated our 6 year anniversary of the day we met. I took him to Roast in Borough Market for dinner as I'd bought a voucher from Toptable for £20 which entitled me to £40 of food. I might sound like a bit of a cheapskate using a voucher for our special dinner, but Roast isn't a cheap place to eat so I think it's justified!

I ordered the Slow roast Wicks Manor pork belly with mashed potatoes and Bramley apple sauce which is on the main menu as I'd read good reviews of it online by other diners.


Whilst Steve ordered Roast rib of Welsh Black beef with Yorkshire pudding, horseradish and Colman’s English mustard which is from the Daily Special menu. Of course, main courses don't come with any vegetables, so we ordered carrots and creamed leeks, which disappointingly lacked any creaminess.


Steve's main came with roast potatoes which he declared as being "the best roast potatoes" he's ever eaten. Normally he only has one roast potato when his Mum cooks Sunday dinner, but he ate all of these apart from one which he very kindly let me try as I am a massive potato lover!

We did enjoy our main courses, but I wouldn't say the food was incredible. The crackling on my pork wasn't crispy so I had a tough time cutting through it, even after I requested steak knives to replace the poor excuse of a knife they provided us with (definitely a faux pas of the waiting staff).

Apart from the bitter herb stuffed inside my pork, I thought it all tasted rather bland and I hate to say it, but I reached for the salt and pepper grinders more than once.

I needed a long break after my main course before ordering dessert as the portions were generous. I ordered the Pear, raspberry and almond crumble with custard. Again I was a bit disappointed as the crumble wasn't particularly crunchy and the fruit wasn't cooked enough for my liking. I actually prefer my own crumble recipe! Also, the custard was too runny, so instead of adding a delicious comfort blanket to my crumble it drowned it in a watery crème Anglaise mess.

Steve ordered the Chocolate banoffee pudding with Devonshire clotted cream, which he thought was going to be a chocolately version of a banoffee pie, but it was in fact more like a chocolate fondant with just a hint of banana.

Overall we had a nice meal but I don't think I'd visit Roast again for lunch or dinner. One reason is the price and another is the menu is rather limited and not that many things appealed to me (to be honest the price of certain things does make them a lot less appealing!).

I was worried that the service was going to be appalling as so many online reviews had complained about this, but our waiters were absolutely fine and I didn't mind paying the 12.5% service charge whacked on top of my bill.

Grow your own Sweetcorn 2011

Well it's certainly been a long time since I have posted anything on my blog! I haven't had a lot of time since I began working full time in London, so cooking and blogging about it has definitely taken a backseat. But I have still made time for some vegetable gardening so I thought it was about time I wrote about it! I also now have a smartphone, so taking photos and posting should be a bit easier and less time consuming!


This is the first time I've tried growing sweetcorn and it's going pretty well I think as it's blocking the view out of the kitchen window! I grew these plants from seed. They were an online freebie so I didn't get to choose the variety but they are called "Extra tender and sweet F1 hybrid" which sounds promising. They were easy to grow from seed: I just put them in 3inch pots filled with seed compost, watered, covered with cling film and left them in my mini greenhouse.

They sprouted really quickly and I put the seedlings into the raised bed when they were about 6inches tall. I read that you have to plant them in blocks so that they can pollinate properly, so I squeezed 8 plants into my 50cm x 1metre raised bed. I've got spring onions, carrots and dwarf beans growing in the spaces in between the sweetcorn and I don't think they've been competing too much for space or nutrients. I started off by feeding everything Miracle Gro, but then I read sweetcorn likes tomato feed so I switched to a weekly feed of that instead.

This is one of the cobs emerging a couple of weeks ago. I found it amazing how it suddenly appeared in the side of the trunk of the main plant. Each plant has 2 cobs growing so we will be eating quite a lot of sweetcorn quite soon!

Apparently they are ready to eat when the silks have turned dark brown and when you pierce a nice plump kernel a milky liquid is released.
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