Thursday, July 28, 2011

Overwhelmed! (and sweet chilli sauce)

Ben (my other half) read a book or article or something on psychology, and how men and women mean different things when they say the same words. It was pretty corny and I can't remember many examples, but one thing stuck with us both: often women are simply overwhelmed and need a hug! Cringe-worthy, but right now, it is exactly how I feel.

Yesterday was moving house day. When the removalists arrived, we were just realising that the rest of our stuff was not going to be just one car more and trailer load, and that we'd have to come back for a second load. When we got back for the second load, the cleaners arrives 3 hours earlier than arranged, and started cleaning around us while we were still packing. (They did do a fantastic job though!). Then there is the fact that the lounge room floor in the new house is still not finished. Oh, and I have a sinus infection.

So half our furniture is still in the garage, most of our other stuff is in the attic or in the garage, we can't use the toilet for the next 24 hours, have no showerscreen, or kitchen splashbacks, and have built in wardrobes with no doors.

But it's home. I love our new king size bed (mostly assembled, at least enough to sleep on) and latex mattress, and new bedlinen. And the gas cooktop is fantastic (at least the 3/5 of the gas rings that are working...). The tiling in the bathroom is beautiful, and I can't wait for it to be warm enough to go out in the garden.

For now, I'm exhausted and ready for bed, so a very token recipe. I've been missing that very fake sweet chilli sauce, you know the bright red one with lots of seeds in, for a while now, and the other day I had a stab at it, and it worked remarkably well.

Sweet Chilli Sauce

750mls apple cider vinegar
500gms honey
3 red capsicums
3 long red chillies

Add vinegar and honey to a large saucepan over a medium heat.

Cut the flesh from the capsicums and chillies and roughly chop. Put them into a food processor and puree.

Add them to the saucepan. If you like the look or texture of seeds in your sweet chilli sauce, add the capsicum seeds to the saucepan as well. (Use the chilli ones if you want it hotter).

Gently simmer for 30-45 minutes, or until the sauce darkens and thickens. Pour into a sterilised bottle.

Keeps in the fridge for at least 3 weeks.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Renovation disasters and internet scams

Okay, so disasters is probably overstating it, but they did all feel like disasters at the time, like when I realised that the bath and the vanity unit we had bought would only allow a 35cm gap to walk through to get to the toilet! (yes, I checked the sizes of the bath and vanity with the renovators before getting them, but apparently they didn't check the plans before confirming the size was okay. And I didn't check the plan either - I'll know better next time).

And then there was the call telling me that the door into the bathroom is not where it is marked on the plan. Not surprising really, plan of what is meant to be there, not what is there now. Surely they could tell that by looking at the plan and seeing one door marked, then looking at the wall and seeing two doors... Apparently they hadn't, and didn't think that moving the door was part of what they had agreed to do, despite agreeing to the plan with the door marked in a different spot. But they did eventually move the door.

And there was the wrong, (very, very blue) feature tiles turning up. At least we caught them before they stuck them on the walls.

Oh, and when we asked when they would need to replacement vanity by, they told us 2 days after they'd previously agreed they'd be finished.

But given all that, we amazingly look set for our planned 27 July move in date! I can't wait to use my new 5 burner gas cook top, extra wide oven, lovely deep bath, and new king size bed.

So, as we had to get a second vanity, I've been trying to sell the first one. I listed it on a couple of classifieds sites. A couple of days went by and I heard nothing. Then some guy emails me asking if it is still for sale. I say yes, and for him to let me know when he wants to come and look at it.

He tells me he is an oceanographer and is at sea at the moment and is buying it for his dad. Could I just send him some photos? So I took some photos, and he replied saying he'd transferred me $700 on paypal. I was asking $450, and the extra $200 was to pay someone to pick it up and $50 for the western union money transfer. Now, this is a vanity with an RRP of $799, and he's paying $750 for a second hand one, that he hasn't even seen. And apparently, I was meant to transfer $200 to someone (in Italy?!) before the paypal payment would be released. And his English is pretty bad... And then there was two fake, but fairly convincing emails, purporting to be from paypal, telling me they were holding money in escrow for me, pending me sending them the western union money transfer receipt number.

At this point, I decided to just ignore it, but he emailed be again tonight, asking why he hadn't heard anything from me. I considered just ignoring it, but then decided to respond that I wouldn't be transferring any money until I had received payment. Very promptly after that, I received another fake paypal email with the subject

***Money Guaranteed**Transfer Funds Immediately***

telling me:

Be aware that you are 100% safe with PayPal and you do not need to worry about anything concerning this transaction as we are currently holding the money and it's pending and ready to be credited into your account therefore you should make proper arrangements with the buyer on how to get the $200.00AUD sent to the address given to you so that we could be able to credit your account after you have sent us a copy of the WESTERN UNION MONEY TRANSFER details given to you at the western union store where you sent the money.

And this was almost immediately followed by another email from the guy, saying he hoped I'd got the email from paypal confirming payment had been made. I'm kind of curious how long they'll persist. I can see that they might have a fairly decent hit rate on the original attempt, but I would have thought that, once they'd been called, they'd give up pretty quickly. Will have to wait and see...

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Lazy weeknight curries

Towards the end of my 3 weeks free of dairy, eggs, nuts, fruit and honey, I ran out of in season vegetables to add to my diet, so I decided to start of spices. While I've gained a greater appreciation of cooking without herbs and spices, just letting the flavours of the ingredients speak for themselves with the aid of a good chicken stock, I also find I miss foods with a bit more punch. Cumin, coriander, ginger and turmeric were all successfully added, and I'd decided it was just about time to take a baby step in the direction of nuts, so I whipped up a quick batch of coconut milk, and decided to try something vaguely Thai styled.

I've recently started buying my meat from a local butcher, who does fantastic discounts on bulk purchases, and free delivery on orders over $80. He seems to be able to get in just about anything (for example, suet for my fruit mince and Christmas pudding last year, which I hadn't been able to find anywhere), and almost everything is grass fed and free range. Because of this, I've been eating a lot more pork than in the past. It's seems to be fairly easy to find free range chicken and beef, but pork has been much more difficult to get hold of, so I've tended not to eat it much.

So I had some pork mince (minus the little bit for the kitten, who tells me that pork is her favourite food! nom, nom, nom, purr), and could eat some spices and had a batch of coconut milk soaking (I don't use a recipe for this, just chuck dessicated coconut in with some boiling water - at a guess maybe a cup of dessicated coconut to 750mls water). Then is was just a matter of scouring the bottom of the fridge for the remnants of vegetables from last weeks shopping, before the arrival of the groceries for the new week. I found: 2 carrots, an onion, 5-6 mushrooms, 2 zucchini and some green beans.

So more a method than a recipe:

Pork green curry

Dice the vegetables, while preheating a wok or large frying pan, and start some coconut milk. 

Add a heaped teaspoon of cumin, coriander, ground ginger and turmeric (and chilli, if you feel so inclined) to the wok and toast for a few seconds before adding and browning the pork mince (about 600g). 

Once cooked, remove it from the pan, then added the longer cooking time veg
gies (onion, carrot and beans in this case) and cook until they were most of the way done, then added the shorter cooking veggies (here the zucchini and mushrooms).

Add the pork back to the pan together with some coconut milk and chicken stock, enough to make a good sauce for the curry. Add some salt before serving. Serve with fresh coriander, crushed nuts, and/or a wedge of lime.

More recently, I had put all of the ingredients for yummy lemon-thyme lamb shanks (which I'll post another time, I promise) into my slow cooker, but forgotten to turn it on before leaving for work. In arriving home, I noticed the absence of the smell of dinner as I walked in the door. Disappointment!

I had to come up with something, and quick, because I was starving. I remembered there were some little frozen prawns in the freezer, about the only thing there I could easily use from frozen. Next, the fridge turned up some zucchinis, carrots, a leek, a bunch of spinach, and some green beans. Again, you can throw this together with pretty much anything you've got.

Prawn Laksa

Chop your veggies (I sliced the leek in rounds, chopped the beans in half, washed and destemmed the spinach, and julienned the carrots and zucchini with my julienne peeler). In the mean time, preheat a wok or large saucepan, and get some coconut milk happening.

Add a heaped teaspoon of cumin, coriander, ground ginger and turmeric (and chilli, if you feel so inclined) to the wok and toast for a few seconds before adding some oil, and the veggies that need frying (I threw in the leek and beans). At the same time, put the julienne carrots in a steamer.

When the frying veggies are well on the way to being cooked, add a good amount of coconut milk and chicken stock (maybe 1.5 - 2 litres in total). Add the zucchini to the steamer, and the prawns to the wok. Stir through the spinach just before everything else is done. Add some salt before serving.

Serve noodles into deep preheated bowls, and top with the laksa. Serve with crushed nuts, coriander and/or a wedge of lime or lemon.

Enjoy! (Both were even better reheated for lunch the next day)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

My life has been sugar (ie sucrose) free for almost 18 months, but more recently, I've also almost completely eliminated anything sweet. No fruit, no honey, the closest thing to dessert I had in 3 weeks was soup made from butternut pumpkin and carrots and seasoned with coconut oil and nutmeg. This was to get the healing from my latest flare into the fast lane. I also eliminated eggs, nuts and dairy, as per Jordan and Steve's four horsemen.

Two interesting observations arose from this experience. After a couple of days, I had no sugar cravings at all. And my sense of what is sweet has totally changed.

After 3 weeks and now feeling really good, I decided to have a play with some very low sugar confectionery  This fits in well with the theme of this months Go Ahead Honey, It's Gluten Free, It All Ends here (a la the final Harry Potter film), hosted by Diane of the Whole Gang.

My aim for my confectionery was to keep the fat content as high as possible (I'm still trying to regain a few more kilos), and the sugar as low as possible (as I'm still aiming to minimise the amounts of inflammatory foods in my diet).

My first port of call was coconut oil - I love the taste of the oil, and it combines well with other flavours. So my starting point was to melt coconut oil, a tiny amount of honey and some lemon oil. I have to say, I thought it was pretty good at the time, but now I realise I was just in a totally sugar deprived state and anything vaguely sweet tasted good. So I had to branch out a bit more for the next attempt. This brought to mind coconut concentrate. For those of you who haven't heard of it, it is basically finely ground coconut meat. It has a very high fat content (around 70% I think), and is also fairly grainy, kind of like coconut flour. It is solid a room temperature, and if you want to melt it, you have to do so on a really low heat, otherwise it burns.

I find it convenient to melt a lot of it at a time (I get in in 1kg bags) and pour it in to ice cube trays to have convenient little portions of it, which I throw into anything in which you might use coconut milk. (I do the same thing with coconut oil (in winter, when it is solid at room temperature) and cocoa butter too).

Anyway, back to the confectionary. I did go through a phase of just eating the ice cubes of coconut concentrate - I find there is something oddly appealing about the grainy thick texture, and the coconut flavour is really strong, and it has something candy-like about it, even though it isn't sweet. So, I figured it's 70% coconut oil, why not dilute it with more coconut oil to keep the coconutty flavour, but minimise the grainy texture (and the fibre content). I've concluded that a ratio of 2:1 oil to concentrate is my preferred ratio, and that it needs minimal honey - maybe a teaspoonful to a cup of coconut mixture. But I think the quantities are very much a matter of personal taste, so here's the method; play around with the ratios as you see fit

Coconut candy
Coconut oil
Coconut concentrate
Flavour oil (optional)

Melt the oil and the honey on a low heat. Remove from the heat and add the coconut concentrate. Cover and leave until it is all melted (if the concentrate does not melt, you can place the whole lot over a very low heat, but watch it carefully). At this stage add the flavouring if you want to. I have done lemon and orange oil, both if which are nice, but possibly a little subtle against the strong coconut flavour. I think mint might be good, but don't have any oil to try it out.

Bearing in mind that you have 3 substances, all with different melting points, the trick is to get everything thoroughly combined and then into moulds before it sets. If you have the time and the patience, I recommend allowing it to cool at room temperature as this give you a lot more time in which the mixture is at a temperature that it will thoroughly combine. If you cool it in the fridge or freezer, you might miss the moment and end up with a triple layer effect with sticky honey on the bottom, and not be able to spoon it into the moulds.

Either way, stir it regularly (more often the colder the temperature) and when it starts to turn into a paste, check whether the honey is settling out at the bottom. If it is, leave to cool a little longer. 

Once the ingredients are able to be thoroughly combined, spoon it into moulds (chocolate moulds, ice cubes, or just spread as a block onto greaseproof paper). Leave until thoroughly set, or refrigerate depending on the ambient temperature.

Serve after dinner with a good black coffee.

Vaguely chocolate like confectionary

(sorry for the long winded name, but I do get annoyed at the SCD thing of saying 'this is just like X' and then making it, and it isn't much like X at all. Particularly when what you've made is tasty in it's own right. So this is somewhat chocolately, but I'm not going to call it chocolate)

Cocoa butter
Ghee (you could probably use unsalted butter, but I'm not eating butter at the moment. If you want to make your own ghee, check out how here.

Again, the quantities are somewhat in your hands. I've found a ratio of 1:1 cocoa butter to ghee gives a fairly smooth buttery consistency. (My previous attempt of 1:2 resulted in something much too reminiscent of whipped butter for eating by itself). The honey ratio need to be a fair bit higher than the coconut one. Maybe a big tablespoonful to a cup of the butter mixture.

Follow the above method. You can certainly flavour it if you like, too, or add chopped dried fruit or nuts. I most recently used a vanilla bean which I split, scooping the seeds into the mixture, and leaving the pod in while I melted the fats too.

The cooling process for this one is even more temperamental than the coconut candy. Be very careful that the honey is not separating out, but don't stir too vigorously or you will end up with whipped butter.

Spoon into moulds, or use to coat other thing, like nuts, or balls made out of energy bars, or spread into a block.

Serve with dessert that would go with something chocolatey (like this), or on its own with after dinner coffee.

And this is where it ends (dinner... and the post)

Monday, June 27, 2011

Fittings things in

A karate instructor I have trained with a few times once told us an analogy for fitting training into your life. Think of your life like a big jar, and all the things you want to do as stones of various sizes. The big stones are the important things that you have to have time for, family, work, karate training… other activities are various other sized stones, right down to fine sand, things like watching TV and browsing the internet. If you start by putting the big stones in the jar first, then the medium sized once, then the smaller ones then the sand, you can fit a lot more in than if you put the sand in first, then the little stones, then try to pack in the big ones at the end.

For me, this meant karate training is Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons. Friends knew that if they wanted me to come around for dinner, it had to be Monday or Saturday or late enough to be after training. Karate was a big stone and went in the jar first. Then uni, family, work etc etc.

Anyway, what got me thinking about this again was that I have so many bigger stones in my life (karate, jujitsu, work, new house and garden, cooking, knitting), and I haven't thought about how blogging fits in, so it has become something that just doesn't get into the jar very often. Which is a shame, because I enjoy writing, and developing and sharing recipes, and being part of the SCD, GF etc blog community. And I do find time to look at most of the blog posts I subscribe to, because the pop up in my email. So I conclude that the reason I haven't been posting is because I have not made sufficient effort to make it a priority.

As of now, every second part time day off, I'll write a blog post. For this one, a whirlwind update on the last 2 and a bit months.

April 12, my birthday - went to Sydney for a couple of days. Still being on fairly restricted SCD we didn't eat out, but had many tasty meals in our fantastic apartment in Surrey Hills, including local prawns cooked in garlic oil and tuna steaks. We also saw a ballet version of Madame Butterfly at the Opera House, which was simply magnificent.

16 April was the 6 month anniversary of restarting SCD properly (the benchmark for the day count in the title of the blog), uneventful, except to note that my colonoscopy was due two days later, but I wasn't well enough for my doctor to want to go ahead with it. Oh, and I was at an excellent jujitsu seminar!

On 1 May, I made a semifreddo (also the first time I had made SCD french cream, and I fell in love) loosely based on Naomi's hazelnut semifreddo made SCD legal, and it was just divine. The variations were simply to use SCD french cream in place of cream, home made vanilla vodka in place of liqueur, and half walnuts, half pistachios in place of the hazelnuts (just because that was what I had). I also only folded through half of the praline, and used the rest to sprinkle over the top when served. I still had leftovers, which we had on avocado pancakes with french cream and honey over the next few days too.

18 May marked the worst bout of food poisoning I've ever experienced, and I can only blame myself - hadn't eaten out in ages. 3 days laid out with D, muscle aches, fatigue, hot sweats, cold sweats, shaking exhaustion. 21 May looked promising, feeling weak, but hungry and able to take a 30 minute car ride to watch a karate seminar, but couldn't possibly have trained. However, by that evening, the UC was back - bleeding, nausea and D, and feeling very depressed.

It was back on to SCD intro. I've incorporated a number of the GAPS ideas (which I think come from SCD anyway, but maybe aren't made as clear as they could be in BTVC) of lots of stock and soup and casseroles into my diet, but I'm backing off on the fermented foods. I've also gone more hardcore in cutting out potential problem foods, what Jordan and Steve call the 4 horsemen (dairy, eggs, nuts and excessive fruit and honey) as well as nightshade vegetables based on paleo diet principles.

Since then, I've got back to a fairly good range of vegetables and meat, and more recently have added carrot juice (a shot glass a day for now), creamed coconut (for fibre in a fairly low impact form), ghee (the first dairy allowed on GAPS, as the vast majority of the milk proteins have been removed), french cream (as a high fat dairy product, it has a proportionately lower percentage of protein), and I had a tiny bit of scrambled egg and cooked apple with breakfast on Sunday. This is a sign of my typical impatience breaking through - adding two new foods at the same time - but I did it acknowledging that if I had a reaction, they both had to go. And with the pork and sage rissoles, fried onions and mushrooms, and mashed veggies, it went so well!

I've also had something of an epiphany about fat. I've been somewhat concerned about the weight loss from November/December 2009 that I haven't managed to regain (13 kg in 6 weeks from a fairly muscular 63kg to a gaunt and underweight 50kg). I've made it back to 58kg at a couple of points, only to drop back to 53-55kg at the first sign of sickness. I've been aiming to get back to 63kg, but not making much progress, and I'm attributing this failure to my lack of understanding of the important role of fat in our diets, particularly in the absence of complex carbs.

I've been using to track my calorie intake on and off for a while now, and have comfortably been eating about 1800 calories a day, which is enough to maintain my weight if I'm not very active. However, as I start feeling better (a) I start being much more active and (b) I stop tracking things as regularly. So I think that I probably maintain eating about 1800 calories a day, when I should be eating more like 2100 to maintain current weight and more than that to gain weight. I already eat protein for all 5 meals a day, and feel suitably full most of the time, so I couldn't figure out how to get more calories.

Then I thought back to a podcast by Jordan and Steve where they said to liberally pour olive oil or coconut oil over everything. I've found it quite difficult to do - the anti-fat message is solidly embedded from grade 5 health-ed classes onwards - the idea of pouring olive oil, even knowing it's a 'healthy fat', over rissoles, vegetables, steak or whatever I'm eating just didn't seem right. I started doing a drizzle of olive oil, and working my way up as per the GAPs intro diet, but when I one day measured how much I was having compared to the tablespoon I thought I was pouring on, I was amazed - it was less than half a tablespoonful. So now, I have a measure marked on my olive oil bottle in approx 20ml increments, and I melt coconut oil and pour it into ice cube moulds for convenient 14ml portions. I also have a pot of slightly sweetened (maybe half a teaspoon on honey to 200mls of oil) coconut oil on hand, flavoured with vanilla or lemon or orange oil, and I just eat this with a spoon when I want a treat (not that it would count as confectionary to most people, but I'm currently very attuned to even the slightest amount of sweetness as I've had 30 days free of even honey). 

I'm now sitting quite comfortably at 2200-2300 calories a day, which is enough for gradual weight gain with my standard level of physical activity. My worry now is giving up all the delicious fat when I get back to my target weight! :p 

In other happy news, the former owner and tenant in our new house finally moved out on 4 June. Since then, we have had the place repainted, carpets stripped out, boards rough sanded, kitchen stripped out and new kitchen is in the process of going in, and bathroom starts coming out this week. We're mostly getting other people to do the work, but we did get persuaded into doing the kitchen floor. This involved jack hammering out a 2m2 patch of concrete some 20cm deep, pilfering matching boards from the lounge room (which is getting a new wood floor laid over the top), and cutting and fitting them into the kitchen. It took our whole 4-day Queens birthday long weekend, which was a bit sad, but it has come up pretty well. I've also been doing a fair bit of work in the garden - setting up 6 raised garden beds (from here) and installing watering system for them, setting up the compost bin and starting hacking out the many overgrown and half dead plants around the place. 

I can see it all coming slowly together. The house was disgusting - lived in by 2 smokers and 3 dogs - the window frames run dark brown as I blast them with the steam cleaner! Now, it smells of fresh paint :) In my minds eye, the garden is coming together. In reality, I think it will take a fair bit longer, but crafting the whole garden into a bountiful edible retreat was one of my main motivations for moving from a unit to a house, so I'm happy for it to progress at a leisurely pace.

Well, that's a fairly lengthy tour of the last 2 months of my life. Other than that, there was work, some excellent karate seminars (thanks to Sensei Arie and Sensei Peter), making travel plans (Canada and the US in August/September), kitten cuddles, knitting, karate, jujitsu, long baths, massages... Mmm… brain vagues out in a cloud of remembered relaxedness...

Friday, April 15, 2011

Excuses and GAPS and breakfast soup

So first the excuses. I've been slack with the blogging lately (not much of an excuse really...), but only with the blogging. Life has been quite busy between karate training, doing a jujitsu beginners course, work has been crazy (not to mention preparing for an interview for a promotion), going away for my birthday, booking a holiday to Canada and the US later this year and deciding to do the GAPS intro diet. So, where to begin?

Things have been less than fantastic digestion-wise since January, and i was getting rather sick of it. My Dr had played around with my meds to no avail, and I was feeling a bit down. I restarted the SCD intro diet... almost 6 months ago now... which was great for a fair while, then the improvements tapered off and then...

Anyway, I'd read a bit about GAPS and decided it was time to give it a go. So I've been making sauerkraut, and bone broth, and soups and stews, and more soup, and I feel fantastic. I've had a few days of die-off (I'm fairly impatient, and have been adding more sauerkraut and yoghurt faster than recommended, and am eagerly awaiting the arrival of my kefir grains). Coincidentally, Naomi of Straight into Bed, Cakefree and Dried, has been posting fermented vegetable recipes, and I've already had a go at the Lacto fermented beetroots and am going to try the Carrot and Ginger pickle on the weekend.

But what I really wanted to post about is the joy of breakfast soup, a post well-suited to the theme of Hallie of Daily Bites challenge: build a better breakfast. I'm with Hallie in that breakfast is my favourite meal of the day. I love eggs, and mushrooms, and tomatoes, fried, or combined in a omelette, with cheese, and salt and pepper... mmm... it's making my hungry just thinking about it, even though I'm still full from dinner.

The GAPS diet advocates eating a late breakfast, because the body detoxes until about 10am and apparently you don't get hungry until then. I'm a bit dubious about the latter point, but I did notice that, when I thought about it, I didn't really feel like eating my omelette, mince and veg at 7am.

In the spirit of doing the diet, heart and soul, I decided to put off eating breakfast until a bit later than usual. This meant having to come up with a work-compatible breakfast, where all that is available is running water and a microwave (I know, GAPS does not approve of microwaves, but you can only take these things so far, and I don't have one at home).

So on the evening of day one, I piled zucchini, carrots, onion, mushrooms, cassarole beef, a good splosh of tomato juice and another of beef stock into my slow cooker and set it to low overnight. We awoke Saturday morning to the smell of rich tomatoey goodness, which I waited until almost 9am to eat. I figure if not being hungry is a sign your body is detoxing, that being hungry must be a sign it's ready to eat.

Turns out it was a bit too rich, and a bit to close to karate training at 10:30, and I spent the morning trying to keep my breakfast in my stomach and not of the floor of the dojo (successfully, I might add).

So I tweaked it a bit for the next time, and now, together with pumpkin soup, is a staple breakfast dish. The quantities are a bit rough, but that's handy in that you can just throw it together out of whatever you've got lying around in the way of vegetables.

Beef and vegetable breakfast stew
3-4 good size cassarole steaks
3-4 zucchinis
3-4 carrots
1 red capsicum
1 brown onion
250mls tomato juice
500mls beef stock
2 bay leaves
Dried oregano

Roughly dice all the ingredients.

Layer the carrot and onion of the bottom of a 4-5 litre slow cooker. Place bay leave and a sprinkle of dried oregano over the top, then the the diced cassarole steak, then the zucchini and capsicum.

Pour over the juice and stock, and top up with water (or more stock) to cover the steak (the zucchini and capsicum don't need to be submerged). Turn onto low and leave for about 8 hours.

This quantity of liquid in a slow cooker will probably give you something more akin to a soup than a stew (mine come out different each time). If you want it thicker, simply ladle off some of the liquid and boil it on the stove top, before returning to the stew.

The meat, no matter the cut, is by this stage disintegratingly tender, and the warm and hearty tomato base it perfect for cold mornings. It also goes well with the early additions to the GAPS diet: ghee, sauerkraut, yoghurt, avocado and olive oil, and you can pile them all on to it, once you get far enough into the intro diet!

Another, even simpler, breakfast discovery for me is microwave scrambled eggs. You'll need to play with the timing, depending on your microwave. With the one at work, 2 eggs take about 1:30, stopping to beat them every 30 seconds. I add a good size teaspoonful of ghee to the bottom of the bowl, and a drizzle of olive oil once they are done. I recently tried adding the sauerkraut to the eggs, instead of my soup, and was pleasantly surprised. The crunch and the tang of the cabbage perfectly compliment the smooth fluffiness of the eggs (don't forget to let the eggs cool enough before you add the sauerkraut, otherwise the heat will kill the beneficial bacteria).

Some of each of these gives you all the protein, fat and vitamins (not to mention the warmth and comfort of a full belly) that you need to get the day off to a perfect start, and to keep you full until lunch (or brunch anyway, the planned topic of my next post for Go Ahead Honey, It's Gluten Free, hosted this month by Maggie of She Let Them Eat Cake with the theme of Springtime Brunches).

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Pumpkins and pumpkin recipes

It is, apparently, pumpkin time of year. My own ones haven't done so well, having been grown in pots and left to their own devices for a week and a half of the hottest part of summer, the plants disintegrated. But I have watched the prices in the shop drop from $4 per kg, to $3, $2.50 and now $1.89. For a household that usually eats at least a whole butternut pumpkin a week, this has been fantastic, and I think it's now at least 2 pumpkins a week. They are so wonderfully versatile - as nuts are currently excluded from my diet, and I'm trying to keep honey to a minimum, they are the basis of desserts as well as part of breakfast, lunch and dinner. So I thought I'd share some of the creations I've been enjoying with pumpkins recently (and my contribution to this month's Go Ahead Honey, It’s Gluten Free!).

Veggie mash

I've been getting a good supply of spinach from a friend of mine for the last couple of weeks, and it doesn't agree with me, other than in pureed form. However, pureed spinach always seems to me to taste more like dirt and less like spinach than any other way of eating spinach. So I've been pureeing it with other vegies to great effect.

1/2 butternut pumpkin
3 carrots
2 zucchinis
Big bunch of spinach

Cut the 1/2 pumpkin into 2 pieces and rub with a little oil. Roast the pumpkin at 180C for 40-60mins, or until cooked through.

In the mean time, peel the carrots, and cut into big chunks. Steam 15-20 mins depending on the size of the pieces. You want them quite well cooked, but not so much to that they disintegrate when you try to pick them up. Place in a large bowl.

Cut the zucchini into chunks and, when the carrot is done, chuck them in the steamer. After a couple of minutes, add the spinach to the water in the bottom of the steamer.

When everything is cooked, put it all together in a big bowl, and blend until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.
I eat this for breakfast, by browning some mince, adding some of the puree and serving in an omelette, or on the side of some fried eggs. It's also a convenient veggie side dish for whatever meat you are eating for lunch or dinner.

Sweet orange dessert soup

I find it is better with all things desserty if you don't put vegetable names in the title, but yes, this is a pumpkin dessert soup.

The theme of this month's Go Ahead Honey, It’s Gluten Free! is seasonal soups, hosted by Linda, the Gluten-Free Homemaker, and this seems like a fitting contribution. 

It's autumn here in the southern hemisphere, and we are already heading into the cold evenings, and early darkness of winter. So there is nothing better to come home to than a steaming hot bowl of thick soup, and better still that it tastes like dessert. I mean, you could have dinner first, but given it's just vegetables, why bother?

1/2 butternut pumpkin
3 carrots
Coconut oil to serve
Lightly dripped yoghurt/sour cream to serve
Cut the 1/2 pumpkin into 2 pieces and rub with a little oil. Roast the pumpkin at 180C for 40-60mins, or until cooked through.

In the mean time, peel the carrots, and cut into big chunks. Steam 15-20 mins depending on the size of the pieces. As for the veggie mash, you want them quite well cooked (In cse you haven't noticed, this is exactly the same as the veggie mash. I make them at the same time, and just double the quantity of carrot and pumpkin and use half for each).

Puree the pumpkin and carrot until smooth. Add cinnamon and nutmeg to taste, at a ratio of 1:1. Add water to achieve desired consistency. I like it fairly thick so only add about 1/2 cup of water to this much veg.

To serve, put a generous serving in a bowl, stir through a good dessert spoonful of coconut oil, and top with a blob of lightly dripped yoghurt (I drip my SCD yoghurt for about 30 mins - which tastes the tangy edge off a bit, and gives a lovely sour cream consistency)

Pumpkin soufflé/pudding

Another favourite dessert and snack of mine at the moment is this pumpkin soufflé and/or pudding (a slightly different method with the same ingredients yields a quite different texture. The soufflé is lovely straight out of the oven, while it is still puffed and steaming. They are also both great cold, which brings out the coconut flavour a little more, or reheated, for a warm and satisfying snack at work.

4 egg whites
2 cups of the dessert soup vegies (before you add any water - if you are doing the soufflé, it is also a good idea to sit the veggie mash on a tea towel for 15 mins or so to soak up some of the extra moisture, though this isn't absolutely necessary)
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup coconut oil

Whisk your egg whites until they form stiff peaks. (I highly recommend an egg white attachment for your food processor, or a mix master)

In the mean time (assuming you can wander off and leave your egg whites beating), combine the vegies, egg yolks and coconut oil and mix well.

If you are making the soufflé, mix about 1/3 of the egg whites through the pumpkin mixture, then carefully fold in the remaining egg white.

If you are making the pudding, add the pumpkin mixture to the egg whites and beat until just combined.
I like taking these to work, so I make them in a combination of 250ml pyrex dishes, with lids, and in slightly larger ramekins and 500ml dishes for home. 

Arrange your dishes in an over tray, and add mixture to dishes. This makes about 8 small serves. Place tray in oven and pour water into tray around dishes to come about 2-3cm up the sides. Bake at 180C for 40-50 mins, until turning golden on top and slightly firm to the touch (they won't be solid, but they need to cook until they are no longer liquidy).

For those of you following SCD, these are all pretty early stage recipes. Just remember to add the spices as individual foods one at a time. Earlier on in the diet, I boiled the carrots and pumpkin with whole spices tied in a piece of muslin, so I wasn't eating the solids of the spices - not as nice a flavour, but a pleasant change from chicken soup.


(159(!) days and counting...)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Very belated health update (and cheesecake photo - no recipe though)

I've just discovered I've had this post sitting in draft since mid-Feb. I didn't post it straight away because I was waiting to upload a photo to go with it, and then it just got lost, and the cheesecake was not fantastic... so no recipe... anyway, excuses, excuses. I have been meaning to post a health update, and this sets some context, so I figured I'd post it now, and the cheesecake photo is pretty cool: 

Wow, it's been almost a month since I last posted. Life has been pretty hectic and I haven't had a Friday at home since... not sure... until today anyway. First there was Tora Week, a week of crazy amounts of karate, getting too little sleep and generally torturing ourselves. I was a bit stressed about being on SCD for the week (see my previous post) and went a bit overboard with the planning. I took good morning breakfast bars from the cccibs cookbook, magic lemon bars from Straight into Bed Cakefree and Dried, and my larabar themed energy bars.

I had been studiously avoid nuts in the leadup to the week, trying to get some post Christmas symptoms under control. But at the first sign of nuts, I started bleeding again. After a brief panic and then realising that there was no pain and no D, I figured I'd live. I needed the nuts and honey to make it through the week, so I wasn't giving them up unless there was no alternative. Fortunately, after a couple of days, my colon got over its initial shock and calmed down, and once I worked out that I needed 6-7 serves of vegies for dinner to keep my energy levels up, I coped pretty well.

All in all, the week was pretty good. I learned a lot, got a bit fitter and stronger, and our club now has another black belt. Since then, it has been work, lots and lots of work. I had to work one Friday for a sick day I took earlier in the year (yes, I'm a public servant and ran out of sick leave. But at least I have another years worth now - fingers crossed it lasts me a year. Do not want another one like 2010).

I did get to have today off though, which was good because I managed to capture the energy and enthusiasm of Tora Week before it wore off, and decided I'm going to go the the gym and do some karate every Friday morning, and actually did it too.

Then I came home to try out a cheesecake idea that I've been mulling over for a couple of days. White chocolate and raspberry. It's inspired by a cheesecake from what was my favourite patisserie in Canberra pre-SCD, which does a few really excellent chocolaty desserts. While most of them are far out of reach (chocolate ot being permitted on the diet), I have been considering that a white chocolate version using cocoa butter may be possible.

The risk with such things is that the flavour of the SCD yoghurt will overpower the more subtle flavours that one is trying to infuse into dishes, and all you can taste is yoghurt tang. So I started by adding some melted cocoa butter to some sweetened yoghurt to test whether it could pass a chocolaty, and it did, so I decided to give it a try. It's a mixture of a few recipes, some for SCD cheesecake and some for regular white chocolate cheesecake - I hope it has worked. It's still in the oven cooling down, so I can't give a verdict yet, but can verify that the batter was really tasty.

I leave you for now with a photograph from before it went in the oven.

I promise a recipe soon, all going to plan.

A moth invasion (and red wine reduction)

Life has been busy, and I haven't had a weekend free to sit at home and do whatever I want to in ages. That is, until the weekend just gone. I'd had plans to read my new book (The Paleo Solution, a book I bought on the recommendation of someone who responded to my post about doing intensive exercise on SCD and what to eat), write a blog post, and just generally relax and unwind. It didn't happen - it very rarely does, I suppose - life always gets in the way. But it was a good weekend all the same, apart from the moth invasion.

It's been going on for a couple of weeks now, these tiny little moths, fluttering around the kitchen and hallway, and occasionally in the cupboards. The kitten loves them - she watches them with the intensity of a hunter, with concentration that she doesn't have for anything else. And when they sit on the ceiling or high up on the walls and she can't reach them, she runs back and forth, making this little "aackaackaack" noise. Then when they come within her reach, they are pounced and devoured, and she looks around forlornly, wanting to know where the fun went.

Mid Sunday afternoon, I discovered the source of much kitten-fun in my pantry, in packets of nut meal, jars of nuts, cocoons in corners and under shelves. So Sunday afternoon turned into kitchen spring (or more technically correctly, autumn) cleaning. Those nuts that could be salvaged have now been soaked and dried, packets have been removed and cleaned, shelves and walls have been washed, and contents have been restored, to reveal much more space in my cupboards than I knew I had. So not all bad really.

The other exciting event of the weekend was making a red wine reduction that a friend of ours served at dinner last year, delicious with blue cheese and dried pear, or brie and dried peach, or I'm sure any other cheese you care to think of. I've been meaning to try it since then, and a 10% voucher, and discovering the same bottle shop had some $2.99 bottles of red (ghastly stuff, but it doesn't matter for present purposes) finally instigated action. So 6 bottles of cheap, nasty red in had (plus a dozen good drinking bottles!), we headed home.

The directions we had were to add some spices (we went with 1 cinnamon stick, 6 cloves and 6 allspice) and to steam, not simmer, the wine over a low heat until it reduces. The consistency is like a thick molasses, and took almost 8 hours to achieve. We started out in a huge thick bottomed pot, keeping the temperature at around 80C, and when we got down to about 1L of liquid (still quite liquidy at this stage) transferred it to a smaller pot. We took the spices out after maybe 4 hours. Once it started to thicken, a quick taste made mouths pucker, so we started adding some honey. Then some more, and a bit of salt, then some more honey. In the end, we had about 300mls of syrup, containing maybe 150mls of honey (though that would have reduced somewhat too) and about a tsp of rock salt. 

There were several test pieces of cheese over the course of the afternoon, and when the reduction was transferred loving to a storage container and the fridge, a trip to the supermarket yielded some Tasmanian brie. The verdict: quite delicious, if somewhat pricey. If you can find some really cheap red, it is well worth the effort, and I expect the 6 bottles of wine to last much longer than the 12 bottles for drinking!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Valentine's Day (and February's Go ahead honey it's gluten free)

Valentine's Day was lovely. I'm rather cynical about the whole buying roses and chocolates (not that I can eat them now anyway), but it's a great excuse to eat a nice meal, have a glass of wine or two, and relax and enjoy each other's company.

My UC has been playing up a bit lately, so I'm eating fairly carefully, so we decided to have dinner at home.

The evening started with a glass of red and brie. No crackers, because I'm off nuts, and we didn't have any crackers for Ben either, though there was my mum's home made quince paste to go with his cheese.

Then we had steak - a lovely locally grown, hormone and antibiotic free steak - with mushroom sauce, and a side of roast vegies, and another glass of wine, of course.

I've recently got into eating mushrooms - I've never liked them in the past, but a friend of mine told me I had to try this lovely recipe of hers, and I was converted. 

And finally orange yoghurt jelly, topped with candied citrus peel and white chocolate.


The mains are staple SCD meals for us, tried and true, but the dessert is something I've been playing with for a little while, and it worked so well this time that I've put to forward for the February Go Ahead Honey its Gluten Free with it's suitably Valentine's theme, love potions and charmed foods.

Missing chocolate is something I'm sure every SCD'er can identify with, and with its rich and creamy, melt-in-your-mouth sweetness (and, of course, traditional Valentine's connection) I couldn't resist a little bit in the dessert.

But more than that, it is about sweet fresh citrus, and thick creamy yoghurt, for a thoroughly indulgent and very healthy dessert.

All of the evening's recipes are below, and head to Naomi's fab blog for all of the GAHIGF recipes later this month, or by 24 Feb to get involved.

Mushroom sauce, two ways

1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1/4 medium onion finely chopped
2 cloves garlic
4 medium cup mushrooms
1/4 cup of yoghurt or 1/8 cup red wine

Melt the butter, together with the oil, over a medium heat, then add onion and garlic and saute until soft. Add mushrooms and saute until cooked.

Just before serving, add the yoghurt or wine and the parsley, stir through and serve - as a sauce on steak or a side. Don't heat again at this stage if you use the yoghurt as it will seperate.

Roast vegies

Olive oil
2 carrots
1/4 butternut pumpkin
2 zucchinis
1/2 eggplant
1/2 punnet of cherry tomatoes
6 cloves of garlic
1 tbsp finely chopped rosemary

Preheat oven to 200C.

Cut all of the vegetables into chunks about the size of cherry tomatoes. Add a good splosh of olive oil to a roasting pan and toss through the carrots. Roast for about 15 mins.

Add pumpkin and roast for another 5 mins. Add zucchini and eggplant and cook for 10 more minutes. Then add tomatoes and garlic and cook until everything is done (at least another 10 minutes).

5 minutes before it is done, sprinkle overe the rosemary.

Orange Yoghurt Jelly

125g honey
grated rind of 1 orange
120ml cold water
2 tsp gelatine
160mls freshly squeezed orange juice
40mls freshly squeezed lemon juice
370mls yoghurt

Heat the honey, orange rind and 60mls of water and allow to simmer for a minute then remove from heat.

Soak the gelatine in the remaining water while doing this, then add the soaked gelatine to the hot honey mixture and stir until dissolved.

Add the orange and lemon juice and yoghurt and stir thoroughly to combine. Pour into 4 small bowls and refridgerate for at least 4 hours.

Top with a spear of white orange chocolate and candied peel.

Citrus White Chocolate

55gms cocoa butter
1tbsp butter
2tsp creamed honey
Piece of vanilla pod
tbsp of candied peel
Melt cocoa butter in a double boiler over medium heat. Add the butter, creamed honey, and seeds scraped from the inside of the vanilla pod. Heat until the butter and honey are melted, pour into glass bowl and put in fridge. 

After about 10 mins, remove from fridge and beat with electric beaters. If mixture separates when left to stand, return to fridge for another 5 mins. Once mixture holds together, mix through candied peel (as much or as little as you like) and pour onto a piece of greeseproof paper. Store in the freezer.

Candied peel

Peel of 2 oranges (or other citrus fruit)

Cut the peel into small chunks (approx 8mm square). Put peel into small saucepan and cover with water. Simmer peel for about an hour, adding more water as necessary.

Pour honey over the peel to about half way up and return to the heat. Simmer until honey is absorbed, and pour peel onto greaseproof paper. Depending on how sticky you like it and what you want to use it for, you can either bottle it once cool, or dehydrate in a food dehydrator.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

SCD and intensive exercise

I have an intense week of karate coming up in a couple of weeks time - a solid 7 days of training 3-4 times a day, with days 2, 3 and 4 starting with a 6am run and training session. This is traditionally followed by a BBQ breakfast and beer.

The seminar is held in Hobart, and I stay at a hotel (with full kitchen facilities) with my husband and usually between 4 and 7 students. It is always a lot of fun, as well as physically and mentally exhausting, and I'm torn between excitement and dread at its impending arrival.

This will be the 9th such seminar I've been to (thankfully it only happens once a year!) and first one at which I've been following SCD. Normally the week involves massive amounts of carbs and sugar - four slices of toast with nutella for first breakfast, bacon eggs and more toast for second breakfast, pasta for lunch, rice for dinner and as much junk food as can be fitted in between without throwing up during training, because we know we're burning off the calories faster than we can eat them.

But this all has to change for me this year. Somehow I have to survive on meat and fruit and vegetables, cheese and yoghurt, and nuts. I'm not up to eating legumes yet, and even nuts aren't completely agreeing with me.

I've been reading a bit about sports nutrition over the last few weeks. All of the information I have found is based around a normal carb content diet, so it isn't particularly easy for me to use, but I've taken some pointers about what to eat and when and started putting together a plan.

The main points of what I've read seem to be to eat carbs (the form of fruit and vegetable is good) and protein a couple of hours before and within a couple of shours after exercising, and eat a snack of something more sugary like an energy bar or a banana or trail mix half an hour before exercise. I've also heard that milk after exercise is a good way to get back some of what you've lost. And of course hydration is really important. I lost almost 4kg the first time I did one of these seminars, and I think it was almost entirely through fluid loss.

So here are the basics of my plan. I'd appreciate any feedback or comments anyone may have to offer.

- pumpkin soup (basically roast butternut pureed with cooked apples, and cinnamon, nutmeg etc) - for carbs
- topped with date and cashew whip (soaked cashews pureed with dates) - for sugar
- also topped with some banana smoothie to thin the soup a little

Followed by training session 1 for the day: either 6am or 10 am

Straight after training session 1
- banana smoothie

Second breakfast (only on the days that start at 6am)
- beef rissole and fried egg - for protein
- ratatouille - for carbs (I would have sworn that I had posted a recipe for this, but I can't find it. Anyway, eggplant, zucchini, tomato, red onion, capsicum, and herbs)

Lunch (after training session 1 on the civilised days, after session 2 on the 6am days)
- salad - carbs
- with chicken/tuna - protein

Afternoon snack (after training session 2 or 3)
- avocado

Afternoon snack 2 (before training session 3 or 4)
- energy bars

Then after the last training session of the day, we take it in turns to cook at the hotel. There are a few people doing things I can eat, like mushroom strogonoff (mine with SCD yoghurt) and Vietnamise salad with rissoles/sausages. I also always cook a huge pot of bolognaise at the start of the week, so I can have that with vegies on the nights when people are cooking food I can't eat.

And finally, I'm taking some supplies for extra snacking (like the chewy macadamia cookies from CCCIBS which is my favourite cookbook, ever, not just SCD) and my mum is making labna and knowing her will probably also me a cake or something too. Something sweet is essential to slip into my bag for our regular strolls to North Hobart for coffee, otherwise the cravings for danish pastries, florentines and blueberry house cakes might kill me.

Plugging what I know I'll be eating into Nutrition Data comes up with 2195 calories a day, and from Free Dieting's calorie calculator I know I need 2630 calories a day (based on daily exercise plus physical job), so once the random snacking is added in, I should be getting an adequate calorie intake.

My carbs:fat:protein ratio is 30:40:30. There's some pretty varied opinion out there about what these ratios should be, from 60:30:10 from the USDA guidelines, to 40:30:30 from the Zone diet, so I really don't know what to make of this one.

The food plan has an estimated glycemic load of 72, below the recommended maximum of 100, and an inflammation factor of 372, well above the recommended minimum of 50. It's a little low on the various B vitamins, but I take a supplement for that fairly regularly anyway. So overall, I'm fairly happy with the plan.

But I'd really appreciate if anyone with some more knowledge and experience of sports nutrition has some pointers for me.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

SCD snacks

I've been experimenting with some new snack foods, incorporating dried fruit and nuts, recently, and it has got me thinking about sugar and what I've learned in starting the diet again. I think part of the where I went wrong on the first attempt at the diet was over-consumption of legal but advanced foods, and also fruit more generally. While many fruits aren't listed as advanced, the sugar content is high, which promotes inflammation.

This time through, I've spent more time thinking about snacking and rationing my intake of fruit and nuts. Snacks seem to be the hardest part of the diet for me - breakfast, lunch and dinner are meat and veg, lots of different combinations, which isn't that different to what I used to do. I was never big on sandwiches, and mostly took leftover dinner to work for lunch. But snacks... I would usually bake a cake or biscuits on the weekend to last the week, take a couple of pieces of fruit, occasionally a fun size chocolate bar or a packet of chips.

I carried this pattern into the SCD with me - basically replacing the cake/biscuits and the chocolate bar/chips with SCD legal baked goods, and the fruit stayed too. I also got into the habit of taking a 250ml container of nuts and dried fruit to work to snack on over a couple of days, but it would only ever last a day. So 4-5 fairly high sugar snacks, and 2-3 with a fair bit of fiber etc from the nuts.

So I thought I'd write a post on what I've done differently this time through. (I started this a fair while ago, being quite organised and going through week by week. Then I forgot about it, so I've just added a random bunch of subsequent things since then. And all the recipes are right down the bottom).

Week 1: intro diet - not much to say here, given the limited range of foods. Boiled egg, jelly, and yoghurt (I decided to do dairy from day 3 because it had never given me problems before and given all the prednisone I've been on, I'm a bit paranoid about calcium intake and bone density).

Week 2: as for week 1 (but I couldn't stomach jelly anymore) with the addition of half a mashed ripe banana or some apple sauce with the yoghurt.

Week 3 saw the addition of avocados with macadamia nut oil dressing and small pieces of matured cheddar cheese.

In week 4, I added some sultanas to my apple sauce when cooking it, and stopped pureeing the apples. So sick of eating mush! I also added some cooked strawberries, and also started eating the occasional dried apricot with almond butter.

I got a bit more adventurous with the dried fruit and nuts in week 5 and made black cake (see earlier post for recipe and explanation of the name), and also started playing with energy bars.

It all started with this page, which give a great pictoral guide to the textures you are after at the various stages, and the ratio of fruit and nuts you want. I remembered back in my wheat and sugar days these lovely date and orange wontons, deep fried and dusted with lots of icing sugar, and decided to try to capture that flavour in bar sugar free form. That, and I'd just bought some orange oil I wanted to try out.

What I came up with was so good I've made it about 4 times since then. I used fresh dates, but have been wondering if I could get the same effect with dried dates - much cheaper.

That said, I did some number crunching and even my most expensive creation (cranberry and pistachio) only works out at $1 for a 45g bar.

I've put some of the combinations I've come up with - the good ones - at the bottom on this post.

Another thing I like to snack on is veggie sticks with labna (yoghurt cheese - see below), or just dunked in the macadamia dressing.

And cakes. Cakes are good too. I particularly like this one from Naomi at milk for the morning cake - I've done it a couple of times, one with pear and raspberry, and once with pear and mulberry - cherries never lst long enough in my house to make it into a cake!

If you have any SCD snacks you'd like to share, please add them as comments.

(I think it is a sign of how well I'm feeling that I had to check my diary to see how many days since restarting SCD... 83 days and counting)

Macadamia nut oil dressing

½ cup macadamia oil
1 tbsp honey
1 tsp Dijon mustard
½ tsp grated orange rind (don't add this in early on in the diet)
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
dash of cayenne pepper
dash of salt
Energy bars
follow the method here for the following combinations:

Christmas pudding:
1/8 cup raisins
1/8 cup currants
1/4 cup sultanas
1/8 tsp spice blend (cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, cloves 45:45:5:5)

Date, orange and walnut:
1/4 cup chopped dates
1/4 cup sultanas
1/3 cup whole walnuts
A drop of orange oil

Cranberry and pistachio:
1/4 cup chopped dates
1/4 cup cranberries
1/6 cup walnuts
1/6 cup pistachios
1/4 tsp cinnamon, and a splash of rose water

Labna (yoghurt cheese)
1.5L SCD yoghurt
a few cloves of garlic (or a few more, to taste)
salt and pepper
chopped fresh herbs (or dried)
good quality olive oil

Either crush your garlic raw, or roast it and mash it, depending on whether you like the tang of raw garlic. Or leave it out if you aren't a fan of garlic at all. Add the garlic and salt and pepper to your yoghurt and drip it for around 8 hours. You want it to be really thick because the next step is to take spoonfuls of it and shape them into little balls and roll them in the fresh herbs.

A combination of oregano, rosemary and parsley is really good, but you can do any combination you want, or have spare.

Place the balls into a jar and fill with olive oil. Having done it with cheap olive oil a few times, I can verify that the oil makes a big difference.

As well as a great dip, this makes a lovely spread. I used to eat it on crispy white toast with these lovely sweet chillies (marinated in massive amounts of sugar I'm sure, and stored in sugar syrup). When I have some chillies again, I'm going to have a go at making something similar with honey...