Monday, January 25, 2016

I'll Be Your Substitute

I vividly remember the first time I went into a health food shop with an actual list. It was almost five years ago and on the advice on my nutritionist Simone, I was looking for healthier substitutes for sugar, regular flour and dairy produce. It was another planet to me. I had no idea what I should be looking for as I wasn’t familiar with half the things on my list in English, let alone in French.

There were few disasters. (Soy cream…do not even go there. It is DISGUSTING.) Rice milk (I’m aware rice milk has its fans…some of them are even my friends…but it doesn’t do it for me.) And does anyone out there actually like quinoa crisp breads? Mine tasted like pieces of old cardboard and soaked up so much saliva that I couldn’t physically swallow them unless they were slathered in Boursin or taramasalata, thereby rather defeating the object.) Let the photo above be a warning to you.

In fact, look closely and see if you can tell the difference between the crackers and a piece of old cardboard. I thought so.

There were some success stories too. Green tea (who knew this would replace my daily morning cup of beloved Earl Grey?) Vollkornbrot (in other words, rye bread which is delicious for breakfast if it’s well, and I mean well, toasted with scrambled eggs, bananas and linseeds or mashed avocado and black pepper.) Best of all, unlike normal bread, it doesn’t make me look five months pregnant after one slice. Spelt flour (hurrah, I didn’t have to give up banana bread or lemon drizzle cake, I just had to start baking my own.) Dark chocolate (as a self confessed chocoholic, I thought I would struggle with the milk/dark swap. I didn’t. I merely replaced one addiction with another.)

There’s competition for the top spot but I’m going with Xylitol as my favourite and most life changing discovery in a health food store. A natural birch sugar, it looks suspiciously like refined Tate & Lyle, works in baking and on pancakes and has figured in more than 300 studies indicating it can play a significant role in preventing – and even reversing – tooth decay. Best of all, it tastes nice. Try it, you won't look back. As you can see from the picture below, home made always beats shop bought hands down.

Of course, the biggest challenge was making these ingredients seem normal in a house containing two teenagers and a man with a very sweet tooth. In truth, I am still working on that one but it’s gratifying that for the most part, my cakes and bakes get eaten eventually (and not just by me.) Sometimes they even get a raised eyebrow followed by a bemused ‘This actually tastes really nice! Obviously you didn’t use your ‘special’ ingredients today.’ Er, yes I did.

You’ll know I’m not normal when I tell you that these days, I prefer to spend an hour browsing around my favourite little ‘indie’ stores in Lewes, Twickenham, Greenwich and Mouans Sartoux talking to the usually very well informed assistants about turmeric tablets instead of languishing in the furniture section of Heals or Liberty’s shoe hall. It’s also easier on the bank balance, and that’s one thing him indoors is eternally grateful for. Even if it does mean beetroot brownies for dessert.