Pass the sweetener? Living the sugar free life

It’s been a month now since myself and my wife went sugar free, or as free as it’s possible to get without cutting 90% of the food of the western world out. For those of you who don’t spend hours scouring the back of cornflake packets or bread bags, we are kicking out processed foods, but not bread because I think we’d spend a lifetime mourning, and all kind of sweet treats such as cakes, biscuits, sweets, desserts, yoghurts, ketchups (yes you hear me right!). I would like to categorically state at this point I will not be giving up alcohol, which yes is full of sugar but I only drink it rarely and it doesn’t have the same effect on me as a bag of Revels so it’s staying!

Ironically we chose to start this massive lifestyle change the week the Department of Health launched their sugar smart app.

https://www.nhs.uk/change4life-beta/campaigns/sugar-smart/home

I am pretty cynical of anything the Department of Health do around sugar, because I think they should be hitting the people who put sugar in everything first, before getting all of us to be scanning yoghurt pots and biscuit packets, but it was actually an eye opener, and whoa did it help us through our first week as we realised how much sugar we consume.

sugar addiction

And for those minimalists of you who are looking for decluttering in this post. We’ve started on decluttering our bodies…once you start looking at what sugar does to you, and how much is hidden in things you don’t even expect it to be in, such as bread, pasta sauce and soup, it opens up your eyes to this world of doped up sugar driven zombies we’ve become. Decluttering the body is good for the soul and all that kind of thing.

If you’re interested in how shite sugar is for you, take a look at this which pretty much kept me on track for the first difficult 21 days

http://www.prevention.com/health/what-happens-when-you-stop-eating-sugar?cid=soc_facebook_realsimple_9-7&xid=soc_socialflow_facebook_realsimple

Anyway we’re not going to be getting up on our soapbox any time soon. It’s bloody hard. It’s my third time of doing it – the most I’ve ever been sugar free is a year, and I fell off the wagon spectacularly around the time I met my wife. The first few days this time were some kind of hell; flu symptoms, exhaustion, irritability, aching body, desperate dreams about liquorice allsorts and strawberry laces, but we have got through those, cue next nothing that passes for a treat without making you bloat and giving you wind in the form of a poison called aspartame or sucharin which is most sugar free items. Then we found Stevia chocolate; Oh Stevia chocolate how we love you, your ability to keep us sane, when everyone around us is eating Yorkies.

no-sugar

So has it been worth it? I feel great, in all honesty. Whilst I would like to think I’d dropped to a size 16 overnight that hasn’t happened, there has been a bit of weight loss, but i am not doing it for that, and aside from trying to eat healthier foods, I don’t watch my weight. However the other benefits have been massive; I no longer feel  like I am waking up from a coma, I have more energy, and I no longer salivate at any bit of cake put in front of me.

I hope I can tell you on this blog in six months time, and 12 months, and 2 years that I am still sugar free. That wagon is remarkably rocky and I know I can fall off at any time. All the things that addicts are told to do to avoid the booze and drugs can’t really apply on this one; avoid places where they sell it? A bit of a tough one. Change your friends? Not sure I know anyone who doesn’t eat it? Move away from bad influences? You’re never more than 50 feet from a Tesco these days. No, it’s going to come down to the sheer ability not to put it in my mouth…let’s see how it goes eh?

 

 

To be vegan or not to be vegan: Cookery class inspiration

My minimalist journey is more than a decluttering experience and as a long standing vegetarian since the age of 12, I am also looking to simplify my food, and live a healthier lifestyle through the choice of 10 key meals that I will learn off by heart, that we will love to eat and that will use healthy, clean ingredients (obviously mixed with the odd dirty as hell takeaway).

Veganism is something I’ve been interested in for a while, from an animal welfare perspective but also as someone whose body seems to have a disliking for dairy (cue rashes and sinus issues). However until this weekend it’s seemed a bit of a far off goal. It sounds fussy, difficult and a lot like hard work, and I am more in the ‘Can’t Cook, Won’t Cook’ camp. Then I met Debbie Daly, and took one of her cookery classes. Debbie is the ultimate vegan enthusiast, and her enthusiasm is infectious. Check out her page here Vegan at Heart https://www.facebook.com/v3ganatheart?fref=ts for dates of her cookery classes and information.

Her cookery classes are homely, inspiring and what’s more delicious…and sooo easy. I was expecting complicated mixing, spicing, and simmering, but actually she taught us to make a bread and two cheeses, all in the space of an hour. Who would have thought you could put courgette in a bread and not use yeast? Who would think you can use cashew nuts to make a parmesan cheese replacement? My eyes have been opened, and widened.

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The thing I loved about the cooking is that it was something I could do. The bread; courgette, carrot and walnut was literally chuck some ingredients in a bowl and a mixer, knead together and cook for 30 minutes…

From this

Bread before

To This

Bread on plate cropped Bread close up Bread extra close up

OK so we did have it with butter on at home, which felt slightly wrong, but it was so good, the moisture from the vegetables and the crunch of the walnuts goes really well together. Debbie also gave recommendations for other suggestions so you could make it with chilli, other herbs…I am definitely under orders to make it again.

We also made a parmesan cheese alternative from cashew nuts, salt and garlic powder.

I was completely new to this nut making dairy produce idea (although I have sampled almond milk and am not keen). A taste of this was a little bit frightening, it had a really similar taste to parmesan, a lovely saltiness, and a garlic kick. Perfect for pasta, moussaka (vegan of course), and anything else you can think of to throw parmesan cheese on. We also made a soft cheese. For me it was a little like houmous, but I thought it was a perfect accompaniment to the bread. Using cashew nuts, garlic, a bit of seasoning, some water…it’s really simple stuff and that’s what got me. Being vegan doesn’t have to be complicated. You can find these ingredients at home or at a local supermarket. You don’t have to be off to your local wholefood store with a hessian bag every day looking for a battered turnip.

So inspired was I in fact that I made Debbie’s suggested oat milk that night. I admit it I’m struggling with a milk replacement for my dearly beloved cup of tea…the oat milk is so easy to make. Will blog a recipe for it and tell you more on that in another post…

Number 2 in the magic 10 is here, on the heels of a sloppy curry

I’ve been beavering away in my quest for minimalism and working on finding my second of the 10 meals that will become my repertoire…

First up was a vegetable curry…I’ve made it many times so was fairly confident it would make it into repertoire but a reminder of I’m looking for;

  • Quick
  • Healthy
  • Simple
  • Flavoursome

Against this criteria the curry simply doesn’t stack up, there’s sauteeing, broths, simmering, rice or bread, and getting the spice mix just right. We ended up with a flavourless broth after an hours cooking, more a soup than a curry. I realised the cooking process needs to be under half an hour for me to commit to it. I am not the person who slaves away for 3 hours to make a sumptious meal.

It also needs to have texture and flavour. I want crunch or munch. Not slop

So I’ve had another go with something completely different; halloumi with couscous and pan fried vegetables. It’s quick, really quick….so simple and it is definitely the meal that has gone down the best so far. The saltiness of the halloumi sits so well against the Ainsley Harriett Moroccan couscous that we used which had mint and lemon flavours. We used red pepper and cherry tomatoes, but you could roast some vegetables, which would be lovely, or the original recipe suggested steamed broccoli.

The final result; no leftovers, one happy wife, one great meal, and 2 recipes in my repertoire…so now I am on the hunt for my next recipe…I thinking some sort of dry noodle meal…any suggestions? It needs to be vegetarian.

I am heading to a Vegan Cookery course in Sheffield in September and hoping to get some ideas for some more of my recipes…

Anyone else have a specific group of meals you prepare on rotation or is it just me?

Image from Alfez.com (I forgot to take a photo!)

Recipe No 1- in the Magic 10

In a recent post I mentioned that part of my aim for #minimalistliving is to be a better cook, but have 10 delicious recipes that I learn off by heart which means we eat healthy, vegetarian food as part of our simple, minimalist lifestyle.

I am testing different recipes out on my wife over the next few weeks and giving her a little score card so that she can decide which meals she likes, and which are not for the top ten.

The first one met with success, a full 100 per cent success rate! It’s from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg Recipe Book, and it’s the Caponata. You can find the recipe here;

http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2013/05/caponata-from-river-cottage-veg.html

It has such a lovely depth of flavour, and although it’s in the Tapas section, we used it as a main meal with basmati rice. There are quite a few ingredients, but it feels like you need all of them to produce the flavour. We’re going to try the leftovers tomorrow with flatbread.

My wife as the meat eater of the family has suggested that it would be really lovely with some pan seared beef on top, so we’re going to have a go at trying that on top of hers next time.

If you get a chance to try it, let me know what you think