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Our neighbour back in Vermont has a little statue in her kitchen holding up the following placard: never trust a skinny cook, and I must say I have always eyed it with suspicion. Sure, we have Huey’s Kitchen and the Two Fat Ladies, but what about Nigella and Delia? Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver? No, you needn’t be fat to cook well I’m fairly certain. At least, I was until Christmas Day. Now, I’ve had my confidence shaken.

Before I explain this sudden loss of confidence, let me set the scene.

In February 2013 I downloaded Sarah Wilson’s I Quit Sugar book and followed the program. I marched through the first half of 2013 anticipating a glow of health, added vitality and a shrinking waistline. It didn’t happen – matter how hard I exercised or how fast I pedalled on my bike. In fact, I put on more weight (due to the nuts, bread, butter and creamy cheese I was consuming). Disappointed, I started lurking around on the I Quit Sugar forums. I found others were having a similar experience. One brave soul admitted she’d taken to combining the I Quit Sugar program with the Dukan Diet and the weight was falling off.

Now, I’d always thought that Dukan was like quinoa – some exotic ingredient newly discovered by the western world – and I was pretty certain eating it wouldn’t be compatible with fructose malabsorption. But I borrowed the Dukan diet life plan from the library. To my surprise, I found that Dukan wasn’t a food he was a person. Added to which, I wasn’t surprised to find the weight was falling off that girl on the forum because Dr Dukan wouldn’t let her eat anything. Not bread, or wine, or chocolate or tasty cheese or rice or pasta or potatoes. No! I snapped the book shut and returned it to the library. There had to be a less drastic way of losing weight, surely?

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Seeing as we’re in full throttle explanation mode here, I may as well also explain that, in addition to fructose malabsorption, I have another health condition. It requires a medication – a medication my body needs in much the same way as a diabetic needs insulin. This medication has side effects. One of which is to slow the metabolism. The other is to make me hungry. Added to which, in case you hadn’t noticed, I’m not getting any younger. You will also know that being unfit and overweight puts one at risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, various cancers and Alzheimer’s disease, just to mention the well known maladies.

Of course, none of these conditions are entirely preventable. But to give myself the best chance of ageing well I needed to have my weight sitting within the healthy weight range. But achieving this in our sugary, carbohydrate weighted, sedentary society was proving elusive. I needed a diet low in fructose and high in calories. One that would not only help me to lose weight but to maintain it. Sadly, the Dukan Diet appeared to be the only option.

I borrowed the book again. In fact, I borrowed it three more times – snap! snap! snap! – and took it back again. The fourth time, just as I was seriously anticipating a one day trial, a customer at the library asked when my baby was due.

From that moment, I was officially on the Dukan Diet.

I’m not going to bore you the virtues of this program. Only say that I’m never hungry. I’m not as tired anymore. I lost weight rapidly – about a kilo a week. I’m enjoying exercise for the first time in my life and you can eat loads of interesting things. The only catch is, you have to be willing to think differently. In fact, you have to be prepared to have your whole understanding of food blown out of the pond. Anyway, enough of the explanations. How does this relate to the slogan about skinny cooks?

Good point. Let us return to my original predicament.

I reached my goal weight just before Christmas and set about planning my first Celebration Meal. Despite having slammed the I Quit Sugar program’s weight loss potential, I still feel it has a great deal off merit. Between Dukan and Wilson, I hadn’t eaten sugar since February and I wasn’t about to reintroduce the powdery white stuff it into my diet. I therefore purchased Sarah Wilson’s Christmas Cookbook. Its berry ripple cheesecake recipe looked divine. It had almonds, hazelnuts and butter in place of a biscuit base and rice malt syrup as a sweetener in the topping.

‘I’ll make the dessert for Christmas Day,’ I told the family. ‘You just bring a fruit platter.’

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On Christmas Eve, preparations were in full swing. I made a chicken liver terrine and some vegetable dips to stop myself over-indulging in soft cheeses and cashew nut dips. I made a quinoa tabbouleh. Why not? I’d embraced an international food plan, I may as well get my head around the quinoa thing too. I’d bought a ham that was reasonably low in sugar. Stocked up on mineral water. Baked myself some oat bread toasts to have in place of crackers.

It was time to start making the cheesecake.

Now here’s the thing about the Dukan consolidation phase. You are allowed a couple of celebration meals a week. These are meals, not whole days, and, as I was planning to celebrate over Christmas lunch, this meant no unauthorised nibbling on Christmas Eve. If you’ve ever seen me cook you would know this was going to present a challenge. I like to lick bowls and spoons and generally have an all round taste-fest while baking. Not good for the waist line. Or part of the of consolidation roll out plan. I steeled myself to be strong.

I made the cheesecake base. Here is the list of ingredients:

“* 1 cup shelled pistachios or hazelnuts
* 1 cup shredded or dessicated coconut
* 1 cup almond meal, or other nut meal, or LSA
* 120g unsalted butter, softened”

(Excerpt From: I Quit Sugar. “I Quit Sugar Christmas Cookbook.” I Quit Sugar. iBooks).

Do you notice anything missing from that list? Yeh, well, I didn’t. Added to which, I didn’t nibble either – which is where the skinny cook thing comes in. If I had, I may have noticed an absence of sweetener. This is not guaranteed, of course. My sweet tooth is nowhere nears as acute as it used to be. But maybe…just maybe, if I had, a disaster would have been averted. We will never know because with the evangelical fervour of a new disciple, I was girder strong.

I mixed the topping. Still no nibbling. Added the rice malt syrup, confident this would make the cheesecake taste delicious. It didn’t because it was only half a cup of rice malt and half a cup is not enough syrup for people who are used to consuming cane sugar in their cakes, pies, chocolates and barbecue sauces – not to mention their potato chips, savoury biscuits. But I didn’t know this because, as I said, I wasn’t nibbling.

The cheesecake came out of the oven looking great. Not as air-brushed like the one in the cook book but more homely and comforting. Perfect for a family desert on Christmas afternoon. At least, I thought it was…

We had a delicious Christmas lunch – turducken, ham, roast potatoes, a chick pea and feta salad, a tomato and bocconcini salad, a sweet potato and baby spinach salad and, of course the quinoa. After a break and some present opening, desert time arrived. I got the first taste of imminent disaster as I lifted the cake from its pan. Some of the crust came off in my hand. I nibbled. Hmm…nutty but…something not right? What? Another nibble. Crashing realisation. There was no sweetener in the base. None. Not even a teaspoon of Stevia. I was looking down the barrel of a cookery disaster. I plated the cake and placed it on the table. Served it with coconut cream and raspberry coulis.

‘I hope it’s alright.’ I smiled nervously. ‘I used rice malt syrup as a sweetener.’

‘It’ll be fine,’ people said raising their forks politely.

It wasn’t. I knew as soon as they took their first mouthfuls. There were no oohs! And aahs! Or little moans of ecstasy. No requests for the recipe.

Only silence. A vast sugar hungry silence.

People were polite, of course, they were polite. My daughter said she liked it. My son used the words lovely and creamy. But it wasn’t. I knew it wasn’t (though to my sugar deprived taste buds it tasted pretty damn close to marvellous). After everyone left my husband confirmed my suspicions. Sarah Wilson’s berry ripple cheesecake may have tasted fine to a room full of people who have also quit sugar (it’s intended audience) but not for the average Australian. I fact, I would have to say it was the least successful Christmas desert I have ever made.

So, never trust a skinny cook? I’d have to say my experience supports the slogan. If I ever cook an I Quit Sugar cheesecake for the family again, I’ll be adding stevia to the base. But I doubt I’ll get a chance. In fact, I think it’s safe to say I will not be trusted to cook any of our family celebration deserts ever again. And I’d have to say, fair play. A sugar-free-newly-converted-Dukan-Diet -devotee should not be allowed to cook desert on any occasion.

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