Monday, December 20, 2010

Perfect evening out

It's been a while since I've posted, not for any particular reason, just getting caught up in the rush that is pre-Christmas shopping and socialising. But I had to find time to post about dinner on Ben’s birthday. It was his 30th last Friday. 

After banana and orange hotcakes for breakfast and present opening, we drove to Sydney and met up with Taylor (Ben's sister) and Dave (her fiancée) who live in Canada. The Sydney trip has been planned for a while. I'd booked tickets to see the Australian Ballet perform the Nutcracker early in the year but meeting Taylor and Dave was a pleasantly unexpected late edition, as was getting a table at Tetsuya’s. I tried to book for the 4 of us about 8 weeks earlier, with no success; but about a week ago, got a call offering us a table.

For those of you outside the southern hemisphere, Tetsuya’s is one of the most famous and arguably the best restaurant in Australia. They serve a 9-10 course degustation set menu, which I had thought would be a problem being on SCD, but the chef's were wonderfully accommodating. I'd expected never to eat dessert at a restaurant again, but I got to eat all three courses of dessert! Yum!

The food was amazing. I wish we'd had a camera to take photos of every dish. The presentation in itself was very special too, so I'm a bit sad not to have captured it more exactly than with my imperfect memory. Also, it got a little blurry in the middle and I can't exactly remember what I ate. I'm blaming it on the many dishes and the long day, but the wines may have had a little something to do with it! Fortunately Ben and I decided to share the set wines - because neither of us would have been able to walk if we'd had one each.

The first course was a chilled cucumber soup, bright green and served in a martini glass. It was slightly vinegary and served with 6 individual drops of unidentified oil (it tasted slightly nutty, possibly walnut) on top. The others had a small dollop of sheep's milk ice cream on top.

Next, everyone other than me had kingfish sashimi with soy sauce, and a glass of chilled sake. It was served on a very rustic looking glazed stoneware plate. I had a cherry tomato salad, with the earliest tomatoes from Tetsuya’s garden. It was swimming in a delightfully fresh salad dressing, garnished with pretty little flowers, including a cucumber from the garden.

The last entree was the most intriguing of the evening. Taylor and I were served a 'carpaccio' but told that it was not meat. It was garnished with some small green leaves and lots of little flowers, and we were told we had to guess what it was. It was reddish pink, rather chewy and slightly difficult to cut through. It also had a bit of crunch to it, like apple sliced very thinly. We sat and ate it thoughtfully in tiny little bites, and jealously shared a small amount each with Ben and Dave (they were eating scampi tails in an avocado soup topped with caviar). We ended up guessing tomato or capsicum with much trepidation; I didn't really think it was either, but could think of anything else it might be either. The waiter gave us a hint that it was a fruit, and which point Dave came out with ‘watermelon’, which turned out to be correct. It is skinned; frozen; shaved; smoked; and dehydrated. I wished that I had a bite left to be able to taste it again knowing what it was, but it was not to be. Maybe next time…my 30th in a bit over a year... (hint hint)

I lost track of the wines well before I lost track of the food, but I recall drinking something cold and white and fruity with this.

I recall that there were two more fish dishes to start the mains, though I’m not sure of the order in which they arrived. We all had something with a crisply fried skin, served with a little blob of something like homemade mayonnaise, which was just lovely. I had a piece of yellowtail kingfish, much softer and more delicate, while the others ate Tetsuya’s signature dish: confit of ocean trout.

Next was a slice of lightly cooked duck with a baby leek curled in the bottom of the bowl, which was served with a glass of Pinot Noir (of course).

The mains came to an end with a nice strong glass of Shiraz with crispy pigs tail, something lobster-like the name of which I didn't catch, and prosciutto. It was pleasingly salty, which matched the rich Shiraz quite nicely.

Dessert started with a pallet-cleansing blood orange and black pepper sorbet for the others and stevia granita for me, served in a double shot glass. It was served with a stevia leaf, of which we all ate a piece: very sweet and slightly herby tasting. It also came with various different berry concoctions. Mine was berries with raspberry puree, I think the others had jelly and/or ice cream with theirs (by this time the wine was really kicking in, and I have no idea what they had next). We had two different dessert wines, which I smelled at greedily, and allowed a little drop to touch my lips.

The second dessert course (multiple dessert courses is just a wonderful idea) was yellow peaches, with zabaglione and ameretti. The combination was lovely, the peaches were a little tart and slightly crisp, the zabaglione was sweet and the ameretti was pleasantly crunchy.

And finally, I had an almond pudding, extruded into a long thin oblong swirled across my plate, with fresh figs and honey meringue, which seemed to have been blow torched into a sweet crispness on top. Ben was brought out something quite chocolaty-looking, with a little candle on top, which was a lovely touch. With this, we all had decaf short blacks, served in cute little glazed terracotta cups, deliciously fragrant and perfect with the sweet meringue.

We wandered back to the hotel, pleasantly full and just a little drunk, bringing Ben’s 30th birthday to a perfect close.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Another relish day (zucchini relish)

I've been pondering the food related traditions that run in my family for the 'family traditions' December Go Ahead Honey, it's gluten free. Tastes have changed over the years, and I have fond childhood memories of foods that haven't been cooked in years, and that I couldn't eat anymore even if they were.

I've realised that there is a trait passed down the female line of both sides of my family - a squirrel-like addiction to food hoarding. Being in the southern hemisphere, we start getting wonderful crops of fruit and vegetables around this time of year, and I love giving homemade things for Christmas. I remember from my early years my paternal grandmother's pickled onions, lined up in rows in the shed behind the garage - somehow both incredibly sweet and painfully sour at the same time. The smell of rosemary still always makes me think of their garden. The pickled onion recipe is lost as far as I know, and my one attempt at SCD pickled onions didn't yield fantastic results - I mustn't have sterilised everything properly as they developed an interesting fluorescent yellow mould after a few weeks. 

Later, my maternal grandparents used to live on a little farm, with some cows and chickens, and lots of fruit trees and a vegetable garden. Nan would make wonderful jams and jellies, and fruit preserved in syrup, and my brother and I would gorge ourselves on cherries and blackberries whenever we visited at the right time of year, and mum would make summer pudding. (Some time soon I'll have to think about an SCD bread that would work for that… maybe if the cherries are out when I'm in Tassie in January.)

I have made another attempt at modifying Mum's zucchini relish for SCD, which I may submit. While the recipe itself isn't very traditional (Mum kind of made it up from a very bland zucchini relish recipe a few years ago), it goes with the family tradition of hoarding food in pantries and sheds and anywhere else it fits!

My first attempt at the relish a couple of weeks ago was okay - the flavour was excellent as always (how can you go wrong with turmeric and cumin, coriander and mustard), but I cut the vegetables a bit too chunky, and didn't add enough gelatine to achieve the 'finely cut pieces in a viscous sauce' that cornflour creates. I've had some assistance on the chopping front this time - my best friend Maddi, a former chef and a master of knife skills, was visiting; so I thought I'd take the opportunity to exploit those skills for my own gain. (She did get to take some relish home, too!)

Two things about the recipe that I cannot emphasise enough:
- chop the vegies really small, 3-4mm cubes; and
- leave the zucchini and onion in the salt for as long as you can, at least 8 hours, but preferably more like 12.

Zucchini relish

2.5 cups finely chopped zucchini (a combination of green and yellow is nice if you can find them)
1 cup finely chopped onions  
1 tbsp salt

Combine zucchini, onion and salt in a bowl and leave overnight. Don’t be tempted to skimp on this step or your zucchini will end up mushy.
1 red capsicum, finely chopped (if I’m making double quantity, I use a red and a yellow capsicum)
70g honey
1 tsp turmeric
½ tsp mustard seeds
½ tsp coriander seeds
½ tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp gelatine
150mls apple cider vinegar

The next day, add the gelatine to some of the vinegar and leave to sit while you do the next step.

Rinse the zucchini and onion. Place in a pan with the remaining ingredients. Bring to boil and simmer until the zucchini is cooked but still firm – about 20 minutes. You still want all of the vegetables to have some bite.

Add the gelatine mixture and stir until the gelatine is thoroughly dissolved. Test that the consistency is correct by pouring some of the liquid onto a frozen plate. Soak and add some more gelatine if it is too runny. (You want it to be thickened, not set).

Place in sterile jars and seal with sterilised lids. Makes 2 medium jars, which lasts us a few weeks. This time, I tripled the quantity!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Black cake (fruit cake)

I don't usually like fruit cake all that much - it tends to be a bit dry or too rich - but this is really moist, almost pudding-like. Very more-ish. This will be my first Christmas on SCD and, although I eat this cake all year round, I think it will make a pretty good Christmas cake. You could even ice it with SCD-legal marzipan, but I can't think of any replacement for royal icing (not that I really want to - too sweet for my taste).
The recipe has been played around with a fair bit, derived from a non-SCD legal recipe my mum came across about when I was starting SCD. The first time mum made it, it was a bit over cooked (still tasty though) and didn't have a name, so Ben christened it black cake and the name stuck, even though it usually turns out a nice golden brown.
Black cake
2.75 cups of mixed dried fruit (I usually just use sultanas and currants, but raisins are good too and I'm sure some homemade candied peel would work perfectly)
grated rind of 1 orange
1 cup orange juice
up to 1/2 tbsp of honey (I don't usually use any as the dried fruit is sweet already)
1 tsp bicarb soda
1 cup cooked carrot/pumpkin, pureed (about 3-4 large raw carrots)
1.5 cups of almond meal
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tsp mixed spice (I used 3/4 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp ginger, 1/4 tsp ground cloves, 1/4 tsp nutmeg, 1/4 tsp ground cardamom last time, which was a good combination)
Combine the fruit, orange rind and juice and honey in a saucepan and bring to a simmer for a few minutes until the fruit is swollen and most of the liquid has been absorbed.
Take off the heat and allow to cool for a few minutes. Add the bicarb, then the carrot/pumpkin and eggs and mix thoroughly. Then add the almond meal and spice and mix until combined.
Pour into a 6 inch square cake tin lined with baking paper and bake at 160C until the top of the cake is firm to the touch.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Having UC

Okay, I’m finally going to write the story of my ulcerative colitis. It’s not something I’ve wanted to talk about, but I’m ready to start coming to terms with the fact that I have a chronic disease, and I think that a part of that is letting people know. A lot of my friends live interstate and I don’t see them often, and others that I see mostly at karate just know I disappeared for weeks at a time, had been in hospital and lost a lot of weight. So I’ll start from the very beginning.(Mum, please don't read this - you know the whole story and I don't think you need to go through it all again).

[The symptoms of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) are all a bit gross, and not really things people want to hear or talk about. If you’ve never heard of UC, here’s a rough explanation of the symptoms. I’ll use the common online UC abbreviations, explained here for those of you who don’t spend a lot of time reading about IBD: D = Diarrhea, B = Blood, BM = bowel motion.]

The colitis began pretty slowly. I started having symptoms in June 2009, but didn’t think much of it to start with. It was just a stomach ache every week or so and the occasional odd BM. But the frequency and intensity started to increase, and soon I was in the bathroom 5 or 6 times a day.

I saw my GP who sent me for blood tests (which were inconclusive), an ultrasound (which showed nothing) and a course of antibiotics (which I took, but didn’t want to because there was no reason to think it was an infection). I finally got referred to a gastroenterologist and a month or so later (Nov 2009) had a colonoscopy and a diagnosis of mild left sided ulcerative colitis.

At this stage, I was really optimistic: I knew what it was; there were drugs to treat it; sure it was chronic, but I was going to get into remission and everything was going to be fine. How wrong could I possibly be?

The first meds (salofalk enemas) caused me more pain than I was already in, and after 2 weeks I stopped taking them. My gastro was overseas and I stupidly didn’t go to see my GP. I just stopped the meds.

I went untreated for about 3 weeks, by which time I was in almost constant pain. I could hardly eat because of the nausea, and when I did, nothing stayed down. And I couldn’t sleep because of the pain. One evening in tears, Ben decided that I had to go to the doctor. I went to an after hours clinic and was put on prednisone. Man was that great – almost instant relief – I thought I was cured!

I saw my mum for the first time in 6 weeks a couple of days later, and her mouth dropped open when she picked me up at the airport. I looked so sick! She bullied me onto the scales and I discovered I’d gone from weighing 63kg to 50kg in about 6 weeks. But the prednisone was great – I could eat again and I wasn’t in pain. I was really weak and tired all the time though. I just thought I needed to recover from the weight loss and everything would be okay.

The lack of sleep and constant pain really messed with my mind. I hadn’t seen that I had lost weight. I wasn’t weighing myself because I wasn’t well enough to go to the gym. I didn’t realise that I wasn’t eating enough, even though I was only eating a couple of scrambled eggs a day and maybe some potato chips. When mum finally made me look at myself in the mirror, I looked like the walking dead. Somehow it crept up on me and I didn’t see it happening.

About a week before Christmas 2009, I fainted on the escalator at work. I cracked the side of my head and scraped all up my back. Fortunately, someone stopped the escalator before my hair got caught in the moving parts… Someone called an ambulance and I was carted off to hospital.

I spent 5 days and 4 nights in hospital, and started on salofalk granules as well as methylprednisolone. It was good for the first few days, and made me acknowledge that I was really sick and had to start taking it all a bit more seriously. By day 3, I was feeling better and was so ready to go home. Hospitals are places to be when you are so sick you can’t move – home is the place to go to get well.

I missed Ben’s birthday, but at least I was out in time to fly home to Hobart to spend Christmas with family.

But I still wasn’t well, and whenever I started reducing the prednisone, things got worse. Also, the meds were making me sleep badly, and I was so hungry all the time (probably not a bad thing) and I started growing facial hair and felt dizzy and tired all the time. Fortunately the hair went away when I stopped the meds.

I started on the maximum dose of an immunosuppressant (Imuran/azathioprine) in mid January, which takes about 3 months to start being effective. In the first of many fortnightly blood tests, it was discovered that I was anaemic and started on iron supplements, which at least helped with the tiredness and dizziness.

I asked my doctor repeatedly whether there were foods I should or shouldn’t be eating, but he has persistently said that food has nothing to do with it. I found this a bit unconvincing – how can food have nothing to do with the inflammation of a good portion of my digestive system – but he’s the doctor, right?

I gradually came off the prednisone over January and February 2010, but was back on it by the start of March. When it became obvious I was going to have to be on cortisone for a while, I moved from taking prednisone to entocort (budesonide). At $200 for one month supply, it was pretty hefty, but was meant to be as good as prednisone but with less nasty side effects (like bone density loss and affecting thyroid function).

It did nothing for me. And I mean nothing at all.

On 1 April, I went to emergency at the hospital and was admitted for another 5 day stay, and then again on 14 April. (The second time, I discovered that the way to get a bed in emergency immediately is to say that your pain on a scale of 1 – 10 is 8). I did get to spend my birthday in between my two hospital visits with my family in Tasmania.

Over April and May I took most of my remaining 5 weeks of sick leave. One of the things the public service has going for it is generous and accruing sick leave entitlements. When I first started working almost 6 years ago, I remember wondering how you could possibly use 17 days of sick leave in a year…

At the same time, my gastro suggested that I start on infliximab, an IV immunosuppressant. It was the last thing he had to suggest that I hadn’t tried already. It also isn’t covered by the PBS for treating UC, so approx $7,000 for 3 doses. Fortunately, the Calvary Hospital was willing to cover the cost for me.

By this time, I was really over it. I’d always thought that I’d get sick, then get better. It is what had always happened before. That there was a pill to fix everything. But the doctors seemed to have no idea what to do for me. I’d been reading everything I could find on the internet about UC and I’d come across a lot of references to the specific carbohydrate diet – I’d even bought the book ‘Breaking the Vicious Cycle’ earlier in the year, but things were going so well on the prednisone that I hadn’t really looked at it. So I finally decided it was worth a try.

It’s a pretty big change, eliminating grains and sugar and milk were the really big things for me. But I figured I was willing to try anything that had a semblance of a grain of truth to it.

I decided I’d go ahead with the infliximab as well, a dose at the start of May, another 2 weeks later and another 4 weeks after that.

It was a pretty bizarre experience the first time. I turned up to the cancer clinic at Calvary Hospital in Canberra, where it is administered. The nurses were great: getting the cannular in first try (I was so over being stabbed with needles); keeping up the cheerful banter. I was amazed how happy a cancer clinic could be.

By the end of the 3 doses, I had also weened off the prednisone altogether and was feeling great. No more B or D or pain.

I was sticking to the SCD as well, but rushed into eating advanced foods like nuts and dried fruit and tasty baked things because they are convenient to take to work, and yummy, and filled the gap left by losing home made biscuits and breakfast cereal and bread.

It seemed like everything was fantastic and I was cured. When am I going to stop thinking that?!?

About 6 weeks ago, everything started falling apart again. It started around the time of a lunch out with work colleagues. Mediterranean looked pretty promising as a cuisine choice for a restaurant – just pick a dish with meat and vegies. Well, every grain free dish had their homemade tomato sauce, which contained ‘just a tiny bit of sugar’. So I bit the bullet and had the roasted eggplant, capsicum and red onions in tomato sauce, which was really, really good. 

I don’t know if it was related – it was also about 12 weeks since my last dose of infliximab – but I started having stomach pain again, and then D and occasional B.

I waited a week and it just got worse.

In the meantime, I was reading more about SCD. It sounds like it is pretty common to have flares around the 6-month mark, and this was almost 6 months to the day since I started the diet. But I also came across a lot more information on starting the diet, and how to introduce foods gradually to give the lining of the intestine time to heal and to work out what your trigger foods are. Just because they are legal on the diet, does not mean everyone can tolerate them.

So I restarted the diet, and decided I’d wait a week, and if there was no improvement, I’d make an appointment with my gastro.

But here I am, 37 days later: no visit to the doctor, no new drugs. The symptoms mostly cleared up in a couple of days, and after a solid week of a massive headache, I’ve been feeling pretty good. I found some great new resources like (their free chapter and podcasts are fantastic) and wrote a post on, and realised that I am finally ready to talk about what I’ve been through.

That said, I started writing this post well over a week ago. I’ve played around with it a lot: it’s difficult to work out what to put in and what to leave out, and even once I was pretty happy with the content, I had a hard time hitting the post button. I’ve told bits and pieces of this story to different people, but haven’t put it all together in one go before.

It sounds really depressing, and I guess it has been. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone and I understand why UC used to be thought to be a psychological condition – I have thought I was going mad at times. But I’m getting used to the idea that this is something I am going to have to live with. I’m not going to let it be depressing. Most days, I feel pretty good.

37 days and counting…

Monday, November 15, 2010

Over doing it (and caramelised pineapple)

I was a bit dubious about going to the public service Social Network of Graduates (yes, SNOG!) ball. Having been a grad myself some 5 years ago, I wasn’t really sure about doing the whole 22-23 year olds getting drunk in the National Museum thing again, and then there is the whole diet thing with mass catered events, and the fact that I turn into a pumpkin at about 10pm (I blame the fact that I’m still having trouble getting my calorie consumption above about 1500, and I figure I should be eating more like 2200).

But having said yes some time ago, bought a ticket and sent off my restaurant card, I figured I’d better go. Oh, and I had a new hat!

To try to delay the inevitable sleepiness, I decided to have a coffee before heading off (first one in over 4 weeks). Even black, it was sooooo good.

Pre-dinner drinks were fun – seeing some quite unexpected faces, like a karate friend from Tassie who we didn’t even know was in Canberra, and meeting new people, and my first glass of red in almost 3 months.

Dinner was remarkably good, after a 15-minute wait for my special entrée, and some confusion over the specifics of the diet. Seriously people: bocconcini – which side of the hard, aged cheese/soft, fresh cheese divide does it sit? Not the worst confusion I’ve had – I once got brought a bright purple jelly topped with lemon sorbet with the line ‘I checked all the ingredients myself’. I’m fairly sure it had sugar in! Oh, and there was that time with the gluten-free pasta…

A couple of glasses of red wine later and I was really enjoying myself. I even got talked into dancing.

I still turned into a pumpkin at about 11:30pm and couldn’t be persuaded to go to the after-party, but still a pretty good effort, all things considered.

Having not got any dessert (they went the rather lame effort of petit fours rather than individual desserts), I needed something sweet when I got home. I had half a pineapple, and decided it needed to be caramelised (recipe below).

Anyway, long story short, I didn’t feel great yesterday. Nothing illegal, but between the wine, coffee, pineapple, yellow squash, eggplant and brussle sprout, my digestive system was a bit overloaded. But two days of strict adherence to the basics of the SCD, and I’m feeling pretty good again (30 days and counting).

Caramelised Pineapple

½ pineapple – cut into 1cm thick quarter circles
1 tbsp coconut oil
1 tbsp honey
juice of half an orange

Heat oil on medium heat and add pineapple pieces, and cook through. Turn up the heat towards the end to get the outside a little golden. Serve pineapple over yoghurt. Add the honey and orange juice to the pan on a high heat and boil for a couple of minutes. Pour over the pineapple and yoghurt and eat before it cools down too much.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Relish day

Have I mentioned how much I love not working on Fridays? I really do. This morning, I went to the markets and bought a whole load of fresh fruit and vegies. It was sunny and warm, and on a day that I don't have to work - spring has finally arrived!

I'm not meant to be adding new foods today, because Ben and I are going out to a public service grad ball tomorrow, and I put the full SCD list as my dietary restrictions, so I'll probably end up with some advanced foods in there, and feel awful the next day, and I shouldn't be making it worse before I even get there. Ho hum.

But I always find that I struggle with the diet more at the markets than anywhere else.

Today was no different, people handing out slices of mango and pineapple, oranges and kiwifruit. I gave in and ate a slice of mango, and then bought 3 (3 for $4, how could I say no?). And a pineapple. When I got home, I blended the ripest mango with a good splosh of yoghurt and some cold water. It was like dessert in a glass, for lunch, and satisfying enough to keep my going for my planned cooking exploits for most of the rest of the day.

I'd almost run of tomato sauce and needed to make more, and wanted to try a sweet chilli sauce and also to play with mum's zucchini relish to make it SCD legal. I also ended up making curry paste and the orange and date chutney from the CCCIBS cookbook, and orange creamsicles. Now my cupboard is fully stocked with tasty treats again. Man, I love Fridays!

I'll write up the zucchini relish once I know if it worked (I decided to try gelatine to thicken it, instead of cornflour... could be interesting...).

In the meantime, here's my cheats SCD tomato sauce recipe.

Tomato sauce

1 red onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1tsp cloves
1tsp black peppercorns
1tsp whole allspice
2 x 690g bottles of crushed tomatoes
2 bay leaves
½ tsp Ground ginger
½ tsp Cayenne pepper
1 tsp salt
200ml white vinegar
¾ cup honey

Saute onion and garlic over medium heat until they start to turn golden.

While this is cooking, tie the cloves, peppercorns and allspice in a piece of muslin.

Add the remaining ingredients, apart from the honey, and simmer for an hour.

Add the honey and simmer for another hour, or until the sauce is about half its original volume.

Pour into sieve and grind through with a pestle into a sterilised jug. Pour into sterilised jars and store in the fridge.

Enjoy! My favourite at the moment is a rissole, with a slice of cheese, tomato sauce and dijon mustard. The idea was from McDonalds cheeseburgers (I really do need to do something about some pickles), but executed oh so much better.

27 days...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Best kitchen gadget ever

Okay, I don't normally jump to buy something just because someone somewhere says it's great, but I do have a thing about kitchen gadgets, and food, and kind of miss noodles so when I saw this julienne peeler I decided I had to have one. I couldn't wait for it to be posted to me so went to my local kitchenwares store and bought one (and a few other bits and pieces, of course!).

That night, we had pad thai, with prawns and chicken, and zucchini and carrot noodles. I'm not up to eating garlic or chilli or scallions yet, so I had to modify it a bit, and added some green beans too. Yum! yum, yum, yum! 3 days later, I had to have it again (as well as having had leftovers for lunch at work). In between times, we've had a beef stirfry (with zucchini and carrot noodles) rissoles with grilled (julienned) vegetables. Nothing is safe from being shredded into long thin noodle-like strands. I'm trying to figure out what else it will work on, and if I could make a relish with julienne vegetables... all coiled up into the jar...

...Anyway, back to the present.

If you are thinking of doing SCD, or just cutting back on your consumption of wheat or grains, zucchini noodles are the answer. You can have them with pasta sauces and stirfry and don't taste like vegetables, and even just steamed vegetables taste better cut into neat little strips. (I really have to start keeping my camera in the kitchen so I can show you... oh well... next time...)

25 days and counting...

Monday, November 8, 2010

Starting a blog

I've always thought of blogging as somewhat self indulgent. Sure it can keep your family and friends up to date with your lives when you aren't nearby, but that struck me are rather too much like those Christmas letters that some people send to everyone they know that are an excuse to brag about their wonderful children and perfect lives (surely everyone is irked by these, not just me… right?). Also, I'm not really someone who seeks to be the centre of attention - anyone who knows me will know that this the understatement of the century. But I've recently written a couple of posts on (excellent website - if you've found this site because you are searching for stuff about ulcerative colitis, I highly recommend you check it out), and found it to be very cathartic. 

I've also found it really helpful to read some other the blogs of other people with chronic inflammatory diseases, to know I'm not alone, that not going insane and that other people out there feel the same way. If I can do this for just one person, I can justify the self indulgence! (I also adore recipe blogs, so I'll throw some recipes out there as I go too - some of my own creation/adaptation and links to particular favourites from around the place).

Anyway, I guess I'd better say a bit about me (assuming that someone other than my mum is reads this). I'm starting writing this blog because I have ulcerative colitis (UC), and the title is because I am up to my 23rd day on the specific carbohydrate diet (SCD). I'll get back to this a bit later.

I was diagnosed with UC just over a year ago, and had been having symptoms for about 6 months before that. For a while, it defined my whole existence - it's difficult for it not to, when you are in constant pain, going to the bathroom 8-10 times a night, sleeping 3 hours a night (in 20 minute blocks) if you are lucky. I've spent almost 3 weeks in hospital (6-7 days at a time). I lost 12 kilos before getting things under control, and have gain back 7. Thankfully I'm past the worst of it and ,determined not to get back there again, and I'm working towards the point where my life does not revolve around my health. 

Besides UC, I have a pretty full life. I work at the Tax Office as a legal adviser - it's not something I ever saw myself doing, but after getting into tax policy at Treasury when I first started working, tax somehow just seems to click with my rather analytical mind. I've been working 4 days a week since I got sick, and it is the best decision I have ever made. To start with, having Fridays off was to give me more time to attend the many medical appointments and to sleep (having used up all my generous public service, 17 days a year, sick leave in 3 visits to hospital and recovering) but it has more recently turned into a day to shop for food, and prepare food, and just generally enjoy myself. I highly recommend a 4 day week and 3 day weekend to anyone and everyone who can manage it!

I also learn and teach karate. I had been learning karate for about 5 years when my husband (Ben) and I moved away from our home town (Hobart, Tasmania) to Canberra for work. Our Sensei encouraged us to start a karate club, which we have been running for a bit over 5 years. We teach 3 times a week, and train with a couple of fellow black belts once a week, and every visit home is a marathon of karate classes and private lessons, to try to keep up to date and maybe even improve a bit.

I also have a rather severe love/hate relationship with online poker; a crazy little foundling kitten who was excellent company at 4am through the worst of my illness; and an obsession with food. 

Which brings me full circle to what I wanted to be the subject of this post. I have been told by several doctors that diet is not a factor in UC, but quite frankly, I don't believe them. I started on the SCD over 6 months ago (if you want to know more about it, check out but because I was symptom-free due to massive doses of prednisone, I didn't do the introductory diet properly and when my symptoms started up again about 4 weeks ago, I decided to start again and do it properly.

This involves a chicken soup, beef mince, carrot and egg (and yoghurt, if you don't have a problem with dairy) diet for between 2 and 5 days, followed by the gradual reintroduction of other foods, one at a time, at intervals of 2-4 days to observe possible negative reactions (there is a chart of the food stages at Did I mention I am obsessed with food? This has been really difficult, and I have to admit to cheating a bit, adding more than one food at a time and occasional cheating of having advanced foods. 

I'm currently allowed to eat:
Meat and fish
Eggs (lots and lots of eggs)
Cooked: carrot, zucchini (peeled until a couple of days ago), spinach, green beans, pumpkin, tomato, asparagus, apple, pear, sultanas and currants
Raw: avocado, ripe banana
Almond milk, almond butter (and trying almond meal tomorrow)
Yoghurt (lots and lots of yoghurt, homemade, fermented for 24 hours to get rid of the lactose)
Cheddar cheese, parmesan cheese (real stuff made from milk and cultures, not synthetic chemicals)
Sugar-free dijon mustard
Homemade tomato sauce
Oil (olive, grapeseed, macadamia, coconut)
I'm trying really hard not to become obsessive about all bad things in foods, but there are a number of reasons it is difficult. SCD categorises foods as 'legal' and 'illegal' which is a really useful mindset to have. Not just allowed/not allowed but illegal gets you thinking about it in the right way. I also visualise things I can't eat, like sugar and flour, as poison - this is particularly useful to stop me licking my fingers when I'm making biscuits for Ben and have gooey ginger and cinnamon-scented dough all over my hands. And the more I read about sugar substitutes and the various chemicals put into foods (either directly, or feeding/injecting the animals we ultimately eat) the more scary it all seems.

Being on a really restricted diet has made me appreciate food in an extremely intense way. I've always liked food - cooking really tasty things and then savouring eating them in good company. I was the kid that ate the cupcake from the bottom up, to leave the best bit with all the icing til last (okay, I admit it, I still do). But this is something different. I made hollandaise sauce on the weekend, to go with runny poached eggs, rissoles (bacon for Ben) and spinach. I've made it before, and it was good, but this was just divine. A bite of egg, hollandaise, and rissole was one flavour. Runny yolk on rissole another. Spinach, egg white and hollandaise…. I've better stop before I drown in my own saliva.

Then I started work on the cupcakes I'm taking to work for morning tea tomorrow. Lemon meringue - almond based lemony cake, more dense than flour based cupcakes, lemon butter sweetened with honey, and the meringue icing (to be made later this evening). I had to make almond butter in the process and had a bit leftover and just ate a bit off the spoon - kind of like peanut butter, but with a much more subtle flavour. Then I thought, this would go with a dried apricot (one of my occasional cheats - I've had 4 in total since restarting the diet, and they are really moist and gooey and oh so good), so I carefully spread a dried apricot with a teaspoonful of almond butter, and ate it in five little bites, carefully chewing eat one until it disappeared. Soooo good.

It really is the simple little things in life that make it all worthwhile.
Anyhoo, the recipe for the cakes can be found here (milk for the morning cake is not only my current favourite blog, but also a favourite book as a child). Time to go make that icing...