Friday, August 30, 2013

The trials and tribulations of going 'grain free'

I am in the process of cutting grains out of my diet.  Yep, grains.  That's all grains...wheat, spelt, rice, buckwheat, name it, if it's grain I'm removing it.  There is one caveat, if it's been soaked and sprouted and then turned into bread or noodles, I'll allow it.  You can't really buy those kinds of grains so easily and I'm not yet at the stage where I'm doing it for myself. grains, why is that again?

Well, it's a long story, too long to cover in sufficient detail here, but for me, there are a few reasons.  Grains (and nuts and seeds too) naturally contain phytic acid, a mineral blocker that prevents the absorption of various nutrients (calcium, magnesium, zinc and more).  Phytic acid allows grains to pass unharmed, through our intestines, ready for action in a pile of fertiliser at the other end!  If you're a grain, that is wonderful.  If you're human, not so good as we just don’t get to absorb all those nutrients locked up in the outer kernel of the grain.

There are other issues with grains – they have a massive influence on blood sugar levels, even if they are wholegrains.  So, when we eat them our insulin levels spike, which can lead to a hormone storm and ultimately issues like diabetes or insulin resistance, obesity and infertility.   On top of that, grains also contain gluten and lectins, which we now understand, can do serious damage to the wall of our intestines.  As well as the health issues already mentioned, grains are also implicated in the development of arthritis, various cancers, autism, depression and many other auto-immune conditions.   

Grains have become such a staple, many of us simply don't realise that humans didn't always eat grains.  With the agricultural revolution, grains became much more popular and have since managed to sneak into our food pyramid! In the early stages of this revolution in farming, grains sat in the fields for a few weeks, exposed to the elements, where they would begin to sprout, before being turned into flour.  That simply doesn't happen anymore, so the phytic acid remains and our digestive systems pay the price.

If you absolutely love bread, or pasta, pizza or pancakes, this information is really hard to stomach (accidental pun!)  I don't eat very much bread, so I thought giving up grains would be pretty easy.  It's not that easy actually, even if you cook almost all of your food from scratch.  I realise I use rice for lots of curry dishes, I have a favourite brand of wholewheat noodles that I love to combine with a reliable mid week satay dish.  On the weekend my dream breakfast is home made crepes with bacon and maple syrup.  I have had to do quite a bit of rethinking, planning ahead to be sure that I don't accidentally eat grains.  On Tuesday night I had been craving pizza for a few days and eventually gave in and had it.  As I'm not allergic or intolerant to anything, I didn't suffer unduly, but I did feel that I had given up a bit too easily.  I started again on Wednesday and haven't had any grains since then! Go Ruthie!

On Wednesday night I made a grain free pad thai.  I had made it before and it was really really tasty.  I did something different this time and it was horrible, but I ate it anyway and had leftovers for lunch yesterday.  Yuck.  Last night's dinner had to be better.  So, I reverted to an old favourite and made a really tasty and quick Chicken Satay.  I usually serve this with wholewheat noodles, but this time I made courgette 'noodles'.  Easy as pie, all I did was peel the courgette into lovely ribbons, then dunked them in boiling water for a minute or two, drained them, squeezed the water out and served them.  They were crunchy and really tasty.  I felt so virtuous and dare I say it, victorious!  If you fancy trying it yourself, this is the recipe for the satay.  An old boyfriend who loved eating but not cooking gave me this recipe and the reward to effort ratio is perfect!

Satay Sauce
In a measuring jug, make 250ml chicken stock.
Add 2 tbsp of crunchy peanut butter straight away, so the heat of the stock softens the peanut butter.

Into the jug add the zest and juice of a lime, 2 cloves of crushed garlic, finely chopped chilli (to suit your own tastes) and about a tablespoon of creamed coconut (the stuff you buy in a cardboard packet).  Stir it all around and try to integrate the peanut butter completely.
Once that's done, let the jug of tasty liquid sit while you chop a red pepper into really small chunks.  Pan fry them in a little coconut oil on a high-ish heat til they're really well cooked and browning.  
While the pepper is cooking, slice up a chicken breast or two and add to the pepper in the frying pan.
Once the chicken is cooked, pour in the sauce and make sure any lumps of peanut butter are smushed out.  Turn the heat down a bit (my hob goes to 9, so I turned it down to 6) and let it all simmer away for a few more minutes.
While the sauce is thickening, peel your courgette into ribbons (I peeled around the core, as it's full of seeds and not great for this purpose).  Boil some water in the kettle.
When the sauce looks lovely and thick, add your courgette to boiling water in a saucepan and simmer for max 2 minutes.  Drain them and press as much of the water as you can out of them.
Serve the satay on to of the bright fresh courgette noodles, with sliced spring onions, coriander and a wedge of lime.  
Heaven in a bowl.  Yum!  I have leftovers in the fridge, ready for lunch today and I can't wait to tuck in :-)


Monday, August 19, 2013

A change of seasons...and chocolate shops.

On Saturday Mountain Man and I made some big decisions.  We've been in Sweden for almost a year now and...well, it hasn't been easy.  Of course, as my Grandad would often remind me, if it was easy everyone would be doing it!  Despite that nugget of wisdom and truth, or perhaps because of it, we have decided to shake things up a bit and cram more fun into our lives.

Malmö is a great place to live in many ways - it's close to Copenhagen, right by the sea and has wonderful cycle tracks and parks.  It's seriously lacking on the restaurant and foodie end of things though and we both miss that.  For that and lots of other reasons, we have decided to move from our beautiful apartment in Malmö to the University city of Lund.  Mountain Man will cycle to work every day, I will meet him for lunch and every now and then,  pop into St. Jakobs Bageri for a cuppa, mosey in the Saluhallen for fresh fish, meat and cheese and maybe, once in a blue moon treat myself to some divine chocolates from Hovby No.9 Chocolaterie.

As we walked around Lund on Saturday, luxuriating in the buzz, the smells of fresh food from the Saluhallen and the joyfully autumnal flowers at countless market stalls in Mårtenstorget, we stumbled across a sign for Hovby No.9 Chocolaterie.  Mountain Man remembered someone telling him it is the best chocolate in Sweden, so what could we do but follow our noses?  The signs and smells directed us through a little courtyard and down a set of steps into a surprisingly warm, tiny chocolaterie.

An hour later, we resurfaced, having learned the story of Hovby No. 9, of the warm and funny owner Inger and her many careers and of course, with a box of very special chocolates in tow.

Inger opened the chocolaterie 13 years ago, having spent 12 years in Switzerland and some time in Paris learning the art of chocolate making.  She grew up on a farm and chose to name her chocolaterie after the place and people she loves.  She was preaching to the converted when she told us 'I would rather have nothing if I can't have good quality.  No, I just do without until I can afford the best quality'.  Over the years, in different guises, working with the best quality has been her raison d'etre and she has brought this deep respect for quality to her latest venture, which she tells us proudly, she began at the ripe old age of 55.

I loved standing at Inger's counter, she was so warm and generous, listening to our story as she weaved hers around us.  She told us, with such passion, about an ingredient she had discovered and insisted we try a chocolate she had made with it.  When she learned we wanted to move to Lund, she laughed and said '...the best thing about Malmö is that it is close to Copenhagen!'  She insisted on sharing her email with us and taking mine, in case she heard of anything becoming available.

Mountain Man and I grinned at each other as we basked in the simple act of chatting with a stranger...oh how we have missed that!  Inger may not have realised it, but her kindness & openness gave us the final nudge we needed to make the decision to move.  Lund here we come!