Saturday, 29 May 2010

My life sans gluten

How has it been?
The first few days were great. My tum was very happy with me. Go forward a few days, and I'm constipated, uncomfortable and grumpy. I guess it's my fault for having coeliac-friendly chocolate kiddie cereal for breakfast most mornings...

I should have had loads of fruit or a bowl of quinoa or buckwheat. So that's what I'm going to do next week.

I feel really disappointed, and I'm feeling rather despondent about my IBS overall. Am I restricting my diet for no real benefit? If I ate crap would be tummy actually be any worse? I had to work hard this week to ignore that voice in my head. I'm remembering how much worse my tummy was last year. That said, my diet wasn't too bad. I still cooked a lot, but I ate more bought cake, biscuits, supermarket bread (albeit the "artisan" stuff, omg I can't believe they can get away with calling it that) and drank more alcohol (by this I mean a few beers and 1/2 bottle wine a week). Tummy aside, I've seen other benefits. I've never before been consciously happy about my body, suddenly, I'm perfect for me. Last time I was vegan I was probably this slim (maybe even more so), but I didn't really notice. I guess becoming flabbier since has made me more body conscious. My skin looks a great deal better, and my dysmenorrhea and PMS are almost non-existant. I turned to veganism for an IBS cure, and I found happiness in consuming according to my convictions. I guess I had put up a mental wall about the ethics of dairy.
So veganism is here to stay. What about gluten free?

Well, I'm pleased to say, sluggish colon aside, that it's been fun. I have found loads of great recipes using wonderful gluten free grains/pseudo cereals and their flours; teff, quinoa, buckwheat, sorghum, millet. I spent excessive amounts of online time trying to track down online suppliers. Best of all, I think gluten free grains are much probably much better for a vegan who likes running. The protein and mineral content of these pseudo cereals is much higher than wheat, rye or barley. So I'm embracing them wholeheartedly. I had already discovered buckwheat pancakes and socca, and preferred them over wheat-based flatbreads.
The only area where going wheat free will leave me a little bereft is bread baking. I've posted before about my sourdough loving ways. While my favourite book does have a fab gluten free section with instructions for a rice sourdough, I'm betting it's not quite the same. However, after eating all that bread in France, I'm kind of glad, for now, to do without it. Maybe by the time I start craving it again I'll have read enough gluten free bread recipes to feel confident about making some.

For now, thinking about my meals without wheat flour products can only do me good. As it's now early summer in Northern Ireland, my stomach is thinking more giant salad than pasta dish. Salad doesn't mean diet food; I've been adding toasted seeds, oils, hummus and brown rice or quinoa to mine. Plenty of tasty fats and enough protein. I'm currently obsessed with spinach- for a while I shunned it for kale or collards because most of the iron in spinach can't be absorbed. However, it's all put to rights with a generous helping of quinoa or amaranth. Drool.
So, while I may or may not have a problem with wheat and/or gluten, taking it out of my diet will definitely have me eating more wholegrains and probably increase my protein and mineral intakes. No bad thing.

All this wholegrain munching means being better prepared. The freezer is my friend. I cook big pots of brown rice after prolonged soaking and then stash it in the freezer for quick fixes. My shelled hemp seeds, flaxmeal and ground coffee live there too, it keeps them fresh. So do chopped up bananas for smoothies and bananascream as well as other frozen fruit- raspberries, blueberries, cherries, mangoes. Other prep is necessary for an easy life too, if I whip up hummus and pesto or some other tasty dressing, I can throw together a tasty lunch to take with me while the blender is making my breakfast. An hour or two's prep at the weekends makes a restricted diet wee buns*.

Finding great new sources of information is a big bonus, I love my nutrition book I picked up in Toulouse, lots of tasty healthy ideas, like chocolate cake with banana, rice flour and almond butter, "creme caramel" with rice cream and agar etc etc. I will be trying some of these out soon.

I also discovered a new blog this week, too: Gluten Free Goddess
This quinoa loving deity makes me drool like a teething baby. I have a list of her recipes as long as my arm to try out.

So there are things that make it seem easier. But I've come to the reluctant conclusion that curing IBS cannot be done by dietary restrictions alone. There must be some underlying cause, and until someone works out what that is, we IBSsers will only be rooting around in the dark. Sure, diet can make it a little more tolerable for a while. But I think we have to give up kidding ourselves that a cure can be found in the bottom of a supplement jar or by chucking out a couple of packets of flour. Unfortunately.
*wee buns= Northern Irish for easy

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Gluten free pancakes, dinner and brekkie

It's an absolute stunner of a day in Northern Ireland. In fact, I'd put money on it being the hottest day of the year so far. I got up early and instead of a run, I had a very leisurely stroll around the park. I didn't run because my tummy is still a little upset after the wheat overdose of the last week, but I've noticed big changes already; the food I'm eating is causing no discomfort after I eat. I've convinced myself I have a gluten problem, but the likelihood is my tummy just doesn't like an overload of any one type of food. When I think something is causing me digestive distress, I get completely turned off by it. The thought of peanut butter and toast makes me feel a bit queasy at the moment. It's kind of like finding out your best friend's been backstabbing you or something, you just want nothing more to do with it despite it being such a previous comfort.

Anyway I am enjoying some buckwheat and rice flour pancakes, although they fall apart easily, so it means too messy and really unblogworthy photos but I'll put them up for future reference. I think a little more xanthan gum or maybe playing around the flours will yield a better result.
First, I wanted some carbage with my salad last night, so made up the batter as described in my last post, then smeared them with some seedy rocket and basil pesto. I picked most of the spinach off the plate and munched it down waiting for the pancakes to cook. See how they broke apart? I didn't mind, still tasty. Token black olive there too.

I didn't use all the batter, so put it in the fridge overnight- pancake batter keeps in the dridge for up to 24 hours and has to sit for a while before frying anyway, so it's good to make up your batter the night before if you're planning a pancake brekkie. I stirred in some frozen raspberries and blueberries this morning and it made one large thin pancakes, which I had with soy yogurt and rice malt syrup. Really delish. With a hazelnut coffee with frothy rice milk, it felt wonderfully indulgent. The plate is all messy because I used it to flip my pancake on to to do the other side. HB thought the yogurt with syrup on top looked like a vegan fried egg. It tasted much better though!

I am off to enjoy this fine day in the garden- a lot to catch up with after being away.
Have a good saturday:)

Favourite IBS tip blogs:
Farty Girl - as she says, we are tummy twins. We have the same type of IBS symptoms, more or less the same trigger foods/situations and therefore have a similar diet, although this gal is better at the raw thing, and I eat more fruit.
Maggie Walks - Maggie has recently done a few posts about her IBS and has given some really helpful advice in her most recent posts.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Switch it up? Going easy for now

Today's munchings were pretty similar to yesterday-
A fruit-based brekkie:

1/2 a melon, 1/2 punnet strawberries, a sprinkling of oat muesli and some live plain soy yogurt.

a banana mid-morning:
Don't eat me!

and lunchtime salad- although with one of last night's burgers to make a more substantial meal:

Grated carrot, celery, cucumber, yellow pepper and black olives, with some of my homemade seedy pesto as a dressing
I put a layer of raw spinach and rocket on the bottom of my dish before adding my chopped veggies and burger. It was really good, just perfect for lunch.

Sprouted aduki and sunflower burgers
150g dried adukis (maybe 2/3-3/4 cup), soaked for 12 hours, rinsed and sprouted (rinsing every 12 hours until they sprout)
100g sunflower seeds (a generous 1/2 cup), soaked for an hour or two
2 smallish onions
2 tbsp olive oil
4 sundried tomatoes, chopped (I soaked them along with the sunflower seeds)
100g (generous 1/2 cup) cooked brown rice or other cereal
Salt, thyme, kombu, plus other spices/herbs as desired

Cook the sprouted aduki beans with a teaspoon of thyme and some kombu in the cooking water. 30-40 minutes will do.
Cook the onions in a tablespoon of oil until nicely softened.
Puree the beans in a food processor, then add the sunflower seeds near the end to chop them up a bit. Then add in the onions, tomatoes and other herbs (I used fresh parsley, more thyme and smoked paprika).
I then fried them in a tablespoon of oil, or you could probably bake them. Before the frying stage, they could be frozen for another time:)
This made 6 decent size patties.

My tummy hasn't been this flawless since I first gave up dairy. I think Farty Girl was spot on when she commented on my recent post that often it's not the particular food, but sometimes one's tummy just gets fed up digesting something, and can handle an old enemy after a break. I should probably note that doesn't mean I'm gonna start eating dairy all of a sudden. That's off the menu for ethical reasons. But I'm hopeful I will be able to eat a little toast with my hummus every now and again, or make some cake, or have a big dollop of peanut butter.
For now, I am getting friendly with my gluten free flours, of which I already have a good selection- brown rice flour, buckwheat and gram (chickpea) flour. I love Dove's Farm flours:)

Tonight I'm making buckwheat galettes (6:2:1 water:buckwheat: rice, a little salt and oil and a pinch of xanthan gum). At the moment the batter is resting.

I'm going to munch these with lots of pesto, hummus and leftover salad.
Happy weekend!

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Rediscovering good digestion

My wheat free ways of the last two days seem to have restored my tummy, for now. In France I was eating wheat at pretty much all my meals, and not just eating, but positively gulping it down.
I have been eating grains, but only small amounts of oats and brown rice. Everything else has been fruit, vegetables and a small amount of beans and seeds (no nuts) and of course some olive oil for flavour and gut soothing, rough skin repairing fats. Chocolate still exists on my recovery menu, but only in bar form, not choc desserts or anything. A little soy yogurt and vanilla rice milk to make breakfast interesting and that's just because I'm a weakling and need my comforts. Drinks have been plenty of water, peppermint tea and rooibos, and a significant reduction in coffee consumption, but unsweetened and unmilked, I don't think it does me any digestive harm.

The biggest "revelation" for me has been the importance of distinguishing between types of fibre, rather than just trying to eat as much as possible. It seems to me my tummy responds best to plenty of fruit and raw vegetables, and moderate amounts of oats (because of the mucilagey-ness I think) and some ground seeds (like flax, but not so good whole). Killers for me are wholemeal pasta, any sort of bread and All Bran cereal (uuuurrrgh, like eating wire wool although I love the taste).

I haven't been able to get my hands on any agar yet, but oat bran seems to be a good enough source of jellyish carbs for now, which definitely help soothe a wheat scratched tum.
Today's food:
Birchermuesli made with apple, oats, vanilla rice milk, lots of strawberries, raspberries and some banana, and topped with a little plain live soy yogurt. I'd forgotten how well a predominately fruit-based breakfast agrees with me, and also keeps me sated and energetic. Weird how something can be so filling yet very light in the tummy. I need to remember this.
Mix for dinnertime burgers: soaked sunflower seeds, sundried tomato, parsley, smoked paprika, thyme and sauteed onion. I mixed in some cooked sprouted aduki beans and blended it up a good bit, but still let it chunky. I got the recipe from a French health food book I bought in Toulouse to read on the flight home:

The book seems to be vaguely macrobiotic, as the first chapters are about dried legumes and then grains, all the milk in the recipes is non-dairy, and there's a chapter on seaweeds.

I ate my burger with leftover lunch salad (brown rice, cucumber, celery, carrot, yellow pepper and pesto) and 2 cups of spinach and rocket. I had the salad for lunch with lots of plain lettuce and a dab of paprika hummus.

I had a banana and a few plain oatcakes for 11s, and a generous dousing of chocolate after my dinner (YUM)

I started back running again this morning, and despite all the walking, I found a short 3 miler quite tough(!) I suppose running is a whole different motion. It didn't help that it was incredibly sultry and muggy this morning, even at 6am I was roasting in very light shorts and tshirt. My walk home was great though. I was really able to switch completely off from my usual rushing forward in my head (I spend so much time planning planning planning the next thing I intend to do). I just listened to the rhythm of my feet on the pavement (I was wearing small heels today so got a nice clicky sound) and enjoyed just being content rather than consciously doing something. It so easy for me to skip into the trap of thinking I'll find happiness in the things I do, like cooking, reading, running rather than just letting go and not talking myself into needing to do things, just letting myself be, and forgetting about the passage of time, at least, not thinking of it as a disconcerting thing:)

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

How I got on in France

I was incredibly lucky to get to France and back, there were flight cancellations on either side of both coming and going! We had good weather (for walking that is, it was a mix of sun and cloud with some rain at night). As always the last day was the best, but it would have been too hot for walking, our Irish skin would have been fried.

The walking has left me in fantastic shape muscoskeletal-wise. My feet, however, are quite shabby looking, and my tummy did NOT like France. It was a combination of stressing about airports and getting to each stop along the way, not having my own toilet (I can't pee never mind anything else if someone is in the bathroom) and the difficulty in getting energy-dense tummy-happy vegan food in rural France. It didn't help that I was really hungry quite often, so ate too much too quickly.

The stress is something I have a long way to go with. I'm a perfectionist and I'm also pretty impatient. Perhaps a holiday were I had somewhere new to be everyday was not the best for me. Next time round I intend to base myself in one place (ideally coastal but rugged). The stressing out ain't going away anytime soon, so I should aim to try and outsmart the instinct a bit.
However, the south west of France is incredibly beautiful. It's hilly rather than mountainous, mostly river valleys and very wooded (deciduous). Between the woods are meadows full of a wide variety of wildflowers, I was amazed at the biodiversity compared to Northern Ireland. The villages were quite often Unesco protected, beautiful little medieval higgedley-piggedley places spilling into the rivers they straddled. So yes, it was worth getting a little jittery to see such great places. We also met some really cool people along the way, especially Sally and Chris, who we stayed with in Conques, and Ole, a Norwegian journalist who we met along the route and was staying at the same place as us one night.

I'll not go into detail on the bathroom troubles. Just that I will note my bowels were being weird but not my usual trouble, though not the opposite either. Weird. I'm pretty sure the changes were down to all the refined wheat I ate.

After a day's walking I was usually confronted with a small kitchen to be shared with 20 other ravenous walkers, so speed was the name of the game, and that usually meant pasta with tomato or olives or something chucked in. I'm sure there are better satisfying, quick-to-prepare post-hike dinners, my lack of imagination is partly to blame, therefore. Breakfast and lunch was usually bread. The only real fresh stuff I got was the odd banana or apple. Luckily in Toulouse I got some great vegan salad both before and after the walking. When we ate out in the villages, we mostly had walnut salads and cheeseless pizza (more wheat). French bread is incredibly good, but my tummy was really sick of it. It is hard to think of a better walking food, as it's light to carry and nice and carby. I didn't eat as much chocolate as I thought I would and I avoided nuts as I find they upset my tummy. This upsets ME greatly, but I think my tummy has won this battle of wills. Aa far as wheat goes, I as eating more before I went away as I thought pasta would be good running fuel. Before I went on hols I was having a new tummy problem and it now seems wheat products are to blame. So I will be relying on gluten free grains for my carbs, and in any case, I don't do so much running that I need to worry about a few percent difference in carb/fat/protein intake. In fact the higher protein grains/seeds I'll be eating will help recondition my muscles (especially my back and shoulder muscles) after all that walking with a backpack.

In conclusion, I have a few aims for the next few weeks to get my tummy back on an even keel:
Rice milk and minimal soy (only live soy yogurt although I will make some oat yogurt soon)
Lots of thickening agents (agar, kuzu, arrowroot) to sooth my colon. I was going to get psyllium husks but was afraid it would be too bulky in my gut.
Fruit breakfasts. I tend to have very well-paced, non-bloaty digestion if I eat fruit-based rather than grain-based breakfasts.
Oat bran (although not too often for breakfast)
Minimal wheat - I'll be having buckwheat or rice flour pancakes instead of bread
Rice, millet and quinoa instead of pasta
A healthful variety of raw veggies for lunch, with maybe some cooked non-gluten grains and some fatty/protein thing, like toasted seeds or hummus.
Plenty of healthy fats that my tummy can handle, i.e. hemp and olive oil and sunflower and pumpkin seeds but going easy on nuts and nut butters as I've stopped denying that these do upset my tummy.
No snacking and also following the 80% full rule, also some tummy yoga (thanks Maggie!)

Today, my tummy is better than it was yesterday which was the worst day but it's been spasming on and off all day, although without pain.
I started off with oat bran served with rhubarb jam (made myself from homegrown rhubarb) and a little live soy yogurt. I had some sneaky hazelnut coffee I picked up in France (also got some cherry chocolate tea but haven't tried this yet)

I had an apple too, but with my new apple knife (also bought in France)
Later in the morning I had a fruit smoothie and a blueberry oat bar.

Then, after making hummus and pesto for the next few day's lunches, I made up a little mini-lunch/supersize snack of oatcakes, hummus, pesto, rocket and cucumber.

The pesto is amazing! It's basil, rocket, toasted sunflower/pumpkin/hemp/sesame seeds, olive oil and nutritional yeast, plus a little lemon juice, sel de gris and pepper. It really tastes like a parmesany pesto. I think it's because of the toasted seeds rather than the nooch. I'm glad I used them as I had thought of walnuts, but the seeds will be gentler on my tum.

For dinner, I had my favourite: coconut curry (broccoli and mushroom). The rest of the short grain brown rice has been turned into a pesto and crunchy veg (carrot, celery, cucumber, spring onion, yellow pepper) salad for lunch tomorrow. And now I'm off to the kitchen to make berry banana Birchermuesli for tomorrow's post run pre work breakfast-yum!

Speaking of running, I can tell after the walking my running will have moved up a gear. I feel really fit. I can't wait to get out again and will be aiming to do 3+ miles weekdays and a 8-10 miler at the weekend, with one off day.

Here are some holiday photos from our first day in Toulouse:

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Signing off for the next couple of days...

Volcanic ash permitting, I'm off backpacking in SW France for a little over a week from tomorrow. I managed to pack less than 10kg, which I can't believe, since there's a sleeping bag, homemade energy gel, perfume, lipstick, pretty clothes, plastic food boxes, nooch and Lush shower gel in there...all the luxuries a backpacking foodie gal could desire...
If we don't get to Toulouse because of the ash, we've got a Plan B, to head to the Dingle Peninsula in the south west of Ireland. It's very beautiful and I know the area as well as I know the Mournes. So worse case scenario, I'm going to have a great couple of days:)
Holiday updates next week!

Monday, 3 May 2010

Upping the mileage

The Hare's Gap seen from Meelmore Lodge

My legs are definitely earning their keep at the moment...
I spent sunday in the Mournes, all on track I hadn't been on before. Starting at Meelmore Lodge, we went up the Trassey Track to the Hare's Gap, then along the Brandy Pad to the saddle between Donard and Commedagh, then we followed the wall over Slieve Commedagh, Slieve Corragh and Slievenaglogh. I LOVE the Mournes, and the Mourne Wall is easily my favourite manmade feature in Northern Ireland. It is so striking to see this solid boundary snaking up over the rugged, higgedly piggedlyness of the mountains. Being inside the walls makes me feel free rather than closed in, empowered and strong rather than 'safe' or locked in.

View of Bearnagh from Slieve Corragh (look at how steep the wall is here!)
Hb and I got up on the wall on the coll between Corragh and Commedagh
Weird crater-like depression on the top of Commedagh. Look at those lovely misty mountains across the way.
Summit of Slieve Commedagh

It was a mostly cloudy day, with some sun breaking out, some drizzly showers, and one almighty downpour just as we got back to the Trassey Track. I didn't really start enjoying the day until I started the steep ascent up Commedagh, and then it was over too soon. The wall is the best guide you can have in the Mournes, all my best walks have been when I've kept close to it. The Brandy Pad was rather dull and very worn. The views from Commedagh (especially over to my favourite peak, Bearnagh) were stunning.
We had bananas, grapes, bread and hummus at the Donard/Commedagh saddle and stopped for a cup of tea and a little something sweet before the drive home. For dinner, we had a big pile of pasta and veggies (carrots, collards and tomatoes)- I was hungry!

Today, I went home to see my family, and went for a 7 mile/11k ish run. It took me exactly an hour, and was the longest run I've done in forever, the longest I've done this year before that was 4 miles. I had a medjool date and banana and strawberry smoothie as a post-run refuel and had a hummus, rocket and bread lunch later. This evening I had a bowl of savoury oats with carrot lime salad, hummus and toasted seeds:

It was delish! I love oats:)
I'm really whacked now after that activity-filled weekend! So I'm going to get an early night. This week will be all about the allotment and last minute holiday prep.

Green fingers!

I don’t really have many readers, but for the sake of recording it, I haven’t been blogging for the following reasons:

I’ve been lacking in inspiration for post ideas

I’ve been spending (deliberately) less time in the evenings glued to computer and TV. And I’ve been going to bed early to get up early to run so my evenings are shorter anyway.

Roasted lemon cauliflower, mashed turnip and quinoa (sprinkled with some toasted seeds)

Pea "barlotto" (pea shoots and pot barley)

Roasted vegetables (courgette, aubergine, red onion and peppers) with quinoa and tahini lemon sauce and nooch

Not only has my writing not been very inspired, neither has my cooking, I’ve just been doing some routine dishes, or just cooking up a grain or lentils and cooking whatever vegetables I have to hand. Breakfasts have usually been bran cereal or oats and fruit, the occasional oat/fruit shake. Lunch is usually salad or hummus or leftover dinner and I bring fruit, nuts, fruit-sweetened oatcakes or toast in to snack on. Not so good habits have been not enough water and too much coffee, and too much snacking on biscuits and chocolate after dinner. All these combined have contributed to a few skin breakouts, although I’ve been doing a major tidy out in work so my hands are always dusty. I’ve been much hungrier recently, because:

Exercise-wise, I’ve been doing a fair bit, I’ve been running most days (~3 miles) and walking everyday (at least 3.5 miles) as well as a bit of resistance stuff.

Veg patch at my parent's house

Big rhubarb patch at my parent's

Polytunnel at the allotment (pre-weeding)


HB getting stuck in

Gardening is also starting to take up a significant amount of my time as the days gets longer. I’ve been working both at my allotment and my parent’s garden. I’ve still some seeds to sow for the summer crops, and then I can sow things like greens and salad leaves every couple of weeks. HB, as you can see, is getting into it, although this took some getting used to (he was shocked to see worms- "omg a worm!"). Do you get your SO involved in your hobbies?

I’m going on holiday soon too, so there’ll be another quiet slot for my blog; I’m going to the Aveyron/Lot region in France, staying in Toulouse on either side of a couple of day’s walking. We are moving through a few villages with one two night stopover in Conques, so we are carrying all our gear in a backpack. I’m planning this weekend to do a mock pack to see what I can manage to squeeze in! It will be nice to live with minimal things for a couple of days, but holidays should be enjoyable too, so I need to find a good balance. Luckily I’ve done this kind of thing before and for longer so I have a fair idea of what I can do without and what I didn’t take last time but would have been useful/nice. Another part of the prep will be a nice long hike this weekend in my favourite mountains, the Mournes, just 20 off miles south of Belfast. While we won’t be carrying as much weight as we will be in France, the Mournes have some fairly tough sections so the walking alone will be a good enough prep. We still have some stuff to get for going away, which we’ll get on Saturday as it’s supposed to be raining, and then it’s off to the mountains on Sunday.

By the way, I discovered oat milk makes good lattes (very foamy and perfectly neutral unlike other non dairy milks):

Mountain and running update coming soon!