Sunday, 13 October 2013

Naturally Sweet and Gluten-Free - giveaway and interview with Ricki Heller


Many years ago I started following Ricki Heller’s blog, then called Diet Dessert and Dogs. Witty, warm, entertaining and generous, it was a joy to read her blog and we struck up a long distance friendship. I am delighted today to feature an interview with Ricki to celebrate the publication of her cookbook: Naturally Sweet and Gluten-Free: Allergy friendly vegan desserts. At the bottom of this post is a giveaway of the book.

Back in 2007 when Ricki and I first met, we were both in our first year of blogging and on a steep learning curve.  Since then I have seen her develop into a blogging superstar.  She has written for many sites, guest posts, a magazine gig, self publishing her own book (Sweet Freedom), e-books and now she has a publisher.

Ricki's blog is full of recipes I want to make, and often do.  She is vegan, and in more recent years has followed a gluten free, sugar free, anti candida diet.  This is quite different from my vegetarian diet.  Yet it is her innovative approach to flavours and baking that makes me want to try her recipes.  She also tells great stories about the HH (her husband), The Girls (her dogs) and a host of fascinating characters.

Her new book, Naturally Sweet and Gluten Free has the creative recipes together with her whole foods approach.  She uses minimally processed foods.  You wont find gluten free flour mixes or vegan cream cheese in her recipes.  What you will find is temptation after temptation accompanied by beautiful food photography.  (The photo of the book cover is from Sellers Publishing but the rest are my own and not quite so beautiful.)  It was a pleasure and privilege to talk to Ricki about the book and her life.

Grain-Free Raw Cookie Dough Bites.  Great little healthy snacks.
Johanna: How did you come to write Naturally Sweet and Gluten-Free?

Ricki: The book was an outgrowth of my first book, Sweet Freedom, which was an outgrowth of my catering business. When I closed the business I was asked to provide recipes. This became Sweet Freedom. I was able to sell it on Amazon and in local bookstores. Then I sought a publication deal to help distribute it more widely.

At first Sellers Publishing planned to publish a cookbook using the recipes in Sweet Freedom. As it was to be marketed as allergy friendly, I suggested developing the recipes to be gluten free and free of refined sugar.  More recipes from my blog were added. In this way, Naturally Sweet and Gluten-Free became truly allergy friendly and reflected the way that I eat today.

My adaption of Ricki's original Chocolate peanut butter fudgies that featured eggplant puree.  Delicious!  The new version in Naturally Sweet and Gluten-Free are Chocolate Almond Butter Fudgies, which now use applesauce and reflect the changes in Ricki's diet. 
Johanna: What is the difference between writing a recipe for a blog and writing a recipe for a cookbook (or Where did the eggplant go)?

Ricki: When creating recipes for the blog, I am the only person making and tasting the recipes. Sometimes HH and colleagues also taste it. I will test it between 5 to 10 times. I am like a dog with a bone once I have an idea for a recipe. If it doesn’t work the first time, I will keep trying.

For Naturally Sweet and Gluten-Free, I had 29 testers across different kitchens and different skill levels. I had a lot more feedback, not just on taste, but also on how clear the instructions were. It was an eye opener. Some of the things I took for granted were not always obvious to the testers. For example, the feedback on the cinnamon rolls recipe gave me helpful suggestions for writing up the process of rolling up the dough.

And the eggplant? [JM: My question referred to a recipe for Chocolate-Almond Butter Fudgies that included pureed eggplant on the blog but not in the cookbook version.] I could have left it in. However I didn’t test the gluten free version of the recipe with eggplant because I usually use applesauce when I make it. It probably makes the recipe more widely acceptable too.

Marbled Halvah and Sweet Potato-Chocolate Chip Mini Muffins.  E said the muffins were the best he had ever had when he tasted one warm from the oven.  They were that good!
Johanna: What recipe in Naturally Sweet and Gluten-Free needed the most work in developing it?

Ricki: In the past I have spent quite a bit of time developing some recipes. When I wrote Sweet Freedom, it took a long time to get the texture of whipped coconut cream right. I also took about 50 attempts before I was happy with a brownie that was appropriate for my Anti Candida Diet.

The recipes in Naturally Sweet and Gluten-Free usually came together with only a few tries. One of the recipes in it that was a challenge was the Cashew Choc Chip Cookies. Getting the chewy texture right was tricky because coconut nectar has a different consistency to agave. However, my style of allergy friendly cooking seems quite natural to me now and I love cooking this way.

Johanna: What recipe out of Naturally Sweet and Gluten-Free would you most like to make for your mum if she was alive?

Ricki: For sentimental reasons, My Mother’s Cheesecake. It is my recipe that is most like the ones she baked. She made it for my dad so this is also the recipe I would make for him. It was not too sweet and used cottage cheese – not the watery one you buy in the shops but solid cheese that she bought in 1lb blocks. The criss-cross pattern of the dough looks like dad’s mother’s cheesecake that she made on the farm.

"My Mother's Cheesecake" - light and creamy cheesecake with attractive pastry lattice.  I didn't quite have the right ingredients and made a few substitutions - perhaps that is why I found myself short of enough pastry to cover the whole cheesecake!
Johanna: What is your ideal birthday cake?

Ricki: Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate. Chocolate cake with chocolate chips and chocolate frosting. And it would be decorated with chocolate. There would be more frosting than cake and it would be really healthy so I could have a big piece.  [JM  I'll have a big piece of that too, thanks!]

Johanna: Do you have advice for anyone who wants a career in food catering and food writing?

Ricki: You have to love it. There is a big difference between baking once in a while because you feel like it and baking every day because it is your job. When I did the catering job I took leave of absence and was baking massive quantities from 7am to 7pm. I was exhausted – physically tired – but I wasn’t sick once that year. And at the end of the year, I still loved it.

Don’t give up if this is what you really want to do. I tried a lot of things before I found my place. At the time I didn’t even realise this is the way things were going. When I was 30 and first married, I catered for friends of my husband and one thing led to another.

Sweet Potato Muffins and Marbled Halvah.  My halvah didn't look so pretty but goodness it was lovely.  It lasted well in the fridge for a week or so.
Johanna: Can you tell us about your favourite space to take photos?

Ricki: In my kitchen I have a table near the largest window down stairs. It has the space and the light. It's my "favourite" space to take photos because it's the only one I have!

I learned a lot about set-up with Celine Saki, the photographer for Naturally Sweet and Gluten-Free. All the photo shoots were done at my house. I created the layout for photos using my own linens and dishes. I did 80% of the food styling. I thought it looked fine, and then Celine would make a small change that would make it just perfect.

I only use natural light and the auto settings on my DSLR camera. My goal is to develop more technical skills in photography.

[JM And where are your dogs - aka The Girls - while you photograph food?]  The Girls are very well trained and know not to go on the tiles when we are eating. Likewise they would wait while the photographer was here and just lie quietly.

Johanna: Has SEO killed off the poetry in naming recipes?

Ricki: I never think of SEO until I have finished a post. It doesn’t affect how I name recipes. My way of naming is haphazard. It depends on whatever comes into my head. Preferably something snappy.

Sweet potato brownies.  Satisfactorily crinkly on top.  I was pleased how well they turned out because I made them for a baby shower.
Johanna: Imagine you are holding your fantasy dinner party:
i) Which fictional characters would you invite?
 Ricki:
  • Jean Luc Picard from Star Trek: the Next Generation (I’m a huge Star Trek fan);
  • Laura from “Flowering Judas” by Katherine Anne Porter (since I wrote my PhD on Porter and I loved that story);
  • Catherine from A Farewell to Arms (I loved that character and thought she was a great feminist role model);
  • House from TV show House (I'd be curious to see what kind of conversation we could get into--I might have to make him guess what was in my food!);
  • Annie Hall from the film of the same name (mostly because I wouldn't have to talk at all if I didn't feel like it!); and
  • Atticus Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird (again, I'd be fascinated by the workings of such a brilliant mind).
ii) which dessert would you serve from Naturally Sweet and Gluten-Free?

Ricki: I would serve something light and fluffy or Buttertarts, because they are quintessentially Canadian, and a little side of caramel ice cream.

c) where would The Girls [Ricki's dogs] be?

Ricki: Lying just outside the kitchen, waiting for the meal to finish so they could get a few crumbs. Sometimes when we have friends over for dinner they want to pat The Girls and call them over. Elsie is older and more hesitant. Chaser will be straight in. I would be glaring at them and calling them out.

Johanna: Why did you change your blog name from Diet Dessert and Dogs to Ricki Heller?

Ricki: With Naturally Sweet and Gluten-Free coming out, two e-books to my name and regular magazine contributions, I wanted the name of my blog to be consistent with my other work. I thought Diet Dessert and Dogs might be confusing. When I started the blog in 2007 I was really focused on dieting and wrote a bit about it.  That is no longer a focus.  I have changed.  My blog has changed.  It has evolved with me.

The Sweet Potato Brownies were really fudgy inside.  I loved them.  I was surprised that some people who tasted them could identify something like fruit or veg in them.

Giveaway:
When I was asked to be part of Ricki's virtual blog tour to celebrate the publication of Naturally Sweet and Gluten-Free, I had already pre-ordered a copy of the cookbook.  Rather than cancel my order, I decided to use Ricki's copy for a giveaway.

I love hearing about what everyone else is baking.  To have a chance to win your own copy of the wonderful Naturally Sweet and Gluten Free, just leave a comment sharing a favourite allergy friendly sweet recipe.  It could be:
  1. your favourite recipe from Naturally Sweet and Gluten Free or www.rickiheller.com
  2. the url of a favourite allergy friendly sweet recipe from your blog
  3. the url of a favourite allergy friendly sweet recipe from any other blog

This giveaway is open to anyone with an Australian postal address whether you have a blog or not.  (If you don't have a blog that lists your location, please make your location clear in your comment.)  Entries must be made before the closing date: Saturday 26 October 2013.

I will use a random number generator to choose a winner and will announce the winner on my blog on 27 October.  (Please either make sure I have an email address or visit on that date.)

If you don't have an Australian postal address, you can still share a favourite allergy friendly sweet recipe with me.

Disclosure: I was sent a free copy of Naturally Sweet and Gluten Free, which I have chosen to use for this giveaway.  All my opinions about the cookbook are my own.

45 comments:

  1. What a great Q&A, Johanna. I could tell you put a lot of thought behind your questions and each time, I was eager to see how Ricki would respond. Ricki's cheesecake is totally on my list of things to try. :)

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    1. Thanks Janet - glad the questions were ones you were interested in - I was quite selfish and asked a lot of questions I was curious about

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  2. Johanna, thank you so much for this beautiful review and post! And of course I loved chatting with you live on that Google hangout--FINALLY!! Can it really be that long since we first met?!! Well, I'm so glad we did, and it's been wonderful growing our blogs together and following each other's life events. And WOW--I can't believe how many goodies you tried from the book! (Did E really say that about the muffins? Yay!!). Thank you so much! :D xo

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    1. Thanks Ricki - it was great chatting and such a pleasure to write up the interview - makes me full of warm and fuzzy feelings about blogging and connections - yes E did say that about the muffins - I couldn't believe it because I would not have thought they were his type but they were amazing when warm out of the oven. Loved a reason to try and make a few of your goodies - and was pleased to share a few of them too with Mel and Kari

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  3. Thanks for the awesome review & interview! That cheesecake looks super delish! I wish the giveaway is open internationally!

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    1. Thanks vegan miam - the cheesecake was great (though I am not sure I used the right tofu) - sorry the giveaway is not open internationally but I am paying for the postage myself (Australia Post international charges are crazy) and I also was keen to promote the book in Australia.

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  4. Loved reading this!! http://www.elanaspantry.com/brownies/ was our first gf recipe after going gluten free, processed sugar-free and dairy when our daughter was diagnosed with MS. Love, love, love finding new recipes!

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    1. Thanks Debbie - that recipe looks amazing - am sure it made you feel better about your diet and your daughter's diagnosis

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  5. Thanks so much for sharing this interview Johanna. Ricki's was one of the first blogs I started reading too and is still one of my very favourites :) I love Ricki's stories as well as the recipes.
    My copy of the new book has just arrived but I haven't yet made anything amazingly. I think it's because there are so many recipes I want to make, I just don't know where to start. That cheesecake might be the one though.... It looks like the kind of New York Baked Cheesecake I used to love.
    Your pictures are lovely by the way.

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    1. Thanks Emma - me too - I always love opening ricki's blog and settling down for a good read. I really liked the cheesecake but I think I used the wrong kind of tofu - mine was quite creamy and I used 2/3 silken tofu and then read recently that the tofu ricki was talking about is similar to our medium firm tofu. I have been eating mine with stewed rhubarb and have some in the freezer still.

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  6. These recipes sound wonderful and as a diabetic, I'm always looking for natural alternatives.

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    1. Thanks cjrgemini - I am sure these recipes would be good for you as a diabetic because they are are free of refined sugars

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  7. Two things that make me really happy: you seem to be one of the minority of us who truly cooked and photographed Ricki's treats, rather than just using the cookbook's photos in the review - high five! So worth it, right? :)

    Also: SO GLAD you were allowed to do an Aussie giveaway! I was so sad I wasn't allowed to. Yay!

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    1. Thanks Hannah - I confess I still need to read a few more of the posts on Ricki's cookbook. Was glad of an excuse to bake (or make) ricki's treats that had wanted to make. Because it is ALWAYS worth making ricki's recipes!

      I didn't do the giveaway through the publishers - just decided if I had two copies of the cookbook I would giveaway one of them - and the international post prices are too much for me to fork out. Plus it is always nice to have a local giveaway.

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  8. The book looks amazing my sister in law is a diabetic with a sweet tooth would be fantastic to gift her this book. Thanks for the review :)

    Helenbeee

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    1. Thanks Helen - I am sure any diabetic would love this book

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  9. I've followed Ricki for a while and always enjoy her take on food. I'm always looking for somewhat healthy sweets for the kids' lunch boxes so her website is valuable. I think I'll make these: http://www.rickiheller.com/2009/03/maple-mania-i-marvelous-maple-flax-cookies/ today, as a matter of fact!

    Since moving to Perth, WA, I've been pleased to see the increased availability of healthy, organically grown foods.

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    1. Thanks Sally - that recipe sounds really good - love Ricki's maple syrup recipes - glad you are finding lots of healthy food in Perth - I think it has changed a lot in Melbourne too over the past decade (though sometimes I wonder if it only seems so because I am now looking at different foods)

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  10. This is my favorite right now! http://www.thespunkycoconut.com/2009/06/gluten-free-dairy-free-sugar-free.html Thanks for the giveaway!

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    1. thanks sunflower - that cake recipe looks amazing

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  11. I have been waiting for this post and loved reading your interview with Ricki, and getting to see some of the other beautiful images of things from her book. Despite not having the book, I am going to claim that my favourite from it are the sweet potato muffins you made and shared because they were indeed delicious - and I love that they have sweet potato in them :-) It is Ricki's innovation that endears her to me too, and the foods she squirrels into sweet recipes are wonderful.

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    1. Thanks Kari - I think the sweet potato muffins are among my favourites - ricki has such a creative approach to chocolate generally - glad you enjoyed the post

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  12. What a fantastic post! I recently received my copy of NSaGF and my eyes just bugged out. My favourite receipe, which I am yet to make (ha!) is the halva because I grew up with the sugar-sweetened halva and would love a better alternative. I wasn't even halfway through the book when I thought oh my goodness I have to buy this as a gift for people! :) I love love love Ricki's work and the inclusion of sweet potatoes, that have even fooled my sweet potato hating husband, ha! As we speak I'm waiting on deliveries of some of the products (garfava!) and I'm sooo impatient for them to arrive. My pureed sweet potato is waiting!

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    1. thanks veganopoulous - it is such a beautiful book - the halva is great - I am happy to use besan instead of garfava but I am going to have to get the sorghum flour delivered as I can't find it anywhere (used brown rice flour and a bit of quinoa instead in the cheesecake which might account for the difficulty in rolling the pastry thin enough to cover the cheesecake - and even so it was one of the best GF pastries I have ever made). Nice to see you are enjoying baking from Ricki's cookbook

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  13. I really enjoyed this interview, it's great seeing behind the scenes of recipe book creation! I would love to make the sweet potato brownies, I make vegan chocolate and beetroot brownies and love to see how these compare :) cate@greenrenters.org

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    1. Thanks Cate - I really enjoy hearing some of the process involved in creating a cookbook too - beetroot is great in brownies - sweet potato is different but still oh so good

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  14. What a coincidence! One of my good friends only last night suggested Ricki's blog to me. I am desperately searching for inspiration as I'm on my first month in to a "rest of my life" gluten and dairy free diet (for health reasons). Last week, I was so excited to find this - http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-10869/gluten-free-dairy-free-mint-chocolate-superfood-snack-balls.html - so want to share it with your readers. I omitted the xylitol (what is that?) and spirulina and they're still great as a superfood dense snack.

    Thanks so much for this opportunity, I'd be stoked to receive a copy of this awesome-sounding cookbook and I look forward to finding my way around Ricki's blog, regardless!

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    1. Thanks Kirrily - good luck with the journey in discovering gf and dairy free recipes and foods you love - the energy balls sound great - and ricki's blog and/or cookbook will be a fantastic resource for you. Am sure there will be many strange foods like xylitol that will become very familiar to you. Ricki's blog is where I first heard of ingredients like lucuma, agave and maca and she is very good at explaining them.

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  15. Ricki's recipes always look so fabulous! It's so fun to see her here!

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    1. Thanks Joanne - nice to feel we are all friends here :-)

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  16. I love that blog! No Aussie address so I can't join in, but I loved reading the interview nonetheless - I'm a sucker for a desserts cookbook!

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    1. thanks Joey - glad the post was interesting even if you have to give the giveaway a miss (sorry the postal charges to the UK are daylight robbery)

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  17. What a great interview and review Johanna. It's just wonderful that you and Ricki have grown together through blogging.

    Thank you for introducing us and thank you for sharing...

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    1. Thanks Louise - it is great to have met ricki and kept in touch through blogging

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  18. Congrats to Ricki on her book. My favourite allergy friendly recipe is Martha Stewart's double chocolate pecan cookies, which are gluten and dairy free (but not nut free):
    http://www.marthastewart.com/314011/flourless-double-chocolate-pecan-cookies

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    1. Thanks Cakelaw - they look delicious - I love recipes with nuts (like this) but it is such a shame so many of these gf and healthy recipes have nuts as I am going to be sending sylvia to a school that has a no nut policy so I will have to be careful what I put in her lunchbox (but at least I can use seeds)

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  19. I've loved the handful of recipes I've made from Ricki's blog - it's great to see her work in published form. Loved reading this interview too! My favourites from the samples you baked were the sweet potato muffins too! I really enjoyed the spices in them.

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    1. Thanks Mel - I was surprised to find I had made quite a few recipes from Naturally Sweet and Gluten Free but in their previous incarnations (and I often make substitutions if I don't have what is in the recipe) - I think those sweet potato muffins are definitely a winner.

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  20. What a gorgeous sounding book! Am I allowed to pick one of my own recipes? Because I make my vegan chocolate, raspberry and coconut cupcakes all the time - they are egg and dairy free, nut-free, and can easily go gluten-free too. And so far, everyone loves them. Possibly the most useful recipe I've ever come up with: http://www.catescates.com.au/recipe-chocolate-coconut-and-raspberry-cupcakes

    love

    Catherine

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    1. Thanks Catherine - of course you can pick one of your recipes - I think I have had my eye on that recipe so am glad to hear it is popular - must make it soon

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  21. I love Ricki Heller's creativity with her baking. I am very much the odd one out as a 21yr old student, living with my parents and teenage brother who survive of white bread rolls, refined sugar, meat and vege! I have previously struggling with not feeding my body properly, but I will never go back to starving myself of precious nutrients... which you can even eat in delicious sweet potato brownies, coconut flour muffins, homemade chocolate and fruit/vege smoothies!!!! I love this lifestyle and my vegetable garden allows me to opportunity to cook with organic homegrown or locally sourced fruits and vege. I have baked numerous brownies and I am going to try Ricki's next, but my indulgence is either Pauline Hanuise Hot & Creamy Chocolate Smoothie- I lived off this is winter! http://paulinehanuise.com/portfolio/hot-creamy-chocolate-smoothie/ or I have got my family loving The Healthy Foodie's paleo, sweet potato brownies, http://thehealthyfoodie.com/2013/06/01/paleo-sweet-potato-brownies/
    Delicious!

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    1. I am Aussie btw :) NSW, ewil9188@uni.sydney.edu.au

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    2. Hi Eloise

      Thanks for your feedback about your experience with eating healthy food - you sound like you are have got some balance into your diet and lifestyle - the smoothie looks like a delicious version of hot chocolate and that brownie looks amazing and now I have bookmarked it.

      And congratulations on winning the cookbook - I will contact you about sending it your way. Hope you love it as much as I do.

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  22. I'm in! This looks too good :)
    I reckon this raspberry citrus 'cheesecake':
    http://www.skinny-vegan-food.com/2013/07/raspberry-citrus-cheesecaketart-unbaked.html#.UmivvvmVPTg

    or any fruit 'ice cream' would be my favourites
    http://www.skinny-vegan-food.com/p/recipes.html?search_term=ice-cream&ui=1112&dt=1#.UmiwB_mVPTg

    But there are so many options! Any bliss balls or nut truffles would be up there too..mmm

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    1. Thanks Clare - you have lots of great allergy friendly recipes - I love bliss balls too - haven't made enough of them recently - and your cheesecake looks amazing!

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