Monday, 14 April 2014

Pre Easter meal planning

It's my equivalent of the last week of term.  Next week I am off work and plan to do extremely little - there will be reading, there will be sleeping, maybe some walking if the sun decides to make an appearance, there will be LOTS of cuddles with my new cat and probably not all that much by way of counting points.  Hurrah.  Easter weekend looks set to be the perfect start to the holibobs - D and I will have the traditional Good Friday fish and chips (is this just a Catholic thing or do all families do it?) then on Saturday we are cooking dinner for a friend and on Sunday we are seeing my parents.  Good food, friends and family, sounds like the perfect bank holiday.  So meal planning just relates to the early part of the week.
Some really lovely, classic dishes this week which would be nice to blog at some point (makes mental note to add blogging to the holiday to do list).
Toad in the hole with onion and mushroom gravy, carrot and swede mash, creamed Cavolo Nero (bumped from last week)
Soup night
Spaghetti carbonara
More meal planning fun over at Mrs M's.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Smitten kitten takes to the scales

This week we welcomed a new member to our little household.  This is Minx, whom we brought home from our local Cats Protection rescue centre.  She was taken in when her owner got a new partner with an allergic son; I say, ditch the small child and keep the beautiful cat, and that is precisely why I am currently more suited to being a pet owner than a parent.

I won’t bore you too much by talking about my cat – poor old D already has to put up with my constant stream of chat about her food intake (good) , toilet habits (also good) and behaviour (skittish but affectionate).  Suffice to say that I am utterly besotted.
But what of the scales....?
Weeks 1-27: -48.25lbs
This week: +1lb
Total loss: 47.25lbs
It is also fair to say that I have experienced a little case of Can’tBeArsedness with regards WW this week and I have used poor old Minx as an excuse for a couple of bad habits creeping back in – specifically the midweek drinkiepoos and a lack of organisation with regards meals.  I didn’t think, especially after such an indulgent weekend, that the scales would look kindly on my transgressions (I’m pleasantly surprised at the relative smallness of the gain) and I’m having to dig really deep at the moment to get back on track this week knowing full well that the following week I will be off work and, again, out of routine. 
I suppose (writing this down is actually helping to clarify the problem) I am just feeling a bit disheartened at the moment because I’m not getting a proper run at the thing.  You know, a good two or three week period where I can just knuckle down and make what feels like real progress.  I keep banging on about not being prepared to give up my weekends away and meals out – which is fine, WW should fit around life not the other way around - but then keep being unreasonably disappointed at the seesawing scales.  I’ve been coming up to 50 pounds lost and, shortly after that, the halfway point for what feels like ages and their elusiveness is annoying me.  And, as history tells us, negative emotions are not good for my weight loss.
This week I need to get back to basics with regards really looking at what I’m eating and planning regular meals and snacks to ensure that my blood sugar stays on an even keel – if I’m hungry I get grumpy and distracted and more inclined to stray.  I have seven days with nothing planned, which means I have a full compliment of weekly points at my disposal and I shall make sure I’m using some of them to bolster my daily allowance rather than saving them all for “treats”.  I also think that seven days without any alcohol would be a good thing, especially since I plan to indulge over the Easter weekend. 
This week, as well, I need to be process focused rather than results focused – if that makes sense and doesn’t sound too management speak-ey?  So I’m going to temporarily ditch the daily weigh ins to ensure that I’m not being lulled into a false sense of security by a downwards movement or frustrated by an upwards one.  I still think, ultimately, daily weigh ins are an important part of the puzzle for me – but for now I need to get the diet right and just trust that the losses will follow.
Onwards and downwards, comrades!

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Brewdog - beer for punks and Dirty Americana

I'm finally beginning to see the point of real ale and the game changer for me was Punk IPA by Brewdog.  An independent Scottish brewery, in business since 2007, Brewdog not only produce interesting, complex beers but they open bars that people like us (definitely not punks but with a slightly anarchic streak well concealed by our middle class jumpers and sensible shoes) really love to drink in.  It's a crying shame that the Leeds branch is so blooming small - it's very, very hard to get a table.  We've been drinking our way around the others though and can reveal that Birmingham might be the best one.  Or possible Shepherd's Bush.  Or Camden.  Or Glasgow.
Our local bar has had a Brewdog tasting which was exceptionally reasonably priced and a great introduction to the different products so it's worth keeping an eye out to see if somewhere near you is running something similar.  Punk IPA remains my favourite but I did enjoy tasting some of the others.  Like wine, these sorts of beers can have quite complex flavour profiles.  Brewdog are also slightly notorious for producing the some of the world's strongest ever beer; my brother actually shared a bottle of Sink the Bismark (41%) with us a couple of years back and it is really interesting stuff - much more akin to a whisky than a beer and definitely not one for downing by the pint.
The other thing that I have really enjoyed about the Brewdog bars is the food - for a well priced, tasty lunch they've proved a pretty safe bet.  We recently had pulled pork and cheesy fries in Shepherd's Bush:
And, just last weekend, beer battered Cajun chicken and a mushroom and halloumi burger in Manchester with seriously good sweet potato fries (apologies for the yellowness - I had a weird filter on.  The burgers were just the right amount of yellow in real life):
The menu appears to vary slightly from venue to venue but is all in the style that D called "Dirty Americana" - barbecue, lots of meat, judicious hits of spice, really scrummy stuff.
Whether you're a beer fan or more of a beer semi-virgin like me (although can one be a semi-virgin?  It's probably a bit of an all or nothing state of being) this is definitely a chain to check out. 
(NB:  On reading this back it came across a little bit like a sponsored post - and I almost wish that I could say that this was because then I would probably have a load of bottles of Punk in the fridge, but it isn't.  I just really, really like Brewdog and want to spread the love.)

Monday, 7 April 2014

MPM: 7th April 2014

Why, look boys and girls, it's...

This comes to you from a rainswept railway platform in Manchester. I spent yesterday cheering on a friend who was running the marathon and I am exhausted; admittedly, not quite as exhausted as her but still...

A quiet week for meal planning which is no bad thing at all. I'm expecting a gain on Friday but will spend the next four days doing my best to mitigate it. The meal plan contains a bump from last week and remains fairly wintry looking but I see no sign of spring springing yet in anything but name.

Toad in the hole, onion and mushroom gravy (a repeat from last week rather than a bump - my Yorkshire remained embarrassingly flat and I need a second attempt! Plus, it's yummy).

Cauliflower macaroni blue cheese


Haggis pizza (do NOT judge until you've tried it)

Fried whitebait with homemade mayo

Jungle curry - vaguely based on a recent John Torode recipe on Masterchef but using leftover roast chicken rather than guinea fowl

Oxtail ragu, mash, crispy parsnips, sautéed mushrooms

More meal planning fun over at Mrs M's.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Scales on Saturday

Weeks 1-26 -46.75lbs
This week: -1.5lbs
Total loss: 48.25lbs

Bah, the big 50 remains elusive. I was almost, almost disappointed this week hoping for a better result. But a pound and a half is pretty good going and I should take my own advice and celebrate anything that takes me closer to my ultimate goal.

Which begs the question - what is my ultimate goal? As Gabby pointed out on last week's post, I've never actually said, and I think this is partly to do with the fact that people I know (whisper it) in real life are aware of this blog and I've wanted to remain evasive for them. And, as well, I'm not really sure. I originally had a figure in mind which would have meant losing (look away now if you'd rather not know) 120lbs - just over 8 and a half stone (I'm saying it quickly to try and gloss over the horrific reality of those figures.) I've since revised this to 112lbs or 8 stone (again, the horror) with a view to seeing how I feel when I get there. I recently met up with an old school friend who had lost weight for her wedding and was struck by how much older she looked - and I would rather carry a little bit more heft and get the occasional request for ID when buying wine. So by that reckoning I am nearly halfway through.

I'm bound to gain this week though - off to Manchester tonight to eat at Simon Rogan at The French. I'm too excited at the prospect of the food to get very upset by the currently distant chidings of the scales.

Monday, 31 March 2014

MPM: 31st March 2014

It may be the beginning of April, but the meal choices are a bit wintry in style this week, and very Britishy-comforty food type stuff.  I never really had school dinners very often, but if I had done, these are the kind of things that I would have wanted to eat.  We're away for a couple of nights next weekend and will be having the usual midweek soup night, and for the rest:
Toad in the hole with red onion gravy, braised Cavolo Nero and asparagus
Grilled pork chops with caramelised onion bubble-and-squeak
Game, red wine and mushroom pot pie with mash (we first had this a couple of weeks ago and there was enough filling for four pies, hence the reappearance.)
Cauliflower and macaroni "blue" cheese based on this recipe but subbing some of the Cheddar for Cashel Blue.
More meal planning fun over at Mrs M's.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Scales on Saturday - six months in

Weeks 1-25: -48lbs
This week: +1.25lbs
Total loss: 46.75lbs
Today is my 26th weigh in and it would have been nice to celebrate that half year milestone with a good result.  But it was not to be.  While I understand the gain in context of an indulgent weekend, I remain a little disappointed – the scales were hinting at a loss in the run up to this morning, the sly divils.  But, if this is to be a two step forward, one step back kind of journey then I’ll have to take it on the chin.
Half a year on (and hasn’t it flown by!) I am approaching a three and a half stone loss.  That’s not too shabby at all – the average works out at around 1.8 lbs a week, the top end of what anyone has a right to expect who is not living on chemical dust (TM Peridot).  It has slowed down since those heady, early days and I appear to have less leeway now than I did but, as my dear readers know, a big part of my life is enjoying eating out and I am (at the moment, at least) not prepared to give it up for the sake of weight loss, so I’ll just have to deal (TM young people).
I was very fortunate the my weight had yet to impact significantly on my health and yet there is no doubt that I feel a lot better for shedding nearly fifty pounds.  My fitness levels are still desultory (yes, I still need to tackle that and yes, I know that I write this on here with irritating regularity) but there has been a definite improvement in my energy levels and stamina which is nice.
There is still a long way to go.  I remember hitting the weight that I am now on the way up and feel utterly gargantuan which just goes to show how the mind plays tricks since at the moment I have some days when I feel positively svelte.  The truth is somewhere in between.  By any measure – BMI, waist size, the label in my trousers – I still have a lot of work to do.  I can’t afford to be complacent or to lose concentration and I have to be open to the possibility that the rate of loss will continue to slow down.  Without that weekly shot of validation from the scales, things are likely to get an awful lot of harder. 
I say it to other people and now I say it to myself – all you can do is keep on keeping on.  I think, whether a size 10 or a size 20, I’ll always be fighting my inner fat girl and some days she will win – and that’s ok; as long as those days are few and getting fewer then I will content myself with that.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Foodie Abroad: Spuntino's

I was already fairly sure that I liked Russell Norman, media styled “King of Soho Dining”.  But then I saw him on the BBC series “The Restaurant Man”, dispensing advice to aspiring restaurateurs, and this became a certainty.  He was witty and wise, had a very snazzy line in cardigans and (most importantly) was often to be seen writing busily in an elegant little notebook – any man with a proper appreciation for good stationery is a man that I wish to know.
This would still not be enough to induce with me to part with hard earned cash to eat in one of his venues were it not for the fact that they are very good indeed.  Russell Norman has a habit of creating restaurants that you really, really want to eat in.  They are trendy but not painfully so, stylised but with the substance to back the style up and genuinely appetising sounding menus which of course is the most important aspect of any restaurant.  Concept alone will not fill one’s boots.
We had already been to the original Polpo and to Mishkin’s and on Saturday we went to sniff out Spuntino’s – perhaps still on the tail end of our New York kick (it describes itself as a Brooklyn diner).  Fabulous stuff.  Not being particularly trendy we were more than happy to skip the queue and take one of the seats away from the bar area which meant that, despite the no booking policy, we had very little wait.  And waiting, to be honest, would have been no great hardship considering the excellent cocktails that the cheery bar staff were quite happy to hand you while you stood gazing longingly over the shoulders of fellow diners.  Let me tell you, the rhubarb sour was a thing of absolute beauty (always assuming that you like rhubarb and sour drinks – which we do). 
Food wise – Spuntino’s serves little dishes for sharing (or not) ranging from a selection of sliders (we tried all four) to some fresh looking salad plates (which we did not get around to ordering – D curled his lip at the thought, but I want to go back and check some of them out).  The truffled egg toast, which seems to have become something of a signature dish, was so amazingly good that we had to order a second one.  Nutty cheese, thick, sweet toast, a pool of golden yolk quivering in the centre, and that unmistakeable whiff of forest floor – it was just fantastically good, and I’d love to have a go at recreating it at home.

I don’t know whether I was still a bit full from the day before, but I found myself struggling earlier on than I would have liked and so a disturbingly large proportion of the menu remained unsampled (I even turned down the prospect of another drink after dinner in favour of heading home for a stomach soothing peppermint tea – unheard of!)  But we still found a corner for desserts and I am mightily glad we did.  The “peanut butter and jelly sandwich” was amazing – a blissfull combo of peanut butter parfait and raspberry compote, but the star (to my mind at least) was the brown sugar cheesecake.  This unassumingly beige dessert was sweet and creamy with a delicate hum of cinnamon spice – a perfect example of the cheesecake genre.  Worth the trip alone.
Mr Norman has recently opened a traditional pub which I will be sure to go and seek out next time I make it down South and, if I should happen to find him in there, perhaps doodling in a Moleskine, I will be sure to pull up a seat and explain to him in no uncertain terms why York would be the ideal location for a Northern branch of his empire.  In the meantime, Spuntino’s joins Polpo and Mishkin’s in the league of Restaurants I Wish Were Just Down The Road (but it is probably lucky, for the sake of my not inconsiderable waistline that they are not).

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Foodie Abroad: Dabbous

Dabbous is a restaurant that we have wanted to visit for ages and, this weekend, we finally did.  Following rave reviews from pretty much everyone who has ever eaten there, tables have not been easy to come by.  We ended up with a lunchtime rather than dinner slot but we have both agreed recently that this might, in fact, be preferable; I quite like emerging, blinking, into the afternoon sunshine, safe in the knowledge I have a good few hours to get on with the process of digesting umpteen courses.  Although talking of multiple courses, it is a mark of how spoiled your average fine diner is getting that we felt vaguely disappointed that we were presented with a tasting menu of seven courses and we got…seven courses.  We’ve got so used to the sneaky little extras that we now regard them as our due.  This minor gripe aside, £59 for the whole felt like remarkably good value. 
Before getting on to the actual food I have to take a minute to do an excited fan girl squeal about the basement bar area, which is apparently open to non diners.  I would definitely urge a trip along there for a peek at the superlative booze collection and a seriously good cocktail; I was only half joking when I told the barman that my “Dillusion” martini was the nicest thing I tasted all day. 
And so to our table upstairs, where we were cheek by jowl with our neighbours (French, appropriately nonchalant of expression throughout – eschewed cheese which we thought was jolly bad form).  The space is tight in the dining room and the style very much the modern, industrial feel that is becoming somewhat endemic – if you’re looking for hushed and hallowed halls, starched linen and leather bound menus, this is possibly not the place for you.  We opted for the tasting menu with nary a peek at the set lunch and also an absolutely fantastic English sparkling wine from Sussex, which is probably the nicest thing I have quaffed so far this year. 
The food, though, what of the food?  Well, I have no complaints.  When we came to mark the dishes out of ten afterwards (our new game to aid better comparisons across dining experiences – whether or not it works is probably debatable but it makes for enjoyable post dinner conversations) nearly everything was hitting the eights and nines.  The two palate cleanser courses (avocado in osmanthus and onion consommé, and poached rhubarb with lavender respectively) were, to our minds, the least satisfying plates – although they did the job, being both full of freshness and vim.  The pulled veal breast was an undoubted highlight, straddling the turn of the seasons between winter and spring admirably by combining lightness with savoury depth.  New season Jersey Royals, some no larger than a kitten’s paw, were perfectly celebrated, their musty sweetness enhanced rather than smothered by the velvety drape of the buttermilk sauce.  We also loved the combination of smoked halibut and celeriac – again the balance between lightness and shade was so cleverly done – and the barbecued octopus was a real revelation, inspiring us to get some cephalopods over charcoal as soon as the weather improves.
What else?  Oh, the cheese.  We were served a fondue of Spenwell cheese which had a fabulous hit of thyme to help cut through the richness - a genuine lick the bowl type of dish.  I really love the trend, which we’ve seen in a few places recently, for serving a single cheese or savoury rather than the more traditional cheeseboard.  And the dessert was lovely as well – a big, creamy, can’t-wipe-the-grin-off-your-face banana and custard éclair, it was a proper pudding which left us thoroughly sticky mouthed and content.
Overall, I thought that Dabbous, which could well have been a disappointment after all the intense hype, could have buckled under the weight of our expectations, bore up very well and I would be absolutely delighted to go back.  D thinks he might just about prefer Story (more testing is perhaps required) but for me, Dabbous was the more consistently enjoyable of the two not to mention possessed of a kick-ass cocktail bar.  Given how many people, possessed of far more discerning palates than I, have already lavished praise upon it, you probably don’t need a recommendation or otherwise from me.  But you have one anyway, such as it is.
39 Whitfield Street
020 7323 1544

Monday, 24 March 2014

MPM: 24th March 2014

After a lovely weekend away (gratuitous food porn posts to follow) I'm positively looking forward to climbing back on the WW wagon.  I don't know whether it is a result of me getting older, or wiser, or both, but I just can't eat and drink to excess anymore without it making me feel rather seedy - both mentally and physically. 

My daily points allowance has reduced by seven since I started back in September, which means I need to take a bit more care with planning the number of points that I consume during the day to enable me to keep eating the kind of evening meals I enjoy.  Soup and, as the weather gets nicer, salad are definitely the way forward for satisfyingly voluminous yet low point midday meals.  So with that in mind, tonight I will be preparing a batch of one of my favourite soups - creamy butternut squash and red pepper - for healthsome work lunches.  Sides can be adjusted according to what we are having for dinner.

There's been a little bit of a last minute change of plan this week because of the impulse purchase of an unassuming looking little black truffle purchased for just ten of your English pounds in Borough Market on Saturday.  Can I just say how much I love Borough Market?  It is probably a good thing that I do not live too close by as I suspect most of my wages would end up disappearing there.  Anyway, said fungus may have been cheap but he will not be good for long, so needs scoffing in the next couple of days.  Oh, the hardship.  With that in mind, we are having a bit of a vegetarian start to the week and getting steadily more carnivorous as the days go by:

Scrambled eggs on toasted English muffins with truffle shavings

Pasta with mixed mushrooms in truffle butter

Soup Night

Lamb biryani, using leftovers from Sunday's roast

Scandinavian style oxtail stew

More meal planning fun over at Mrs M's.