Valentine’s Strawberry Cheesecake

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I have been meaning to write up and post my recipes on here for literally ages, but as the M.E. game goes, you don’t always get to do what you want when you want! So I’m very pleased to finally be getting round to it. I’m not the best recipe keeper i’ll admit, so it will be handy to get some of my favourites online!

It’s Valentine’s Day this Sunday, an often dreaded day by us singletons! If you’re feeling a bit downhearted about Valentine’s day (or not!) then this cheesecake will make you glad there isn’t a boyfriend or girlfriend that you have to give the last piece to! Equally if you’re all loved up this could be the perfect treat for you and your partner to indulge in (sorry that you have to share). I’m looking forward to it as we are having a few of our family around which will be lovely and of course it’s the perfect excuse to whip up a tasty, healthy-ish dessert! And obviously for a valentine’s treat, strawberry and chocolate came to mind…

 

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I have to warn you, I think this dairy-free strawberry cheesecake is pretty delish, and the chewy brownie bottom is just…you’ll see. I would advise to only tuck in with other people in the room, otherwise there is a good chance you might end up eating, well, all of it (if you’re anything like me!). It feels like a Rachel/Chandler cheesecake fiasco waiting to happen.

This recipe is:

Vegan

Gluten free

Dairy free

Refined sugar free

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Strawberry Brownie Cheesecake

Serves 4 – 6

Makes a mini cheesecake (10cm tin)

Ingredients:

Brownie Base:

70g or 1/2 cup Cashews

10g or 2 tbsp Cacao powder

100g or 3/4 cup Medjool dates

10 – 20g or 1 -2 tbsp Maple Syrup

2 pinches of Salt

3-4 drops Vanilla essence

Strawberry Cheesecake:

100g cashews (soak for 4 hours minimum)

50g melted coconut oil (I don’t use raw as it has a less coconutty flavour)

60g Maple Syrup

150g strawberries + a few more for decoration

Optional:

Pinch of salt

Squeeze of lime

(This makes a small cheesecake measuring 10 x 10cm so I think double or even triple the amount would make a normal sized cheesecake.)

  1. Soak  100g of your cashews in water for at least 4 hours, you can also leave to soak overnight.
  2. For the brownie base: blend dry cashews in food processor until fine (don’t worry if there are a few little chunks)
  3.  Add the medjool dates and maple syrup, blend until it starts to come together in a big gooey ball, yum! (If your medjool dates are on the dry side or your processor is on the weak side, soak in warm water for 5 -10 mins)
  4. Add remaining brownie ingredients and blend until thoroughly mixed.
  5. Line your cheesecake pan with baking paper and push brownie dough into bottom with fingers. Pop it in the freezer!
  6. For the cheesecake: drain and rinse soaked cashews and then chuck all cheesecake ingredients into your blender. This took around 1-2 minutes in mine.
  7. Pour the cheesecake into the cheesecake pan, cover and refrigerate. If you need it to set faster put it in the freezer for at least 1 hour.
  8. Tuck in and enjoy!

 

I think raw desserts like this are perfect for  busy people or very unbusy people like myself who have to ration out energy expenditure, as I can make this as much as a week in advance and keep it in the freezer. Then serve up a lovely little creation to family/friends – no muss, no fuss.

Have a Happy Valentine’s Day!

Lara

New Year, Same ME

 

This is a little belated given that we’re now passing mid-January, but my excuse is that we recently moved house and have only just gotten internet again, (hurray), so I thought a New Year’s post could still be justified…just.

Every other email I’ve seen over the last few weeks has been about setting your New Year’s resolutions; achieving those long-forgotten goals that you swore to commit yourself to around about this time last year. Getting that dream job, losing those dreaded last 10 lbs, generally just waving bye-bye to the old you, and saying “hey there!” to the new one. Having a chronic illness throws a fairly big spanner in the works when it comes to achieving, for want of a better word, “normal” goals and unfortunately a new year doesn’t mean magically waving bye bye to ME (if only!!). But as rubbish as being indefinitely ill is, I feel that it’s also given me a bit of perspective on just how easily goal-setting can end up being something negative as opposed to the positive thing that it was meant to be.

Don’t get me wrong I am gung ho for self improvement and goal setting, just when it’s for the right reasons and done within reason. It seems all too easy to get stuck on a hamster wheel of relentless self or life improvement, constantly in need of reaching yet another goal in order to feel worthy or happy, in a weird competition with the “yesterday you”. So you forget to appreciate today, and where you are right now even if it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. I certainly wish I had appreciated my health more, and what I could do with it, when I had it.

Because what happens when, despite your very best efforts, you just don’t achieve those goals? The best mind-set would be: I gave it my all and that’s what I’m proud of, that is what I truly promised myself I would do. But it is easier said than done! Sometimes that thought can quickly become “I must not be good enough” or  “I should have done more” (even if doing so wasn’t possible, or perhaps could have permanently compromised your health; it’s just not worth it!).

I definitely used to get stuck in the latter mindset (particularly when my health first started deteriorating) and it can still sneak in from time to time, wherein because I didn’t quite achieve a goal, (usually because I was too unrealistic and in denial of my ill health) I would then feel inadequate or downright useless! That feeling could quickly domino and before I knew it I was knocked down by a giant wave of self-doubt. It’s like Inception: a planted seed of unworthiness that grows throughout the layers of self, without the bonus of Leo Dicaprio or Tom Hardy… So I would push myself, not too often luckily, (I wouldn’t call myself a total perfectionist or anything) but occasionally, and my health would suffer. Only after 8 years plus of chronic illness (and watching my brother fight the same illness) has it truly sunk in that nothing is worth compromising health (except perhaps if Tom Hardy suddenly knocked on my door and wanted to whisk me off to dinner… he might just have to carry me) and that actually you can still be happy even if the goals you once dreamed of reaching become unreachable for now.

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So with all that in mind, I think my New Year’s resolutions reminders to myself are something like this:

  • To appreciate every day, all the little moments, and not to think too far ahead.
  • To continue to focus on the things that I can do, whether that list becomes longer or shorter; rather than letting the “can’t” list cloud the way.
  • To try my best not to compare myself to others (we all do it sometimes!) CHEESE WARNING: there’s only one me! So it’s pointless to compare my life and what I’ve ‘achieved’ to someone else’s, I simply have a different measure of achievement.
  • To do my best to support friends, near and far; as Maya Angelou said, to try and be a “rainbow in someone else’s cloud” (without compromising my health).
  • To be braver and share more posts on here. I write bits and bobs whenever my hands and brain will allow, but I often doubt whether anyone would find them remotely interesting. Who cares, even if no one reads this, I enjoy writing it!
  • To hopefully continue to make jewellery when I can and fundraise a little bit for the ME Association. It’s reignited my creative spark that was put out by my illness onset during my teens; there’s nothing quite like losing yourself in something creative and being able to give a little something back to the ME community at the same time.

Thank you so much for reading! I hope that your 2016 will be full of wonderful surprises and the best health and happiness that is possible! I hope you also give yourself a giant mental hug for everything you got through, everything you achieved, big or small in 2015 (I certainly will!).

Lara

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The “recovery” cover-up & the dangers of graded exercise in ME/CFS

The 28th October was a distressing day for all of us who suffer from M.E.

M.E. (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, sometimes known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) is a serious, potentially life-threatening, neuro-immune chronic illness which affects 250,000 people in the UK alone. Defined by the World Health Organisation as a neurological disease many moons ago in 1969.

Yet here we are 46 years later, with the UK headlines of the day stating that ME/CFS “…is not a chronic illness and sufferers can overcome symptoms by increasing exercise and thinking positively…” by employing Graded Exercise Therapy (GET) and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). This was all based on psychiatrist Professor Michael Sharpe’s interview following an article in the Lancet Psychiatry journal. The findings presented in this journal were based upon the PACE trial from 2011 but cleverly repackaged by Prof. Sharpe and co to appear as if this was a new study and not the profoundly flawed PACE trial.

Telegraph article: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome sufferers ‘can overcome symptoms of ME with positive   thinking and exercise’

The PACE trial has been heavily criticised worldwide and renowned New York Times journalist, David Tuller published an insightful and highly critical article pointing out the blatant flaws of the PACE trial and called for an independent investigation, just a few short days before the latest sensationalist wave of ME headlines hit the UK shore.

David Tuller – Investigative journalist and public health expert debunks     PACE trial

A major PACE problem:

  • In order to be accepted into the study, patients had to score 65/100 or lower on physical function (healthy people score 95 – 100). According to the original trial protocol patients had then to reach a score of 85/100 after “treatment” in order to be deemed “recovered”.  However half way through the study the authors decided to change this threshold of “recovery” down to 60. That’s a psychology 101 no-no. Essentially a patient could enter the trial at a functioning level of say 65/100, get worse, score 60/100 and be deemed “recovered”. Crazy, right?
  • Furthermore, a person suffering from congestive heart failure scores around 57/100. So how can 3% more than that possibly be considered healthy, giving someone the ability to live a full life? Essentially the use of the term “recovery” should be replaced with “a level of function similar to that of someone with congestive heart failure”.

This is what these headlines have been based on, manipulated data and a major misuse of terminology.

If there had been a significant improvement – great! But the fact is there wasn’t, and to add insult to injury, these headlines will reinforce the previously dissipating, ignorant idea that people with ME who haven’t improved are lazy and negative.

I have read account after account of ME sufferers who have been worsened by GET and CBT, never to have recovered years, even decades later; the ME Association have been flooded with such accounts. These people’s lives are being stolen from them partially by ill-advised doctors, and then they’re blamed for not having tried hard enough; they tried so hard that their body started to shut down. Victim-blaming at its finest.

This isn’t just an ME issue, this is an issue of social justice whereby the vulnerable minority of the day is once again being silenced and slandered; a political issue of power and cost-cutting is being disguised as a well-meaning, “scientific” issue. We’re talking about individuals who have been wrongfully and forcefully institutionalised for having a physical illness (See Karina Hansen’s story here, sadly Karina has sustained brain damage whilst being psychiatrically treated) and have even died as a result in some cases (See Sophia Mirza’s story here).

Does anyone else feel like we’ve tripped and fallen back into medieval times?

Luckily, we are the information generation and there is something we can do about this, we can make ourselves heard. We are not a “vocal minority” as Prof. Sharpe would have the general public believe. We are a majority of 250,000 people in the UK alone, and millions worldwide, who are essentially being dismissed, degraded and, as a result, being physically harmed due to a severe misuse of GET and CBT.

Let’s stand together and sign the ME Action Network’s petition to get all uses of the false term “recovery” retracted from the original Lancet article – we’ve already reached 3,000 signatures in less than 24 hours, this can make a difference.

You can also head over and support the ME Association who continue to campaign for the removal of GET from ME treatment guidelines.

UPDATE: Some brilliant news to balance out the aforementioned controversy – the US National Institute of Health has just announced that ME/CFS will now have a home within the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (ME/CFS had previously been housed in Women’s Health despite affecting both men and women) and have a research protocol in place which will intensely study ME/CFS. Thank you NIH! Come on UK, it’s our turn to catch up!

Lara

Severe M.E. Day – The Living Death Disease

I’m unintentionally starting this blog off on not the fluffiest of subjects but an incredibly important one that needs to be talked about: M.E. (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) A.K.A CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome). But boy does the latter do an injustice to the horror that this illness can be; as one sufferer puts it “it feels as if someone has drained out all your blood and replaced it with concrete”, and that is only the beginning…

Today is “Severe M.E. day” and I felt compelled to do my little part and write. After all M.E. is why I’m mostly housebound and even considered writing a blog in the first place , but luckily most of the time I am only “moderately” affected– but we’ll get into that in another post. Today is all about the 25% of severe M.E. sufferers, approximately 60,000+ people in the UK alone, who are existing in a living death: completely bedbound, often paralysed, too ill to speak or eat, meaning some have to be tubefed, amongst many other symptoms such as constant excruciating pain. There is currently no cure and no effective treatment.

“[CFS patients] feel effectively the same every day as an AIDS patient feels two months before death; the only difference is that the symptoms can go on for never-ending decades.” —Prof. Mark Loveless, Head of the AIDS and ME/CFS Clinic at Oregon Health Sciences University

If you don’t have M.E., or I guess even if you do, it can be really scary to talk about, particularly at its most severe.  After all it can happen to anyone, and yet that’s exactly why it needs to be spoken about.

8th August (today) is the birthday of Sophia Mirza. Sophia died at the age of 32 from M.E.  She had kidney failure and inflammation of the basal root ganglia (part of the spinal cord), both of which the coroner stated were a result of her M.E., which she had been battling for 6 years prior.

About a year before her passing, police kicked Sophia’s door down and forcibly removed her from her caring mother. She deteriorated whilst in hospital for 2 weeks and came out sicker than ever (released only thanks to her mother’s appeal).  The reason for her hospitalisation? A psychiatrist who saw Sophia for 20 minutes with no physical exam who decided that her mother must be “keeping her ill” (found to be wholly untrue) when in fact her mother was keeping her daughter alive. The hospitalisation was too much to recover from and from then on Sophia’s health gradually became worse and worse until she died.

Sadly this is not the only story like this; there are many.

I’m sure someone might be thinking “yes, this is all awful, but there are many awful diseases out there…” and yes you would be absolutely right. However, the truly shocking thing about M.E. is that it is so incredibly underfunded and sufferers are so often left in the dark (literally) by the majority of the medical community whom have ignored and even denied this disease for far too long. Even though there is now a multitude of studies showing this to be serious, physical illness , people have quite literally been ABANDONED.

Thankfully things are starting to change, more and more research is slowly coming, but we need to encourage much more; there is still only the equivalent amount of funding for M.E, a potentially fatal illness, as there is into hayfever!

So if there’s any small thing that you can do to help spread awareness on behalf of all the severe M.E. fighters like Sophia who cannot speak for themselves – even just educating yourself more on the illness by watching the video below, signing this petition, or even giving to the Open Medicine Foundation Study  – please do it. You simply cannot imagine just how desperately ill M.E. can make you feel until you have it, please don’t dismiss it.

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That’s enough doom and gloom for today (although it’s positive really, raising awareness and all, and encouraging research). Thanks so much if you read this and I’ll hopefully be writing another post before long!

Lara x