Ssh! A Confession…

Tucking into sausages with gusto...

Tucking into sausages with gusto…

Come closer, I have a secret to tell you. Huddle round, concentrate and I will expand.

I have given up on vegetarianism and am now a committed carnivore. Part of me is still rather ashamed of this; 20 years as a vegetarian, latterly with fish thrown in. I apologise to the cows, pigs, lambs, chickens and ducks (and there will be a few more mammals and birds on that list too, once I’ve sampled them) for my mean contrivance to end their lives. Particularly apologies should go to the pigs, as sausages and black pudding are now among my favourite foods.

When you’ve been a vegetarian for as long as I had, it felt like part of my identity. And it made me feel like a nicer, morally superior person as I was not the type to be swayed by a bacon sandwich the way folklore has it for many would-be veggies and the world was not cutting down swathes of forest on my behalf to feed up animal protein. Plus, I love animals, I really, really do and commercial meat production can be absolutely disgusting.

Here’s the rub though. I mostly follow a low carb diet to keep my blood sugar levels as stable as possible. I stumbled across this a few years ago through Dr Richard Bernstein’s book, The Diabetes Solution. He’s a pretty impressive individual – he put himself through medical school so that he could prove his own theories on diabetes management – but heavens, his methods are very, very strict indeed, with a daily intake of just 40g of carbohydrate (6g for breakfast, 12 for lunch and dinner). I like to eat a bit more veg and fruit so I aim for about 75g a day.

I’d coped with a low-carbohydrate diet initially by adding fish to my diet. After a while, it began to feel a bit monotonous – fish, cheese and eggs day in day out – so I added in meat some weeks ago. In an attempt to keep some virtue to my food choices, I’ve only been eating meat from our local butcher, which is locally sourced, grass-fed and bred in reasonably good conditions.

It turns out that I really love meat. A great, juicy burger topped with cheese (sans bun, obviously), good quality bacon, black pudding, meat loaf, slow-cooked shoulder of lamb… Experiments have been plentiful and fun. The only thing I haven’t been fussed about was steak. The cheap cuts are the best – which is just as well, given my lack of regular income these days.

Anyway, in a final homage to my vegetarian years, I thought I’d share with you a favourite recipe; Spicy ratatouille cooked in the slow cooker. The great thing about cooking the veg this way is that they maintain their shape much better than when you cook it on top of the stove and it’s really, really delicious. Top it with crumbled goat’s cheese and brown it briefly under the grill.

Spicy Ratatouilleserves 4

  • 1 large aubergine
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 large courgette
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 fennel bulb
  • 500ml passata
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 green chilli, diced (keep the seeds in for extra heat)
  • 1tsp tomato puree
  • 1tsp caster sugar
  • 2tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Chop the aubergine, red pepper and courgette into equal-sized chunks. Slip the top off the fennel and cut into big slices. Finely dice the onion. Put all of the ingredients into your slow cooker and top up with a little extra water (about 50-100ml). Cover and cook on a low setting for 3-4 hours.

For the record, each portion of this has approximately 149 calories and 18g carbohydrate.

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Sunshine and Wild Garlic Anyone?

Even the cat takes advantage of sunny days...

Even the cat takes advantage of sunny days…

Here’s one of the nice things about being a freelancer. A lot of the time you can work round the weather.

I live in a part of the world that isn’t blessed with a great deal of sunshine (and that’s putting it mildly). In common with many of my countrymen and women I have an absolute obsession with the weather forecast and checking it frequently. I look up the five-day forecast on Monday and spot that Thursday has a big yellow sun on display. Hooray! By Tuesday, that sun has been replaced by the cloud and by Wednesday the forecast is cloud and showers. Boo!

So when the sun shines here, it’s almost obligatory to take advantage and roll out the garden furniture, strip off a layer or two or go out for a walk/cycle run. We did that a couple of days ago and, in proper foraging style, came back with a haul of wild garlic and watercress. Wild garlic is pretty easy to spot – your nose will take you there – but general advice around picking is available here.

Post-wedding, the diet is a little less urgent but I used the wild garlic to create a healthy, easy cook dish that I’m sharing here:

Tofu and Wild Garlic stir-fry – serves 2

Chillies, garlic and ginger - yum!

Chillies, garlic and ginger – yum!

160g pkt Cauldron Foods marinated tofu pieces
100g mushrooms, sliced
Half a red pepper, sliced
Half a courgette, sliced
8 spring onion, sliced into 4cm lengths
50g asparagus tips, sliced in half
Large handful wild garlic, rinsed
1 chilli, sliced (keep the seeds in if you like hot food)
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
1tbsp rapeseed oil

Heat the oil in a wok and add the mushrooms, pepper, courgette, spring onions and asparagus tips and cook for 3-5 minutes. Add in the ginger, garlic and chilli and cook for another minute. Stir in the wild garlic and cook until wilted. Add in the marinated tofu and stir-fry another minute or so. Season to taste with a little soy sauce (you won’t need much as the tofu pieces are already seasoned) and serve with cooked noodles tossed in a little bit of sesame oil.

A Farewell to Carbs

Doesn't the marbled chocolate make this look so pretty?

Doesn’t the marbled chocolate make this look so pretty?

Has something weird happened to time? It appears that I am now a mere nine days away from wedding bells and I am not entirely sure how that happened…

As is my wont, I set myself various ambitious goals at yon time when the wedding day seemed like an occasion far, far into the future. Most of them, in a purely shallow fashion, centred around being a size 6, sporting arms like Madonna and having come through the other side of the world’s harshest detox to guarantee skin so fresh, shiny and young-looking people mistook me for a 39-year-old instead of a… (er, ladylike modesty forbids me to reveal the truth dear reader).

Aye, all rather shallow hmm? So, what happened instead? There was wine, ladies and gentlemen. There were cakes and there was a lot of cheese. Yum! So, I’m now on Atkins*. Rumour has it that the 5.2 diet and the Cambridge diet are among those my guests are trying. Possibly I should contact said diet companies and ask for commission…?

So yes, Atkins, and carbs are now the mere daydream of mashed potatoes, or the enticing whiff of baked goods. To compensate for my carb-free life, I made millionaire’s shortbread today** to serve as favours for my wedding. I cut the normal sized-pieces into cute mini portions and I’ll be putting a couple of each into a china teacup and adding a hand-written note. Kitsch hmm?

I have to share the recipe for the shortbread as it’s one of the world’s nicest biscuits and three trillion times (at least) nicer home-made.

MILLIONAIRE’S SHORTBREAD (makes shed loads)

100g cornflour

250g plain flour

250g unsalted butter

110g golden caster sugar

2 tins condensed milk (397g each)

100g unsalted butter

100g dark brown soft sugar

150g plain chocolate

150g milk chocolate

150g white chocolate

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C and grease two 18cm/7-inch square tins (I find it’s easiest to use loose-bottomed cake tins – it makes removal of the finished shortbread much easier.)

Combine the flours and sugar in a mixing bowl and rub in the butter until it resembles breadcrumbs. Bring the whole lot together until it forms a bowl, divide in two and press into the bases of the two tins. Cook in the oven for 20-25 minutes until lightly golden. Leave to cool, but do not remove from the tin.

Place the condensed milk, unsalted butter and dark brown soft sugar into a heavy based sauce pan and heat very gently until the butter has melted and the sugar dissolved. Bring to the boil slowly, stirring all the time. Once it has boiled, turn down to a simmer and cook for five minutes. The mixture will turn a lovely fudgy colour. Pour half over one shortbread base, and half over the other. Leave to cool and set.

Melt the three chocolates separately (I favour 30-sec bursts in the microwave) and place spoonfuls of each kind over the cooled caramel and shortbread. Aim to roughly cover each surface in the three different kinds of chocolate and then lightly tap the tin on the surface so that the chocolates merge into one. Using a skewer or a knife tip, swirl the chocolates to create a marbled effect.

Leave to cool and cut into small squares. You’ll get roughly 40-45 squares from this, but mini ones look sweet. Tip – if you cut this up before the chocolate has fully set, the chocolate topping won’t crack.

*Atkins, for those of you for whom dieting is a blissfully unfamiliar habit, is a low-carbohydrate/ high protein diet. While unlimited eggs, bacon and steak sounds good in theory, without toast, chips and other starchy gloriousness it all gets rather tedious after a while. It does, however, produce results though if you do it and fall desperately ill, IT IS NOTHING TO DO WITH MOI.

**Worry not, the said millionaire’s shortbread is currently residing in my freezer so it can be just-baked fresh on the day.

A 60-Second Facelift; Can it Work?

Yikes, the lack of wine drinking and cake baking has left me with plenty of time on my hands to surf the net, fall for the hype and purchase skincare products…

I am now the proud owner of a Rio 60-second face lift thingie. One of the (many) advantages of the world wide web is the wealth of reviews you find online so I did read these before pressing the ‘order’ button and the vast majority were positive.

Motive for buying? A desire to look fresh-faced and unlined for my wedding especially as I’m older than your average bride.

Basically you press the device on various parts of your face and it causes the muscles to contract. Exercised muscles stop sagging, allegedly. It is pretty uncomfortable and it doesn’t half hurt your teeth, but in the four days I’ve been using it, I have noticed an effect around my eyes and on the nose-to-mouth lines. I shall report back…

I’m back at my pre-Christmas weight. I made up my own diet; eating between three to eight ‘superfoods’ a day and sticking to about 1,400 calories (try myfitnesspal.com for a great calorie counting app).

Superfoods are a marketing concept, but spinach, berries, broccoli and oily fish are very good for you and they give you great skin too. I may well trademark my concept and write a diet book (as the world DEFINITELY needs another diet book, non?).

5:2 Sticking with the Eating/Starving Thing?

I’ve blogged a couple of times about the 5:2 diet… Being something of an internet research nerd (a fun way to pass a few hours when you’re bored), I’d noted mention of this diet online several weeks ago and investigated.

The basic premise is – for two, non-consecutive days a week, you eat a mere 500 calories a day (600 if you’re a bloke) and then eat normally for the rest of the week. Et voila – weight loss! Improved health! Decreased risk of cancer and Alzheimer’s!

I could pretend I did it for the slightly nobler improved health, lowering the risk of contracting nasty illnesses reasons, but that would be a lie. The promise of weight loss lured me in and I tried the plan for three weeks.

Pluses – I lost five pounds and my stomach feels a lot flatter.

Minuses – those two days are MURDEROUSLY hard… Funnily enough, as the day goes on it seems to get easier, but first thing in the morning the thought of not eating very much all day feels like the most enormous hurdle to get over. And that is why I’m not doing it anymore.

Short term, I’ll probably try it again (shock news revelation, bride-to-be tries extreme diet ahead of wedding), but in the long term, I’m taking my chances with dementia and the Big C.

A Tale of Two Topics

 

What 500 calories looks like...

What 500 calories looks like…

Today’s blog post focuses on guest lists (urgh) and an update on the 5:2 diet.

When we initially decided to get married, I wanted a very small wedding – close family only and then a party some time later for friends. Simple, non? But working out the logistics of organising two events defeated us and the wedding began to grow arms and legs.

Several months ago, we wrote up the guest list while under the influence of a wine or two. It took on the realms of fantasy – the world and his wife were coming to see me become a wife. My fiance stuck to the sensible, I was scribbling away happily adding the Power Plate guy (I felt I owed him for the stomach muscles I now possess), the people from the corner shop who keep me supplied in diet coke even though I don’t know their full names and several others I haven’t seen in decades.

Needless to say the list was scrapped…

I’d been putting off writing it again, even though I really love writing lists (to do lists feature daily in my life). Necessity has stepped in. The New Lanark Mill Hotel is pretty small and rooms are filling up already. Getting married on a Thursday means people will also need to book time off work.

Plus my sister has been organising my hen party (I’ve mentioned I’d like cheese, wine and possibly chocolate and cakes to be involved and left her to it. It kills me as I’m a bit of a control freak, but if you ask someone to do something for you, best to leave them to it. My sister hasn’t done this before and I think she is finding it quite exciting.) so she’s sent out invites for that. I haven’t yet asked people to save the date so time to face up to my fears of the guest list.

I’ve come to the conclusion that guest lists are easiest when they are either very small (family only) or very large (when you’re a millionaire, say). In between the small and the large is the hell of the ‘who can we cross off this list?’

We wrote them out separately and are excluding children, except for close family. It feels a bit mean, but our numbers are limited to 110 and my theory is that most children get bored at weddings anyway.

Like many people I went to a lot of weddings in my 20s and saw a lot of people marry that I now haven’t seen in at least 10 years. Therefore, I haven’t invited most of them. We’ve decided not to invite most of our cousins either. And we’re rather uncharitably hoping that our currently single friends remain so for the next six months…

And so on to the 5:2 diet! I’m one week into it. The idea is that you eat normally (roughly 2,000-2,500 calories a day) for five days a week and on two days a week you eat 500-600 calories a day. I’d read it described as the easiest and most difficult diet you can follow. Funnily enough, the fasting isn’t as difficult as you might imagine. The second day I did it I felt as if I had greater and sharper mental clarity, which is why fasting is so popular with yogis I suppose.

Cutting to the chase though, I’ve lost three pounds and my stomach feels much, much flatter. Blimey, you don’t get a lot of food for your 500 calories, though! I’ve done it by eating some fruit at lunchtime and then an evening meal and if you’re looking for ideas for low-calories meals, there are some nice ones here. If you’re looking for a great calorie counter try myfitnesspal which has a website and mobile app.

As Christmas and the inevitable over-indulgence rapidly approaches (write cards! Buy presents! Make food! Meet up with various people! Why oh why does December always catch me out?) I thought I’d stick to it for another week or so. Watch this space…

 

 

 

 

5 + 2 = Weight Loss?

I love the internet! The hours you can spend reading and researching (procrastinating on my part usually) jumping from link to link and seeing where it takes you… heaven!

Anyway, I have spent a considerable part of the weekend that has just passed researching the 5:2 diet, as I’m feeling a bit unhealthy and a wee bit bloated. (I fear too many of the lovely ‘C’ words in the form of chocolate, cheese and Cava have been in my life of late.) My BMI is fine, but I’d love to lose half a stone for my wedding.

Wee aside: do you think anyone ever achieves their perfect weight? Because we see so many images of skinny celebrities and our culture contains such strong messaging around the importance of appearance, can we ever feel slim enough? I’m horrified about the amount of time I spend thinking about my weight – it just feels so wasteful… But wasteful or not, back to today’s topic – a diet!

The 5:2 diet featured on a recent Horizon documentary* where a TV doctor followed the plan for a month – eating 600 calories on two non-consecutive days a week and eating normally (the recommendations for daily calorie intake for men and women, not pigging out obvs) for five days. The doctor lost a stone and also enjoyed additional health benefits, such as lowering his blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose levels. Other rumoured benefits include reduced risk of developing cancer and Alzheimer’s.

The idea does appeal to me – two hard days and the rest normal. A lot of people spoke about noticing losing weight off their middles, where my excess fat prefers to reside. So, I thought I might try it out, even if it is a fad and even if there are people lining up to condemn it. (Such is the power of anecdotal evidence over peer-reviewed clinical studies, hmm?!)

If anyone else has tried this diet and would like to share their experiences, please feel free to get in touch!

 

*This link doesn’t take you to the actual programme by the way, but you will find various extracts from the programme on YouTube.