23
May
16

Cheesecake, version 2.0

Finally got around to creating a baked cheesecake today.  After my no-bake version (read about that one here) I wanted to try a baked one and see if I could amp up the “dessert” feel to it.

I have to say this turned out pretty damn good!

I just made this up as I went along – cheesecake is a pretty simple recipe really, so I just started throwing things together.

So, here is my Baked No-Sugar Cheesecake recipe.

Pre-heat oven to 350F

Base:

1 (+/-) cup ground almonds – I just dumped what was left in a small package into the dish

1/4 cup butter

2 squares of finely grated 70% cocoa baking chocolate (the chocolate keeps the base together)

Filling:

1 – 8 oz package of cream cheese

1 pint of ricotta cheese

3 eggs

1/2 teaspoon of vanilla

Finely grated zest of lemon (about a half to one teaspoon – or whatever you get off the one lemon!)

Juice of one lemon

1/4 cup of no-sugar dried cranberries (the type I have were sweetened with apple juice) chopped finely

In a glass or ceramic dish (I used a large Pyrex pie plate) add the ground almonds and butter – microwave for 30 seconds (to melt the butter), then remove and mix until completely blended.  Mix the finely grated baking chocolate into the ground nuts/butter until evenly distributed.  Press firmly down – I put a piece of parchment paper over it and flattened with my hand.  Set aside.

In a 2-quart bowl beat the cream cheese until loose, add in the ricotta and continue beating on medium until well blended and smooth.  Increase speed to high for a minute, add eggs, one at a time and beat well before adding the next.  Add vanilla, lemon zest and juice.  Beat on high until well blended.  Add the cranberries and beat just enough to incorporate evenly.

Pour/dump the filling onto the base and level off in the dish.  Place the dish in the oven for 35-45 minutes.  Middle should be set (meaning not jiggling) when it is done.

Let it cool completely to room temperature, then place in the fridge for at least an hour before serving.  Note: it will fall a little when it cools.

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The chocolate in the base keeps it holding together – it isn’t crunchy but does add a textural element.  I was a little worried about the nuts burning if I tried pre-baking it, but possibly it might help to crisp it up a little.  I will try that next time.

My oven likes to run hot – when I took it out it read 389F so, I need to watch that.  It turned a nice golden brown, which is fine, but not strictly required to be properly done.

This really turned out well.  The lemon makes it fruity and tangy, the cranberries gave it just enough “sweetness” to be dessert-y and it smelled fantastic baking!  There is a very subtle hint of Creme Brule on the palette (fancy eh?) which really hits the spot with me.

I had the first piece plain.  I’m going to have tomorrow’s piece with strawberries (just a tablespoon!)  That was too big a portion actually… but it smelled so good!  I ended up putting part of it back as I couldn’t finish.

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15
May
16

Der spring haz sprung

We’ve had an exceptionally warm, and early, Spring this year.

Usually I can’t get near my apple tree to spray it before it buds because of the snow, but this year the snow was all gone before it leafed up.

I had to mow the front yard in early April which is unheard of.  Usually I don’t mow until near the end of May, which is when the last of the snow has melted.  I’ve now mowed the front lawn four times and the back twice.  The back is three times the size of the front and no one sees it… so I only do it once to every two or three times I do the front.

We haven’t had a lot of rain (or snow for that matter) so far either.  My lawn is the first to green up, but also the first to brown up… I don’t water it so it fends for itself.  Makes for less mowing when it is dry.

I’ve been busy tidying up the yard, staining the deck, doing some heavy work with paving stones, etc.  I had bought the stain last summer but just as I bought it the weather turned cold and damp so I wasn’t able to get the deck done.  A couple weeks ago we had a heat wave of near 30C for a week so I got it done!  Took me just over 8 hours over two days.  I just have a couple small things to finish – the garden benches and part that needs a ladder.

Here is the deck, after the staining – I really like the colour which is a match to the soffits and eavestroughs.

Another project was fixing up the area between the garage, shed and deck.  There were large paving slabs there, but an area had been left open with pea gravel which just became a weed patch every year which was annoying.  I scored some recycled paving bricks on a local auction site, and moved some others from another part of my yard to fill in.  Much better, and more useful a space now.  Here is before and after:

The stone stamped pavers go around the side of the house to the front.  Ignore the rubble under the deck – that was there when we bought the house and it isn’t in the way.

When I was scraping away the pea gravel I uncovered nails, screws, broken glass and masses of asphalt shingles… which we also found tons of in the back “garden” patch (along with black plastic garbage bags full of grass clippings… ?  If you are going to dump your grass clippings in the corner of your yard… why would you not just dump them out to rot???)  Previous owner(s) obviously were of the “bury it and they won’t know I was too lazy/cheap to dispose of it properly” mindset.

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I finished putting out my petunias today… even though conventional wisdom up here is “NOT before the May long weekend!”  I bought them a couple weeks ago and kept them in the garage for a few days and on the deck for the rest of the time so they were well hardened off.  It’s been nice and the next few days are supposed to be very warm, then it is supposed to rain on the long weekend… so I planted them out in the front beds and some in pots on the steps.  And the big basket I bought for the big planter is out too.

The small pots have silver and white petunias, and the bed is mostly magenta (same as in the big planter.)  They are all Wave Petunias which are really lush, it will be really pretty later in the Summer.

My perennials are growing like, er, weeds!  The Lilies have multiplied and are starting to bud.

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And my Prairie Mallow and Hollyhocks are doing great as well.

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And the Clematis on both sides of the stairs!  You can see how dry my grass is in these photos.

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We talked about getting an arbour to go around the door, but stabilizing it given the wind here was a worry.  As you can tell, we don’t use that door.  That is obvious, right?  You wouldn’t believe the number of door-to-door types that go up to it and try to knock… mostly male (make of that what you will.)

I’ve got pots of herbs on the deck so I can get them easily when cooking – chives, parsley, spearmint, oregano, thyme and dill.  I’ve already been using them.

The apple tree bloomed very well this year on every branch, which is a first.  It is a five-in-one so each branch is a different variety – up till now only three branches bloomed.  So I am excited!  In 2011 I got 31 apples off of three branches.  Last year… 2.  This year, lots of blossoms and more importantly, BEES.  So I am hoping to have a crop.  Each variety has a different ripening time so it should be staggered.

So all done with the prep and planting; all that is left is mowing, watering and weeding for the rest of the season.  Well, just tiny bit of staining left on the benches and high bit, but that won’t take too long.

 

01
May
16

Almost normal, whatever that may be

I had my four month follow-up with my doctor last week.

On December 22 I was told I was full blown diabetic (Type 2).  My family history is full of diabetics – Type 1 and Type 2 – on both sides.  So… while I had hoped it wouldn’t happen, it did.   I had been told I was pre-diabetic over a dozen years ago and at that time altered my diet and activity level which kept me at an acceptable level.

After a few of years of maintaining I stopped going for quarterly blood tests as they were always the same – in retrospect I should have kept it up as I probably could have stopped the progression.  But… life happens and I slacked off.

I always knew carbs were my nemesis.  But they were always my go-to… bread, potatoes, pasta – the quick and easy meals.  But I didn’t realize HOW bad they were for my health.

While mom was in the hospital a year ago I was living on deep fried foods – I was craving it and too exhausted to cook.  Then after she died, I only had myself to feed which tended to be the “easy” stuff – toasted ciabatta bread with cheese and scrambled eggs.  Or instant mashed potatoes with a deli roast chicken… I ate vegetables but not at every meal.

I went to get my eyes checked mid-December as they had been getting pretty bad (I was the last of the family to get glasses) – and it was the eye scan that discovered the diabetes.  I had bleeders in both eyes.  The eye doctor told me to get to my doctor as it was extremely serious.  So I got an immediate appointment with  my doctor who was not too happy with me.  He gave me the requisition for the tests and I was at the clinic the next morning at 7 a.m. when it opened.

I saw him on December 22 for the results.  My Glucose Fasting was 15.6 and my A1C was 11.5… not good.  He put me on Metformin (lowest dose as I react to a lot of things).  And left it up to me to figure out how I was going to handle it.  Got prescriptions for the drug, the blood meter, lancets and test strips and off to the pharmacy (bonus – my work benefits cover 100%.)

So I completely cut out sugar and sugar substitutes/replacements.  That was a no-brainer as I don’t have a real sweet tooth, but at Christmas… yeah, it was challenging!  But the week after Christmas I was completely sugar free.

The carbs were more challenging to cut back on.  I did a lot, and I mean A LOT of research into diabetic diet plans, glycemic indexes, blood monitoring.

ALL of the diabetic meal plans I checked appeared to have carbs as part of every meal AND snack.  I knew that wouldn’t work for me but I tried to keep some – like a piece of multi-grain toast with my egg at breakfast or a handful of potato chips with veggies and dip.  The potato chips caused a 5 point spike in my blood sugar.

I think I miss potatoes the most.

If I followed a “diabetic” diet my blood sugar would stay out-of-control.

As I covered in my previous posts I did try out replacements for carb based items.  Total yuck and very expensive.  Not worth the effort involved at all.

So I just eat what doesn’t cause my blood sugar to spike, which is still  trial and error.  I discovered I can have a piece of 85% dark chocolate without any effect, but more than a tablespoon of strawberries will cause a small jump.

The biggest side effect is the weight loss – 30 lbs and counting since Christmas.  I’m not “dieting” – I just don’t eat carbs and sugar and that is permanent.  Lots of vegetables, pork (including bacon!), fish, poultry, cheese, nuts, full fat everything, butter, cream, very minimal fruit. No pre-packaged foods and no fast food (I haven’t eaten in a restaurant since before Christmas.)  It is close to the Paleo or Ketogenic Diets but there are things in their plans that I won’t/can’t eat.

So… (drum roll) my four month follow-up test results…

Glucose Fasting = 5.8 (normal is 5.6) – down from 15.6

A1C = 6.6 (normal range is 4.3-6.1) – down from 11.5

My doctor was extremely pleased with me.  The next set of tests are set for six months and I stay on the Metformin, for now.

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23
Apr
16

Happy dance! (and cheesecake)

I am heading into week two of all “normal” blood sugar readings!  Even my fasting sugars are in the normal range now – they took the longest to get down.

Took four months to get them there.  Four months of NO sugar and NO carbs – which is a permanent change in order to maintain and control the diabetes.

I see my doctor next week for my four month follow-up to the diagnosis in December. I know my A1C won’t reflect the last week’s success but it will definitely be better than the one in December.  But I can look forward to my next one being NORMAL in three to four months!

And the side effect of weight loss is also continuing.  I’m down 30 pounds since Christmas. I had to give in and buy MORE pants.  There were photos of me taken a few weeks ago … I looked like a bag lady – I was horrified.  The clothes were horribly baggy and just awful.  To force myself to stop wearing them I culled my closet, again, and took it all to Goodwill.  Every couple of weeks I try on everything and am bagging up things that are just too big.  I do have a fair selection of tops that do still fit –  so haven’t had to start buying replacements for them yet.  I just don’t want to spend much until I plateau.

I am still experimenting with making up my own recipes!  Yesterday I made a cheesecake – NO added sugar (and no sugar substitutes!)  It is really good – rich, and hits the spot.  It is no bake and really simple.

As I discovered that I can eat 85% cocoa chocolate without any effect on my blood sugar (ONE PIECE, not a whole bar!) I decided to make a base for the cheesecake with melted chocolate and chopped almonds – spread it in the bottom of the dish and put it in the fridge to set.  Then I whipped an 8 oz brick of cream cheese (it was at close to room temp), 1/2 cup of unsweetened peanut butter and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla with my electric handheld mixer until fluffy.

I spread the cheese mixture on top of the base, covered with plastic and put in the fridge for a few hours.   This recipe made a small cake – I made it in a 6″ ramekin – which is four small servings.  I lined the dish with plastic wrap and lifted it out once it was set and put it on a plate to cut.

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I find, with the chocolate base, that it is sweet to my taste.  But… I haven’t eaten anything sweet for four months.  I will make another, this time without the peanut butter and have it with some berries.  I think I want to try baking one too – and use coconut, butter and ground almonds to make a crust (which may end up being more of a crumble but it’s worth a try!)  And maybe flavour the cheese with lemon or lime.

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27
Mar
16

No substitutes

I’ve given up on the idea of finding substitutes for carbs. I’m adapting to not having things like bread, pizza, potato chips, tacos, rice, corn, peas, pasta, mashed potatoes, Cheetos, breakfast cereal, oatmeal, cookies, crackers, grains, pancakes, fries, croutons, couscous, popcorn, pie, cake, wonton soup, pad thai, almond chicken, california rolls, french toast, grilled cheese sandwiches … sigh…

The first couple months after I stopped eating carbs I actively looked for and experimented with using alternatives – trying recipes using coconut flour or almond flour, etc.  Other than one that was sort of okay (but in no way did it resemble an “English muffin” but it did make adequate very very thin toast that had to be loaded with cream cheese to actually be tasty) they were all really awful.

The effort was not worth the results so I just altered my mindset – instead of trying to find something to replace those foods, I’ve just accepted I no longer can eat them.

I get a lot of suggestions from friends, recommending something I should try.  But gluten free, unfortunately, is not carb free.  Rice has no gluten but is all carbs. And while there are grains that are lower in carbs, like rye, I still spike after eating them.

The ingredients are really expensive for the “replacement” recipes.  I now have a collection of “flours” to try to figure out what to do with.  The almond flour works for dredging and coating things at least – makes a very good coating on pork chops!

I gave up all sugar too – any sugar.  So that’s white, brown, cane, honey, maple syrup, molasses, corn syrup,  or using dates as a substitute in baking. That wasn’t hard for me.  I did like sweets but I didn’t have a real sweet tooth.  I did try Stevia in a baking experiment – yuck.  I don’t like artificial sweeteners, never have, so don’t use them at all.

I don’t eat much fruit now, due to the natural sugars.  They spike my blood sugar too much.  I can manage a few things in very limited quantities – like unsweetened frozen strawberries (which I mix with plain yoghurt) and unsweetened apple sauce.  And an occasional shot of no sugar added cranberry juice doesn’t seem to hurt.

My current way of eating almost fits the definition of a Paleo Diet or LCHF (Low Carb High Fat).  I have NOT given up dairy because life would not be worth living without cheese.

Add all that to my allergy to beef (which has put me in the hospital a couple of times) and an inability to digest cellulose (which is put in pretty much all pre-shredded cheese) – it means no more eating out.  It isn’t worth the hassle of being THAT customer at a restaurant – you know, the one who wants to substitute half the ingredients in everything?

I’m doing a lot of playing around with herbs and spices – I’ve actually started adding heat in spice form which I was never into before (some were known to call me a wimp.)  Trying new spices that I’ve not used before and being a lot heavier handed with them too.

Every meal has vegetables, including breakfast – celery is my new best friend, and my main snack food is nuts. My weekly shopping consists of fresh vegetables, meat, fish, eggs, cheese, milk, cream, and plain yoghurt.

I am looking forward to summer with fresh local vegetables.  I’ve signed up again for a share in our local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) with Summer’s Gold.  Weekly deliveries from a local farm for three months (July through September).  And this year they have added a locally raised and produced meat share too!  I’ve been buying into the program for five years now and highly recommend it to everyone.  These programs are all over so check your area to see if there is one near you – they vary depending on the producer.

 

It all seems to be working – In the last week and a half I’ve had eight normal readings on my blood sugar, and this morning, for the first time, my fasting sugar was in range!  I have got my readings down to half of what my A1C was in December, on average.

My goal is to get off the medication.  And as I am on the lowest dose that should be possible.  I see my doctor in a month for follow-up tests.

20
Mar
16

What a change

I’ve been losing weight due to my diet change.  When you stop eating carbs and sugar that is a side-effect which is usually quite welcome!

I knew the weight was coming off as my pants kept falling off (as covered in my previous post) and I culled my wardrobe of everything that was miles too big and have another load to donate.  And I had to buy new underwear.

I don’t own a scale so every two weeks I get on the scale at the gym so see where I’m at. Last week I was 22 pounds less than I was at Christmas.  I did the math – I’ve been losing 0.255 pounds per DAY.  Kind of boggles the mind.

AND… last week I FINALLY had two blood sugar readings “in range”!  Too bad I can’t have a cake to celebrate.  Kidding.

Yesterday I took a photo of myself, well, I took a photo of the face painting I did on myself for a birthday party I was booked for.  I like to keep photos of the designs I do for reference.  I knew I now had a visible neck and had thinned out a bit in the face but when you look at yourself everyday you don’t see how much of a change there has been.

I went looking for old photos for comparison… Holy crap!

I found one from when I think I was at my heaviest.  It was taken in July 1998 (the month I got my driver’s license  BTW… just some trivia there.)  I don’t actually know how much I weighed as we didn’t own a scale and I preferred not to know.  I had levelled off there and hadn’t changed size for several years – this is the me that wore that sweater and size 28 jeans from the previous post.

Well… here is the old me and the new me who is still a work in progress, 18 years apart.

1998 vs 2016

Almost doesn’t look like the same person… but those dated eyebrows are a dead give-away!

20
Feb
16

The cauliflower experiment

In my search for interesting food to cook myself I’ve seen, and been sent, the recipes for cauliflower pizza crust, cauliflower garlic bread, etc.  Supposedly you use cauliflower as a substitute for the bread part.

Okay.

Thing is, I’ve become quite cynical about recipes that purport to make substitutes for carb based food.  I’ve been trying them and the results are:

  1. Disgusting, inedible messes.  Like the “pancakes” using coconut flour and many eggs.
  2. Don’t look anything remotely close to what appears in the photographs accompanying the recipes.
  3. Descriptions and instructions do not jibe – what the recipe says is not what happens.
  4. Recipes writers LIE!

I know how to follow recipes and to troubleshoot when something isn’t right.  I trained as a chef for a year right out of high school, and worked as a cook and a baker, so I know my way around an oven and food processor.  I’ve followed a lot of recipes in my life and they pretty much always turn out very well.  So you can imagine how I felt trying these recipes and experiencing such massive fails!

Nonetheless, this cauliflower thing was intriguing.  I like cauliflower.  So I spent a few weeks checking out the recipes that popped up on my Facebook feed, or that my sister and friends sent me.  Some were so involved that I lost interest part way through reading them.  Others spent 2000 words describing how great they were and how you couldn’t even tell it was cauliflower… really?  Now why don’t I believe that?

Several recipes described cooking the cauliflower then wringing it out in a towel to remove moisture, which seeing as they cooked it with water… made sense. But why would you bother cooking it with water to only have to wring it out?   Some said to grate the cauliflower into “rice” first, or after cooking.  I came across one that pureed the cauliflower and then microwaved it without water and didn’t wring it out, that made more sense.

I bought a cauliflower (putting my retirement at risk at the expense) so today was the day I tried this idea out.  Realizing, of course, that it was going to taste like, well, CAULIFLOWER!  What I wanted to end up with was a patty or fritter type thing.  Hopefully crunchy.

I started by chopping up a cauliflower head and processing it into a coarse grind in the food processor.

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I did not puree it, it was a dry fine chop.  You could do it by hand too if you didn’t have a machine to do it.

Then I microwaved it for a total of 10 minutes on high – stopping at 5 minutes to stir it.

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While it was cooking I grated up a hunk of parmesan and some mozzarella.

I decided to add bacon to my recipe – I always have real bacon bits in the fridge (I put that sh*t on everything!  LOL) and some spices.  This time I used ground white pepper, paprika, ground thyme, onion powder, garlic powder, chilli powder – I didn’t add salt as I figured the bacon and the parmesan would add enough.  And eggs to bind it together.

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I let the cauliflower cool to room temperature and then mixed in the spices, then the bacon and cheeses.  I wanted to make sure they were well blended before adding the eggs.

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Then added the eggs and mixed it up really well.

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I had got three eggs out but thought two might be enough, but it did need the third one.

Then I put heaping spoonfuls on the parchment paper and pressed them flat and shaped the sides with the spoon.  One large head of cauliflower made enough for what’s in the photo.

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They aren’t bad at all.  Next time (yes, I will do this again!) I am going to use a lot more spice and different stronger flavours.  And I am going to cook in oil on the stove – like potato pancakes – I want them crunchy!  These are firm, but not crisp.

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CAULIFLOWER, BACON & CHEESE PATTIES

Preheat oven to 425F.  Cover baking sheet with parchment paper.

Ingredients used in this batch shown in the photos:

Large head of cauliflower

1 cup (by volume) grated parmesan (or other hard cheese)

1/2 cup (by volume) grated mozzarella (or other softer cheese)

1/4 cup chopped cooked bacon

Spices:  ground white pepper, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, chilli powder, ground thyme – less than 1/8 tsp of each.  Next time I would use a lot more!

3 large eggs

Directions:

Coarsely chop or grind cauliflower to an even consistency. Place in a microwave safe bowl or dish, cover with lid or plastic wrap, and microwave on high for a total of 10 minutes, stirring once at the 5 minute mark.

Remove cover, stir and let the cauliflower cool to room temperature.

Once the cauliflower is cool, stir in spices, bacon and cheeses.  Once well blended, add the eggs and mix until combined.

Scoop onto the parchment lined cookie sheet and shape into desired size/shape – flatten and even out the sides.

Bake in the centre of the 425F oven for a total of 25 minutes, rotating the sheets at the 15 minute mark.  Check for desired doneness as your oven may be hotter or cooler than mine. Edges should be dark brown and the top should be starting to brown.

Remove from oven and let cool before removing from tray.  It doesn’t take long.  These turned out to be firm and solid so are suitable to hold other things.

Eat as is, warm, with condiments of your choice – guacamole, sour cream, dijon mustard, more cheese, etc.  Or, make a sandwich with them like I did – guacamole and sliced turkey!

Store leftovers in the fridge wrapped tightly in plastic wrap (to avoid condensation in containers.)

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This turned out well… and yes, this would work for a pizza crust very well.  HOWEVER, it is cauliflower and tastes like cauliflower but it is a neat way to eat it!

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about.me

Shannon Fennell

Shannon Fennell

International Award Winnning Make-Up Artist, Face & Body Painter

I am a professional make-up artist with credits in film, television, theatre and editorial. I offer a multitude of make-up related services and retail instructional products for face and body painters.

Some of my awards include 2005 International Face Painter of the Year, 2006 Winner of Fantasy Worldwide Face Painting Contest in Putte, Belgium, Second Place at the 2007 US Body Painting Festival, as well as over 80 other awards and prizes.

I love creative projects and am available for everything from wedding make-up to custom built prosthetic appliances, large scale international sporting events to individual appointments, birthday parties to trade shows.

I also do costume design and prop building for theatre and cosplay.


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