Friday, 27 October 2017

Low carb individual cheesecakes - a recipe

As more and more research is coming to light about the benefits of eating low-carb as part of a healthy-eating lifestyle, especially when linked to trying to conceive, I decided it was too simple a change not to make.

I had done Atkins years ago, immediately prior to conceiving my daughter, so I had some personal  knowledge that, at least, it won't hurt my chances and was comfortable that I'd be able to "handle" the changes necessary to eat significantly low-carb.

Since late July, I have been following a more-or-less Atkins approach to my dietary life and, after cheating only once (at a fantastic US-themed party in August) and ironing out some kinks (having too much fruit), my body has been responding quite positively and I have now lost more than 8.5 cm from my waist.

My journey isn't over, however, as I would like to be still significantly smaller than I currently am, but I can already feel the benefits (not least of which is gaining some semblance of confidence).

Now that I have made the change and done the hard work of "coming off of sugar" (for the skeptics, research proving sugar addiction exists linked here), I genuinely hope I can spend the rest of my life avoiding it altogether.* Luckily, I've always had more of a garlic-tooth than a sweet-tooth!

This doesn't mean, however, that I don't like the occasional sweet thing (hence the cheating at that party).

When trying to decide something of the dessert/sweet variety to revamp, my mind went immediately to the one thing, the only thing I had cheated with since starting this journey: Cheesecake.

The cheesecake I had at that fateful party was, in fact, Cheesecake Factory cheesecake and the recipe below doesn't compare to how that magical dessert tastes, but it's a place for me to start, a springboard off which I can launch further trials and experiments in trying to recreate the famous and specific flavours of the Cheesecake Factory cheesecake.

Without further ado:

Low-Carb Individual** Cheesecakes


Ingredients:

  • 450g cream cheese
  • 100g xylitol (or appropriate ratio of other sweetener)
  • 1 1/2  tbsp almond flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3/4  tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 2 large eggs
  • 140 ml crème fraîche

Method:

  • Preheat the oven to fan  200C. 
  • Using a hand mixer, beat the cream cheese at medium-low speed until creamy (about 2 minutes). With the mixer on low, gradually add the sugar, then the flour and salt, being careful to scrape down the sides of the bowl occasionally to ensure the mixture is fully incorporated. 
  • Add the vanilla, lemon juice. 
  • Whisk in the eggs, one at a time, scraping the bowl to ensure everything is properly blended. 
  • Add the crème fraîche.
  • Whisk to blend but do not over-work the filling.
  • Pour filling into 8 ramekins. 
  • Place ramekins on a baking sheet and put them into the oven.
  • Bake for 5 minutes. 
  • Reduce oven temperature to fan 90C and bake for 15 minutes more. If you gently shake the baking tray, the filling should have a slight wobble. 
  • Turn off the oven and open the oven door for a cheesecake that's creamy in the centre, or leave it closed if you prefer a drier texture. Let cool completely in the oven.
  • Refrigerate overnight for best flavour/texture.




I originally made this both with and without a base and both turned out delicious, but because the base I chose is actually a shortbread, it wasn't quite the same as what I as used to so I preferred the cheesecakes without. The shortbread I used for a base. I hope to eventually develop something closer to the Cheesecake Factory base.

*Before I have reached my goal size, I plan on thoroughly investigating the "Keto" way of eating and, considering the results of that research, may switch to that for the maintenance phase of life.

**Due to unforeseen circumstances, our kitchen is without some large appliances - namely, an oven and hob, both of which were gas-powered. Because of this, I made these in a small batch in my toaster oven. If you would like to make a full-size cheesecake, I recommend you:

  • Double everything above 
  • Brush the sides of a springform tin with melted butter and put on a baking sheet. 
  • Pour in the cheesecake filling 
  • Bake for 10 minutes. 
  • Reduce oven temperature to fan 90C fan and bake for 25 minutes more. (Gently shaking the tin should give the filling a slight wobble.)
  • Turn off the oven and open the oven door for a cheesecake that's creamy in the centre, or leave it closed if you prefer a drier texture. 
  • Let cool in the oven for 2 hours. The cheesecake may get a slight crack on top as it cools.

  • Refrigerate overnight.


Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Learning to Advocate for Myself

A recurring theme in my life, not being "Good Enough", has reared its ugly head again.

I am allergic to the wool carpet in our new house. This is a known allergy and we presumed I would suffer a bit when we moved in but had hoped that it would be mild enough that replacing the flooring could wait until we went, room by room, and redecorated the whole space.

Unfortunately, my reaction to the house has been swift and total. Inhalers needed, skin erupting in rashes... the works.

In dealing with all of this, already feeling low physically (it's exhausting being itchy 24/7) and emotionally (I find I'm still horrendously embarrassed by my eczema, even after more than 40 years with it), I took a backseat. I sat back and allowed Spouse to make decisions about how and when the flooring would be replaced because I didn't want to make waves, I didn't want to add stress where it wasn't necessary. And I started to feel worse. My health, I felt, wasn't being taken seriously. I wasn't being "heard".

Spouse and I got into a very slightly heated discussion about the flooring and timings, etc, about what I thought we should be doing versus what Spouse thought we should do... And why my needs were being ignored... and it was pointed out to me that I wasn't being "heard" because I wasn't saying anything!

I had been grumping around the house, miserable, sore, itchy - not telling Spouse how bad I felt, not communicating how much I was suffering.

I expected Spouse to know - and then was upset to discover that they didn't. Not to the extent that I was feeling it. Of course Spouse knows I'm suffering. It was obvious to anyone who sees me.... What Spouse couldn't have known, however, was how I am feeling, how much it's actually affecting me, how I feel emotionally and mentally because of the situation.

I briefly struggled to figure out why I would have trouble telling Spouse what my needs were. It didn't take long, though, to work out... In various, large portions of my life, the things I said, when I declared my needs, fell on deaf, impatient ears.

Throughout my life I had been ignored. Directly, wilfully, deliberately, indirectly, ignorantly, unwittingly... I have been ignored by my most primary relationships. Not all the time, of course. And sometimes, I was simply dismissed.

Through all of this, I learned. I learned that telling people what I needed, how I felt, what I wanted, even, was an exercise in futility at best and, at worst, in pain. It hurts to be ignored or dismissed and I can't tell you which is worse.

Now that I'm in my first healthy relationship, I'm having to relearn a lot of my behaviours and responses... I'm having to learn that it's not only OK to express what I need, it's essential, it's vital in a healthy relationship.

And I'm having to learn that my words will be listened to, that my voice will be heard.

I am learning that I am Good Enough.























Tuesday, 5 September 2017

10 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Me...

As it's been a while, I thought I'd ease myself back into blogging regularly(ish) with something simple... One of those ubiquitous, annoying "10 Things..." lists.

Bugger off. It's my blog and I can do what I want to, so there!

Potters, Hopton-On-Sea August 2017

Here goes!

10 Things You Probably Don't Know About Me:

1. I absolutely loathe photos of me. The above photo was taken by my lovely Sister-In-Law at her insistence. I understand her reasoning, hence why I stood for the photo(s! She took more than one!). Hopefully, someday I'll be able to look back on photos of myself and be OK with them. (Let's see if I can leave that photo there and not chicken out and take it down before this post goes live!)

2. I struggle with the concept of Good Enough. This has been an on-going theme throughout my life and I have actually had some very good, very expensive therapy regarding it. Throughout my life, I have felt that I am a disappointment to others, to myself. It's coupled with a strong sense of Perfectionism/Fear of Failure that means I hold myself to a far higher standard than I hold others and means that I am often overly, and even damagingly, self-critical. I have a fear of starting things, projects, because of this fear of failure - because if I don't start then I can't fail, right?! I frequently need to remind myself that I am good enough, that I am deserving of good things, deserving of being treated well and with respect. I am far better than I was but I acknowledge that I still have a long way to go... and that's good enough!

3. My favourite colour is Aurora Borealis (AKA "Iridescent"). It's actually a collection of colours; blues, greens, pinks, etc.

The surface of my bed-side table. Glitter under bartop resin. iPhone camera. Unedited.

4. I can't stand the word "toppings". Even saying it in my head makes me feel weird. This makes loving and ordering pizza rather difficult!

5. I have never eaten shrimp in any form. Does this make me strange(r)?

6. I am a big child. One of my life mottos is: I am forced to grow old; I refuse to grow up!

Card-carrying member. iPhone camera. Unedited.

7. We're moving! We're moving (further) away from London - eek! When I moved to London in 2004, I presumed that that was it. I fell in love. Love, I tell you!

I was first an "EastEnder" (but never on the soap). Then, in 2009, I moved "south of the river" gasp! And, again, became an EastEnder in 2012ish for a short while. Since then, I've lived for about 4 years in Essex, just beside London. London, for the past 13 years, has - at the very least - always remained in arm's reach! I'm not sure how I feel about being a 2-3 hour drive from my favourite city. The implications and my emotions surrounding it are, no exaggeration, bittersweet.

We're moving to a lovely part of the world called "Lincolnshire". It will be a significant change of lifestyle and will include the chance to develop hobbies, join clubs, exercise more.... All manner of things that the frantic pace of living "down south" doesn't seem to allow.

8. I love taking photographs. I have loved taking photos since I was a smaller child. We couldn't afford a decent camera so I spent my childhood working through a succession of cheap, crap cameras that used 110 film and did nothing to enhance my ability to take a photo. I even had a micro 110! How on earth one was supposed to get any kind of quality photos with one of those, I will never know!

In high school, I had wanted to take a photography class but it required having a 35mm camera with which to take the pictures. Again, the budget didn't allow this. I took it on the chin but was definitely envious of classmates who had access to a decent camera and felt an almost physical ache when I saw the photos they'd taken for the class.

When I was in my late 20s/early 30s, I was able to afford a decent and expensive (at the time) camera. I was super excited! Then, as life moved on, I never learned how to use it properly. It sat. I played with it a bit. I never really did anything with it other than use it in fully automatic mode, defeating the purpose of having that camera over a "point and shoot" version.

When we've moved, I plan on snapping more and joining a local camera club (there are at least three I can choose from!). I've recently bought some new lenses, some instruction books, and my desire to take good photographs is now even stronger than ever as I get one step closer and I'm super excited!

Random building in Southend-On-Sea. iPhone camera. Unedited. 19th August 2017

Potters, Hopton-On-Sea. iPhone camera. Unedited. August 2017

9. I love to sing! Like, seriously, love to sing. Thing 2, however, means that I am convinced I can't sing very well. People who are professional musicians/professors in music have told me that I can carry a tune and I still shy away from singing in front of anyone with whom I am not 100% comfortable around. I was in chorus all through grade school and junior high and a big part of me wishes I had carried on through high school... not because of who I could have been through singing; I have no aspirations... I just lament that I could have continued doing something I love instead of backing away because it wasn't cool.

When we move, however, there are three local choirs that I plan on investigating and, though it will be a genuine struggle to get the guts to do so, I plan on auditioning for at least one! I know! I'm just as surprised as you are, maybe even more so!

10. I am slowly writing a book about me. It will be a fictional adaptation based on my life leading up to age 40. Do you know enough about me to tell the difference between fact and fiction?

What are 10 things about you that I probably don't know?


Monday, 24 April 2017

Long Way Home

My back aching with the strain of the extra weight, I pulled the child along in the sled as we traversed the field. It had been days since we had seen any signs of human life and I was grateful that the child slept now.

She never really complained – I expected tears, screams of terror for what she must have been through, for what she must have seen – but all she did was stare at my eyes when I spoke to her. Approximately 7 or 8 years old, I knew she had to understand me and sometimes she would acknowledge what I had said or asked with a quick, singular nod or shake of her head, her filthy hair flying about her face, sending dirt and dead leaves falling to her tatted t-shirt.

Her stare haunted me, her silence scared me even more. It had been some considerable time since I had had any human companionship and when I had finally encountered another person, a person who understood where they were, that person was essentially mute. Just my luck.

As we approached an abandoned house along our path, I gently shook the sled as I walked, never taking my eyes off of the house. I felt the sled move slightly behind me and the child let go a small grunt to indicate that she was awake and saw the house. As we neared the house, she jumped from the sled while it was still moving and ran to scoot under one of the back windows, hidden, while I headed to the front door.

The house was empty, thankfully, and there were a few treats left in the cupboards as well as some not-long-expired sun screen that it certainly wouldn’t hurt to carry. It was a small mercy that what happened was so sudden that there wasn’t really a chance for society to melt-down, no riots, minimal looting… A small grace, really.

As I came back outside, I handed the girl a protein bar and she waited until we had repacked the sled with our new loot before hungrily peeling back the wrapping with dirty fingers.

Now that I knew the house was empty, I spoke to the child. “No water, I’m afraid. The people who lived there clearly hadn’t any time to prepare. I did get some boxed juice, though, and some more matches.”

I handed her the juice and she kept her eyes on me as she drank slowly, carefully, and handed me back the carton. I nodded as I placed the lid back on the carton and set it thoughtfully among the contents of the pack in the sled.

We had been travelling with each other since I had come across her in a similarly-abandoned house just three days before. I had tried everything I could think of to get her to communicate verbally with me but she simply wouldn’t. It was a little frustrating to not know her name but walking with someone for the first time in months was a sort of relief…. At least I wouldn’t be talking to just myself anymore.

Once the pack was settled and we had each availed ourselves of the outhouse on the property, we set off once more.

Along the way, as before, I quietly told the child stories about my life before we had met and what I had hoped to find when I finally made it home. I told her stories of my own childhood, things I remembered from when I was her age – it wasn’t difficult, it had only been five or six years but I felt I had grown so much in that time – I suppose I had.

We travelled this way for six more days – I told stories to a child who wouldn’t opine, a form of therapy, I suppose – and we found places of shelter, scarce foodstuffs, a couple of farmsteads that had pump wells from which we could fill our water bags. A few of the homes we were able to find shelter in for short times during the day but I was eager to get home and the places were unsecured from attack, so we moved on quite quickly. We never stayed the night in any of the homes, it was too risky.

And still we had not encountered any further human life.

By the time the seventh day with the girl came, I was desperate for her to talk. I had been asking questions all week in the hopes of drawing out a response but the child remained resolutely quiet. I was grateful, however, that she had at least deemed I posed no threat. That night we still slept as lightly as before, but we slept snuggled beside each other. The warmth between us was welcome and, I felt, added an extra measure of security as, when one of us stirred in the night, the other woke instantly ready for any danger.

We were about fifteen miles from home and I had been singing the girl a low, sweet song I remembered from when I was younger. I was startled when she grunted, just loudly enough that she grabbed my attention but not so loudly as to alert others. I looked to her, not slowing my stride, and turned to look where she was pointing.

We suddenly both stopped. Ahead, was a house, but that wasn’t what worried the girl. As soon as I saw exactly why she’d wanted my attention, we began moving silently, slightly sideways to the house, keeping it in sight but hiding ourselves from being seen.

Peering into the windows of the house was a human. As cautious as I had been when I first encountered the girl, we watched the human from a safe distance. I don’t know what the girl was thinking but I was hoping against hope. I’m not ashamed to say that I fought back tears when the human walked three times around the house, peering into the windows and sniffing the air before moving on. It didn’t try to enter the house. It didn’t remember how – it was no longer a part of this world.

That night I dreamt fitful dreams, several times waking to the sound of my own whimpering, the girl hovering over me, the look of concern and fear evident on her face. Each time, I apologised and tried to soothe her. Each time, I promised I’d be quieter. Each time, I woke with my heart pounding harder than the last.

For the remainder of the journey, I was too afraid to sing, too afraid to hope and too tired to try to keep up appearances for the girl. As we neared my home, my eyes weeping with relief, I turned back to look at the child who was suddenly no longer there.

Friday, 10 March 2017

The Countdown



“10!” The computerised voice boomed across the halls.

She whimpered as she lurched to her feet. She wasn’t prepared. She was never prepared for the countdown. Her bare feet skidded along the cool hardwood floor as she raced to find a safe place to be when the countdown ran to zero.

“9!” The voice again, slightly lower in volume this time.

Her heart juddered in her chest. She had managed to find an area that wasn’t close to one of the speakers, which also meant that she was further away from the seemingly ubiquitous microphones. She carefully exhaled, trying to calm her pulse as she kept her pace.

“8!”

She skidded around a corner and ran straight into a giant wardrobe that had been shoved into the centre of its room. Her knee banged painfully on the expensive, antique wood but she wouldn’t allow herself to cry out. If he heard her now he’d know her exact location and she would be finished before the countdown ended.

“7!”

She hastily wiped silent tears from her face with a filthy backhand as she manoeuvred through another adjoining room and into one of the hidden stairwells in the walls of the ancient estate. She prayed she could get somewhere, anywhere within the main house because she was sure he was outside patrolling the grounds immediately before the countdown.

“6!” The voice boomed.

She groaned inwardly about having brought herself closer to a speaker and another microphone but she was far beyond lamenting about the fairness of his little “game”. Her stomach churned slightly at the mental image of what was to come if she didn’t make it – and the premise was simple. She had to run and hide while the automated voice counted down. She had literally only herself and her knowledge of having been held on the estate for the past ten years at her disposal… He, on the other hand, had tech, he had gadgets…. Cameras, microphones, night vision, motion sensors, pressure sensors – he had it all.

“5!”

Virtually tossing herself down a flight of stairs she landed with a well-practiced thump at the bottom and immediately rolled back onto her feet. The lean diet he kept her on added to the daily exercise she gave herself prepared her for his “game”, kept her mind and her body agile, ready for the fight. A fight she was getting better and better at winning over the years.

“4!”

She gasped – He’d changed the timing interval between the two announcements, making them closer together. This was an unwelcome new development and she momentarily fretted that it was because he was closing in on her.

“3!”

She refused to allow herself to consider it, however, knowing that the “game” wasn’t over until the countdown was finished. She pushed on, rushing from room to room in the cellar, past old, redundant boilers and dusty chairs.

“2!”

She was desperate to win the “game”. When she succeeded, he rewarded her by leaving her alone for the night. When he “won”… the reward he took for himself didn’t bear thinking about.

“1!”

She’d numbed herself to it years ago while he was rewarding himself, but she hadn’t yet been broken enough not to fight during the game itself, she would never allow him to break her. So she ran and ran, praying that one day her father would set her free.

“0!”

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Girls and boys come out to play...

Girls and boys come out to play
The moon doth shine as bright as day
Leave your supper, and leave your sleep
And join your playfellows in the street.

An ancient song, I call to the children from the street – my voice soft, comforting, heard only by the innocent of heart.

They join me sleepily, rubbing their eyes, curious yet cautious smiles on their sweet faces. Nightgowns, pyjama legs and bare feet cross dew-covered lawns as they walk to join me. Quiet chatter develops as they recognise their neighbours, their cousins, their siblings, and their play begins.

Tag, hide-and-seek, hopscotch – we play them all and more.

Laughter floats like bubbles into the brightening sky and it’s time to go. Hours have passed in an instant and my belly hurts from the laughter. I rise to my feet and call the children to me one by one. A single kiss placed on the top of each head and I motion them along on their journey. When the final child is kissed, I join the children and follow them home.

Tomorrow night I will travel to another town in another land and take their children – as I have done every night since before time began. 

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

The Button Collector

When I was younger my mother had a cookie tin filled to bursting with buttons. I used to sit beside her while she crafted, my small hands buried in the buttons. I loved how they felt as they slid across my skin, the noise they made as they slipped and came together, passing through my fingers... I loved the way they would catch the light, rhinestones glinting, flat plastic faces reflecting my mother's work light. It soothed me.

It's no surprise, really, that I began collecting buttons myself.

It started with stealing one or two buttons from my mother's stash... Ones I didn't think she'd notice. I kept them in the back corner of my closet where I'd peeled back just the very edge of the carpet. I lined them up so that they were tight against the wall then laid the carpet back down on top of them.

I would drift off to sleep at night staring at my half-open closet door - not because I was worried about monsters but because I knew there was treasure in there, waiting for me, calling to me.

I began seeing buttons everywhere... One under a seat on the bus - a cool oval tortoiseshell button with only two holes... Another under a rack of dresses in our local department store - a plain black plastic one with three holes... They both came home with me and I added them to my collection.

Eventually, my collection outgrew the space I could get away with on the floor of my closet so I started taping them to the back of my dresser. Neat rows of buttons adorned the side of my dresser that only I saw. Before the collection got too big, I used to count them all each night before I slept and, as I drifted off, my attention now on that chest of drawers rather than my closet.

Sometimes, I would see buttons on people's coats or their clothing while I was out with my mother and I would be transfixed. A sparkly button could make my whole day and going a day without seeing a button that I deemed interesting could certainly ruin my mood. I'd be thunderous until we reached home again and I could escape to my room and my treasure.

When my mother died, I made sure that I got all of her buttons, but it wasn't difficult - neither of my brothers were interested.

My collection grew and I started housing it in a glass-fronted cabinet so that I could look at them all the time. My brothers think I'm weird but they no longer lived in our mother's house so their opinions didn't matter. I was alone there with my treasure and it was just how I liked it.

Going out to do things like grocery shopping I began to realise that the lovely buttons that I saw on other people weren't being appreciated the way that I would appreciate them if they were mine. It's wretchedly unfair so I started carrying a small seam ripper with me. I was on a personal mission to liberate unappreciated buttons.

I became quite adept at "accidentally" bumping into someone and freeing a button from their coat or sleeve. I made it into something of an art - I was like a strange little pickpocket except I never stole anything of value to my "victims", never any money or anything like that. Just buttons. Buttons they didn't even know were missing until it was too late. Buttons they must have presumed fell off of their own accord, as buttons are wont to do sometimes.

It's been a few years since I've seen any interesting buttons. I guess that's to be expected where I live now but it saddens me. I still collect them when I can but my collection is super small.

I only have three buttons now and when I'm not in my room my buttons are hidden in a pair of socks. I keep them tightly wrapped in my fist when I sleep. I dream of them. I dream of buttons, of course. I try not to dream of the woman whose beautiful button took my treasure away from me...

She was standing on the platform, waiting for her train - I had followed her into the station from the coffee shop two doors down. She had the most amazing floral buttons on her dress and I couldn't tell if they were acrylic, resin or glass but they were stunning. Hues of pink and purple petals set off against a dark green background - they perfectly matched her summery dress. I had been waiting for my moment for some time when it finally came. Her train was approaching and I slipped my seam ripper into my hand, gripping it tightly, keeping it firmly concealed. Because the platform was packed for rush hour, I knew this would be easy - I'd done it hundreds of times before.

I approached the woman as she bent to grab her bags in readiness for boarding the train and I rushed forward, pretending I was eager to be one of the first to board the train. She was significantly distracted. My hand moved in a practised motion and in one swipe the button between her breasts was mine. I pocketed the coveted button.

But she had felt her dress pull apart and she jumped back slightly, startled. I never understood how, but at that instant, as the train pulled along the platform, she was suddenly shunted forward and into me. I put my hands up to protect myself as she crashed into me and we fell to the platform.

My chest felt warm and wet and I couldn't work out how or why as I started trying to push the woman off of me when I realised people were starting to shout around us.

I couldn't hear what they were saying but there was so much warm water on me that I began to wonder if the woman had peed herself.

When I finally slid out from under the woman and stood up the shouting turned to screams and I heard the words "She's got a knife!". I looked down at the woman, confused - If she'd had a knife, I would have seen it. I'd been watching her quite closely and she definitely didn't have a knife. I knew they weren't screaming about the woman on the platform but I was then confused as to why she was still down where we had fallen together. She wasn't moving.

It didn't matter, I had to get out of there. Knife person or not, I definitely needed dry clothes.

As I approached the barrier to leave the station I turned to look back at the platform. I wasn't holding my seam ripper anymore, I must have dropped it. It was OK, I had several more at home but I wanted to see the woman whose button I had taken. I wanted to make sure she had made her train. I didn't want her to be late.

She was there but she still hadn't moved.

And there was a wet patch all around her, spreading out from under her on the platform.

As I walked back to her, I noticed that people were moving out of my way, some were running. The whole thing was very confusing.

As I knelt down to ask her if she was OK, to ask her if she needed any help, I saw my seam ripper. For a flash I was excited. I didn't want to lose a seam ripper.

But my excitement was short-lived as I was abruptly tackled from behind. As I fell forward, smashing my face into the platform, I realised that my seam ripper was embedded in the neck of the woman with whom I had fallen. What a silly place for her to have put it!