Is What You Eat Making You Ill?

Food

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To say I have always had a complicated relationship with food would be an understatement. Me and food have been in a volatile, long-term relationship since I can remember, while various phases of my life have come and gone, good old food has been my ever loyal companion. It has certainly not been a relationship lacking in passion, it has destroyed me and then it has helped to heal me – we have both hated and loved one another, sometimes to dangerous extremes and often at the same time. It’s been rocky, but food has never given up on me.

There’s nothing quite like being diagnosed with a chronic illness to make you re-evaluate some stuff and for me, a huge part of this stuff was my diet. While there is little scientific evidence to show that diet has any direct impact on the disease, there is no question that food affects the symptoms. The problem is that these are different for every sufferer, for every individual it is a case of trial and error and painstaking food diaries until you eventually figure out what works for you – and even then this is subject to change. So my life became centred around food once again, only this time for entirely different reasons. After years of counting calories, shunning food groups and dreading meal times, now all I wanted was to be able to eat a what I considered to be a ‘normal’ meal. It’s kind of ironic really – in that cruel way life likes to laugh at you from time to time – eating was literally making me ill.

Knowing as you do by now my affiliation with food, it won’t surprise you that when I heard about a food intolerance test a local health food shop was offering, you couldn’t sign me up fast enough. Admittedly, people are sceptical of such things and rightly so, I’m not entirely sure how it works myself, although I’m led to believe it has something to do with the pulse. These tests aren’t cheap (decent ones, anyway) and they’re not as reliable as a medical diagnosis, but they don’t pretend to be either. They are aimed at people who suffer from a range of medical conditions, from IBS to Eczema and are there to help you figure out if what you’re eating is worsening your symptoms or making you ill. Although my nurse may be inclined to disagree, food does have an impact on the body – it can improve symptoms just as it can worsen them – sure a gluten-free diet may not be as affective as a heavy course of steroids but looking to the long-term it’s a more realistic approach (plus, its side-effects don’t include leaving you looking like you’ve shoved too many Maltesers in your cheeks.)

I left the test feeling fantastic, brimming with information and advice – given to me by a very helpful dietician – about how to manage my illness, what supplements I should be taking and the actual effect that food could have if I played by the rules. It was the best decision I ever made, until I sat down, studied my results properly and realised that I could no longer eat anything. When I say anything, I mean gluten, dairy and sugar, which to someone who loves bread, pasta and cheese as much as I do, is basically everything. As well as the main culprits, it also turns out I am “sensitive” – the correct non-medical term, as they are not diagnosed allergies – to sweet potatoes, mushrooms, beef, grapes and strawberries to name just a few.

A few weeks down the line, I wish I could say I have embraced this new lifestyle with open arms and now exist on a completely free-from diet filled with plants and beans, but I am only human. It’s tough and it’s a work-in-progress that I will no doubt share with you if you care enough to follow. However, whilst I regularly rue the day I ever took the food intolerance test – particularly as the boyfriend devours his double cheeseburger with sweet potato fries – it was certainly an eye-opener. As mere human beings food is a huge part of our lives but we really have no idea what we are putting into our bodies or what the hell is going on inside there. More and more people are announcing their intolerances and cutting out certain foods, even if their reasoning is as simple as it makes them feel better, we’re starting to realise that food isn’t just fuel, it is medicine.

In an ideal world, I would have everyone take a food intolerance test, but then in an ideal world I would be able to eat pasta for every meal without consequence. I believe we could all benefit from knowing if what we eat is making us ill. In the meantime, my love-hate saga with food continues, but the relationship is blossoming – I’ve purchased recipe books and even started to bake. I’m slowly learning to love the food that loves me back, it’s not easy but I’m in it for the long-haul this time.

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A Girls Gotta Eat… Indonesian Cuisine

Food

Wherever you are in the world, trying the local cuisine is one of the best parts of travelling, it can’t and shouldn’t be avoided. Trying different cuisine can be daunting for even the most adventurous foodie, particularly when you have never come across it before – and quite often are not entirely sure what it is! However, there is a buzz to experimenting with the unknown which I have grown to love, despite doubts which have held me back in the past.

While in Indonesia, I did something very out of character and took a cooking class – until now the furtherest I had ventured in the kitchen is adding mushrooms to my pasta bakes at Uni. With the guidance of a very talented local chef, I immersed myself in all parts of the course, from buying the -very fresh- ingredients at the local market, and experience in itself, to learning how to cook Tempe (fermented soya beans) to finally trying all of the finished products at the end – which turned out to be some of the best dishes I ate over the entire trip.

Here is a little taster of the dishes from that day, my next challenge is to try them at home!

 

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Fresh ingredients being bought from the local market

 

Ayam Goreng (Fried Chicken)

Ingredients:
1kg Chicken
1/2 litre Coconut Oil
1 litre Water

Spices:
5 pieces shallots
5 cloves garlic
50g palm sugar
10g tamarind
salam leaves (bay leaves)
salt and pepper

Method:
1.Wash chicken
2.Crush the spices until fine
3.Boil chicken in 1 litre of water and add all spices, cook until the chicken is half done
4.Fry the chicken until crispy
5.Serve with sambal

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Chicken boiling while Sayur Lodeh is prepared

 

Sayur Lodeh (vegetarian)

Ingredients:
50g long beans/green beans
50g spinach
50g tofu
50g pumpkin/aubergine
300ml coconut milk
3tbsp cooking oil

Spices:
3 shallots
3 cloves garlic
1 red chilli
1 green chilli
1tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
3 tsp white sugar
2 bay leaves
2cm galangal root

Method:

1.Wash spinach and long beans and put to one side
2.Cut long beans to about 3cm in length
3.Cut tofu into cubes 1cmx1cm
4.Peel the pumpkin/aubergine and cut into cubes
5.Chop the shallots and garlic into thin slices
6.Heat oil in a pan and fry the shallots and garlic
7.Add coconut milk, then herbs and hard vegetables
8.Half cook the vegetables and add salt, pepper and sugar
9.Finally, add spinach and cook all vegetables until soft
10.Serve in a soup dish with rice and fried tempe.

 

Sambal

Ingredients:
2 shallots
2 cloves of garlic
5 red chillis
1/2 tomato

Method:
1.Fry all ingredients together with cooking oil
2.Crush together until fine
3.Serve as a dip

 

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Serve prepared sambal with crackers or sliced, fried potatoes

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…and enjoy!

Great British ‘Slate’ Off

Food, Opinion

 

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As Britain’s most talked about cooking show came to it’s much anticipated finale this week, more than eight million viewers tuned in to find out which of the three bakers would take home the title – and the prize of the glass cake stand, of course! However, it was neither the cupcakes, nor the puff pastry which attracted my attention to the reality cooking show, which, as well as making baking a hot topic among Britons everywhere, has caused a ridiculous amount of controversy on the internet. I was shocked to discover that a show which, essentially is just about people baking pretty cakes, could have caused such outspoken and vicious opinions to surface.

“Not much skills, female tears and a winner so thin who makes me doubt her love for cooking,” wrote TV chef Raymond Blanc on his Twitter page, about finalist Ruby Tandoh. Another classic example of good old weight stereotyping. It is not unfamiliar now, for us to hear about a woman’s weight being used as a way to judge and attack her other, usually unrelated, skills, but yet I still find myself in a state of disbelief at how someone could be so narrow-minded and think that this is a perfectly reasonable statement to tweet to their hundred thousand followers.   article_3682adc07d4e587c_1382507536_9j-4aaqsk

However you felt about Ruby Tandoh as a contestant, there is simply no need, or reason, to use her weight as a weapon against her. Does the fact that she enjoys cooking (and happens to be pretty good at it) mean that she must sit there stuffing consecutive cupcakes into her mouth, barely giving them a chance to cool? Do you have to be overweight in order to be successful in the kitchen now? If this is the case, it’s one social stereotype I must have missed.

The media is constantly warning about obesity and slating people for being fat, but when a slim girl wants to make a cake, it is simply not acceptable. It just won’t do. It is almost as if society has gone to such extremes that we can no longer fathom the fact that there are svelte women out there who do eat food, with calories in it and everything.

If this isn’t enough, then there’s the rest of the attacks which were made about the three female finalists. Too meek, too confident, seducing and manipulating the judges, and of course using those “female tears” as a tool to get to the top. I personally, wasn’t aware that a female’s tears were any different from a male’s. Not forgetting the predictable debate on which of the finalists was the most “shaggable.”  I just can’t help but wonder how different, the tweets and comments which went spiraling across social media might have been, had it been three males in the final. Then again, I’m sure those trusty internet trolls would have devised some other nasty stereotypes as they sat poised behind their keyboards.

When a TV show about baking becomes a national platform for judging, slating and stereotyping, perhaps it is time to chill out and just let them eat their cake.

 

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