The cost/benefit analysis of cake

When someone finds out that I don’t eat any dairy products, the conversation generally goes like this:

Aghast person: “You don’t eat dairy? What not even cheese?”
Me: “No, nor milk, or cream or butter.”
Aghast person, face starting to look like Munch’s ‘Scream’: “Oh you poor thing. I just couldn’t live without my cheese!”
Me: “It’s actually not that difficult once you haven’t had it for a while.”
Aghast person’s, expression turning from horror to disbelief: “Really? You must be so strong-willed. I couldn’t do that.”

I wouldn’t describe myself as particularly strong-willed. Or brave, single-minded or mad (all regular responses). Although cheese was hard to resist at first, for me it was cake. How to say no to a beautifully fresh buttery sponge laden with jam and cream, or a sumptuously delicious chocolate mud cake topped with whipped cream? There’s no denying my refusal to offers of cake were heavily laden with regret, enveloped in a thick wave of self-pity and woe. Life was so cruel, why did I have to deny myself such pleasure?

The moments when my self-control cracked and I indulged in the momentary pleasure of dairy-laden cake soon hit me with a stark reminder of why it was off the menu. The ‘grey gunge’ would soon descend, my neck wouldd start to ache and the tell-tale signs of a misery migraine would start to flicker, ending in booming pain and general discomfort. Once dairy and yeast were out of my diet, I didn’t feel awful all the time. When the headaches and general feeling of grot reappear due to a slip-up, they seem even more intense than before. It’s a real lesson in appreciating how great your new normal is.

Once I understood this, it didn’t take long to realise that there was a clear decision making process to follow when tempted to indulge in something deliciously and aromatically enticing but accompanied by unpleasant consequences; the cost/benefit analysis of cake/cheese/bread or anything else that you happen to be intolerant to.

It’s a simple equation – how much is that moment of pleasure worth related to how long the side-effects will last for? As you can see from the diagram, it’s a simple process of weighing up the pros and the cons. What’s the ultimate value of cake vs feeling well?

It’s also a conscious decision; most importantly it’s your decision; don’t let anyone else do the analysis for you, as they don’t know exactly how it feels (this is one of the subjects I address in my new book ‘The Sensitive Foodie‘). Sometimes you will make the wrong choice (I gave in to a small soft bread roll on a flight one time, no idea why. It led to a 3 day migraine. Never again!) but the key to it is it’s your choice. Mindful decisions are the best ones!

And of course, by eating a whole food plant based diet, there are loads of amazing alternatives to enjoy just as much, especially cake. So all is not lost, just different. Check out some of the gorgeous cake recipes on my blog – eating these is definitely a good decision!

Chickpeas once more – in a bread!

The internet is a wonderful thing – quick access to information about any topic under the sun. Sometimes it’s prudent to be careful and question where this information is coming from, particularly controversial points of view; for recipes though it’s like having one massive cookery book at your finger tips with so much variety, abounding inspiration is available at every moment.

I can spend hours browsing websites and blogs, googling random ingredients and following a path of ingenuity and creativity. There’s so many different options on offer, I tend to forget where I’ve been, and take ages finding that fascinating fact or idea that’s tantalising the edge of my subconscious. Now I try to bookmark everything that I want to return to; that list is getting pretty long and unmanageable!

Recently I found an article featuring marvellous things to do with chickpeas (that old obsession returns once more!); this led me to a recipe for ‘Eggy Breakfast Bread’, a chickpea based bread, similar to cornbread but sweet Made with chickpea flour, it looked great, but I’m not so keen on sweet bread, so decided to omit the sugar and add in some savoury flavours.

I have to say, not only is it incredibly easy, the flavour and texture is fabulous. And totally moreish! Not being able to eat bread other than wraps and the occasional soda bread (home made version) due to my yeast intolerance, it was exciting to create something that was so tasty and felt so right in the mouth.

This recipe calls for flaxseed. If you’ve not come across it before, you’re missing out. Nutritionally it’s a brilliant plant source of omega 3, absolutely packed full of fibre, lignans (anti-oxidant phytonutrients) and other anti-oxidants. When mixed with water, flaxseed swells and can be used as an egg replacement in plant based cooking. When you see how it swells in a cup with a little water, you realise how it’s going to swell in your gut. So it’s not only good for healthy bowels, it will  help you stay full for longer if you’re trying to lose weight.  Adding it to cereal in the morning is a wise thing to do!

Here is my savoury version of this bread. The herbs and spices can be played around with to create different flavours. I’m planning on experimenting with pesto (dairy free of course!) by omitting some of the oil and adding the equivalent pesto. My mouth is watering just thinking about it!

Savoury chickpea bread
1 cup/140g chickpea flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon ground flaxseed
1 cup/240ml of dairy free milk
1 teaspoon fennel seeds or spice/herbs/seed of choice
½ teaspoon garlic powder
Black pepper
Pre heat oven to 180oC and lightly grease a round metal pie tin or line a square baking tin.

Combine flaxseed with all the wet ingredients and whisk together really well. In a separate bowl, mix the remaining dry ingredients together, then pour the wet into the dry and stir until well mixed.Pour batter into prepared tin and bake in the oven for 10 minutes or until firm and slightly browned on top. Remove from oven and leave to cool in the tin for at least 10 minutes. Cut into triangles in the tin before removing.Best eaten warm, it’s still delicious cold – that’s if you can leave it to get cold before gobbling it up!

Home-made almond butter

Eating a dairy free, whole food plant based diet is becoming less labour intensive as more products become available in the shops. This is great for convenience, but does carry a pretty hefty price tag, especially if that tag is headed ‘free from’! And because of the need for an extended shelf life, products may not be as whole as they should be, with added extras – sugar, salt and oil are added to not only improve flavour as the natural taste fades over time, but also to act as preservatives. There are many other natural preservatives, and colours, many of which are now grown on yeasts, so are a no no for someone with a yeast intolerance.

My daughter has recently developed a passion for almond butter. Always declaring an innate dislike of peanut butter (despite never tasting it!!), I bought a jar of almond butter one day which she tried under protest. To her surprise, she loved it and has be adding it to her food in imaginative ways ever since (baked sweet potato with almond butter topping?). The jars found at the supermarket are pretty small and don’t last long. They are also not cheap. I tried to make it myself, my ever reliable food processor working hard, but just ended up with a dry powder. I could have added oil, but then it wouldn’t be a whole food, so never tried again.

Until recently that is. Browsing on the internet one day, I ended up on a discussion forum about making almond butter (it continues to amaze me what you can stumble upon on the web). According to this chat, almond butter was easy to make, only requiring whole almonds but needed one vital ingredient – patience!

I realised the dry powder I had created was only the middle stage of the butter making process. If I have let my processor continue for another five minutes or so, the nuts would have broken down enough to start releasing the natural oils which change the ground nuts from a dry paste into a beautifully rich, moist spread. And not only is the flavour remarkable, you know exactly what is in your almond butter. If you roast the nuts before hand, you don’t even need to store it in the fridge, although I do, although more out of habit than necessity, because to be honest, it gets eaten up pretty quickly.

Almonds are amazingly healthy. They do contain lots of fat, but it’s healthy monounsaturated, the type which has been proven to help lower the ‘bad’ cholesterol in your body and improve heart health. They also contain fabulous amounts of vitamin E, and anti-oxidant that helps in heart health, but also in your whole health, and is great for your skin and helps slow the ageing process. Almonds also have a shed load of fibre, a good amount of magnesium, which is also essential for heart and general health, B vitamins and phytonutrients essential for overall health, so what’s not to like?

And of course, this process is applicable to any nut or seed. So I’ve made my own tahini, which is way more tasty and powerful than anything in a jar, plus the oil doesn’t separate from the solids, which always seems to happen with shop bought. I also made peanut butter, which is seriously intense! So if you have a few spare minutes and fancy experimenting, give this a go and revel in the extraordinary flavours you’ll create.

Almond Butter
1 1/2 cups almonds
a food processor
a small jar, cleaned and rinsed with boiling water
Heat your oven to 180oC. Place the almonds on a baking tray and roast for 5 minutes. Take them out the oven, check they’re not getting burnt and pop them back for another couple of minutes. You don’t want to over roast them otherwise they become too dry and you won’t get a good butter. Remove
from the oven and leave to cool.Once cool, pop in your food processor and blitz on a medium speed until the nuts are broken down and stuck up the side of the bowl. Stop, get a spatula and scrap down to the bottom again. Resume processing. Repeat this process until the nuts eventually start  releasing their oil and stay at the bottom of the bowl. Increase the speed slightly and leave on until a beautifully unctuous butter is created. This will take about 10 minutes in total. Stop the processor and check the texture – continue until you get a smooth texture. Then spoon out into the clean jar and enjoy!

Seasonal Slaw

It’s late autumn and the weather in the UK has suddenly turned rather chilly. It’s the time of year for comfort food – soups and stews and and a mighty dollop of fruit crumble. But sometimes these can all be a bit heavy; the solution is a great seasonal salad, packed full of immune boosting nutrients for the inevitable sniffs and snivels as well as lip-smacking flavour.

And to match the dazzling autumn trees, this seasonal slaw has an array of deep orange and reds to provide well needed colour to an otherwise green leafed plate!For those with a dairy intolerance, shop bought coleslaw is generally a no-go area, with some milk product popping up in the long list of ingredients on the packet. And once you’ve read that list, somehow it doesn’t seem quite so palatable! Unless they’re described as creamy coleslaw, they all taste rather vinegary to me as well…..

So this autumn slaw is a real change in direction from any of those vinegary or creamy ones you may have come across before. It’s sweet, but has a sharp flavour from the apple and lemon juice. It’s definitely crunchy and has great textures. In fact, I find it really moreish and one serving is just not enough. Which is no problem, as it’s really healthy and good for you as well as tasty, so there’s no downside – unless the beetroot affects you on it’s way out!! Many people experience red wee after eating beetroot – beeturia! – which isn’t too much of an issue as it’s just a short term issue. Apparently for some, though, it may mean there’s a problem with iron metabolism.

The three main veg in the slaw – carrot, beetroot and red cabbage – are all packed full of phytonutrients of varying kinds which are anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and known to help the body detoxify. Beetroot also has fabulous amounts of folate, manganese and fibre as well as vitamin C which is also a big feature of the benefits of red cabbage. Surprisingly, red cabbage has over 50% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin C, much more than citrus fruit. And being a cruciferous vegetable, red cabbage has marvellous anti-cancer properties too!

So try this slaw as a side, or the main feature of your lunch. Not only is it packed full of flavour and nutrients, it really does look pretty on the plate! (To add more zing, you can use red wine vinegar instead of lemon juice, but this doesn’t work for those who have to avoid fermented foods due to yeast allergies.)

Autumn Slaw
1 medium carrot
1 small raw beetroot
1/8 of a red cabbage
1 small stick celery
1 Cox’s apple
2 tablespoons sultanas
6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
salt and pepper
Pop the sultanas in a dish with some hot water for a few minutes so they plump up. Drain and put to one side. Wash all your veg thoroughly. Grate the carrot, beetroot and apple. Thiny slice the cabbage and celery. Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl with the lemon juice and season to taste. Add more juice and seasoning as required. Leave to one side for a while to let the flavours develop then serve and enjoy.

Seriously scintillating sesame slaw

The summer sunshine is lingering – salad is definitely still on the menu. But so many salad dressings are packed full of no no ingredients, keeping to a dairy and yeast free diet can make them a little boring at times. I love lemon and olive oil on my leaves, but repetition makes it a bit dull.

Browsing through my fabulous Leon cookbook, I stumbled across a double page spread of coleslaw recipes. I love coleslaw – my favourite sandwich used to be cheese piled high with creamy coleslaw – but so often the dressing is laden with some form of dairy it’s a rare treat to find one I can eat. Even the Leon one has had to be modified to leave out any vinegar or fermented products, but the overall taste is still marvellous.

Having soya milk or cream as a dressing base hadn’t occurred to me before – goodness knows why! The sesame is a strong base flavour but isn’t overwhelming and stands alone as a great salad dressing for strong green leaves and cucumber, as well as this slightly different coleslaw. And of course, being high in calcium and other minerals, it’s pretty good for you too!

The slaw contains edamame beans. If you’re not into Japanese food, these may be a mystery to you – it’s just green soya beans, rebranded! Soya gets a bad name some times, especially in the States where GM is an issue. But these beans really are worth a try as they are not only delicious but packed full of goodness. One of the few vegetable products that is a complete protein (contains the full complement of essential amino acids), they are high in fibre, low in fat (and being a veg contain no cholesterol) and have impressive amounts of vitamin C, folate and thiamin, as well as magnesium, iron and a superb dollop of manganese. Often served in the pod as an appetiser at apanese restaurants, they are juicy, sweet and a much more interesting and less bitter alternative to broad beans. I’ve only found them fresh in the pod in a specialist store in London, but luckily my local supermarket stocks bags of frozen beans – not as much fun but still pretty tasty.

I’m definitely going to be trying out some other non-dairy creamy dressings – in the mean time, try this Asian-ish coleslaw and give your taste buds a sesame treat.

Creamy sesame dressing
3 1/2 tbspn soya milk or 2 tbspn soya cream mixed with 1 1/2 tbspn of water
1 tsp Dijon mustard (or mustard powder)
2 tbspn lemon juice
1 clove garlic finely chopped
1 1/2 tbspn sesame oil
100mls light olive oil
salt and pepper
Apart from the oil, combine all the ingredients in a bowl. Slowly whisk in the oil and continue whisking until the dressing has emulsified. Add an extra tablespoon of water if it’s too thick and extra seasoning to taste.

Sesame slaw
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp sesame seeds
200g peas (fresh or frozen and defrosted)
110g edamame beans (defrosted if you can’t find fresh)
1/4 white cabbage shredded
2 medium carrots grated
1 portion of creamy sesame dressing
handful chopped parsley
Toasted the seeds and leave to cool. Prepare the vegetables and combine everything except the parsley in a bowl. Pour over the gorgeous dressing and leave for a while for the flavours to fuse. Sprinkle the parsley over the top when you’re ready to eat and enjoy!

Saucy cauliflower

There are some recipes that just seem to work best with dairy – white sauce is one. Melting rich butter, frantically stirring in flour to form a roux, then slowly adding creamy milk whilst whisking madly, sending out a little prayer that it won’t be too runny or lumpy. If the white sauce works, the rest of the dish does too.

Since going dairy free, making a good white sauce has been a challenge. Dairy free spread makes a great butter replacement (as long as the pan is not too hot) but soya milk has too much flavour of it’s own and rice milk is too watery. As they were my only options in India, I used vegetable stock to make a savoury sauce for pies but was never really satisfied with the results.

After visiting Vegefest earlier this year, I discovered Kara (or Koko, not really sure which one it’s called!). Made from coconut milk, it’s rich and creamy and perfect for cooking with, particularly sauces. Surprisingly, fresh Kara doesn’t have a strong flavour; the long life one is more coconutty. So white sauce is no longer a challenge if I want to make it the traditional way and dairy eating family members can’t tell the difference!

But this is not necessarily the healthiest route to go. My food journey is about using food to heal, not just sustain the body, so I’m always looking to maximise my nutrition intake by reducing anything processed and inflammatory and focusing on whole foods.

And that’s where the humble cauliflower comes in.

When cooked and pureed, cauliflower makes a wonderful creamy sauce that can be used for pasta dishes, lasagna or even a kind of bechemal sauce. Apparently, you can add nutritinal yeast to create a cheese sauce, but as yeast is a no go area I can’t comment!

Because it’s one of those super-healthy cruciferous vegetables, cauliflower is packed full of nutrients, including a whopping amount of vitamin C, vitamin K and folate, and is pretty good for manganese, B5, potassium and fibre. It’s anti-inflammatory, packed with anti-oxidants and phytonutrients and helps your cells to detox.Of course, every positive has to have a negative, and cauliflower can have a smell issue! Some of the phytonutrients release sulphur compounds when cooked so the house can take on a farty aroma for a while! Minimal cooking produces minimal smell, but for sauce making the cauliflower has to be soft, so keep those windows open!!

To get a good savoury flavour, use vegetable stock; place your chopped cauli in a pan with a tight-fitting lid and pour over the stock, not quite covering all the veg, then boil with the lid on, stirring it up every now and then to make sure everything is cooking. The cauli will break down as it cooks and release its own water. Once cooked, leave to cool in the stock, then blitz it all together (this is why you don’t want too much stock otherwise it’s too watery). This way you retain as many of the nutrients as possible that may have leached out into the cooking water. Then season and serve.

I recently made a pasta sauce this way – whilst the cauli was bubbling away, I sauteed some onion, red pepper, garlic and mixed herbs until everything softened, then added some broccoli and sweetcorn for another few minutes, adding a tiny bit of water from the pasta to stop everything from sticking. Once it was all cooked and properly seasoned, I added the veg to the pureed cauliflower to create a beautifully light, creamy sauce, dolloped it onto the pasta (wholewheat of course!) and watched my 14 year old giant-boy wolf it down, declaring it to be lovely. As macaroni cheese is his favourite meal, that’s quite a compliment!

Gorgeous Dairy Free “Boursin”

I keep searching the ‘free from’ and health food shop shelves for a decent ready made cheese alternative, and as yet have failed to find one that works on both taste and texture. So many have a dodgy after tang or a seemingly never ending list of ingredients that I just don’t want to try. There really isn’t any point in trying to eat a healthy free from diet if a product is loaded with additives and preservatives. And since I found out about citric acid and how natural flavours and colours are created there really isn’t anything on the market that I can actually eat!

Recently, I had some friends round for dinner and wanted to give them an inspiring, flavourful plant-based, whole food meal. Whilst in India I attended a number of cooking demonstrations with Dr Nandita Shah from SHARAN; browsing through some of my notes, I came across a vegan boursin recipe that I had forgotten about with “delicious” scribbled next to it. My mouth started to water at the memory so I just had to make it – and I’m so glad I did, as my guests appeared to enjoy it just as much as I did!

Although there is a little soaking time, this is really easy to make and is really adaptable. It’s gorgeous raw and can be used as a dip, dressing or baked potato filling. It works equally well cooked and even browns a little so you get that crispy crunch that I really miss from baked cheese (the crunchy bits on macaroni cheese are always the best!). So either use it stirred in to pasta, as a pizza cheese topping or a savoury sauce. The key is the flavour balance – you want enough garlic to give flavour without overwhelming it, and a nice selection of herbs to complement each other. And it needs quite a lot of salt, certainly more than I would use normally in cooking, to bring it alive, so it’s important to taste as you go.

This dairy free ‘boursin’ is gorgeous stuffed into some button mushrooms and baked in the oven – the mushroom juices and texture complement the salty filling; the flavours just make your mouth sing! Much better than any alternatives I’ve found on a supermarket shelf.

Dairy free ‘Boursin’
200g silken tofu
200g cashew nuts, soaked for a minimum of 2 hours
1 tsp finely minced garlic
1 cup finely chopped fresh herbs (parsley, chives, tarragon, basil etc)
1 – 2 tsps salt
freshly ground pepper
1 tsp fresh lemon/lime juice
First, drain the cashew nuts and discard the soaking water. Place cashews in a food processor or grinder and blitz to get a smooth paste – you may need to add up to 1/3 cup of water, but don’t add too much otherwise your boursin will be too runny. Once your cashew nut paste is smooth, add the tofu, salt and garlic and blend until well mixed and smooth. Transfer the mixture into a bowl and carefully stir in your fresh herbs, juice and season with black pepper. Check your flavours and add in more salt or pepper as needed.
To make the boursin baked mushrooms, simply wash a handful of button mushrooms and remove the stems. Place a teaspoon of the mixture in the centre and bake in the oven for 15 minutes or so until the mushroom has softened and the boursin has browned on the top. Gorgeous!!

Yeast-free challenges

The best way to overcome food intolerances is to remove them from your diet for a period of time, then slowly reintroduce them one by one and monitor the effects. I have an intolerance to both dairy and yeast, and have tried to eradicate them from my diet.

Dairy appears in different forms in many processed foods, but there are good alternatives, and as a recognised allergen, food packaging is pretty helpful.  Yeast, however, is rarely highlighted. On the surface, it should be pretty easy to avoid – cut out bread and doughnuts, wine, beer and cider. Apart from cider, I used to enjoy all these things with great gusto, but I’ve learnt to manage without, although its so tempting at times, especially wine and bread when you’re on holiday in France!

Recently though, I realised I pay more attention to avoiding dairy than yeast, even though I know it’s a big issue. Dairy gives me terrible head and neck aches that easily develop into migraines if not caught early enough. Yeast has a more insidious effect, gradually building up producing a multitude of seemingly random effects including restless legs, fatigue, headaches (different ones), itchy skin, dry eyes and (to the family’s delight!) terrible bloating and wind! It’s not going to kill me but it makes me feel so grotty at times, it really does have a negative effect on my life.

We all have various yeasts and bacteria in our bodies; our guts are alive with its own little eco-system that helps to keep our bodies healthy and balanced. Problems start, though, if that balance is upset; the not so friendly bacteria can start taking over and yeast becomes overgrown, eventually working it’s way into the gut lining and allowing undigested food proteins and bacteria to seep through into the blood stream. This can lead to food allergies, amongst a long list of other problems. To get rampant yeast under control, it needs to be avoided food wise, the over growth eradicated and the gut eco-system restored to a healthy balance.

So step one, avoiding yeast, is easier said than done. It is more than just leaving out the bread and wine. For a start, yeast is a mould, so moulds in general need to be avoided. Not that I have a habit of eating mouldy food, or not obviously mouldy anyway, but it appears in many places, including anything fermented.

This includes ingredients such as soy sauce, over ripe or dried fruit, vinegars of all kinds, miso and malted anything.  Then there’s stock cubes, Marmite (yuck!), pickle, mayonnaise – the list goes on!
Now I’ve tried to avoid many of these for some time now; some of the nasty effects from yeast have subsided, but some have not and others just keep reappearing.

So I decided to look into yeast and moulds in food a little bit more, and it didn’t take long to make a huge, and rather disappointing discovery. Many of the ‘natural’ food flavourings and preservatives found in processed foods are made from cultured yeasts and moulds! The particular one that stood out to me was citric acid, a preservative and stabiliser that appears in hundreds of different food products, including simple items such as tinned tomatoes, tomato puree, tortilla wraps and flat breads – in fact many of the substitute foods I use!

I always thought that citric acid was a natural derivative of citrus fruits. A weak organic acid with a sour, acidic flavour, it is a natural preservative. Historically, Italy was the main producer of citric acid, formed from their huge citrus fruit harvests. Supplies were disrupted during the First World War but by this time a biochemist had discovered a yeast that grew on a sugary medium that produced citric acid, and so this replaced the natural fruit source. Citric acid is still a ‘natural’ preservative, but one that’s manufactured! Today, 1m tonnes of citric acid is produced this way every year, and demand is so high it wouldn’t be economical or practical to get citrus acid from fruit – there’s just not enough of it to meet demand.

Natural flavourings and other preservatives are created in similar ways, so we are all inadvertently eating yeasts and moulds, although for most people this is not a problem. However, for myself and many others, it is and I’m disappointed I didn’t realise this before. There’s so much to learn about food science! If I really want to get to the root of my yeast intolerance, it seems I have to make absolutely everything from scratch, including my flat breads and tomato sauce. Convenience foods are suddenly absolutely inconvenient!

Milk in wine – surely not?

The more I find out about food and drink, the more I’m amazed at exactly what is contained in the every day products we so readily consume. One of the best things about have a food intolerance is gaining knowledge – you need to be informed of exactly what is used to create your favourite dish.

I am constantly amazed, and often dismayed, to find milk or some form of dairy in the most seemingly innocuous products. Crisps are a regular offender (chilli and lime flavor – where’s the need for milk in that?), as is any form of ready meal or processed food product. It hides in different forms – skimmed milk powder is easy to recognise, but then there’s whey, casein and lactose (check out medicines for that one!). But it doesn’t stop there; whey appears in many forms, including gelling and stabilising agents like lactalbumin and lactoglobulin. And as for casein, the milk protein that is my problem, it appears in a multitude of guises as an emulsifier and binding agent (gets processed foods to stick together!). So watch out for anything that has ‘caseinate’ in it, such as sodium caseinate or calcium caseinate, casein hydrolysate (that just doesn’t sound good full stop!) or paracasein.

My daughter became a vegetarian at the age of 12 after finding out that marshmallows contained gelatin – or rather that gelatin was made from crushed animal bones. She was flabbergasted and has never eaten a piece of meat since (and she was a real steak and roast meat eater before). It was a real ‘OMG’ moment for her. Mine came after I read an article about wine; it often contains some form of milk! 

I love wine, but it really does not love me!! Having a yeast intolerance as well as milk has meant that wine has been a real no no over the last few years. Previously, if I’ve had wine to drink, I was so ill the next day. Spirits just don’t effect me in the same way therefore I had always assumed it was the yeast. Now I realise it’s a double allergen whammy; it explains so much!!!

Apparently, a multitude of odd products are used by wine makers, and brewers, either directly to add flavour, or in the filtration process. These include casein, egg white, honey, sea shells and isinglass (fish bladders) to name a few. Casein is often used for fining, a process that removes particles and soluble substances that achieves clarity quicker and more economically than leaving wine to mature over months, or years.

I can’t believe I didn’t know this before; I even had a previous boyfriend with a degree in wine making, but I only remember him going on about sulphates and tanins. Oh, and drinking lots of wine……

So what to do? One option is to not drink wine! But, if you don’t have a yeast intolerance, then why? There are vegan wines available on the market; check out websites such as or that provide pretty comprehensive lists. The wines listed will not contain any animal product, covering a huge range of allergens, which is really handy!

The government is making it easier too – at least in the UK. All wines with a 2012 vintage onwards must state on the label whether milk or egg derivatives are used in the manufacturing process, along with sulphur dioxide levels greater than 10mg/litre.  This will make it easier to buy wines at the supermarket, but not sure how a snobby sommelier will react!!

Thankfully, for me there are always spirits to enjoy, although not all of these products are unadulterated so care is still needed! And of course, I have to say, any alcohol must be consumed sensibly and in moderation. Hangovers cannot be blamed on additives alone!

New Year eating

The more I learn about food and it’s affect on the body, the more I realise just how much we take ourselves and our health for granted. Our bodies are finely tuned machines, wonderful at adapting to different situations and assaults, developing incredible coping strategies and processes so complex it’s too mind boggling to comprehend. The appropriate fuel is needed to ensure this continues – the right vitamins, minerals, micro nutrients as well as a good dollop of carbohydrates, and moderate amount of protein and fat. It shouldn’t be too complicated.

To many, a car is an essential item. It needs to be looked after though, so it gets checks at the garage, cleaned, the oil and water gets topped up the right levels and of course we put in the right fuel – diesel in a petrol engine spells disaster and the engine just conks out. Looking at it this way, we care for our cars better than our own bodies. Why is that? Maybe we don’t make a direct financial investment in our bodies or we just take our bodies for granted, then when it goes wrong find ways to patch it up until eventually it conks out. Or maybe we just don’t really know what we should eat, or have been fed the wrong information. Or maybe, we just care for our cars more than we care for ourselves.

Traditionally at this time of year, thoughts turn to the new year and our aspirations for the future. New year, new you. Losing weight or being more healthy usually heads up the top 10 new year resolutions along with quitting smoking and doing more exercise. But as nearly 80% of new years resolutions fail to be achieved, are they really worth making? Personally, I think they are, but maybe not to start on 1st January. That has to be the worse day to start anything positive, as most people are feeling pretty rubbish from the night before, be it from lack of sleep or too much alcohol – or both!

To make a positive change, there needs to be a specific aim or reason, a real desire to achieve something. For me, my aim is to get rid of my food sensitivities and to feel well again – a short term and (so it seems) very long term project! People ask me how can I live without cheese, or wine. I’m no health food saint, but I honestly feel so much better without dairy or yeast, it’s not really a hardship any more. Making changes depends on your perspective – I gain, not lose (although I would really love to eat bread and drink wine again!!). Making a positive change in your life can be hard but also so good.

Eating a plant-based wholefood diet is one the best treats you can give your body and your health – a real new year spring clean. If you want to give it a go, try the PCRM’s vegan kickstart programme They have food plans for Western and Indian tastes, and it’s pretty easy to follow. If you are a big meat and dairy lover, I would suggest you break yourself in gently – spend January reducing your meat and processed food intake and trying some of the menu ideas. Then try the kickstart in February when you’re ready for it and see what happens! Be prepared for lots of energy and feeling pretty good!

So don’t make a New Years resolution to go on a diet. Make a promise to be kind to yourself and make a positive change, to be in charge of what fuel you put in yourself not be a slave to an addiction to sugar, or fat. Have a tangible goal and above all respect yourself and your environment. And have a wonderful foodie New Year!