Monday, September 30, 2013

Lamb, with love

As I mentioned previously, Bike Boy took advantage of a sudden drop in lamb prices this week to pick up one of our all-time favourite cuts: lamb shanks. If you've never cooked shanks, you don't know what you're missing. Roasted or slow-cooked in a casserole, they turn out incredibly moist and tender - and they go well with so many flavours: Italian, French, Moroccan...we even had an incredible Chinese dish some years ago at a fancy-pants Chinatown restaurant.

Pretty much any cut is my favourite, as long as it's lamb... 

After searching umpteen recipe books in the quest to find a suitable recipe for my dodgy gut, he gave up and made this one up from scratch. Yes, he is good and yes, I am keeping him.

Rather than play our usual game of "What did you put in that dish?", I asked the man himself to write up the recipe for me. So I give you ....Mediterranean lamb shanks, a guest post by Bike Boy. Ta-dah!

Those of you familiar with FODMAPs will note that the recipe contains onion and garlic - that's not an oversight; it's because I was testing my tolerance to the smelly bulbs. Scroll down to the bottom of the page below the recipe and you'll see my suggested modifications to make it work for folks who are ultra-sensitive to fructans.

You have to make this! You will love it, I promise. Shepherd's honour.


Sunday, September 29, 2013

Exploring new food frontiers

I’m still playing food detective while I figure out exactly which FODMAPs foods I can tolerate and in what quantities. There *may* have been a little foot-stamping and pouting over a few things, but in general I’m coping pretty well.

Honestly, I really do get the "mourning" that people experience when they realise that they have to give up certain favourite foods. But in the end it's a no-brainer. Keep eating something for the fleeting pleasure of the flavour, with the price being days or weeks of pain, lethargy, moodiness and general fun-suckery? No thanks.

I haven't finished testing foods by any means, but that's going to take quite some time, as I figure out which specific foods do or don't upset me and if there's a safe dose. Meanwhile I'm just getting on with life.

Here are a few things I've learned...

1. Eating out.

Read the menu carefully and never assume that, just because something isn't mentioned, it isn't in the meal. Ask lots of questions. Yes, you will be that PITA customer who queries everything, but I've found restaurant staff to be very accommodating so far. They're quite used to helping people with allergies and intolerances navigate the menu.

Order something to share - then your dining companion can eat all the stuff you're avoiding and nothing goes to waste. :)

Spanish style tasting platter. I avoided the artichoke hearts and left most of the terrine to
Bike Boy, in case of onion, but the rest was magnifico. Oh, those tiny Turkish figs!
If the accompanying veggies to your main course don't suit, ask for a substitute. Or order a side salad.

Tassie salmon, capers, dill and a marvellous ratatouille that I risked a few mouthfuls of.
The garden salad was perfect - except for some onion rings, which I picked out..

If you're attending a group function and there's a set or limited menu, ring the restaurant beforehand and discuss your needs with them. I was impressed last week that the young lady I spoke to at PM24 about an upcoming work lunch knew something about FODMAPs and fructose malabsorption. Turns out that it was no problem on the day to swap the Jerusalem artichokes and mushrooms in my duck salad for something else.

It's not really difficult, but it does take some thought and you have to be prepared to ask questions and request changes where necessary. Do not worry about looking like an attention-seeking whiney-pants. Just smile and be polite but firm.

The bigger challenge is grabbing a quick takeaway lunch. So far, that's only happened twice, and both times I've stuck to sushi because everything else available either contained something I can't eat OR was just completely unappetising.

2. Home cooking

You're not restricted to boring or bland meals, but you do need to be able to tweak your old favourite recipes to make them suit, or swap them for something else entirely.

Last night Bike Boy decided to cook lamb shanks for dinner. Is it just here in Melbourne, or have lamb shanks been stupidly expensive everywhere this year? They used to be a cheap cut ...damn you, TV cooking shows for making them trendy! Thank goodness for Spring though - the price has halved. Hurrah!

Our usual Kylie Kwong recipe contains dates and apricots - both out of the question, as polyols are one of my major problems. It also has a lot of shallots and garlic - and while fructans are less of an issue for me, I'm not about to eat a massive dose of the buggers and see what happens. Plus combining two of my FODMAPs nemeses would be a recipe for a major guts-ache, no doubt about it.

In the end, he came up with an Italian-style recipe instead, loosely based on osso bucco. There's still garlic and a little onion, but the quantities in my serve should be small enough to not cause me dramas. Hopefully. I needed to test onion anyway, so what the hell....

"Lamb-oh Bucco" with gremolata - recipe to come!
3. Research!

There's nearly always something that can be substituted for an offending food.

For onion and garlic flavours, I mostly use green spring onion tops and garlic-infused oil. I also have some asafoetida powder, which is stinky stuff (hence the name) that when cooked, adds an onion flavour to recipes. I can cook whole garlic cloves or big slices in a dish and then remove them before eating too.

Gluten-free products can be useful when you want to avoid fructans, although you need to read the labels carefully, because there is often corn, soy or some other thing added which might be a problem. In something like a casserole that calls for wheat flour as a thickener, I'd just use the flour though, because the quantity in one serve is so small it's unlikely to cause me any dramas.

Avoiding lactose isn't a big thing - mostly. There are lactose-free milks, creams and even ice cream. My favourite cheeses are all OK and so is yoghurt. And of course there's a whole range of milk substitutes available if you prefer those. You can make ice cream, custards and puddings using lactose-free products; I plan to give my signature lemon tart a whirl using Zymil cream and see how it turns out.

The internet is infinitely useful when it comes to finding alternative recipes. There are so many gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan and other recipe sites about that I'm spoiled for choice. I've even discovered a recipe for a dairy-free alternative to condensed milk - HELLO, lactose-free caramel filling! I'll give that a try soon and report on the outcome.

Of course, sometimes I get excited by the sound of a recipe and then discover that it has cauliflower as its base. Or dates in the filling for texture and sweetness. Or some other thing that I can't eat. *sigh* And there are recipes labelled as "low FODMAPs" that contain cream cheese or ricotta. Gawd. But I just move onto the next Google result or Yummly link.

I'm currently eyeing off Sara's avocado ganache cake. I'll have to completely change the base because: dates. But the ganache should work nicely, as long as I cut the finished cake into small portions - avocado contains polyols, but not in enormous quantities, so a small slice is fine (in theory - I haven't tested it yet). But more than about one-sixteenth of the recipe could cause me discomfort the next day. Now there's a disincentive to go back for seconds or thirds. ;o)


The lamb shanks recipe will be forthcoming tomorrow. It's a good 'un. :)

I'm interested in experiences that readers with food intolerances or allergies have had when eating out. Particularly if eating at a relative's or friend's do you handle those situations? Leave me a comment...


Friday, September 27, 2013

Gluten-free, low FODMAPs hummingbird cake

You all know by now how much I love a sweet little something to have with my morning cuppa. I've collected and developed hundreds of recipes for healthier versions of pancakes, muffins and fruit breads, and regularly bake something on Sundays to provide morning tea supplies for the week.

I've been trying for ages now to find a recipe for a healthier and FODMAPs-friendly hummingbird cake. I LOVE hummingbird cake - the moist, sweet, delicious combination of banana, pineapple and coconut is just so... yummy.

Ideally, I wanted a flourless cake that paid homage to the flavours and fruitiness of hummingbird cake, but my experiments with coconut flour and almond meal failed. The taste was fine, but it just would not "set" and the texture was kind of weird. Either I wasn't getting the quantities right, or there was something about the pineapple that was reacting with the other ingredients.

In desperation I asked the internet for help, putting out a call for suggestions on Facebook. And of course, the lovely (and clever) Viviane of Chocolate Chilli Mango came to my rescue. I followed her suggestion and shelved the idea of a flourless cake, instead going for a wheat-free version with a little protein boost. I also lowered the sugar content (and calories) by swapping some of the brown sugar for Natvia and the result was FABULOUS. It's light, it's moist and it captures the essence of traditional hummingbird cake flavours.

This is gluten-free and also lactose-free and low in FODMAPs. Coconut is one of those foods around which there's a bit of confusion re FODMAPs. But I've done my research and according to the latest info from Monash University, coconut milk is F.I.N.E.  Shredded or desiccated coconut contains a moderate level of sorbitol, but a serving of quarter of a cup should be well tolerated by those of us sensitive to polyols. To be on the safe side, I used coconut milk for fat, moisture and flavour and reduced the shredded coconut to just a few tablespoons in the entire cake. The coconut flavour is still there, and I've had no IBS issues this week, even though I've eaten the cake pretty much every day.

I'm pronouncing this experiment: Mission Successful!

The recipe is over here. I urge you all to grab a can of crushed pineapple and give it a whirl this weekend, because it's awesome.


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

DNA, ostriches and how to reduce cholesterol

Sponsored Series by Nuffnang Australia

HeartActive is a delicious, 99% fat free milk enriched with plant sterols, which are proven to help reduce cholesterol. Research shows that consuming plant sterols everyday in milk can reduce cholesterol by an average of 10% in three weeks.  HeartActive is currently available in a 1L carton with an extended shelf life (45 days from production) compared to regular white milks with a shelf life of 14 days.

Back in the day - well, in 2008, to be precise - I got interested in genetic testing and the science of nutrigenomics. If you've been a reader for a while, you may remember that I had a Fitgenes genetic profile completed, which tested a limited number of genes that have an impact on fitness, body fat and muscle gains. It was fascinating stuff and I was disappointed that getting a full DNA profile wasn't possible at the time, due to cost.

I hadn't given it much thought recently, so I was both surprised and excited when Sara blogged about her recent experience with the new and improved genetic profiling services available today. For only $180, she got details relevant to hundreds of health risks, inherited conditions and other traits that are all locked up in her DNA. I am SO getting me one of those tests!

The possibility of DNA testing always raises the question: What if you find out that you have a high risk of developing a previously unknown serious health condition? My answer: Well, what if?

The way I see it is this: The condition (or risk of developing it) is there anyway. Not knowing about doesn't change anything. And the benefit of knowing is that the risks posed by most negative genetic variations can be negated or at least decreased by modifying your lifestyle and your approach to nutrition. That does not usually mean making huge and unpleasant sacrifices, by the way. When I had my Fitgenes test done, I discovered that I had a couple of negative gene variations which put me at risk for heart disease. The solutions were to exercise daily, eat more veggies, take some B vitamins and fish oil. Ha! I was already doing all those, see? No drama whatsoever.

Take my familial tendency to high cholesterol as an example. Let's assume that my genes are responsible for that little gem. Because they probably are. Imagine that my genetic profile comes back with WARNING, WARNING!! Tendency to high blood cholesterol! High risk of heart disease! stamped in red all over it (I'm sure they don't actually do that, but you get my drift...). I could impersonate an ostrich and stick my head in the sand... but then, if I was going to do that, I wouldn't have got the test done in the first place, would I?

Don't be an ostrich about the risk of high cholesterol. Or other health concerns.
(image source: Wikimedia)

No, what I would do is find out what lifestyle and/or nutrition changes I could adopt that would help to lower my cholesterol - or lower the risk of developing high cholesterol, if it hadn't already happened.

So, how to reduce cholesterol? One easy thing that anyone can do is to up your consumption of cholesterol-lowering foods. That includes things like:

Plenty of veggies, fruit and legumes
Whole grains, particularly oats
Moderate amounts of lean meat, fish and poultry
Reduced or low fat dairy products
Moderate amounts of good fats
Plenty of water
Foods with added plant sterols - like Heart Active milk, for instance.

Human genetics is a complicated beast. And yet the solutions to so many of the health issues that are influenced by the genes our parents gave us (thanks, Mum and Dad!) involve stupidly simple things like eating your veggies. Plants really are the bees knees when it comes to improving your health from the inside out. They're packed full of good stuff like vitamins, minerals, fibre, antioxidants and those cholesterol-lowering sterols.

Whatever your genes predict, you'd be a dummy to ignore healthy living guidelines anyway.  Eat well, have an occasional serve of cake or ice cream, move your butt regularly, get plenty of sleep, relax and don't stress about little things and you're likely to live a longer, healthier, happier life.

You can treat that as a prescription. :o)

HeartActive is a delicious, 99% fat free milk enriched with plant sterols, which are proven to help reduce cholesterol. Research shows that consuming plant sterols everyday in milk can reduce cholesterol by an average of 10% in three weeks. HeartActive is currently available in a 1L carton with an extended shelf life (45 days from production) compared to regular white milks with a shelf life of 14 days.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Happiness equals neglected blog?

There's an interesting trend I'm noticing amongst some of my blogging friends. They're in a really, really happy place right now - and they're hardly blogging at all. That's funny, because the same thing is happening right here. Hmm, a correlation.... but is there causation or merely coincidence?

I've had periods in the past where I didn't blog much - or at all - but that was because I was completely and utterly miserable and: a) didn't want to bore everyone with my dramas; b) didn't feel like talking about it anyway; c) felt even worse when I read how marvellous everyone else's life was (yes, I know that's largely bullshit, but still....when you're down, your ability to be rational kind of diminishes).

Anyways... this is a whole new thing for me. Yes, I'm a little busy and that can make it tricky to fit in blogging, but it's more than that. Life is good and I just don't feel a strong urge to blog. Maybe it's something to do with this:

Pinterest is full of brilliance. 

It's true that writing often does help me work through thoughts and feelings that I can't quite unravel in my mind. Putting the words on paper has generated many aha! moments for me. Perhaps I'm just less angsty, anxious and uncertain these days?

Don't get me wrong, I still have plenty of "stuff" to deal with, both in my head and in life in general. After all, it's not like life ever lets you rule a line and write "And she lived happily ever after. The End." But, cranky-pants moments aside, I'm feeling very gruntled, as Bike Boy would say - that's the opposite of DISgruntled, you know. ;o)

How did I get here? I've spent the better part of this year changing some of my old thought patterns and challenging my perceptions. Happiness is largely a choice, and being grateful is a huge part of the not-so-secret formula. Life may not be perfect, but that doesn't mean that I can't appreciate the good things I have.

I've made an effort to pause and be grateful most days. Some days, I really don't feel like it and it can be quite difficult to think of things to be grateful for...but if I take a minute or two, I always think of something. It might be as simple as a beautiful, sunny morning, or a blooming plant in the garden. Or it may be a person who loves me in spite of the fact that my cranky pants are belted on so tightly they seem to be permanently attached. It could just be realising that I'm quite fortunate compared to many others - I have a home, food and family, things that I usually take for granted, but which many don't have.

It seems to have worked, because the low-level anxiety that's been resident in my head for quite a few years now has vanished. I sleep well, I'm getting things done at home and at work and I have a billion ideas for projects I want to try. My Pinterest boards are growing at an alarming rate. I'm enjoying my exercise and I'm pretty much winging it a lot of the time; kind of "Hmm, what do I feel like doing today?" Food isn't really any sort of drama. I eat what I like, indulge if I feel like it, and stop when I've had enough. I do stick roughly to sane parameters most days (some protein, plenty of veggies, good fats, a little starch, mostly unprocessed know the deal), but if I veer off-track with the odd meal or occasional day, I don't worry about it at all.

My life isn't perfect. My shoulder is still giving me grief, but instead of whinging about it, or sitting on the couch sulking because I can't lift 20kg dumbbells overhead, I'm just doing my rehab, taking it easy at the gym and seeing my osteopath regularly. I have a bung elbow, arthritis in a couple of fingers, painful fibromas sprouting in my hands and feet, and a wonky pelvis that's never, ever going to be straight and which makes my back ache quite badly. My nosebleeds annoy the crap out of me some days, as does the need to consult umpteen specialists several times a year. But I can't change any of those things. And after all, they're not fatal; they're not even preventing me from living my life, although I may have to modify the way I do things at times. Plenty of people have much worse problems.

My drive to work makes me crazy, but I'm sucking it up because you know, it's a pretty good job, all things considered. I show up, do some stuff with words and numbers, they pay me money and give me heaps of leave - what's not to like? And I have my sights firmly set on retirement in three years, two months and seventy-three days. We have ridiculous household bills, irritating offspring, appliances that break down at the most inopportune times, and the hundred-and-one other irritations that everybody deals with. So what? I don't fly off the handle at any of that any more. Unless someone stacks the dishwasher the wrong way - yes, I reserve my temper tantrums for the important stuff. ;o) Instead, I take a breath and ask myself: Is this a big deal? Usually, the answer is a firm NO. So I shrug and move on. Do not pass the bottle of wine, do not collect chocolate biscuits from the pantry...

Yep. Happiness.... I still have plenty to say (just ask my Mum - all those school reports saying "talks too much in class" sum me up), but I'm not sure that it's suitable blog fodder. I haven't done a photo post in ages, as I've not been out with my camera for weeks, because either the weather is vile, or I'm flat-out doing other stuff. I haven't even shared many recipes, because I'm not really being terribly creative in the kitchen, what with this low-FODMAPs thing and all. Thank goodness that's close to being resolved.

So I'm not sure what you'll get here over the coming weeks and months. I'm thinking of combining my blogs once more - maintaining two separate sites is a bit of a PITA. I started Fitbodies Food way back when Blogger didn't offer such fancy things as pages, and a separate site was the only way to keep all my recipes in one place. I may just move the whole kaboodle to Wordpress, but that's kind of a big job. Rejigging my domain hosting, setting up redirects, importing existing content...all that stuff gives me a headache. Yes, I've done it before, but: ugh. I'd rather be out in the garage, finishing that vintage cabinet I'm working on, or ridding the front yard of all the weeds. Actually, pretty much anything is preferable, short of a trip to the dentist.

So I haven't quit blogging, I just have to figure out my direction. Which could take a while ...Meanwhile, here's a cake I baked for Bike Boy's birthday last weekend:

Magnificent flourless chocolate cake, recipe courtesy of
Go make it, it's truly awesome. It's also gluten-free and low-FODMAPs. Mine did take quite a lot longer to cook than the recipe said, but that's probably due to my dodgy oven. Use a skewer to test and don't worry if it's a bit gooey in the centre - it's supposed to be. Also: Instant coffee? No such thing in this house - but a shot of espresso substituted very nicely, thanks.

Now I'm off to enjoy a sunny Saturday. The weeds await!



Thursday, September 19, 2013

How not to promote your health & fitness magazine

I've disliked Women's Health & Fitness magazine for years and can't recall the last time I bought one.

I was a fan in my early days of fitness, but over time, the content evolved into more "fluff" and less substance. It also completely failed to cater for the experienced exercisers amongst its readers, with article after article aimed at beginners filling the pages. Don't get me wrong: beginner-focused articles are great. But what about the rest of us?

Then there were the endless photos of skinny models who looked like they'd never been near a gym in their lives. I complained to the editor a number of times, back in the day - the standard response was defensive: "So-and-so is a very healthy girl. We wouldn't use her as a model otherwise." Um, I didn't SAY she was unhealthy. I did say she and her colleagues were just adding to the masses of unrealistic images being shoved at young and impressionable women. Where's the diversity? Big girls, muscular girls, athletic girls, short girls, tall girls... you know, just like in real life?

Stupid diet articles proliferated too. If I saw the word "detox" one more time, I would have screamed. Yes, there were some sensible articles, but if you didn't already know your nutrition, how would you tell the difference?

And don't get me started on horoscopes, beauty tips, relationship stuff and other trash. Honestly, if I wanted to read that crap, I'd go buy No Idea or something...

But today, they served up an ace. I hadn't got around to unsubscribing from their email list, instead just hitting "delete" when one drops into my inbox. Then this morning, I spotted what I thought was spam amongst my other junk, spam and "SALE!!! Quick! Buy now!" messages. Check it out:

See the subject line: 6 WAYS TO BURN BELLY FAT - Are they freaking serious?

I have no idea why I hadn't done anything about the emails before, but believe me, I have now. I moved at lightning speed and told them exactly why I was unsubscribing.

Thank you, Women's Health & Fitness, for giving me a reason to do what I should have done several years ago.


Friday, September 13, 2013

When healthy foods attack (part 2)

If you missed Part 1, it's over here.

I'm still working my way through FODMAPs testing and quite honestly, I'm about over it. My meals have become a bit repetitive and boring, because I'm tired of trying to think up new ways to cook food without onion, garlic or half the veggies and fruits I enjoy. I can't even reach for a pre-mixed spice shaker to add flavour quickly because: onion powder. It's in everything. Blah.

Yes, I love my strawberry-banana breakfast bake. Yes, I'm also thoroughly sick of it.

Week 2 of testing started off with me remarking offhandedly to Bike Boy: "It's lactose this week. Pfft. I'm sure I'm not lactose intolerant. This will be a breeze."

Famous. Last. Words.

On the Friday, I cooked my oats in milk. Delicious. No symptoms appeared - See? I knew I was right. Sunday, I repeated the dose. Monday, I felt a bit unsettled and grumbly in the gut but thought perhaps it was due to one of the "added extras" I'd indulged in on Sunday (naughty). On Tuesday I forgot to have the required cup of milk at breakfast, so bought a cafe latte at work. Same-same.

By Tuesday afternoon, I was feeling pretty horrible. Tuesday night was downright unpleasant and the symptoms continued through Wednesday and Thursday and only started to abate on Friday. Drat, drat, and double-drat. That's two out of two FODMAPs intolerances so far.

Putting a positive spin on things, it's good to know what's causing my problems and that they can be eliminated if I avoid the offending foods. And I don't have to avoid dairy altogether. I can use lactose-free milk and cream, which simply have lactase (the enzyme that I'm lacking, that enables us to digest lactose) added to them. I can also eat some yoghurts - full fat products are better than those made from skim milk, as the lactose is more concentrated in low fat varieties. And most of my favourite cheeses are OK too - cream cheese and cottage cheese are out, and ricotta needs to be strictly limited, but cheddar, parmesan, mozzarella and brie are all good. Not that I eat a lot of those anyway - my main dairy indulgence is yoghurt.

Other options are to switch to nut or rice milks - I don't see myself doing that though - or coconut milk products. Coyo make a coconut milk based ice cream, which isn't available anywhere in my part of town. I suspect that it's sweetened with xylitol like their yoghurts anyway, which means that it's out... Plan B is to pull out my ice cream maker and make my own from coconut milk or lactose-free milk. And if I desperately want a Magnum or whatever, there's always lactase tablets, which you just take before eating anything containing lactose. I've stocked up on those - after all, you never know when you might NEED an affogato...

My new best friend

I moved onto testing fructose this week and I seem to be OK with that. Hoo-RAY. I did have some ...shall we say "turbulence"?...going on about twelve hours after my third dose of honey, but I wasn't exactly sticking strictly to my low-FODMAPs diet for the couple of days preceding, so I'm not drawing any conclusions. Oops. As I mentioned, I'm just about over it.

I have to keep reminding myself that up until I started testing I've been 99% symptom-free. It's worth it, Kek, keep going! Ugh.

Next week's adventure is testing fructans. Those are the buggers that are in wheat, rye and barley and also in onion, garlic and a whole heap of other veggies. I'm fully expecting a reaction, as the test food is bread and I know that too much wheat sets me off.

I'm almost there - once this testing phase is complete, I can move onto testing specific foods and quantities so that *hopefully* I can add some variety back into my meals. Let me tell you, I would just about kill for an apple right now.

Source: Wikimedia
Tomorrow night I'm bravely venturing out for dinner to our favourite local restaurant in honour of Bike Boy's birthday. I know that most things on the menu are jammed full of garlic, but I'll do my best to find something I can eat, even if it means pushing suspect items to the side of my plate. And I'll be armed with my Lacteeze, just in case there's a spectacularly irresistible creme brûlée or cheesecake in the dessert cabinet...