Rewarding work

I’ve been shortlisted in the category of Inspiring Business Parent in a national award that celebrates flexible working. I’m very excited. And honoured. And more than a little surprised! But mostly I’m delighted as it shows that even when challenges and difficulties appear to knock you off course, wonderful things can come from it.

This particular award is focused on parents and working; still today there are challenges for mums (and dads) to combine work and family needs, an issue that is slow to be resolved despite on-going efforts to change attitudes and working practices. Similar challenges are faced by many other groups, including disabled, or less abled people who have much to offer but need flexibility that traditional working environments find hard to offer. So when you are a mum and a parent and less abled or restricted by health problems in some way, it just gets even harder.

My career of choice was always nursing; I was one of those people who did it because I loved it, a bit of a stereotype I guess! Human beings are fascinating, the human body the most incredible piece of technology you will ever find. Working in intensive care gave me a deep respect for everything that happens inside and outside the body to keep us functioning well. And an awareness of how easy it is to mess it all up!

When I discovered that my food intolerances were making me feel ill, it was my respect for the human body that made me do something about it. I didn’t want to feel that way, and I didn’t want to take medication to treat my migraines that could cause further damage elsewhere. So I chose food; and it worked! Removing the offending foods – dairy and yeast – started the healing process, discovering the benefits of a whole food plant based diet continued it. Little did I know at the time that these migraines were most probably the first signs of autoimmune disease, and that the actions I took then helped dampen down the inflammation and subsequent damage.

Making changes to the way you eat is hard. I started my blog The Sensitive Foodie to share my new discoveries with others in a similar situation, then I started running workshops and cooking demos; at the time, this was not mainstream at all. How things have changed over the last few years! Showing others how to make changes that helped gave me real encouragement, something I definitely needed when I was suddenly diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a degenerative neurological condition. There had been signs, and I had already given up my job working in ITU as I could not cope with the long shifts, the harsh lighting and the stress of working in a critical care environment. It also didn’t help that I kept dropping things!

Fortunately I had lots of support at the time to help, particularly my lovely family and friends, as well as my Buddhist practice. Two things stand out – my wonderful husband who agreed to provide the financial support so I didn’t have the pressure of making loads of money from my fledgling business, and the Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis programme that uses food as a basis for healing. It was reassuring to know I was already following a research-backed way of healing, that had kept me well for some time, and continues to do so today.

So now, my work keeps me well – through the food and by being able to work flexibly and pace myself day to day. I am fortunate to be in this position, and I now help others in a similar situation make the changes they need to keep well by being an Ambassador for the OMS programme (click here to find out more about OMS) as well as running my Eat Well Live Well courses, giving talks and working with people on a one to one basis.

Interest in the food we eat, health and the environment is growing. I love running my courses and sharing the wonderful world of whole-food plant-based eating, sharing my enthusiasm and passion and seeing that growing in others, making it easy for them to eat well without being a slave to the kitchen. They take that home with them, share it with their own families and friends, and make a choice to be well. That’s a pretty awesome feeling, knowing something positive has come out of something that’s been hard. I may not be able to work as a nurse any more, but it’s good to know I can still help people, and hopefully prevent them from needing that care in the first place.

I’ll find out on 6th February if I’m a finalist for the awards, so I wait with finger crossed to see. I’m sure there are lots of inspiring parents out there who deserve recognition; it’s so great there are organisations like mumandworking and NatWest that are willing to give it.

To find out more about my next course starting on 5th February, click here.

To find out more about The Mumandworkingawards, Sponsored by NatWest, click here



Dairy free ‘parmesan’ cheese

Cheese is one the most difficult things to replace in a dairy free or plant based diet. There are lots of alternative products on the market, but very few that either taste that good or are not full of fake ingredients – usually both!

I used to really crave cheese, but it’s so long since I’ve eaten it I now have no emotion about it. Having said that, I’m always on the lookout for alternatives that work, as cheese can bring flavour and texture to a dish. Parmesan cheese is particularly good as a last minute salty savoury shot, but I had never found a dairy free alternative I liked – until now.

I was flicking through my Twitter feed recently when a link to a cashew parmesan recipe caught my eye, as well as the website – BBC Good Food. It just goes to show how much interest there is in dairy free food – it’s gone mainstream!

As with many ‘cheese’ recipes, it uses nutritional yeast. This used to be a no-go area for me, as yeast was one of my food intolerances. In fact, my initial reason for changing the way I ate was for the very shallow purpose of being able to drink wine again! And it’s working – I can tolerate a glass or two now, as long as it’s vegan (remember the post about milk in wine? Result!

Nutritional yeast is dried, inactive yeast that is supposed to free from forms of Candida that contribute to unhealthy yeast overgrowth in the gut as well as thrush. If wine, which is made with activated yeast, is ok, I hoped this would be too. And all seems well – so far, in small doses.

Having tried to move away from processed foods and only eat real whole foods, it does seem a bit odd adding a non-food entity to my diet. Grown on sugar, this yeast is manipulated to create a completely man-made product. But it does have some good nutrients in it, like the B vitamins, as well as zinc and some fibre. It’s also gluten free. And it does somehow provide a stinky cheese kind of flavour, which is missed at times!

It’s so long since I’ve eaten parmesan cheese, it’s hard to remember the true flavour. Trying out the cashew nut recipe, it certainly added another salty, savoury dimension to recipes; I’ve ended up adapting the original recipe by increasing the amount of nutritional yeast. I’ve also tried it with sunflower seeds – it’s just as good, a great nut-free cheesy alternative. It keeps in the fridge for a good four weeks too.

High-speed blenders like a Nutribullet are too powerful for this recipe – whilst you want the nuts or seeds broken down, a slight crumby texture is needed, not a sticky mass! Pulsing rather than blitzing is the action you need here.  I used the bowl attached with my stick blender, but a small bowl of a food processor will work just as well. Sunflower seeds take a few seconds more than cashew nuts to break down, but otherwise the recipe is just the same.

So if you’re looking for a tasty cheesy topping to sprinkle on your salads, pasta or roasted veggies, why not mix up a batch of this ‘parmesan’ for a flavour infusion?

Dairy free ‘parmesan’ cheese

75g cashew nuts or sunflower seeds
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon Himalayan salt
4 tablespoons nutritional yeast (I used Engevita yeast flakes)

Place the nuts or seeds into a small processor and pulse a couple of times to break down into a rough crumb. Add the remaining ingredients and pulse until blended. Keep in a clean jar in the fridge.