Kicking the histamine bucket

I’d never given histamine much thought, apart from popping anti- pills from about February onwards for the past six years or so. I never suffered from hayfever as a child and it was savage when it hit me, with severe sinus pain and the feeling that I needed to rip my eyes from their sockets to get any relief.

Probably about the same time, I started suffering from a dry cough. Others probably suffered more, to be honest – when it cleared up my mother revealed that she’d always known when I was about to cough during our phone conversations, and she’d pull the receiver away from her ear before the bellow came.

The cough stopped without fanfare just before our wedding and I didn’t even realise until my mum mentioned its absence. “You must not be eating dairy,” she guessed, knowing that we were on a mad panic last-minute diet. In fact I was mainlining yoghurt and cheese, along with meat on a well-known and frequently derided high-protein diet which I reluctantly thought actually suited me rather well even if I still hankered after bread and potatoes and all things magnificently carbulous.

Not long after the wedding I got pregnant and ate my way through morning sickness, mashed potato was particularly helpful. The pounds piled on too, and they weren’t just baby. When our son was a couple of weeks old, at the beginning of August the cough came back. So I was sleep deprived, hacking, and fat. Winner! By Christmas it was so bad that one night nursing the baby at 3:00am I coughed so hard I felt something pop under a rib – and it still hurts now.

The short version of what happened is GP appointments, the chest clinic at the local hospital, some interesting tests and an asthma diagnosis. That came from me performing exceptionally badly in a histamine challenge test (which sounds like a remake of an 80s television show) but I’m still not sure that they are right.

Yes, I react badly to histamine – my lung function dropped 40% at the beginning of the test, when they only wanted a 20% reaction over the course of the entire test. This, to my consultant, is consistent with asthma and there can’t be any possibility of it being food related – he was very dismissive when I asked him if there could be any link between diet and the cough. Even though long-term symptoms disappeared during a restricted diet and returned with a vengeance when I was eating everything.

So I decided to do a little research. I explained the story to a friend who’s a naturopath if she could think of anything that I might be allergic to, or any other reason for the coughing. She asked me if anyone had discussed histamine-rich foods with me. Um, no.

When you look into it there are a lot of slightly conflicting lists of what you can eat if you’re sensitive to histamine. The theory is that your histamine levels are like a bucket – once it’s full you’ll get symptoms (cough, bloating, sneezing etc) but you can empty the bucket a little by managing what you eat, taking Vitamin C which is a natural antihistamine, and drinking lots of water. I took this lightly as I’ve always been a bit of a an intolerance denier (if you swell up like a pumpkin with anaphylaxis fair enough, but some people are just fussy eaters) but decided to try an exclusion diet in line with the histamine-sensitivity principles. Here’s the things I’m supposed to avoid (from Allergy UK).

  • “Champagne ,wine, beer, cider and other fermented drinks and spirits
  • Sauerkraut and other pickled foods
  • Vinegar and foods containing it such as dressings, pickles, mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard
  • Tofu and soya sauce
  • Parmesan cheese and other cheeses
  • Sausages and other processed meats (ham, salami, gammon, bacon)
  • Mushrooms and quorn
  • Tinned and smoked fish (tuna, salmon, herring) and crustaceans
  • Prepared salads
  • Tinned vegetables
  • Dried fruit, seeds, nuts
  • Yeast extract, yeast
  • Chocolate, cocoa, cola

Certain foods (even food that is low in histamine) can stimulate the release of histamine from mast cells in your body (a type of immune cell). These foods include:

  • Bananas
  • Tomatoes,
  • Strawberries
  • Nuts
  • Peanuts
  • Shellfish
  • Egg white
  • Chocolate
  • Pumpkin
  • Spinach
  • Aubergines
  • Avocado
  • Papayas
  • Kiwi
  • Pineapple
  • Mango
  • Raspberry
  • Tangerines
  • Grapefruits
  • Red prunes
  • Pea
  • Spices”

Yeah, I particularly like “spices” thrown in there at the end. It cuts out so many condiments and any source of umami seems to be completely verboten.

However, the cough is gone.

Except when I eat things from that list.

I’ve already sussed that peppers and potatoes hate me, wheat isn’t great and chocolate and white wine are no-nos. So if I’ve declined an invitation to dine, or try various food products, this is probably why. I’m also taking anti-histamine now just to try to help. And I’ll be looking for new recipe ideas and trying to post food ideas here too.

It should almost go without saying, but all resource suggestions gratefully accepted!

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Win! Extra Special Christmas goodies from Leith’s and ASDA

Last week we visited Leith’s in west London, to sample some of the delights that Leith’s have selected from the ASDA range as their top hits for Christma in the “Extra Special” range.. It’s an interesting partnership, as I think we have some ideas in our minds about which supermarkets are more ‘foodie’ than others – I certainly did. However most of us nowadays are looking for both certain standards of ingredients and value for money so this arrangement looks promising. Leith’s were frank about their unwillingness to compromise on quality and it’s going to be interesting to see what these two ostensibly different animals will come up as the relationship develops over the next eighteen months.

We prepared a three course meal using combinations of the products from the range and lots of help from the lovely Leith’s staff. Our display went a bit awry when it became clear we’d sampled some of the honey and mustard baked sausages (but we were huuuuuuungry!) Lesson learned: next time eat three of the dozen in the pack and leave a nice presentable nine.

They still tasted good. We made fast cheaty canap√©s using some of the ingredients in the range, such as goats’ cheese and walnut topped crostini, drizzled with yet more honey, and peppered smoked salmon flaked into cream cheese and loaded up with horseradish. Main course was beautifully cooked venison which, heretical as it would be to my family, I could see as an alternative main course for the 25th. Not in my house, but I understand some people aren’t fans of turkey?!

And just in time for the big day, ASDA and Leith’s are offering one lucky winner a huge hamper full of Extra Special Goodies. The long list includes:

Christmas pudding, All-Butter Mini mince pies, Hazelnut & Fruit Stollen, Yule Log, Roast Pork and Crackling Hand Cooked Crisps (beware, these are more addictive than crack), Forest Fruit Butter Crumbles, Applewood Smoked Cheddar and winter chutney Hand Cooked Crisps, Fairtrade Columbian Roast and Ground Coffee, Artisan Biscuits for Cheese, Florentines, Black olive Breadsticks, Continental Delicacies, Gruyere and poppy seed twists, All butter Sundried Tomato and cheese Crumbles, Cava, Cranberry Sauce, Caramelised Onion Chutney, and to top it all off, a jar of Goosefat!

How to enter:

Leave a comment on this post or on the OMG Facebook page, answering this question:

Q: What will you be eating on Christmas Day?

Edited to add: The winner of this competition is J. Kelly, who commented on Facebook: “Chicken!! We have chicken & topside beef. I don’t mind turkey, but for the price I would have to LOVE it ūüôā So, we have chicken, beef, two kinds of gravy. All the trimming, 100’s of Yorkshire puddings (home-made of course) & my absolute favourite… Pigs in Blankets. Asda’s are the very best!!”

Congrats to you!

Terms and Conditions:

  1. This giveaway is open to all readers over 18 who live in the UK.
  2. The competition opens at 13:30 on 6 December 2011 and closes at 23:59 on 14 December 2011.
  3. There are two ways to enter – by answering the posed question on this page or on the OMG Facebook page. You may enter using each method once, for a total of two entries per person.
  4. The winner will be chosen via a random number generator.
  5. The winner will be contacted by e-mail, if they do not respond within 3 days another winner may be chosen.
  6. There is one prize of a hamper of ASDA Extra Special products, as listed though the promoter reserves the right to make substitutions if necessary.
  7. This competition is being run in good faith on behalf of ASDA, who will be responsible for sending the prize to the winner. Their decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into. They reserve the right to substitute the prize for one of a similar type / value if the prize above is not available.
  8. Instructions form part of the terms and conditions and by entering you’re agreeing to participate under these terms and conditions.
  9. Entries using any software or automated process to make bulk entries will be disqualified.

My mother’s filthy cheesecake

I never really appreciated this recipe as a child. What I now recognise as a wonderful firm, velvet texture was chalky and bland to me then (and part of a general dislike of anything ‘creamy’). The genius of the recipe is that it uses good old jelly in place of faffing about with gelatin – hence the ‘filthy’ epithet.

The recipe I wrote down on my last trip home was specifically for an orange version of this, complete with tinned mandarins on top. Yes, I am a child of the 70s. After fiddling around with it, it’s become lime instead.

Ingredients

  • 225g digestive biscuits
  • 170g melted butter
  • 1 packet lime jelly
  • juice and zest of 2 limes and 1 orange (to make up 150ml of liquid)
  • 225g philadelphia cheese
  • 55g caster sugar
  • small carton vanilla yoghurt
  • 300ml cream (a standard 284ml carton would be fine)
  • Dark chocolate for grating

Method

  1. Batter the digestives into submission inside a sturdy Ziploc bag, using a rolling pin. Empty into a bowl and pour over the melted butter, mix evenly. Press this into the bottom of a springform tin and put into the fridge to chill.
  2. Heat up the lemon and orange juice in a small saucepan, then add the block of jelly and melt over gentle heat.
  3. Using a food processor, whizz together the cheese, sugar, yoghurt and melted jelly.
  4. Whip the cream lightly and fold it into the mixture. Pour it into the prepped tin.
  5. Allow to set in the fridge. Before serving, remove it from the fridge for 30 minutes. Run a knife around the inside edge to loosen it before removing the springform collar. Grate dark chocolate over the top.

If you’d like a sharper taste, use only lime juice for the 1/4 pint of liquid needed to make up the jelly.

Also I notice in many cheese cake recipes a suggestion to use softened, rather than melted butter, and to pulverise it together with the crumbed biscuits in a food processor. I’ll be trying that next time. I’ve made a thicker base, you could easily reduce the amounts by a third which might be better balanced. But when it comes to cheesecake, it’s hardly about balance, right?

Homemade Christmas Gifts [Honeycomb]

I made this huge batch of nougat the other day. It tasted great. It also had its own personality. It was a bit of a free spirit – actually it was kind of sleazy. It wanted to throw itself all over the kitchen, over me, and just coudn’t take no for an answer. ¬†The Blob of the candy world, it just wanted to keep oozing, and oozing… I will give it another go soon but in need of a quick-fix gift in the meantime, I opted for honeycomb instead. It’s safe and sure – well apart from when you throw in the bicarb and it threatens to flow over the side of the saucepan like molten lava…

Honeycomb

There are tons of recipes out there and I went with more or less the basic one that everyone seems to use.

Ingredients

  • 200g caster sugar
  • 120g Golden Syrup
  • 3 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • As many edible decorations as you can stomach (sorry)

Method 

  1. Mix the sugar and golden syrup in a saucepan. I found it turned into a fudge-like mass. Once it’s on the heat, don’t stir again but swirl it around if necessary.
  2. When you put the pan on the heat, quickly prepare your baking sheet. Line it with parchment and dust liberally with edible decorations, such as edible Christmas trees, gold stars, and pearlescent glitter. Tasteful is not exactly what you’re going for here.
  3. Let the mixture melt then come to a bubbling boil, it will darken considerably.
  4. Don an oven glove if necessary, take the pan off the heat and then dump in the bicarb and whisk briskly. It will mushroom dramatically.
  5. Pour onto the baking sheet and again, go wild with the glittery stuff. Leave it to set then smash it into pieces. Bag up and give it to people with an attached disclaimer about their fillings.

 

 


Scrapiana’s Carrot Cake

Lovely Eirlys (aka Scrapiana) generously shared her Carrot Cake recipe with me, and said she didn’t mind if I gave it to you too. This is one of those great cut-and-come-again cakes that keeps well, can be made in advance, and can be tweaked to fit what you’ve got in the fridge. ¬†I also like the fact that it has less oil that some recipes I’ve seen, but it’s still spongy, spicy and lovely. The cake in the photograph is a doubling of the recipe below – heartily recommended.

Ingredients

  • Carrots 6oz/150g
  • 2 eggs
  • 4oz/100g brown sugar
  • 3 fl oz/75ml sunflower oil
  • 4 oz/100g self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¬Ĺ tsp ground nutmeg
  • 2 oz/50g desiccated coconut or ground almonds
  • 2 oz/50g dried fruit as preferred
  • Icing: 125g/4oz butter
  • 225g/8 oz cream cheese (full fat)
  • 250g/1 lb icing sugar
  • Zest of 1 lime, and half the juice

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 190C/350F/Mark 5. Grease & line the base of a 7″ square cake¬†tin, or a small (1 lb) loaf tin.
  2. Finely grate carrots.
  3. Whisk eggs and sugar together till thick and creamy. Add oil gradually, whisking well after each addition. Then add remaining ingredients & mix to combine evenly.
  4. Spoon resulting sloppy mixture into prepared tin. Level surface and bake for 20-25 minutes (though the loaf version will take longer: various wayward ovens through the years have taken an hour) till firm to the touch and golden brown. Cool and spread with icing (optional) or just scoff warm from the tin (my preference).To make the icing: cream the butter and cheese together, then add the sugar, lime juice and zest. Spread over the top, then perhaps decorate with some chopped nuts.

Let’s make Christmas [Chutney]

There are a couple of reasons why I haven’t fully embraced the notion of a homemade, handmade foodie Christmas before. Firstly, I’m rarely organised in time to do the sort of longer term, big batch gifts. You know, the sort of stuff you put in jars. And leave there for at least two months. Secondly, as someone who does all kind of crafty stuff, I’m a little cautious when it comes to making gifts. ¬†I’ve never been as unlucky as a friend of mine (she knits beautiful, intricate sweaters for her family which they put away in cupboards because “They’re not quite me.” Um, well give them back? Give them to someone else? ¬†I’ll stop now…) but suffice to say, I’m wary of putting hours and hours into a gift that might not be suitable or let’s face it, welcome. Or in this case, edible.

Leaving all that aside…this year I was ready early, we’d been to a jam and chutney class at the¬†Make Lounge¬†and I was making the most of a bigger kitchen. Although I no longer had my hoard of saved jars, as I had to recycle them when we moved, I found that the internet will send me a kabillion jars for not very much money …and they have red spotty lids. Anyone who knows me can tell you I’m a sucker for red polka dots. Once you have 72 jars, you feel under pressure to fill at least some of them. Ahem.

I went with a couple of Nigella recipes – by accident, as I was looking for a seasonal pumpkin recipe and then found her Christmas Chutney one and figured that if you’re going to make the entire house stink of boiling vinegar you might as well go for broke. The Christmas one is almost the same as here, though it specified fresh cranberries which I found (frozen) in Sainsbury’s and has dates as you can see here.

After quite a lot of chopping, the ‘cook down into a mush’ method couldn’t be simpler and it makes about a dozen (7oz) jars of red berry goodness. A quick lick of the spoon – after it was finished with, of course – was delicious, though of course it will have changed and mellowed to lose some of its vinegary tang when it’s come to its full maturity after, yes, you’ve guessed it, two months in the cupboard.

I’ll be delivering some of this to Vanessa’s “Let’s Make Christmas” blogger swap on Friday and will provide the actual recipe used, of course. I’d also hoped to have a couple of other things ready, as the deadline is also helpful for getting my own Christmas presents all done and ready, but we’ll have to see! ¬†As well as some sweets and baked goodies nearer the time, I’m also going to be making a very big pot of lovely Tommi Miers‘ fabulous Chipotles en Adobo. This hearty salsa (she tells me it’ll last for years, at least two but it’s too addictive to hang around for long in your fridge) is a fantastic addition to both Mexican dishes and anything stew- or casserole-like that needs a little souping-up. It’s easy to make, just takes an afternoon of pot watching. And chopping.

There’s one other project that is due to mature in mid-December. Homemade vanilla essence is simple to make but again, it’s a question of time. It requires at least eight weeks to mature. To make it, get yourself a 1.5l bottle of vodka and approximately 20-30 best quality vanilla beans. Roll, flatten and split the beans and scrape out the tiny seeds with the tip of a very sharp knife and drop them into the bottle with each and every split pod. Leave for, you guessed it, two months. Sigh. Now to decorate them – Labeley is aimed at beer but I think we can repurpose?

It can work out to be relatively inexpensive to make big batch presents like this, although saving jars rather than buying them obviously helps, as I tend to go for as good quality ingredients as I can afford. It’s perhaps sensible compared to say, stocking up at one of the luxury food halls – and part of the attraction there lays in the beautiful packaging and the tradition of it all. This big-batch approach obviously makes sense if you’ve got a large group of friends and colleagues to buy for.¬†But I don’t necessarily agree with people who say that homemade is a ‘cheap’ option and it certainly doesn’t mean less care or affection than something bought “in a real shop”. Suffice to say that if you see me proferring a jar or bottle of something your way this December, it’s because I think you’re someone with a discerning palate, and someone about whom I cared enough to make something for, from scratch.

Plus if the chutney is terrible, you’ll just chuck it in the bin and we’ll still be friends, right?

Get baking for Movember

If you’re not able to “donate your face” to Movember this year but you know someone who is and you want to help them with some fundraising, there are lots of brilliant moustache related goodies out there.

I spotted these in Oliver Bonas the other other day –¬†Munchstache¬†Cookie cutters from Fred & Friends. The cutter has an indented pattern on the top so you can flip it over and stamp some beautiful texture on to your Wolford, Baron, or Bristle Brush shaped mo amongst others.

They look super fun, my only reservation might be whether the cut dough comes out easily from the cutter but the stamper means less decorating work to make them look fab.

You could also try  the Fuzzy Inc ones which are available via the Movember website Рlooks like they ship from the US.

Wilton make these rather fab Mustache Molds (note the US spelling if you’re looking for them online!) which could be used with chocolate as well as their candy melts. ¬†Not so widely available here with paying a hefty shipping charge, but could be used again and again.

[Edit – it seems that the Munchstaches might be sold out online at Oliver Bonas. Try in the stores or also available here.]

In the UK, all the ‘Mo Bros’ who participate in Movember help to stimulate conversation about men’s health and raise awareness of the most prevalent male cancers, testicular and prostate.¬†