Monday, 28 October 2013

Homemade Almond Milk

So.. I need to eliminate dairy from my diet. No problem, I can live without dairy most of the time. But tea. I hate black tea. Putting lemon in tea doesn't help. It is just weird (except for Earl Grey and then it kinda works).

I had read that almond milk is kinda neutral tasting, and actually tastes good in tea. I had some almonds in the cupboard from making Christmas pudding, and I have a blender....

Almond milk apparently only keeps for a couple of days in the fridge, so I made a couple of small batches. The size of my batches was largely dictated by what would fit into my blender...

You will need:

Pinch of salt

First of all you need to soak the almonds at room temperature, in enough water to cover them. You can do this overnight.

I have a whole load of jars from pickles and stuff that I keep for making mince meat and other goodies, so any old jar will do. Put it through the dishwasher to sterilise it, or put it in a very hot oven for 5 minutes (wait for it to cool before using it!).

When the almonds have soaked, you then need to rinse your almonds off. When you've done that, pop them into your blender with approximately twice the volume of water. So if you soaked a cup of almonds, use 2 cups of water.

I use my mini blender, because for the quantity I did (1/2 cup almonds) it seemed to work better - in my bigger blender bowl it just sort of swooshed them around and didn't do much. I did get some overspill in the mini blender though, so beware!

Blend the almonds and water until the almonds are tiny tiny pieces. This takes longer than you think it will!

Your almond milk looks a bit like this now:

Note the paper towel underneath the blender? Thats because of that overspill I talked about. Given that this happened the first time (the photo is from batch 2) you'd think I would have learnt... but no.

Once you've got your milk to the consistency you want, you need to strain all the bits out. There are various ways to do this: tea towel, muslin, tea strainer, sieve... just make sure the mesh is smaller than the bits. I used my tea strainer because it seemed logical.

I strained it back into the jar I soaked the almonds in because the neck was the right size and it was easier than anything else. You will need to agitate the mush to get all the liquid out, or if you are using a cheesecloth or tea towel, you can just squeeze. Once you have it all strained, add a little salt to balance the flavour. You can also add vanilla or cinnamon at the blending stage. I might make some for Christmas coffee with mixed spice.

You'll be left with a bunch of almond meal, which apparently you can dry out in the oven and use as a gluten free alternative to breadcrumbs, which I am going to do (I'll probably freeze the 'breadcrumbs' so that they last longer, as I don't know anyone gluten intolerant who is likely to want dinner anytime soon) and I'll do a post about that when I do it tomorrow (no baking parchment to spread them out on).

I then transferred the 'milk' into a couple of smaller jars, so I have one for the office and one for home.

Voila! Almond milk. It really isn't bad in tea. It isn't tasteless, but almonds have a weirdly neutral taste that complements tea quite nicely. It was really good in coffee as well. I am really relieved to find a way to drink tea with 'milk' without having dairy.

I just need to get myself a big bag of almonds now!

I used ready blanched almonds for the milk this time, as that was what I had in the flat. I will buy skin on ones for the future.

Grapeseed oil, the wonder skin product

We all know how good oils are for our skin right? But maybe, like me, you've found that your skin doesn't react that well to some oils. I have very weirdly sensitive skin that clogs easily, so I have to be really careful that the oils I use can be absorbed easily by my skin, or removed without leaving residue.

Enter grapeseed oil. I read a couple of reviews of it for acne prone skin and thought I'd give it a go. Austria is a wine producing country so getting grapeseed oil should be easy. I buy mine in Spar, and it is from their Premium range. You can also buy grapeseed oil from cosmetic companies such as Primavera (I buy their essential oils), but it is much cheaper in the supermarket. I also prefer to use food grade oils on my skin, on the basis that food grade oils can be ingested, so the quality is assured.

Pumpkins and Grapes, two big Austrian crops

The Spar Premium Grapeseed Oil is cold pressed, which means it is full of all the good ingredients, and hasn't been procured with any chemicals. Much better for our skin. It is a beautiful dark green colour, and smells faintly of wine (not always that good when you've had a few and are just trying to get your make up off), but the smell isn't overpowering and I certainly got used to it after a little while.

I use this stuff for everything - removing make up, second cleanse, moisturising (with added oils), mixing with clay and water for my morning cleanse...

The best thing about grapeseed oil is that it is mildly astringent, and has excellent anti inflammatory properties. Which makes it excellent for acne sufferers, as it helps to reduce the spots. It is also really nourishing to the skin, which helps keep it hydrated. I've found my oil production is much better regulated since I started using this oil on a daily basis, so much so that I can now go without much powder after foundation and concealer (I still use a little just to set the concealer).

I don't really know the science behind why it works, I am no scientist! But I can tell you that this is the best oil for cleansing my temperamental, sensitive, acne prone skin.

Check your local supermarket oil aisle. Go for cold pressed, and organic if available. The Spar Premium Grapeseed Oil cost me €6.99 for 100ml, and that lasts me around 1 month.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

The internet is a blessed and cursed place

I came across a place on the internet that I can believe but can't believe exists, if you know what I mean.

Most bloggers are probably totally aware of this place, but I have lived in blissful ignorance up until now. This forum exists purely to trash talk the Youtubers and Bloggers out there. According to some people on this site it exists to call out bloggers/gurus who are full of bs, but I've seen comments on there that are purely about appearance.

I can believe that this place exists, because there are some seriously mean spirited humans out there, but I still can't believe that there is a place dedicated to trashing other people. It is just horrible.

I read a fair few blogs (I don't do Youtube so much because honestly, people talking about products and their lives bores the crap outta me) and I don't necessarily think that every one I read is amazing, or full of sage advice that I won't find anywhere else. But that isn't why I read them. I like reading other people's takes on stuff, even if it is the same overall opinion as mine. I like reading lots of different things because sometimes you just find that tiny bit of inspiration. I don't think that every blog I read is gospel truth, or even that well written. I often have to restrain myself from commenting on poor grammar and spelling (what is up with that by the way? It is like the internet has removed the requirement to be able to spell and construct a sentence properly), mainly because I don't always have time to check my own spelling and grammar that well, although I try my best, and my bf does usually read my posts and point out the mistakes to me (the joys of living with an editor!).

But I wouldn't go online to name and shame. I don't think people should be trash talked ever. Constructive criticism directly on a person's blog is one thing, but going to a specific site to basically bitch about someone is a totally different thing. No matter how much these people tell themselves that they are doing other people a favour, and are just calling out the bs, they really aren't.

I suspect a lot of these posters on this site are women, and that makes me even sadder.

Just. No. Need.

A relaxing week in Tunisia

Last week was the first beach holiday The Beard and I have ever taken together. It was one of those all inclusive package deal things that I normally shun due to their holiday camp mentality, but for once, we just needed to chill and not have to do anything.

We booked with Neckermann, and flew with Tunisair from Vienna to Tunis. The flight itself was a chaotic experience, that is the only way I can describe it! I can't say that I'd choose Tunisair as an airline unless I had to, but it wasn't terrible.

After a 2 hour transfer in a minibus from Tunis to our hotel in Skanes, a resort primarily consisting of hotels near Monastir (again, interesting transfer, I can totally see why the British Foreign Office advise tourists not to try and drive!), we arrived at the Sentido Rosa Beach.

I was a little nervous as there are some quite negative reviews on TripAdvisor, but I don't know which hotel they stayed at! Certainly not the same one as we did, because I couldn't fault the place!

We had paid extra for a pool/sea view, which was totally worth it. We got a room on the first floor behind the reception, which meant not too far to go everytime we wanted to go in! It is a huge huge hotel though. Maybe a room at the top on the middle portion would have been better for the sun and sea view but it was nice to have a shady spot.

View from our hotel room
We were lucky with the weather - normally at this time of year in Tunisia it is around 26 degrees, but we had daily temperatures of around 30, and apart from a couple of slightly cloudy days we pretty much had wall to wall sunshine!

The food in the hotel was really good; I didn't know what to expect as I've not done this type of holiday for about 17 years, but I was pleasantly surprised to have a really good range of foods, and all of them very delicious. True, it wasn't haute cuisine, but it was a mass catered buffet and as well as the pre prepared stews and vegetables there was always a choice of at least 2 different freshly cooked dishes such as prawns and meat.

We were staying all inclusive so our drinks were included. The punch and cocktails were a little odd and very much not to our taste, but the Tunisian wines and beer were rather nice - so nice that we brought back a few bottles of wine with us.

The swimming pool at the hotel is salt water which was great for me, as chlorinated pools when mixed with sun screen can create a layer of oil with bacteria on the top that increases your chance of getting an ear infection, and if you are prone like me, well nightmare. I'd always swim in the sea over a chlorinated pool when I'm on holiday. Unfortunately the sea in front of our hotel was very very shallow, so not really good for swimming. I was a bit disappointed by this because I really really miss the sea and swimming in it. The salt water pool was a reasonable substitute though, so I didn't feel too bad. I could at least see the sea and smell it, and we took a couple of night time strolls along the beach. 

The 'Animation' Team were great, if you wanted to join in great, but if not, no problem. There were loads of activities on, so if sitting by the pool all day isn't really your thing (I'd say you were in the wrong hotel), there was stuff to do. We fully went with the intention of doing nothing, but we ended up getting involved in a few activities just for fun. The evening entertainment was fun, and worth watching.

My only regret about the holiday was forgetting to pack the mosquito spray. I was bitten quite a few times and despite my best efforts suffered allergic reactions. It was stupid as I'd looked at the bottle of spray and simply forgot to pack it.

We did a couple of trips out, but I'll do a separate post on them as I need to sort out the photos still!

We had a great week though, and I'm so glad we decided to do it, it was just what we really needed.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Dairy is my nemesis

image from bigstockphoto

I'm a little sad. I posted a couple of weeks ago that I was going to reduce my dairy intake to see if that helped my skin, secretly hoping that it would make no difference. I love cheese you see. Mozzarella, feta, Taleggio, Camembert, Cheddar.... you name it, I like it. Milk and yoghurt... I can take or leave them more or less (except for milk in my tea, that is non negotiable).

So I cut out dairy a bit, but then when we were on holiday in Tunisia, the only dairy I really consumed was the milk in my tea or coffee in the mornings, and a little bit of cheese in my omelette. Nothing too wild. Rest of the day, practically dairy free.

My skin started to clear up. Not completely, but the spots under my jaw on my neck started to heal and not reappear. I thought it might be the constant exposure to salt water, or not wearing make up every day, but I was wearing sunscreen (albeit Clinique's hypoallergenic, oil free City Block) and sweating a lot. And I already know that my spots generally don't react to make up (unless there are oils in it).

We came back and on request, I made lasagne for dinner. A big gooey, dairy laden lasagne with oodles of bechamel and mozzarella. We also went out for pizza for lunch. I had mozzarella and taleggio on my pizza.  And then my skin erupted. Nice big angry cystic spots that hurt like hell. With more coming after I'd had lasagne a second night (no space in the freezer for the leftovers).

So I think it is pretty clear, dairy is my nemesis. Well, my skin's nemesis. I have decided for now that I will still have a splash of milk in my tea, as my skin seems to be able to tolerate a little dairy, but in order to ensure that that is the only dairy I have, I need to be vigilant and cut it out of everything else. That means no sneaky whey powder in crisps, no hidden milk powder in other things, and absolutely no cheese.

I may yet end up investigating alternatives for my tea as well, I hate black tea, putting lemon in it is just weird, but I might need to go completely dairy free. Almond milk is one of the better things to replace with, but the commercially available stuff often has oils and sugars in, so I will need to make my own, which is thankfully quite easy!

Live Well

image from

When I decided to quit sugar, it was the result of a long battle against my skin, and a bid to find a way to deal with the underlying cause of my acne, which is undoubtedly hormonal. While it has helped my skin (and hair, and nails), it has also led me to take a more holistic approach to my nutrition and health.

Not eating sugar automatically forces you to think longer and harder about the food you eat, because so many unexpected things have sugar in them. Just tonight I was cooking baked beans for dinner when I realised that there was probably sugar in the sauce of the beans. And indeed there is. Thankfully not too much, the sugar content of the beans was 5g per 100g, which is more than ideal but not horrendous in the grand scheme of things. And we don't eat beans that often due to their cost here in Austria. Cutting back on dairy also affects how easily I can put food together, especially at lunchtime when it feels like the whole supermarket is made of cheese! Tuna and beans to the rescue.

So by thinking more carefully about food, I am automatically eating better. I took Sarah Wilson's words about whole foods on board and take care to eat as completely as possible. Whole grains, whole meat, whole fats... I feel much healthier and more balanced. I also notice more things about my body, like feeling terrible when I don't drink enough water. My weight seems to have stabilised nicely, without any exercise (for one reason or another I've not been to the gym in over a month). 

When it comes to my skincare regime, I've stripped it all back to basics. Plain oil (grapeseed seems to be the best on my skin), Rhassoul clay, simple moisturisers that use lovely nut and seed oils and not much else. This whole process of removing sugar has given me cause to stop, pause and reassess what my body needs. I don't think I'm there yet, I'm still learning, but I am observing reactions, and taking note. Like not exfoliating that much. True, using acid exfoliaters did help reduce the scarring on my face after I got rid of the majority of the acne, but in the long run my skin doesn't seem to like it. Just a wee bit too harsh for my increasingly sensitive skin.

So I'm trying to live well, because I deserve it.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Reflections on quitting sugar (fructose)

a fructose molecule. image via
When I started out on this journey of quitting fructose, I did so because my skin had returned to its former acneic glory. I don't want to go down the route of Accutane, or more antibiotics. I don't want perfect skin, just skin that doesn't trouble me so much. And before I admit defeat and consult a dermatologist, I want to make sure that my lifestyle and what I put in and on my body are as wholesome and good as they can possibly be.

So with that goal in mind, I thought it would be good to reflect a little on how the last 6 weeks has been as a whole, and what I have learned from it, physically, and behaviourally. I'll do each one in a separate post.


 As I have mentioned in my weekly updates, I have become less bloated, my cheekbones and face in particular have more definition, and my fingers are less prone to swelling. My weight hasn't really dropped, but my size has - difficult to wrap your head around how you can lose inches but not pounds, but there you go. Clothes fit much better, I get less pre menstrual bloating etc.

Actually that is another thing I have noticed. When I started having periods again after 8 years of hormonal contraception, I got the worst PMS. Particularly my breasts, which in the days running up to my period would become swollen and uncomfortable. Not the last time (my experiment has straddled a couple of cycles, so we're heading towards the end of cycle 2 post quitting sugar), and what is more, my period did a complete change up - all of them post copper coil have been average flow and around 7 days in length, much like when I was a teenager. The last was incredibly heavy for the first day, average for the second, and very light for the third. And that was the end. Amazing. It might be a one off. I hope it isn't!

My skin, as mentioned has become better. Not quite where I want it, but the quitting sugar has made me reassess everything (I'll come to that in a minute), and I realised that there were other irritants that were basically not helping. So I've stripped my skincare down to a good clean regime, and removed known irritants, and that has helped a lot.

One thing that I've noticed that only really occurred to me as I was typing my final weekly update, is that I have had less latent joint pain since quitting sugar. If you don't know, I have joint hypermobility syndrome, or Type 3 Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. I suffer from regular, constant joint pain, with added shooting pains for good measure. Since quitting sugar the background pain seems to have lessened, although overworking ligaments remains a problem as the condition is incurable. One of the most noticeable things is the fact that my feet don't hurt as much in the morning when I get up! I'd been having trouble in the mornings when I get up, or if I'd been sat on the sofa with my feet up for too long. I seem to be able to get up much better and not have to hobble around, which makes such a difference in the mornings!

Finally, I'd been struggling with being tired, and when I got tired I got uncoordinated. I'm still tired, but that's what happens when you are working long challenging weeks! But I'm not getting the shaky hands and lack of strength that I was getting before. Much more manageable!

So physically I've seen quite a few improvements, which is great. They might not be the wholesale improvements I'd hoped for, but I'll take any improvements to my quality of life!

Next time:Behaviour

Monday, 14 October 2013

Experimenting with Qutting Sugar: Week 6

image from

So this week has been the 6th and final week of my experimentation with quitting sugar.

How has the week been?

Much like the previous 5 weeks, it hasn't been difficult. I had an interesting conversation with some colleagues that included the question "but if you don't eat fruit, where do you get all the vitamins and minerals from?", which I thought was interesting, and is indicative of the lack of understanding about diet and nutrient sources. My response was "well, I eat vegetables and savoury fruits like tomatoes". But then in Austria it is noticeable that vegetables play a lesser role in diet than fruit does compared to the UK - whenever anyone from the UK comes to visit they are always surprised when we're out for dinner just how limited the side veg is! In the UK there is a tendency to split a meal plate into three equal parts - meat, veg and carbs.

I also made some cake using dextrose, and after last week's stevia failure, the dextrose was a much better bet. I road tested it on 2 groups of people - my work colleagues, and The Beard's. In my office it went down well, but in his not so much. It wasn't sweet enough for them apparently!

I have continued to struggle with cutting down on dairy, but I am slowly making it work.

Any particular challenges?

None really. I even tried a regular biscuit to test myself and I didn't like it. Too sweet. The baked goods at a stall I passed yesterday were mighty tempting though. I managed to resist though.

Benefits this week?

My skin is slowly getting better, but it isn't perfect yet. I think it will take more time, and as I know I will be eating more sugar next week I'll monitor the effects. I still feel better and healthier, and can see the difference in my skin generally. The same is true with my weight/shape - since I started this, my cheekbones are more defined, my fingers slimmer and less prone to bloating when I'm worn, same with my ankles.

What about next week?

I'll be in Tunisia, eating and drinking what I fancy. I suspect dessert and cocktails made with juice will pass my lips. Ice cream too.

And the future of the experiment?

I will continue to limit my fructose intake on a general basis. I take Sarah Wilson's advice about doing what is right for me to heart, and I think the best way forward for me is to limit my fructose intake, but be flexible enough to listen to my body, and partake in sugary treats on an irregular basis, like Christmas, the odd dessert or piece of fruit if I fancy it.   So I will eat Christmas pudding, and gingerbread at Christmas, I will eat dessert if I really want it, I will eat cake in a cafe sometimes.

I think a lot of people I've spoken to think it is really odd, especially the fruit part, but it works for me, and I try to just present the theories and information on that basis. Most people are quite accepting, if a little perplexed!

I think cutting back more on dairy would be a good idea, but I think working up to that will take time. Still, the odd bit of cheese doesn't seem to do me any real harm. Just need to not go overboard!

Overall the experiment has been a success, if not quite for the reasons I thought it would! It has made me re-evaluate things in a way I didn't expect, and totally rework my approach to eating and life in general. We shop more from markets rather than the supermarket, I am expanding my repertoire of quick cook foods so that I don't find myself relying on the easy options of bakeries and places that might include higher levels of sugar in their products.

I was going to include an assessment of the whole experiment in this post, but I think it will get too long. Look out for a round up of everything in the next couple of days!

This is a scheduled post.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Winter Gig Line Up

My darling boyfriend lent me his credit card so I could buy tickets for all the gigs I want to go to over the winter *squee*

I have a bit of a full schedule coming up!

November 16th: Paradise Lost/Lacuna Coil/Katatonia (Arena Wien)
November 17th: Volbeat (Wiener Stadthalle)
December 16th: Lordi (Arena Wien)
February 7th: Skindred (Szene, Wien)
March 15th: Within Temptation (Wien Gasometer)

I am really looking forward to all of them, especially Volbeat who I haven't seen before!

Experimenting with Quitting Sugar: Week 5

Almost in the final stretches of the experiment! And only a week to go before my holiday - this time next week I will be lying on a beach in Tunisia sunning myself.

So how was week 5?

Well, as I mentioned last week, I was away on business all week. Which turned out to be ok really - I turned down desserts at lunch, and that was really the only thing I had to do. Well, breakfast wasn't quite the level of food I'd normally go for - most of the offerings were fruits, yoghurts and cereals, so as I'm trying to cut back on dairy as well that wasn't going to fly. Luckily there was some cold meat and nice, fresh dark bread, so I could enjoy that with my tea every morning.

The break offerings from the venue during the meeting weren't greatly me friendly - lots of fruit and pastries! I did have half a kiwi one morning and a single small pastry on two afternoons. The kiwi was lovely but the pastries while nice, didn't completely float my boat. Which is a very good thing.

I have tried a couple of new things this week as well. Spar in Austria makes a couple of ice cream flavours using Stevia, so I thought I'd give the Latte Macchiato flavour a go.And very nice it is too. My attempt at baking with Stevia did not go so well on the other hand. It is quite frankly disgusting. I have never had to throw something away without eating at least some of it before, but yesterday I did just that. Evidently you can't do a straight substitute for sugar with stevia. I need to find some properly adapted recipes, and I have some dextrose powder to try with as well. I will figure it out!

On the cutting back on dairy front, I've tried very hard to limit my consumption to just milk in my tea, and not eat too much cheese, but I did give in to temptation with the ice cream. I'm not sure I'm ready to go cold turkey on the dairy front.

Have you seen any benefits this week?

Overall I think my skin looks clearer. I'm still struggling with some persistent spots on my jaw, neck and chin, but they are starting to ease up as I have reduced the amount of exfoliant I use, and am switching my foundation to an oil free one. However, the amount of spots on my cheeks are greatly reduced (read virtually none), and my skin texture is much much better. Even without foundation, above my mouth my skin is smoother and clearer.

I have absolutely no idea about my weight, as I haven't stepped on the scales, but I still feel slimmer and healthier. That is the most important thing really!

Next week?

Final week of the experiment! Will I continue on? I will definitely be continuing on this no sugar life, even if my skin hasn't cleared up completely but I feel healthier overall.

I know that there will be plenty of challenges while I'm on holiday - cocktails laden with fruit juice etc, but I'll cross that bridge as I come to it and see how I feel when I'm there. Hopefully my skin will clear up completely, but who knows. I am a little fearful that my skin issues cannot be resolved in a simple manner, no matter how much I would like that!

We have a couple of nights out this week, but eating out has been the least of my worries so far - I can usually find something on a menu to suit my dietary needs! I'm a little bored of snacking on nuts though, so I need to work this week on finding alternatives. 


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