Non-Alcoholic Paleo Christmas Cake

I’ve once again teamed up with a fabulous bunch of free from bloggers, to bring you a wonderful selection of free from Christmas food this year. Please check out the links at the bottom of this post for more details. 

My family has been eating the paleo way for almost six years now. We aren’t perfect eaters, and subscribe to the 80/20 principle, which gives our life a healthy balance. By and large however, this means that we do not eat any grains (of which gluten is just one, but the most publicised one), or refined sugar. We do eat a little dairy in the way of raw milk, cheese, and home fermented goat milk yoghurt and sour cream, but steer clear as best we can of commercial dairy.

Between eating like this, and my recent leap into teetotalism, I wanted to create a non-alcoholic paleo Christmas cake. One that we could all enjoy and doesn’t have the excess sugar, unnecessary ingredients and alcohol you would usually find in a traditional version.

Sugar is sugar people!

Unrefined or not, dried fruit is exceptionally sweet, and the icing alone on most Christmas cakes (especially shop bought) amounts to diabetes on a plate. Apart from anything else, my Hubby is not a fan at all, so I had to put my thinking cap on, and get creative. 

non-alcoholic paleo christmas cakeDid you know that the purpose of soaking the dried fruit (and nuts if you’re using them like I am) in alcohol is to make them super moist? Feeding the cake with booze is partly for preservation purposes, but also for flavour. Nothing more, nothing less.

Tea which has been brewed and cooled down works just as well to soak the fruit and nuts overnight. Not using booze also means that you don’t have to make the cake too far in advance, and can leave it until the week of Christmas. Also it’s best to use organic dried fruit, because it will be sulphite free which is always a good thing! 

I have used Earl Grey tea, because it gives the cake and wonderful smell and flavour. For some reason, bergamot reminds of the beach, and elicits happy memories of far flung holidays and adventures. Not exactly Christmassy, but it makes me smile so I’ll call that a win.   

If you really want a boozey cake, then you can substitute the tea for alcohol of your choice, make it a month in advance and feed with 1-2 tablespoons each week. 

Non-Alcoholic Paleo Christmas Cake that is free from all Grains (including Gluten), Dairy and Refined Sugar

Ingredients for a very large cake, approx 20 servings  
250g grated carrot
200g chopped dried dates
200g sultanas 
200g cashew nuts
100g chopped dried apricots
100g ground nuts (almonds or pecans work great)
non-alcoholic paleo christmas cake100g coconut flour
120ml coconut oil
250ml cool brewed Earl Grey tea
4 large free range eggs
tbsp vanilla

Method
– Get a large bowl and add the dried fruit, cashews and carrot
– Give it a good mix, then pour over the cold tea 
– Cover the bowl and leave the mixture to soak overnight
– In the morning preheat your oven to 150C and prepare a large cake tin by greasing it well and lining with baking paper
– When you’re ready to start cooking add the ground nuts and coconut flour to your bowl of soaked loveliness  
– Give it a big mix
– In a separate bowl, mix the eggs, vanilla and coconut oil together
– Pour the wet mixture all over the bowl of other ingredients and give it a good stir
– Pour the batter into your tin and brush with a tbsp of coconut oil 
– Bake for an hour, ensuring that the cake is completely covered in baking paper
– Take out of the oven and allow to cool completely
– Store in an airtight cake tin and decorate as you please on the big day 

non-alcoholic paleo christmas cakeCheck out the other #FreeFromChristmas posts from these fabulous bloggers

Dairy Free Kids

Easy Peasy Foodie

Free From Fairy

Free From Farmhouse

Glutarama

Gluten Free Alchemist

Intolerant Gourmand

Julie’s Family Kitchen

Le Coin de Mel

Paleo Crust (aka Modern Food Stories)

The Adventures of an Allergy Mummy

The Peachick’s Bakery

**I created this recipe for non-alcoholic paleo Christmas cake myself, but would like to say a huge thanks to the wonderful people at Unsplash for the gorgeous photos**  

Cards on the table: I have been in a seriously dark place for most of this year

I kind of broke, which sounds ridiculous, but I’m not allowed to fully break am I? Not with three kids at home. I came closer than I ever imagined I would though, and it terrified the life out of me.

Having experienced mental breakdown twice already, I’m no stranger to the dark place. I know the warning signs. Sometimes they are helpful, and other times they just make me feel worse.

A toxic, negative rut

My biggest problem was that the toxic thoughts inside my head became all consuming. I found it impossible to count my blessings and focus on the good. I was deeply engrossed in a cycle of negativity, and could only see disaster everywhere I looked.

I became bleak about the direction my family was going in, and what the future held. I was catastrophising and couldn’t snap out of it. I started fantasising about running away, and not just for a weekend.

dark placeHow did things get so bad?

Back in March, as we headed into Spring, I was full of optimistic hope. We’d decided that school wasn’t for Clara, and were happy with the idea of home educating her. It felt like we were making massive progress with Polly. Freddy was going through a particularly wonderful phase.

Then a series of unfortunate events occurred, and every time I picked my little family up, something else would happen to knock us back down.

It started with Polly smashing up her front (adult) teeth on a slide at the park, then three months followed where it was literally one thing after another. Including the shock, not to mention heartbreak, of being ghosted by a person I considered to be one of my very best friends.

I was done for

I had no motivation for anything over and above the bare essentials. Or as the infamous lyric in Amy Winehouse’s Rehab goes:

“I just think you’re depressed.”

Another couple of months passed, and I found myself drinking far too much. Reaching for the wine or gin bottle multiple times a week, to drown my sorrows. This led to comedown type hangovers, leaving me feeling totally despondent, drinking endless cups of coffee to try and perk me the next day.

I did not like what I saw in the mirror. As I’ve already said, I’ve been here before. It wasn’t pretty then, and it was even uglier this time around. For the first time since becoming a mum, I questioned whether I was capable of doing this job.

There was only one thing for it: GAPS!

Call it a detox, call it a cleanse. I like to call it the ultimate reset, and it worked a treat. Check out my other blog if you’re interested in the full details.

Suffice it to say that I’m now feeling much better, and I can’t tell you how great it is to be able to say this.

After hitting rock bottom, and turning my life around in 2006/07, I honestly thought the dark place was behind me. This year has proved that it can happen to any of us, at any point.

So for the stressed out mama’s and papa’s among us, make sure you look after you. If you sense the grey clouds looming, and the dark place coming, do anything and everything in your power to stop them in their tracks.

Take every opportunity you can grab for self care. Eat well, and nourish your body and mind. Do more of the things that make your heart sing. Feed your creative soul. Do not feel guilty about having time away from the kids. If you don’t put your oxygen mask on first, and save yourself, you don’t stand a chance of helping anyone else.

The deeper you fall, the harder it is to pull yourself out of the hole.

**Huge thanks to Unsplash for the gorgeous photots.**

Following my article detailing my journey to being truly sugar free, I’ve decided to share a lot more recipes here on the blog. What better to kick start the new feature than my ultimate free from cheesecake? 

Over the last few years I have created some awesome (if I do say so myself) sugar free deserts, which also happen to be grain (not just gluten!) and dairy free too. The best feedback I get is that you would never know they are ‘free from’. I take this as a huge compliment, and am chuffed to know that some of my most sugar addicted friends are the biggest fans of my work. Not to mention my hubby, who has a very sweet tooth. 

blueberry cheesecakeThis cheesecake is a seriously tasty piece of pie – exceptionally rich and decadent, yet devoid of all the ingredients that cause so many of us such horrible digestive problems. The only spanner in the works would be if you have to avoid nuts, because two of the three layers are made from them.

Although it’s what I call a show stopping desert, it is unbelievably easy to make, providing you have a powerful blender or food processor. I have a Vitamix (lucky me) which makes light work of grinding up nuts and dried fruit.

This recipe is free from: gluten, grains, dairy and refined sugar

Ingredients
(crust) 200g macadamia nuts
50g dates
15g desiccated coconut
(filling) 220g cashew nuts
120ml lemon juice
120ml coconut oil
2-4 tbsp honey
tsp lemon oil
(topping) 250g blueberries

Method
blueberry cheesecake– I have used a traditional 26cm flan dish, which I’d highly recommend as it makes the perfectly sized end result which you can cut into thin slices. As I said before, it’s a very rich desert and a little goes a long way

– to make the crust, put the macadamias and dates into your blender or food processor and whiz until they come together to form a sticky dough

– scatter the desiccated coconut onto the bottom of the dish which helps the crust not to stick, then press the dough down firmly 

– now make your filling by adding the cashews, lemon juice and oil, coconut oil and honey to your blender or food processor. Then whiz until you have the consistency of a very very thick milkshake (as pictured). I find that two tbsp of honey is more than enough for my palate, but sweeten yours according to taste

– pour the filling evenly on top of the crust, cover with cling film and place in the freezer for 30 mins

– to make the topping simply place your blueberries into a saucepan over a high heat. You can use fresh or frozen, they both work just as well. When you hear sizzling after 30 seconds or so turn the heat low and simmer for 10-15 mins

– once the blueberries are cooked and have cooled down, take the cheesecake out of the freezer and pour them over the top. Then re-wrap in cling film and place back in the freezer for at least three hours until you’re ready to serve

– remove from the freezer 30 mins before you want to serve and allow to defrost a little before slicing and serving

This really is the most AMAZING free from cheesecake you’ll ever taste. Trust me, I’m fussy with my treats 😉

Why My Autistic Daughter and I Are on the GAPS DietIn Spring 2014, shortly after my third child was born, I read a book which changed my life. Gut and Psychology Syndrome, written by doctor and mother Natasha Campbell McBride, details how central our gut bacteria is to our overall health, and outlines a gut healing diet. 

For more information on gut health check out this fascinating lecture by Professor Simon Carding at UEA’s Medical School.

The book touched on much of my own medical history, and the premise of gut and psychology syndrome (also known as GAPS) made complete sense to me. I knew instantly that I wanted to try the diet. 

Dr. Campbell McBride claims that you can reverse autism by following the GAPS diet, because an unhealthy gut can be a factor. I am hugely sceptical about this, and personally feel that it’s a fools errand to try and ‘cure’ autism. I do however, strongly believe, that eating the right foods can help alleviate symptoms that present challenging behaviour. Not just in an autistic child, but in any child.   

What is the GAPS Diet?

Eating the GAPS way means removing all processed food, starches, refined sugar, grains (not just gluten) and commercial dairy. There is plenty you can eat, provided that you make it yourself. 

The GAPS Diet has two parts. First comes a six stage introduction plan which sees you stripping away all food, then slowly, and systematically, reintroducing it. How long it takes to work through the six stages completely depends on individual symptoms. 

GAPS-bookAfter working through all six stages, you transition over to what is known as the Full GAPS Diet. This comprises of a wide variety of fruit, vegetables, meat and fish.  

My main motivation for trying GAPS in 2014 was food intolerance which wasn’t getting better through standard exclusion diets. I was also perpetually exhausted, but put that down to having three kids, one with a sleep problem.

When I went onto GAPS first time around, I had already been mostly refined sugar free for seven years, and Paleo for two. I say mostly, because none of us are saints are we? Trying to eat ‘perfectly’ 24/7/365 will probably do you more harm than good, as it would be so stressful.

Although GAPS was a massive challenge initially, I adapted quickly to my new way of life and was astounded by the results. After just a few weeks on GAPS, I was full of energy and felt properly clear headed for the first time in years. Gone was the brain fog, and wading through treacle. To top it off, my usually problematic skin was beautifully radiant. I looked and felt amazing! 

I documented the entire journey from the first day, to a one year update on this blog: Mummy Tries GAPS.

GAPS worked for me, but I didn’t stick to it for long enough. 

I tried to, of course I did, but life got in the way. 2015 was a ridiculously stressful year what with going back to work, and dealing with awful childcare challenges. Worse still, Polly was floundering at school, and absolutely miserable at home. This is where we faced up to the writing on the wall, and were led to her high functioning autism diagnosis

My redundancy was fortuitously timed, although career suicide in terms of going back to the City. At the end of the summer holidays I sent Polly into year two with a very heavy heart. By the October half term we had made the decision to home educate her.

This all took its toll on my well-being. Although I was still adhering mostly to a Full GAPS Diet, I was drinking far too much alcohol. This carried on into 2016, and I spent large chunks of it feeling depressed and incapable of meeting the varying needs of my children. Home education was a roller coaster I wasn’t mentally prepared for, and remains the steepest learning curve of my entire life.

The divide between my girls got bigger, to the point where they could hardly stand being in the same room together. Freddy’s sleep went from bad to horrendous. My husband and I were bickering far more than what I consider to be normal. The going got tough, so I took solace in my friends, which almost always involved excessive drinking. It was lots of fun at the time, but would come with a hefty price afterwards.

By the end of last year, I was at tipping point and knew that things needed to change. 

GAPS dietI was playing a dangerous game, which is ironic given the book I wrote a couple of years ago. Just goes to show that none of us are exempt from the dark clouds. What is more ironic, is that GAPS is wholeheartedly recommended for those who are suffering from depression. The last thing you want to hear when you’re feeling low is that your lifestyle is contributing to your mental health issues, but it’s often true. 

GAPS worked for me last time, and I am desperate to feel that good again. Yes it’s boring, in comparison to going out and getting smashed. Yes it’s hard work, in comparison to buying food ready to eat. There is no doubt that the first few weeks are super hard going, but starting anything is always hard. 

I wrote a post a few months back, about how sad Polly often is. How tough it is to watch her be so miserable. How helpless I’ve felt, when she’s taking her frustrations out on Clara and Freddy. It went way past standard sibling in-fighting long ago, and morphed into full-on bullying.

But I am done feeling helpless, because we always have options. We sometimes just need to open our eyes, take a big deep breath and put a little faith in ourselves and our abilities.

My view is this. If you and your children are healthy, don’t catch every bug going and are generally happy, then chances are all is hunky dory with your gut. You would never need to even entertain the idea of doing GAPS, or anything similar. Due to being in such optimum health, I’d hazard a guess that you’re also able to exercise the everything in moderation rule.

If you aren’t blessed with a spick and span immune system, because of whatever reason, you need to think outside the box a little.

Which is why myself and Polly are currently working our way through the GAPS Intro Diet.

GAPS diet - cashew and courgette pancakes

our breakfast this morning, delicious pancakes

I talked about GAPS a lot in the run up to new year, and Polly was adamant that she wouldn’t be joining me (even though I hoped she would). Then the day before I was due to begin, she told me she wanted to do it as well.

“I want to give it a go mama. Maybe it will stop me from being so mean to Clara and Freddy.”

I was seriously taken aback by her maturity, and have continued to be every single day. Polly is learning to listen to how food makes her feel, both physically and emotionally, which is the first step to self-regulation, and a lesson we could all use. She’s also eating tons of new food that she was previously refusing. 

Today was day ten, and the improvements in my girl so far have been immense. She is consistently calmer, kinder and happier than I’ve seen her since she was a toddler. We’ve had one full on difficult day, compared with one decent day out of ten, which had become our norm. I’m incredibly proud of how well she’s doing.

As for me, I’m getting back to myself again. I’m no longer engulfed with negative thoughts, and am not filled with doom about the future. I feel in control of what’s going on, and am not in a state of despair. No longer am I feeling the need to reach for the bottle in the evening, to ‘treat myself’ after yet another hard day. For the first time in over a year I feel like I can kick life’s butt, instead of it constantly kicking mine!

A few friends have voiced their concerns

They are worried that GAPS is too restrictive, and that it’s too much extra work for me. These comments come from a kind hearted place, but ultimately these people are looking at my situation through their own eyes. They know that GAPS would push them over the edge, and be a major cause of stress, so it’s not an option for their family.

I look at it completely differently though. I adore being in the kitchen, inventing recipes and making awesome food out of unlikely ingredients. It’s been my forte for a decade, and I don’t see it as a chore. It doesn’t cause me stress at all, but watching my kids tear each other apart, and all of us being miserable day in day out, most certainly does.

As for GAPS being too restrictive, no-one would bat an eyelid if we were following a strict exclusion diet because of allergies, or decided to become vegetarians would they? Cutting out the crap and eating natural food is never going to be a bad thing for any of us. 

We aren’t doing GAPS because we’re hoping it’ll ‘cure’ Polly’s autism. We’re doing it so she has a better chance to be a happy, healthy little girl. Surely that’s all any parent wants for their kids?

Polly GAPS IntroIn Spring 2014 I embarked on the all natural auto-immune healing diet GAPS, which is an acronym for Gut and Psychology Syndrome.

It consists of three stages, the first being a six step introduction diet; the second stage is Full GAPS – a Paleo-style grain free, refined sugar free, commercial dairy free diet; the third stage is introducing fermented grains and healthy starches such as sweet potatoes.

What causes gut and psychology syndrome?

According to Natasha Campbell-McBride, the doctor that created GAPS, all auto-immune disease (which encompasses everything from allergies to depression to thyroid dysfunction) starts in the gut, and is likely to be caused by leaky gut syndrome and/or a disproportionate amount of bad gut bacteria.

Leaky gut gets worse with each generation, and mine are a prime example of what Campbell-McBride calls a GAPS Family. My mother has an under active thyroid, urticaria and various other issues; I had severe reflux as a baby which led to stomach surgery aged five and have suffered all my life with food intolerance. My eldest daughter is very similar to me on the intolerance front; she also has the poorest immune system of our family (and most other kids that we know); and she is autistic.

Campbell-McBride says that until the gut is healed you can mask your symptoms but you’ll never be cured. Check out this awesome article for more info by the fabulous Dr. Josh Axe. 

I’d heard about GAPS from reading other blogger’s personal experiences such as this and this. Real people who cured their lifelong food allergies, and debilitating auto-immune diseases with the GAPS diet. There is also a  scary looking text book (that’s actually very easy to read) written by Dr. Natasha giving her theories on why some folks health is as bad as it is. Given that my third child was only eight weeks old, and I average reading only two or three books a year, I whizzed through it in two days. Her words sung to me, and I knew I would have to take action by giving this diet a go. 

Now, don’t get me wrong, it was a huge undertaking!  

The most important part of the very first step of the intro diet – which most people do for around one week – is drinking a ton of home made meat stock (also known as bone broth). The quickest and easiest way to make it is by boiling a whole chicken with sea salt and water for a couple of hours. Your entire food consumption for that first step is drinking the stock and eating the boiled chicken meat. If you’re able to tolerate non-starchy veggies then you can add them to make yourself a bowl of soup. It’s delicious real soup, just like Grandma used to make. But that’s it.

No dairy, no sugar – natural or refined, no grains at all, no starch, no caffeine, no booze. The only extras are a cocktail of supplements, including probiotics, omega fish oils and digestive enzymes.

You are completely stripping your diet back to the very basics, giving it plenty of nourishment to sustain you while your body goes through a period of detoxification. The aim is then resetting your auto-immune function and getting it to work better. After that first step you introduce foods one by one, starting with egg yolks and home made sauerkraut.

It’s a big deal, and even though I was used to eating Paleo before starting GAPS, it still took me two attempts to get it right. I whizzed through the six steps too fast the first time, and also cheated by keeping a morning coffee. I paid the price by going back to the very beginning six weeks later.

Second time around I spent five days on each of the first three steps of intro, and hung out on step four for months. By then I could eat so many foods that I felt I was having a delicious and varied diet, and I didn’t feel deprived in the slightest. I guess once you’ve lived on chicken soup anything else feels like fine dining!

I won’t go into too much detail here as it’s already a long post, and I documented my entire journey from start to a year update on a separate blog, so check out Mummy Tries GAPS if you’re interested. 

GAPS worked for me. I have clarity of mind, clear skin and am not a walking wreck despite suffering from severe sleep deprivation. My depressive thoughts are largely kept at bay and ultimately I’ve never felt this good in my entire life. People often ask me how I’m able to function given my challenging life, and the answer is GAPS! 

When I started intro we put the kids on to Full GAPS, but we’ve never been super strict like I was with my own eating. We always let them have cocoa in home made cakes and natural snacks; we let them eat the odd sausage roll or something similar if we found ourselves at the farmers market at lunch time. We have always been strict with not letting them have refined sugar, but some days their natural sugar intake has left a lot to be desired.

It all has an effect, how any parent can say there is no link between diet and behaviour is beyond me.

stock makingWhich is why we are seriously considering putting Polly on GAPS Intro. Not because we think it will ‘cure her autism’ (anyone claiming this is being rather bold in my opinion), but if it took her even further up the high functioning end of the spectrum then that would be a bonus. We’re looking at doing it because I know first hand how damn good I felt on GAPS Intro, and I would love for her to feel that great!

I’m absolutely certain that once we got through the first week or two she would feel as amazing as I did. Plus, if we don’t do it, I’ll always have a little nagging feeling in the back of my mind wondering if things would have turned out differently if only we had given it a go. I’d do it with her too, so she only saw me eating the things that she was. It would be a huge challenge in the short term, but I am positive my entire family would reap the rewards in the long run. 

An action plan for now

It’s a rather controversial thing to do though. To essentially make a six year old child eat soup morning, noon, and night for a whole week. The way I see it, a week is a very short amount of time and passes really quickly, but it would be an exceptionally difficult week, and I’d never put her through it until I had done extensive research and found a suitable practitioner to help us.

As of this week we are being super strict with all the children eating a Full GAPS diet. Just to dispel a few common myths: no, it’s not really low carb or ketogenic. It is simply a natural way of eating that doesn’t allow grains, starchy veg, refined sugar or processed food. It’s varied and interesting, and unbelievably nutrient dense. Just by cutting back on sweet snacks (albeit natural ones) I’ve seen an improvement.     

There’s a huge part of me hoping that we don’t have to put her on GAPS Intro, but only time will tell.

Would you do it?   

**Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, nor am I giving medical advice, I am simply sharing my own personal experience and views**