Continuing Adventure

First of all, I apologize for taking a slightly longer break than I anticipated. The fact is, I decided to go back to a full-time job so I’ve been busy with interviews and starting work at a new company! Monday was my first day on the community team at Coursera, where I’ll be working with volunteer mentors, supporting them as they, in turn, support learners taking courses on the platform.

Cocoa sprinkled into chocolate cake mixture

Although I’m extremely excited about this role (and company, and team!) there is one big downside. Coursera is based in Mountain View, not San Francisco, which means I now have a 2 hour commute twice a day.

Homegrown herbs fresh from the garden. Parsley, chives, mint and cute scissors

Although I do really want to keep this blog going, I’m not entirely sure how my new job and commute are going to impact it. For now, I’m going to avoid making any promises and I’m just going to post when I feel like I have the time and something good to write about. This means there won’t be any more #monthlyveg posts, although I’m sure food will continue to be a big part of the blog. Now that we’re moving into autumn and winter I’m also starting to feel the pull of crafting and DIYing as well. It’s not like I ever did any of these activities specifically for the blog so I’ll definitely still be doing stuff that I can share with you, just maybe not as frequently or regularly as before.

Snowflake cookies

Finally, an update on my restricted diet. Adding new foods in slowly (about one every 2-3 days) and keeping a detailed diary has really helped me to identify IBS triggers. I was even able to look back and notice that, although wheat is fine and bread seemed to be fine, eating a lot of bread in one day was not fine.

Now I’ve started work I’m completely reliant on the company canteen and snack cupboards for breakfast and lunch and, right now at least, I don’t have the energy to cook dinner very often. So the diet has come to an abrupt and complete end. Although I hadn’t quite finished comparing fruits and vegetables with different types of FODMAPs, I feel like I got a good enough idea to be able to build on without being on a limited diet. I’ve also found that cutting out lactose has made me less sensitive in general, and even less sensitive to lactose if I do eat it. My new commute also involves just over 3 miles of walking per day and I think the exercise is also helping to alleviate any digestive problems. (Although I’m now having shoe problems, but that’s another story!)

So, all-in-all, a success!

Roast beef

August Update

I suppose I was tempting fate when I wondered what could possibly go wrong with mushrooms for my #monthlyveg. Just 1 week later I put myself on a limited diet that most definitely didn’t include mushrooms!

So I’m here today to give you an update on my diet progress and also to let you know that I won’t be choosing a new vegetable for August.

Since I added wheat back into my diet it’s become much too tempting to cheat. It seems like wheat just opened up so many additional foods which often contain lots of ingredients in small quantities, or foods I was so sure had never given me problems in the past. Like pizza, cookies and cakes. I told myself that because a chocolate biscuit only had a tiny bit of milk in, it was ok to just have one. Because the pizza topping probably only has a little onion and garlic, and I’d never noticed an issue before, it would be ok.

Wheat, gluten, bread, pasta on

The problem is, I still haven’t really stabilized my diet yet. My digestive system feels a lot better than it did when I started this thing, and I am beginning to wonder if that’s actually as good as it’s going to get. Even a completely normal, healthy person is affected by different foods sometimes (everyone knows about beans!) so perhaps I am setting my standards too high by expecting to ever reach zero symptoms. Either way, it does make it that much harder to tell for sure if a food is a problem for me or not, which makes it even more important that I’m very strict about doing this as scientifically possible.

As far as #monthlyveg goes, I did start cooking a few mushroom dishes for my husband towards the end of July but it’s really not the same if I can’t try them myself. I still don’t know if mushrooms are ok for me to eat and I won’t find out by cooking up dishes with loads of other ingredients in as well! I could whip up a few more mushroom dishes just for the sake of posting them here but how could I pick a new vegetable for next month without even knowing if I can eat that?

So I’ve decided to extend mushrooms into August and I’m hoping that by the end of August I’ll actually have a good enough idea of what I can and can’t eat, to get back to cooking semi-normally again.

Since I’m also still super uninspired by food I’m going to cut back on posting through August, perhaps not even post at all. Perhaps without the pressure of writing for the blog I’ll be less tempted to cheat and I’ll be able to get back to a normal diet sooner!

Bread dough being mixed on

Simple Ginger & Strawberry Dessert

A friend of mine asked me to come up with a simple, light dessert for a dinner party she was hosting. Straight away, strawberries came to mind for both of us. I suggested an Eton mess, but also knew I wanted to take some time to think about something a bit more original.

Ginger, strawberry, chocolate dessert recipe on

I wanted to come up with something lactose-free and I knew mozzarella was at least low in lactose so I originally tried this recipe with mozzarella instead. It was still really good but I felt like the mascarpone just had a lighter, creamier flavor which rounded it out so much better. I think mascarpone is actually also fairly low in lactose.

I was lazy (still on this limited diet and very uninspired by food) so I bought the ginger cookies and the chocolate sauce. If you want something quick to prepare that’s definitely the way to go, but if you want to step it up a level you could make your own instead. I did buy an artisan brand of chocolate sauce (Frans) and it was so good I’m not sure I’ll ever bother to make my own in future!

Ginger strawberry dessert recipe on

Ingredients (per person):

  • 2-4 ginger biscuits (cookies)
  • 1 tbsp mascarpone
  • 1-2 strawberries
  • 1 tsp chocolate sauce

This is basically cheese on crackers for your sweet-toothed guest. Just spread the mascarpone on the biscuits. Finely slice the strawberry and lay it on top of the cheese and then drizzle with chocolate sauce. You can play around with the proportions to suit your personal tastes. These will go soggy over time so they’re best served fresh. Depending on the thickness and crunchiness of your ginger cookies you may be able to keep them in the fridge for a few hours.

Ginger, strawberry, chocolate dessert recipe on

Polka Dot Chocolate Cake

Ordinary liquid food coloring is great but it has its limitations, so I picked up some gel colors a few weeks ago for my first attempt at macarons. Macaron mix is such a finicky thing the extra water in regular food coloring can ruin it.

After having fun making (and eating) macarons I realized the gel color would also be perfect for coloring white chocolate. Mixing even a tiny bit of water into chocolate turns it into this sticky paste that’s good for nothing, so regular colors won’t do.

Melting white chocolate to color with gel food coloring on

I decided the best way to experiment would be to start with colorful chocolate cupcake toppers. Something I could make and keep until needed and then just stick into frosting for an instant upgrade.

I melted a bar of white chocolate and then separated a little into a smaller bowl to mix up with a few drops of my first color. I had a sheet of baking parchment ready on a tray so I could drizzle the chocolate into whatever designs took my fancy. As you can see, I experimented with quite a few different ideas!

Coloring white chocolate with gel food coloring on

I’ve always found white chocolate annoying when it comes to getting it to that perfect drizzle-able consistency and I still had that same problem here. Keeping the chocolate hot by sticking the small dish back into hot water periodically helped a lot but it wasn’t enough. In the end my favorites were the simple polka dots which I spread with the back of a teaspoon instead of trying to drizzle.

Colorful white chocolate cupcake toppers on

Once I finished making a mess creating my designs I put them in the fridge to set completely. They were surprisingly easy to remove from the baking paper but I did find they melted very easily. I had to store them in the fridge until I was ready to use them because they got too soft too quickly if left out of the fridge for any length of time.Frosted chocolate cake ready for decorating on

I decided the dots were more suited to decorating one large cake instead of cupcakes and I thought they’d look best against the dark brown of chocolate (or maybe it’s just because I love chocolate!). Anyway, it was my friend’s birthday earlier in the week so I figured this was my perfect opportunity to put my polka dots to good use! (I’m still waiting for the right project to use the other designs on.)

Using colored white chocolate polka dots to decorate a chocolate cake. Tutorial on

I baked up a cake (if she likes it, I’ll put the recipe up next week) and frosted it all over. You could use any frosting you like, I used a ganache made with 2 oz coconut cream, 2 oz dark chocolate and 1 tbsp powdered sugar. While the frosting is still wet (but make sure it’s not warm) just stick the chocolate dots to it. As they warm up and soften a little you should be able to gently flatten any curled-up edges so they all sit flush on the cake.

That’s it! Pretty polka dot cake ready to eat!

Colorful polka dot chocolate cake tutorial on Perfect for birthdays or parties.



I was happy to be invited to participate in ‘Our Growing Edge’ this month. It’s about connecting food bloggers through sharing our learning and experimenting, inspiring each other to try new things.

This month the host is Pia from Joie de Vivre and Cupcakes and the theme is ‘Party With Friends’ so this polka dot birthday cake seemed like the perfect contribution!


As you can imagine, I haven’t been feeling very inspired by food recently, (if you missed it, this is why) but I do have something else to share with you.

This past week we’ve actually been getting summer weather in the Bay Area (even in San Francisco!). On Saturday we decided to make the most of it by heading down the coast to Capitola. As a destination it’s generally overshadowed by its larger and more famous neighbor –  Santa Cruz – so we had never been before.

It may have been coincidence but we certainly found it less crowded than Santa Cruz, and we were able to get parking right by the beach as soon as we arrived! We didn’t see much of the town itself but it looked much like the beach, cute and charming. Here are a few pictures from the day:

Limited Diet: Week 1

I mentioned last week that I’ve put myself on an extremely restricted diet in an attempt to identify foods I might be sensitive to. I’m sharing my story here in the hope that it may help people in a similar situation.

My first week hasn’t really been too successful. I’m pretty sure putting yogurt on my list of acceptable foods was a mistake; I took it off after day 4 and I’ve been feeling much better since. I hadn’t been able to find a definitive answer on the lactose content of yogurt and many people said that the live cultures in yogurt were beneficial for IBS. Since then I’ve downloaded the University of Monash’s app on the low FODMAP diet and I’m using that as my definitive guide. (They are the people who originally proposed the low FODMAP diet and the foremost researchers on it.) They say no to yogurt, so I cut it out.

I got so bored with the food options available to me after the 2nd day that it was hard to motivate myself to cook or eat anything (salted rice mixed with canned tuna was my staple but I couldn’t eat it every day for risk of heavy metal poisoning). Unscientific though it may be, I realized I’d have to add a few things back in immediately. Using the app and my experiences I figured I could safely add back olive oil, salt, butter, cheddar cheese and all types of (unprocessed) meat. Although meat is a known IBS trigger, it isn’t a FODMAP and I was pretty confident it doesn’t affect me.

A restricted diet can help identify food sensitivities to find the cause of IBS. A low FODMAP diet is a good place to start. On

Research indicates that cooking has little or no affect on FODMAP concentrations in food so I thought I would be safe to eat a few raw carrots. The resulting tummy ache led me back to the internet where I discovered that raw vegetables are just generally difficult to digest. Nothing to do with FODMAPs but a potential trigger all the same. Additionally, a digestive system which is already irritated and sensitive is probably going to find it even harder to digest food it would normally be fine with.

So I’ve adjusted my plan of action slightly. I’ll need to take at least another week (really 2 weeks is recommended minimum) to allow my intestines to calm down before I start adding any other foods back in. At that point I’ll start with the foods which I’m reasonably sure I’m not sensitive to, and the foods which will have the biggest impact on my diet. I’m thinking wheat will be the first thing I try!

Lamb Chops with Gravy

A few weeks ago I developed a few recipes for a company called Platejoy. All their recipes have to be quick to cook (no more than 30 minutes for a dinner, including preparation time) so it was quite a challenge to come up with something tasty, balanced and still quick to prepare. Perhaps I made it a little more difficult for myself by attempting to make all the meals British-inspired too!

Quick lamb chop dinner recipe on

Anyway, I was really pleased with the way these lamb chops turned out and it’s definitely something I’ll be cooking again so I thought I’d share the recipe with you.

Ingredients (serves 2):
  • 1 potato
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 rutabaga (swede)
  • 4 lamb rib chops
  • 4 tbsp fresh rosemary (about 1 sprig)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 beef stock cube (using a cube means there is less liquid so it’s quicker for the gravy to thicken. If you’re not in a hurry, you can use beef broth instead)
  • 1/2 tsp cornstarch
  • 1 oz salted butter

Quick lamb chop dinner recipe on

  1. Peel and finely chop the potato, carrot and rutabaga. The smaller the pieces, the quicker they will cook. This is especially important for the swede.
  2. Place the vegetables in a medium saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil over a high heat and then reduce the heat to maintain a gentle boil.
  3. Heat the olive oil in a skillet over a medium-high heat.
  4. Remove the leaves from the rosemary and chop them finely. Sprinkle them over the lamb chops to generously coat both sides.
  5. Sear the lamb in the skillet, cooking on each side until it browns, about 3 minutes per side.
  6. Drain about 1 cup of liquid from the vegetables and mix it in a small bowl with the stock cube and the cornstarch.
  7. Add this liquid to the lamb in the skillet and continue to cook until the lamb is cooked to taste and the gravy has started to thicken. About 10 more minutes on each side.
  8. When the vegetables are soft, drain them and mash with the butter.
  9. Serve the mash and the lamb drizzled with the gravy. Enjoy!

Root vegetable mash to go with the lamb chops. Dinner recipe on

These directions are a little more detailed than I’d normally write (because I figure the people who read my blog already know their way around a kitchen) but if you prefer the extra detail, please let me know. I’ve got no problem with writing up all my recipes like this.

Quick lamb chop with root vegetable mash dinner recipe on

Limited Diet to Test Food Sensitivities

Although it’s not something I’ve mentioned before on the blog, I’ve suffered from IBS for about the last 10 years. For most of that time, I put it down to stress and did my best to ignore it. More recently, as the stresses in my life have stabilized and I don’t have a stressful job anymore, I’ve begun to realize that stress can’t be the whole picture.

Carrots as part of a limited diet to test for food sensitivities on

About 2 years ago I discovered (via 23andme) that I’m genetically likely to be lactose intolerant. It seemed like I finally had an answer! I stopped eating milk & cream, cut out fresh cheeses, and invested in some lactase pills for those special-occasion desserts. Unfortunately, my symptoms still didn’t go away. Eventually I gave up on the lactose-free diet altogether and resigned myself to suffering.

However, as I’ve started cooking more and more, with a complete knowledge of what I’m eating when, I’ve slowly been able to identify another suspect – certain vegetables! It sounds crazy. We’re always told vegetables are the best thing for our bodies to eat, that we don’t consume enough fiber in today’s Western society, and that vegetables are pretty much the only food that doesn’t have a downside.

But vegetables are actually a known cause of IBS, being part of a group of foods known as FODMAPs (Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides And Polyols). The problem with these food compounds is that our bodies don’t digest them very well, allowing the bacteria in our gut to digest them instead, and produce gas in the process, leading to all the symptoms of IBS.

Anyway, the “why” is interesting but not nearly as important as what can be done about it. Although there is a huge list of foods which have the potential to cause problems, for most people only a few of them are actually the culprit. This is where the limited diet comes in.

A restricted diet can help identify food sensitivities to find the cause of IBS. Walnuts, raspberries and rice are usually safe for everyone. On

For the next week or 2 I’m going to cut out practically everything from my diet, so I’m only eating things which are extremely unlikely to be the cause of my problems. Hopefully my symptoms will disappear completely, at which point I can start adding in foods one by one and keeping a note of which ones cause my symptoms to reoccur.

My limited diet will consist of:

  • Cooked carrots
  • Raspberries, strawberries & melon
  • Fish & eggs
  • Nuts (not peanuts)
  • Greek yogurt (there is much debate over this one but I’m going to try eating it every day for breakfast and see how it goes)
  • Rice & potatoes
  • Fennel tea (I hate fennel but it’s supposed to be wonderful for soothing the digestive tract so I figured it was worth a shot)

It’s not a very exciting prospect but I think there is enough variety on there to keep me alive and healthy, if perhaps quite bored! I’m hoping that writing about my experience will help others in a similar situation, so I’ll do a weekly update on my progress. If you’ve tried a limited diet before I’d love to hear about it (success or failure)! Please share your story in the comments.

June Corn Recipes

Ok well I already mentioned that June didn’t quite go to plan. I wasn’t very inspired to cook with corn in the first place and then we ended up taking a last minute (booked 2 days before we left) vacation, which meant I didn’t cook anything for a week. It was near the end of the month, too, the time when I would normally catch up.

Still, I did cook a couple of things which were both delicious hits:

These cheesy corn hashbrowns were the best thing to come out of this month. They were super tasty and I’ll definitely be cooking them again, for lunches or snacks.

Cheesy corn hashbrowns recipe on

Barbecued corn is the best but grilled (broiled) is a close second when the weather isn’t great. Mexican-style elotes take it to a whole new level and are pretty simple to make. I used this recipe from Serious Eats, although I cooked the corn for twice as long and used Greek yogurt in place of sour cream. I served them with thin slices of flank steak, rubbed with spices and marinated in lemon juice, and a caprese salad.

I also cooked twice as much as we needed and scraped the leftover corn off the cob and mixed it up with the rest of the elote toppings into a sort of corn salad.

Elotes - Mexican-style street corn on Handful of Sunshine

Although this isn’t a new recipe it is my favorite with corn, and I did cook it this month. Probably not very legit Mexican but this is the way I like it. Chili con carne with corn and served over cheesy nachos with this avocado, tomato, red onion, cilantro and lime salsa.

Chile con carne with nachos and avocado salsa on Handful of Sunshine

Yup, that’s it for corn recipes this month. On the bright side, I loved loads of the pea recipes I tried in May and have already re-cooked a few. Fingers crossed July turns out just as successful!

July Vegetable of the Month – Mushrooms

June may have been a bit of a disaster when it came to #monthlyveg (more details in my June roundup post) but I’m not about to give up on it. May was enough of a success to make up for June (I’ve re-cooked 2 May recipes already) and I’ve picked a pretty safe bet for July – mushrooms.

Mushrooms already feature in my cooking in fairly varied dishes but they’re so versatile and add so much flavor, I’m excited to see how much more use I can get out of them! I guess they probably don’t really count as vegetables but they do contain valuable nutrients and I set the rules so I say they count!

As always, if you know any good recipes including mushrooms (any type), please share them with me in the comments!

Mushrooms - July's #monthlyveg on Handful of Sunshine