It started with a blog. Creamy chicken and brown rice soup. Nut butter. Bone broth. Macadamia "cheese". For home- schooling mother-of-four Jo Whitton, preparing quirky food from scratch has become a way of life to cope with health problems that left her run-down - and she's never felt better.
Her legion of online fans shows she's on the right track and 130 of her recipes, including classics such as lasagne with pumpkin pasta and flourless chocolate coconut cake, have been published in a new Thermomix cookbook - Quirky Cooking - with diet-specific symbols to cater for allergies and food intolerances.
"I started my blog in December 2008 and called it Quirky Cooking because my friends had told me my food was so different," she said. "Up until then I had been constantly writing out recipes and getting so many questions on what to eat. A book was the obvious next step because so many people kept asking for it as I tend to post things randomly, then get follow-up for years down the track."
Dairy and wheat are out. Refined cane sugar is taboo. So is agave, because there's so much conflicting information about it. Instead, Whitton uses sweeteners such as blackstrap molasses, coconut sugar, maple syrup, rapadura, raw honey, rice malt syrup and stevia.
"In fact, my youngest daughter asked 'What's this' when she was eight and saw white sugar for the first time on an aeroplane," she said "She wanted to know why there was no rapadura. But my favourite at the moment is yakon syrup. It's quite expensive, so I haven't mentioned it in the book."
Coconut oil or ghee are used as substitutes for butter and parmesan "cheese" is made with savoury yeast flakes. Ground almonds and nut milks are staples, so are desiccated coconut and rice. White flour replacements include quinoa, buckwheat, mesquite and amaranth, though Whitton uses spelt at home and in the book as an alternative to wheat.
"My interest in allergy-free cooking developed as I got older," she said. "I'd always had a runny nose and put it down to hayfever and colds . . . but things came to a head about 10 years ago. By that time I was married with four kids and just constantly tired and run-down. I had headaches, recurrent chest infections, tummy upsets and low blood pressure. My weight had dropped to 42kg.
"My kids were also having some of the same symptoms and it wasn't until I saw a naturopath that I found out about how changing our diet could help."
Thermomix dietitian Bianca Mazur said the book was a first for Thermomix in Australia and, possibly, worldwide. "The recipes are unique and exciting and that's a big plus for people who have specific dietary needs. I particularly like the quinoa fritters, the raw macadamia lime "cheesecake", the beef and chicken fajitas and the pizza bases.
"It's clear people have been waiting for it - we sold more than 10,000 copies in the first week."
Whitton, who has worked as a graphic artist and taught parenting classes, was raised in Cairns and lives on a suburban block on the edge of town in the Atherton Tablelands, North Queensland.
She makes everything from scratch and bought her first Thermomix in 2004. "I had a grain mill and breadmaker but it just took so much time," she said. "I was in the kitchen all day, especially with four children."
Many of her recipes can be made conventionally because Whitton said her second-biggest group of blog followers was in the US where Thermomix was not sold. Some dishes are long and involved - even with a Thermomix - and require forward planning. The brown rice in her creamy chicken and brown rice soup has to be soaked overnight.
"It's an old-fashioned soup that originally had a white sauce to thicken it and lots of vegies, so I adapted it to suit my cooking style," Whitton said
Quirky Cooking, $50, is available from thermomix.com.au.