Tuesday, 31 December 2013

2013 - we hardly knew ye

Greetings, blog friends, from the Big Apple!  I write to you from a hotel room which contains little other than a very large television and a quite remarkably massive bed.  These Americans have got their priorities right.

Museum of Modern Art, NYC.  Plus, a hot dog vendor.
I had planned to do a carefully considered post about memories of 2013, top meals, top sandwiches, etc. but that's gone somewhat out of the window as I type this hurriedly before setting off to go and see the new World Trade Centre.  But I guess that you can tell from the location that the year is ending on a very different note to that on which it started and for that I am very thankful.

It turns out that my top meal of the year was taken in its very last few days.  Sorry, did I say top meal of the year?  I probably meant top meal of pretty much ever.  I'll tell you all about that when I get back.

I didn't post many recipes this year - possibly because I spent a lot of eating sandwiches.  I hope to do lots more next year and already have plenty of ideas for dishes that I want to, if not recreate, at least homage at home.  But I still have plenty of poundage to drop, despite finally getting my WW on in the last three months of the year, so I'll still be trying to make sure that things are relatively conducive to a calorie (or point) controlled eating plan.

So all the best to all of you for the New Year and can't wait to tell you about all of my adventures when I'm back in Blighty in 2014.

Sx

Thursday, 26 December 2013

A fairytale of...

Me: Happy Christmas random friendly type!  Did you have a good day?

RFT: Lovely thanks.

Me: Bodyweight in turkey, cheese and chocolate consumed?

RFT: Of course!  Got to be done at Christmas!  And you?

Me: Well, I certainly wasn't pro-pointing, that's for sure.  Although I did try to exercise a touch of restraint, especially in the face of some delicious Parmesan and thyme biscuits.  I only ate three!  Actually, that looks quite piggy written down. And only one portion of my beloved sausage meat stuffing (this year the mater went for a Tom Kerridge recipe with chestnuts and cranberries which was very tasty indeed).

RFT:  And did the family come up trumps vis a vis presents?

Me (nonchalantly): Not bad, not bad.  Chocolate enough to see me through until Easter.  Perfume.  A bit of sparkle, a soupcon of Jo Malone...oh, and a trip to New York.

RFT:  ??!?!?!?!?!????

Me:  Yep, flying out on Friday for a week in the Big Apple.  And, to celebrate my birthday on Saturday, we'll be having lunch in one of the best restaurants in not just the city but the entire world.

RFT:  Wow.  So WW is going to be taking a back seat until the new year.

Me:  I think it's fair to say that. 

Monday, 23 December 2013

What a difference a year makes

Although the blog entries for this time last year sound quite cheery, I wasn’t really a very happy camper. A bit like a Primark Christmas jumper, the appearance from a distance was festive but, up close, I was a bit sad and bobbly. And for all that I talked about “getting it together” in the New Year, and looking after myself properly, it didn’t really happen.

Being separated was one of the most painful, difficult things I have ever been through. I suppose it is a measure of my very privileged life that I can say that, but there it is. I love my husband very much and felt very bereft and lonely without him. More than that though, I felt like I had failed at being a wife, and, by extension, a woman. Yes, no doubt it looks and sounds melodramatic but, again, there it is.

I hope to do one final post on the CBT sessions I had earlier this year at some point as they came along at just the right time and helped me in a very meaningful way, which was unexpected. Such that, if (God forbid), such a thing were ever to happen again, I feel like I would be far better equipped to deal with it. I feel better equipped to deal with life in general. That has been 2013’s great gift to me – that, and the fact that I have been given a second chance to make my marriage work for which I am deeply and profoundly grateful.

The last couple of months have seen everything begin to come together with regards weight loss (and let’s not forget that is supposed to be the raison d’être of this particular blog) which is wonderful and I hope that success continues into the New Year. But I suspect it is an effect, rather than a cause, of my general sense of contentment and well being.

I certainly don’t think I have all the answers yet – I don’t suppose I ever will – and I think I have further work to do next year, especially with regards balancing all the disparate aspects of my life (journeys of self discovery are all very well, but if they lead to you losing a bit of focus at work then you end up spending the last couple of weeks before the Christmas holidays working very hard to ensure that you are on top of everything, and that eats in to mulled wine time). But, hey, that’s all part of the journey I suppose.

And speaking of journeys, thank you to all of you who have walked alongside me (in a virtual sense) this year for your company. It, you are always appreciated. In case I don’t get the chance to post again before the big day, can I just wish everyone who reads this blog a very, very, very merry Christmas and hope that 2014 brings you peace, joy and plenty of cake.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Recipe corner: Corned beef hash

 

Goodness.  We used some of our home made corned beef for a hash this evening and it was ever so, ever so good.  It was the kind of good that makes me very sad for the people who will never get to eat it.  So my Christmas present to you, dearest reader, is the recipe.

The thing is, I say my recipe, it is very much akin to St Delia's recipe.  One of the big differences is that the meat in ours was the home made sort rather than the tinned sort which makes a distinct textural difference - and you'll notice from the method below that it allows, nay encourages, you to have two different textures of beef through the hash which is delicious.  We also went for poached eggs over Ms Smith's suggested fried which I think vastly preferable - the yolk runs into the hash and adds fabulous rich gooeyness.

D thinks that this portion is on the small side.  I agree, that one probably could eat more.  For the Weight Watcher who does not wish to scale up, I would say the addition of some green veg (steamed spinach, knob of butter?) would add volume with few additional points.  Sizewise though, it would be excellent for a multi course dinner party main, we think, with an elegantly positioned dollop of home made brown sauce and some finely chopped pickles. It is excellent, full stop.

Ingredients

150g corned beef - shred 50g and cut the rest into cubes
Tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp Worcester sauce
Tsp dried thyme
Pinch dried chilli flakes
Salt, pepper

250g potatoes, cubed

25ml sunflower oil
Large onion, thinly sliced

2 medium eggs
Tbsp white wine vinegar

Serves 2, 13 pro points per portion

Combine the meat with the mustard, Worcester, herbs and spices.  You can do this in advance and leave it to sit for a while.  You may think that it appears too saucy at this stage, but don't worry.

Put the potatoes in a large pan and cover with water.  Salt well.  Bring to the boil and bubble away for three minutes.  Drain.  Combine with the saucy (oooo-er) beef.  Season - minimal salt, lots and lots of black pepper.

Heat the oil in a large pan - you want a decent surface area so don't skimp.  When the oil is hot, add the onion and cook until golden and beginning to brown. Add the meat and potato mixture and spread out as far as possible.  Leave to cook for a while - you want to get a decent crust.

While this is cooking, bring a pan of water to a brisk boil.  Do NOT add salt but DO add a capful of white wine vinegar.  Break the eggs into ramekins. 

Once your meat and potato is looking crusty and delicious, tip the eggs into the water and set a time for one and a half minutes.  While they cook, spoon out the hash (we used chef's rings because we are....middle class).  Top the hash with the eggs and season to taste before serving.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

‘Twas the weigh in before Christmas

Weeks 1-11: -27 lbs
This week: -2lbs
Total loss: 29lbs


Two stone achieved plus a pound for luck – and the half case of fizz is mine! Mwah hah hah.

No more official WW weigh ins now until January 8th. If I am feeling particularly masochistic I will keep an eye on how the home scales are going. Although I did hop on them the other day to be greeted with the message “Lo”, which, while satisfyingly Biblical, is not particularly useful.

Actually, one of my aims for the next two weeks is to enjoy Christmas without going over the top but also without pangs of guilt. Back in days of yore when I succeeded in becoming something of a skinny Minnie it was only through exerting the sort of sheer bloody mindedness that turns some people into Olympic athletes. If only I could use my powers for good, eh? Seriously, you do need to be committed and focused to lose weight, but when committed and focused becomes obsessed and rigid then you have gone too far.

So if you’ll excuse me, I’m just off to investigate the tin of Roses that is lurking in the office kitchen. I may be some time…

Monday, 16 December 2013

How to make corned beef (and you really, really should)

Best corned beef sandwich EVER...
Corned beef and pickle sandwiches were an absolute staple in my household when I was growing up.  OK you risked bleeding to death every time you tried to open a can (or at least I did) and it looked kind of weird (a friend of mine once described it as "nipple meat" which put me off for a little while) but still, delicious.  I don't know why I stopped eating it but I certainly can't remember the last time I bought it.

D, for reasons best known to himself, had long cherished the notion of making some corned beef at home.  It's odd - it is not something that it would EVER  have occurred to me to cook, primarily because it is one of those things, liked baked beans, that only exists as a canned foodstuff in my head.  The idea of taking a piece of beef and....well, corning it seemed odd. 

And what does corning refer to, I hear you ask?  Well, thanks to my friend and yours, Wikipedia, I can tell you that it is a reference to the coarse, granular salt used to cure the beef.  There doesn't appear to be a particular difference between "salt beef" and "corned beef" although pastrami, another cured beef product, is apparently smoked rather than boiled to give it a particular flavour.  So there you go. 

Anyway, it turns out that corned beef is absolutely delicious.  It tastes like the canned stuff but somehow amplified...meatier, spicier...and far more tender.  It's so good that we just ate corned beef sandwiches for tea on Friday, Saturday and Sunday with nothing more than slices of meat, mustard and dill pickles, and I am rather sad that I won't be having them again tonight.  Later this week we intend to make corned beef hash - I'll report back if it is good. 

Incidentally, in terms of points, I've been reckoning on 7 pro points per 100g cooked weight based on nutritional information I've found online.  50g is more than enough for a decent sandwich filling which works out at 3pps. 

Ingredients

Pickling spices:
1 tbsp allspice berries
1 tbsp mustard seeds
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp dried chilli flakes
1 tbsp whole cloves
1 tbsp whole black peppercorns
9 cardamom pods
6 dried bay leaves, crumbled
2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 stick cinnamon
1 1/2 star anise

Brine:
4.5 litres of water
2 handfuls of sea salt (we always buy Maldon)
5 tsp pink curing salt
3 tbsp pickling spices
110g brown sugar

Brisket:
3kg piece of brisket
1 tbsp pickling spices

Some notes first of all.

Yes, 3kg of brisket is a lot.  Ours cooked down to about 1.7kg. This is still a lot.  The beef will keep for a couple of weeks in the fridge or can be portioned up and frozen.  It is delicious, and brisket is not a terribly expensive cut so I recommend making a load but, of course, I would assume this recipe would work perfectly well scaled down.

The pink curing salt is available online.  We bought it here.  The original recipe does state that you can make the beef without - the main difference will be to the colour which will be less vividly pink.

You need a BIG container for such a big piece of meat.  We used a large cake carrier Lock and Lock which looked huge - but could only get about half of the specified amount of liquid in even so.  The beef still worked beautifully but D did turn it every day to ensure that it all sides were getting well brined.

So here's what you do:

Toast the allspice, mustard seeds, coriander seeds, chilli flakes, cloves, peppercorns and cardamom pods in a dry pan over a high heat until the mustard seeds start to pop and the spices are fragrant.  Transfer to a pestle and mortar and lightly crush.  Stir in the ginger and the bay.

Now add 3 tbsp of the spice mix plus the cinnamon and star anise to the water in a large pan along with the sugar and salt.  Bring to the boil then remove from the heat.  Allow the liquid to come to room temperature and then put it in the fridge to chill.

Place your beefy behemoth in your chosen container and pour over the brine.  Cover and keep somewhere cool - the fridge or, in this weather, the garage.  Brine for at least 5 days - ours was in their for 10.  Turn the meat regularly.

When you're ready to cook, remove the meat from the brine and rinse with cold water.  We cooked ours in a slow cooker which was perfect for this type of joint.  We added a small quantity of water to the pot with a tablespoon of the pickling spice and then sat in the meat and gave it 1 hour on high followed by 9 hours on low heat at which point it was falling apart and the house smelled like a deli. Wrap in foil and rest for at least an hour before serving.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Weigh in Wednesday: 11th December 2013

Weeks 1-10: -24.5lbs
This week: -2.5lbs
Total loss: 27lbs


D promised me half a case of fizz if I managed to lose two stone by Christmas. He is now slightly worried...

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Behind the curtain

Yesterday I went into a changing room and tried on some items of clothing.

Pauses while majority of readers think "???!??" and "Er...well done?"

But this is something of a big deal. Let me explain - I haven't tried on an item of clothing in a changing room for at least a couple of years. I don't know who invented the changing room - all pale, watery lighting, always slightly over heated and under sized - but it was not someone who was interested in boosting the ego of women. And when you don't really like looking at yourself in a mirror anyway, the prospect of seeing yourself in several different, unflattering angles simultaneously is not one that warms the cockles.

In any case, I'm not someone who takes a lot of interest in clothes when I'm bigger. There are some amazing plus size style bloggers out there who carry off dressing for curves with aplomb but me, I'm more about camouflage. Although it's fundamentally impossible to camouflage the fact that you're shaped like a Weeble.

Anyway, yesterday I went into a changing room! And I tried on an utterly frivolous outfit - a frothy skirt and a jumper with sequin detail. I didn't buy it. But I looked at it from every dodgy angle, noted that a semblance of waist was emerging, hummed and hawed and ultimately decided that it wasn't right and put it back. Like a completely normal person.

Talk about your small victories, right? But me, I'll take them wherever I can.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Restaurant Story - tall tales of delicious food

Restaurant Story is, D informed me as we walk from London Bridge station, on the site of a former public convenience.  We debate using scatological humour in the title of the blog post.  We have had several drinks by the time this conversation takes place, and the puns become more and more lame the further along Tooley Street we get.

We managed to walk past Story once but, when we finally find it, wonder how we could have missed it.  It looks a bit like a house from a fairy tale, incongruous on the London street.  Inside it is warm and bright.  Books line the walls, making it feel curiously cosy considering the size and nature of the space and the fact that there is a glass walled, brightly lit kitchen set to one side of the dining area (a waiter later tells us that the main kitchen is downstairs so this may be chiefly for show and plating).


The menu is simple - six courses or ten courses.  We, of course, opt for ten, despite the fact we have advanced notice that the table is only ours for two hours.  As it turns out we are there for over three, and a good thing too, for while only ten courses are advertised, we tot up that we actually chomp our way through twenty two platefuls.  I've read reviews that suggest each dish is linked to the "story" theme but I think this conceit must have been dispensed with, or at least relaxed, by the time we go and while some have nods to memory and nostalgia, in general the food is best described as very modern, very respectful of its component parts and, occasionally, very challenging.  We loved it.


The meal kicks off with a few quick fire "snack" rounds.  It's difficult to identify a favourite.  The crispy cod skin is remarkable - like a very thin, fishy version of a pork scratching.  I adore the radishes filled with kelp butter and deeply savoury rabbit "cakes" while D is particularly taken with the whole prawns - head and tail roasted, body raw - that need to be popped in a single mouthful, and the oyster and rye on courgette flower. 


I was excited to try the "bread and dripping course", which I'd already read about online, although more for the novelty value than the actual taste.  This has to be the kitschiest presented course I have ever eaten anywhere - a candle is brought to the table and lit when you first sit down:


and after you've finished the snacks, warm bread and jellied veal tongue and pickles are brought along for you to (get this) dunk in the melted candle wax!  Which is actually beef dripping!  Beautiful novelty aside, it turns out that beef dripping smeared on slightly salty bread is a Very Good Thing indeed.  In fact, one of my biggest criticisms of Story is that they do not bring us more bread after we have demolished the first couple of rolls.  They probably want us to save room.

But, since we're on the subject - let's talk about the negatives for a moment.  Two of the dishes on the ten course menu I had issues with.  The pig, chicken and langoustine, which I expected to adore, was not nice - an overly set chicken mousse wrapped in squidgily gelatinous pigs' trotter that really suffered from a lack of textural contrast.  And the prune tea with lovage and milk - well, it turned out that the milk component was milk skin draped over the fruit. I found this deeply unpleasant.  I am a serial custard avoider because of the possibility of skin. Now, I accept that both of these quibbles are primarily down to personal preference as opposed to a lack of skill in the kitchen.  And the thing is, when you've got an exciting young chef experimenting with flavours and textures and techniques then you are going to get hits and misses - I remember vividly not enjoying at least one course when we went to both The Fat Duck and Noma and these are regarded as two of the finest restaurants in the world.  Tasting menus mean that you end up eating things that you would never normally order, and sometimes this means an absolute taste sensation and sometimes it means that it's not quite your cup of tea, but being open minded and accepting the challenge of the new is all part of the experience.

And the highs at Story were really very high indeed.  The venison with yeast and elderberry, oh, it was just fantastic:


Plus one of the unexpected real treats on the menu turned out to be one of the dishes that sounded the least flashy - potato, turnip and coal oil:


The potato was as whipped and smooth as it is possible for a potato to be, with peppery kicks from the raw turnip and deep savoury notes from the coal oil.  It was blissful.  Actually, the only thing that could possibly have improved either of these two courses would have been to serve a dollop of the potato on the side of the venison. 

Desserts, overall, were the least successful part of the meal to my mind.  There were some interesting flavour combinations - who would have thought that almond and dill work so well together in a sweet context:


And I loved the sherberty sourness of the sea buckthorne pre-dessert palate cleanser.  But we thought that the Scandinavian influence was very apparent in the puddings which is a little alien to the English palate - and seems a shame given this island's fantastic heritage of rib sticking puds.  Again, this may be more of a matter of personal taste, but I would have loved (especially given the Story USP) to see something along the lines of gingerbread houses and chocolate soldiers or some riffs on British dessert classics (like Simon Rogan's truly phenomenal stiffy tacky pudding).

The petits fours were fabulous though - yellow plum puree with buttermilk foam served in school milk bottles with stripy straws:


And Mr Tunnock would have been proud at the rose and raspberry flavoured take on a teacake.

Minor gripes aside, Restaurant Story is the kind of place that reminds me why I love modern food and clever, modern chefs.  I can't wait to go back.  Although next time I will be taking along some bread rolls in my handbag.... 

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Recipe corner - partridge with bacon, lentils and parsnip puree


Sigh.  Yet again food photography that makes perfectly decent meals look like....well, slightly nondescript plates full of goo.  Perhaps I need to hire Lesley to be my photographer on a permanent basis.  Or take more time and trouble over the whole endeavour.  The thing is, when I've got to this (indicates upwards) stage, I want to eat!  And Strictly is on pause and I need to find out whether this is finally the week that Abbey trips over her own feet.

Anyway, this was a highly delicious weekend dinner that I thoroughly recommend.  It requires several pans and a bit of time, but pretty much everything can be prepared in advance and then heated through while the meat cooks.  Talking of the meat, I managed to slightly overdo mine (partridge breasts are very small) so I've reduced the cooking time in the recipe below but keep an eye on it if you have a particularly enthusiastic oven.

Ingredients

4 small partridge breasts
2 rashers of streaky bacon
25g butter
Several sprigs of fresh thyme
Salt, pepper

75g dried Puy lentils
Rasher of streaky bacon
Stick of celery
2 cloves of garlic
Tsp olive oil
100ml red wine
500ml (ish) chicken or vegetable stock
2 tsp red wine vinegar
Tsp juniper berries
Bay leaf
Small bunch of thyme
Salt, pepper

3 medium parsnips
250ml skimmed milk
15g Parmesan cheese
Salt, pepper, fresh nutmeg

Serves 2, 21 pro points per portion

For the lentils: Warm the oil through in a large pan (the lentils will cook better if the pan has a big surface area).  Finely chop the celery, garlic and bacon.  When the oil is hot, tip in the bacon and vegetables and cook until the veg are soft and the bacon is golden.  Then add the lentils and stir well to coat in the bacon fat.

Pour in the red wine and bring up the heat to reduce it quickly and furiously.  Lightly crush the juniper berries with the blade of a knife or the back of a spoon.  Add to the pan along with the thyme and the bay leaves and then pour in the stock and the vinegar.  Ensure that the lentils are well covered with liquid - if not, then you can top up with more water.  Season very well and then reduce the heat and simmer for at least 35 minutes until the liquid has all but evaporated and the lentils are tender.  Lentils tend to be variable little creatures so be prepared for it to take longer, and, if the liquid looks to be boiling dry, add a splash more.

For the parsnips: Peel and slice and then put in a saucepan, covered with the milk.  Cook over a very gentle heat.  The milk should be at a bare simmer throughout - any higher and it will catch on the bottom of the pan leading to a nasty burned milk smell in the kitchen and a very long washing up job.  The parsnips need to be falling apart soft - this will take 20-30 minutes.  Transfer the lot to a blitzer along with the grated Parmesan cheese, seasoning and a hefty grating of nutmeg.  Whizz to a smooth puree.  You could then pass it through a sieve if you're feeling extra cheffy.

For the partridge: I would recommend roasting these in a little foil tray - it saves on washing up.  Whatever you use, make sure it is not completely flat or you are liable to end up with melted butter all over the bottom of your oven.

Bring the butter to room temperature and then season well and mash in the thyme leaves.  Smear the butter over the partridge breasts.  Reserving a dab to butter the roasting receptacle.

Cover the bacon rasher with cling film and using a rolling pin (or similar) give it a good bash.  Cut the rashers in half horizontally and drape over the buttered breasts.  Transfer to the roasting tray.  To roast, preheat the oven to 220 degrees and then cook for 25 minutes.  Allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving with the parsnip puree and lentils, drizzled with the melted butter.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Playing fast and lose: WW versus 5:2

If I have to diet (and, sadly, I do) then I want to do so it a way that doesn't make me miserable.  Or, in a way that makes me as un-miserable as it is possible to be while restricting the delicious foodstuffs I can chuck down my neck.  I choose Weight Watchers because it allows me to have pretty much anything as long as I account for it.  Of course you can't do this without spending quite a large proportion of your time poring over trackers doing food maths.  This is one of the reasons that some people hate Weight Watchers.

The idea of 5:2 is seductive.  OK, for two days a week you have to do a bit of planning and counting to bring your food consumption down to the requisite calories (500 for a woman, 600 for a man) but the rest of the time you are freed from the shackles and you can eat anything!  Anything at all!  And you'll lose weight and live longer and be cleverer!  Hurrah!

D has been doing 5:2 recently.  We've been eating a lot of soup.  And, keen to maintain my run of good results on the scales, I have been tempted by the idea of doing some sort of WW / 5:2 hybrid.  Given that last weekend we were spending a couple of nights down in London, and on one of those nights we would be tucking away a ten course tasting menu, I decided to do an experiment.  I decided that I would do two fast days, two holi-days and then for the rest of the week would stick to my WW daily allowance, and see what the scales would say to that.

Fast day 1
Calories consumed: 497 (13 Pro Points)
Moments I have spent cursing my bright idea: most of them

Here's the thing.  500 calories is not many.  And WW gets one so used to the idea of "free" fruit and veg, relying on it to add volume to the plate and to take the edge off one's appetite, it felt like a complete and utter affront to have to account for a portion of raspberries, a side salad, a satsuma.  And these are all things that I enjoy.  But I find myself weighing up whether I was willing to "spend" the calories on them.

What is abundantly clear is that fasting does not improve my mood.  In fact it turns me into a complete and utter cow.  D insists on an early supper, hoping a bowl of soup would have a restorative effect.  But it was like chucking pennies into the Grand Canyon.  I am HUNGRY.  I don't want soup.  I resent the soup.  I resent D.  I resent the stupid diet.  And, what's more, I was full of steely resolve to eat until I could eat no more the following day. 

Morning after fast day 1
Calories consumed (at 8am): more than yesterday
Moments I have spent praising the utter delicousness of food: legion

I expected to wake up having consumed half my pillow in the night.  As it was, slightly more hunger pangs than usual (I don't generally do breakfast and seldom fancy solid food before at least ten o clock).  We are travelling down to London today so decided a decent breakfast was in order - D was despatched to the Sainsbury's Local for sausages and bread and sandwiches were inhaled.

Bliss. 

Today is the day of the ten course tasting menu, so hopefully will banish all the scary memories of yesterday.  Interestingly enough, despite yesterday's resolve, after I have eaten breakfast I am sated and eat little until dinner.  I do not notice being any hungrier than usual. 

Fast day 2
Calories consumed: 413 (11 Pro Points)
Moments spent awake: few

New approach to today.  I spend most of it asleep as a distraction.  I sleep late, I doze in the car travelling back to Leeds and when we get home I have a substantial afternoon nap.  When I wake up it is past four.  I feel physically quite weak (this could well be psychological - I doubt very much sixteen hours without food can have that much of an impact) and, although hungry, can't immediately be bothered to make myself food. I drink tea, and sit listlessly on the sofa like a Victorian consumptive.

WW day 1

35 pro points is such.  A.  Lot.  In fact, I catch myself hoarding them like a miser and then get to the end of the day with some left in the bank.  Still in fasting mentality it would seem.  I force myself to eat a Dairy Milk Snowman (5 pro points of sickly seasonal bliss).

And the scores on the doors...

Two and a half pounds off which is a sterling result given the weekend.  But, but, but.  The misery of fasting.  To all of you out there who do this week in, week out, I salute you.  It is not for me.  Still, it has given me a renewed appreciation for the luxury of my daily points allowance and, y'know, food.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Don't tell Titus (that it's Weigh In Wednesday)

Saltaire and a December sky
Weeks 1-9: -22lbs
This week: -2.5lbs
Total loss: 24.5lbs


I'm on a pre-holiday roll people!  Which is lovely, albeit slightly unnerving.  It was a potentially challenging week but the scales have remained kind.  Perhaps they're saving up for the mother of all gains over Christmas.

I celebrated by heading to Saltaire to start some Christmas shopping.  It's a beautiful place and a fantastic source of the kind of gewgaws (love that word) that everyone (me) wants to find in their stocking.  When last I wrote about it, Sarah H (hello!) recommended Don't Tell Titus as a venue for lunch.  And it was, indeed, very nice, serving up a mean fish finger sandwich.  More places should serve fish finger sandwiches in my humble opinion.  The world would be a happier place.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Weigh in Wednesday: 27th November 2013

Weeks 1-8: -20lbs
This week: -2lbs
Total loss: 22lbs


It feels not a little ironic to be writing a post about more success having just polished off a bag of Doritos.  I have developed the slightly dubious habit of not eating very much on weigh in day to ensure I'm light for the scales (although I suspect not eating after noon for a six pm weigh in is a bit like taking off your glasses - ultimately makes practically no difference).  The upshot is that I always get to Wednesday evening with a luxurious amount of points to spend in the Sainsbury's Local round the corner, where I stand in front of the confectionary aisle wide eyed with wonder.

Anyhoo, another good result this week.  I suspect, although I haven't been back through the archives to check, that this is the most sustained amount of success, both at tracking and physically losing, since WWF records began.  Which is tremendous.  I think, for me, feeling emotionally very stable and happy at the moment - partly down to circumstances and partly down to the tremendous benefits I've derived from the CBT sessions I've been having - is playing a huge part.  I feel more peaceful and together than I have....well, perhaps ever.  Peaceful and together not being words that immediately spring to the minds of my nearest and dearest when they think of me.  I want to think some more about that and maybe write about it in the near future.

Challenges ahead this weekend on the WW front, but good times on the family one, so I shall await next week's result with...interest.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

How to cook perfect pork belly

Pork belly is a very serious business.  When cooked properly, I think it is one of the tastiest cuts of meats there is.  I love the contrast of the tender meat, the gently wibbling fat and the crispy, salty skin.  Given that it is very, very pointy (14 points or 513 calories for 100g raw weight) it can only be an occasional treat which means that when I do have it, it has to be done right.  It is for this reason that I have stopped ordering it in restaurants because too many people do it wrong and you end up with something pale and flabby and deeply unappealing.

So here is your guide to perfectly cooked pork belly, with a luscious gravy that will probably cause you to lick the pattern off your best china.  As I said this is a serious business - you will need to start it at least one day before you intend to eat it, subjecting yourself to a whole world of denial induced pain as the house starts to smell like hog roast - but it is worth it, I promise you. When it comes to such matters I cannot tell a lie.

So, the day before you intend to feast.  Preheat your oven to 170 degrees and remove your slab of pig from the fridge to bring it up to room temperature.  Take a large roasting tin and into it place a couple of cooking apples, quartered and cored, two or three onions, peeled and halved, three or four whole, unpeeled cloves of garlic and some sprigs of thyme (you could also add other herbs at this point - some sage leaves perhaps, or some lemon thyme for a hint of citrus zing).  Add a good splash (about 50mls) of dry cider and some salt and pepper.  This is the trivet on which you will rest the pork while it roasts.

Trivet!
Take the pork and, using a very sharp knife, score the skin and massage in about a tablespoon of oil before sprinkling liberally with good sea salt.  Now lay it atop your herby trivet, cover the whole roasting tray with tin foil and place in the oven for 90 minutes.  After this time, remove it, baste with the cidery juices and return to the oven, still within its foil tent for a 60 minutes, then turn the oven off altogether and let it sit for a further 30 minutes.

Take the pork out of the oven, transfer it to a large dish and allow it to cool completely. 

Once it is cool, it is time to press the meat.  This will compress the fat into an even, unctuous layer.  Wrap it in greaseproof paper and sit it skin side up.  Put a second large dish over the top and weigh it down - tins of beans are ideal for this.  It needs to be pressed for at least 12 hours, preferably longer.

You will also want to transfer all the delicious remains of your fruit, veg and herb trivet into a saucepan, as this will form the basis of your gravy.  Anything that has really burnt on to the roasting dish leave to the hands of the washer upper and don't try too hard to scrape it off as it will add a bitter, acrid note to the sauce

One day, this will be gravy.  Honest.
After pressing, your pork should look something like this:


You can now cut it into portions.  You could try and eat the whole thing yourself but it would probably make you sick.  Or fat.  Or both.

Prior to serving you need to do a final cook to get the top seriously crispy and the meat warmed through.  Turn the oven on to a low heat - about 150 degrees, and heat an oven proof pan on the hob.  Place the meat in, skin side down and cook for about twenty minutes before transferring to the oven for a final ten minutes.  You can also finish your gravy while the meat is cooking - to the scrapings from the roasting tray add 250mls of cider and another 250mls of chicken stock.  Reduce briskly by about two thirds and then pass through a sieve.  Next time we make this we intend to experiment with a beure manie (butter and flour paste) to thicken it slightly.

If you go in for very cheffy presentation, you can use chef rings to cut through the meat after its first pressing to end up with an elegant cylinder of meat.  Keeping the pieces in the rings while doing the final cook will not only ensure retention of shape but will also guarantee a thin, almost toffee like crispy layer.


Here the meat is served with skordalia - a lemony, garlicky potato puree made with milk and olive oil.  Good old mash would be glorious, of course, but the sharpness of the skordalia works really well with the richness of the meat.

Pork belly is emphatically NOT diet food.  That piece pictured above came in at an eye watering 26 pro points - that is most of a day's allowance.  However, for an occasional treat it is hard to beat, and if a day or so abstinence is required to enjoy it guilt free then so be it (although feel free to remind me of that sentiment if the scales spit in my face next Wednesday and I come on here to moan at you).

Bon appetit!

Monday, 25 November 2013

A rough approximation of a meal planning Monday

I may have kept on top of the diet and the blogging this month but I can't help thinking that the list of blog post titles, alternating as they do between meal planning and weighing in, make for rather dull reading.  Note to self: must do better.

There is excitement to come this week.  At the weekend we are travelling down South.  The primary reason for this trip is so that I can meet my brand new niece.  However it seemed foolish, foolish I tell you, to miss out on the opportunity to see if we could get a reservation somewhere nice and we managed to secure a table at Story, about which I am terribly over excited.  We would have liked to get to Dabbous but it still seems to be very difficult to get a reservation unless you are...I dunno, the Pope.  Or hold incriminating photos of the maître d'. 

But as for the rest of it, the meal planning, that is less exciting.  D is currently 5:2-ing and we've found the easiest evening meal for these nights is soup.  And then he's away with work for two evenings so I will be eating tuna pasta because I love it and he doesn't see the point.  I think I need to do some more research around meals suitable for fasting to spruce things up a bit - any tips as to good online resources would be much appreciated.

As always, more meal planning fun over at Mrs M's.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Weigh in Wednesday: 20th November 2013

Weeks 1-7: -17.5lbs
This week: -2.5lbs
Total loss: 20lbs


Another solid loss this week – hurrah! I wanted to get a good result as this was the last week prior to Christmas that was entirely engagement free. Between now and the new year I’m aiming, pretty much, for damage limitation. Another pound would be nice – that would be one more shiny seven – and another pound and a half would take me into the next stone bracket down so a couple of very modest goals to keep in mind but I’m not going to stress out too much. I’ve made a good start and proved to myself that I can do it; I can follow the plan, I can lose weight, I can succeed, so if there is a slight December related hiccup it is not the end of the world.

Monday, 18 November 2013

MPM: 18th November 2013



This weekend reminded me of why I love Weight Watchers and also why it can be a right royal pain in the behind. The positives first: three very delicious dinners (moules frites, spaghetti carbonara, oxtail and chorizo stew with mash) consumed comfortably within points demonstrates that with planning and forethought you can pretty much have your cake (or your pasta or your frites) and eat it and lose weight. BUT, tramping round Liverpool town centre on a Saturday afternoon, dodging vast swathes of teenagers out to spend their pocket money and getting increasingly grumpy from low blood sugar, I had to concede that it does not allow for an awful lot of spontaneity, especially if you choose to “spend” large quantities of points on evening meals. I was so disgusted that I ate a Malteser reindeer (4 pro points - very nice indeed) and sulked a little bit.

I’m not giving up or conceding, and I recognise that, given my issues with weight I will probably have to count points for the rest of my life and for the most part I have made my peace with that. It really doesn’t take that much effort. But I do sometimes wish that I had the naturally inbuilt sense of balance of the naturally slim person (not to mention the twenty six inch waist and neat buttocks).

Ah well, onto this week. Friday and Saturday are taken up with (gasp!) socialising. There will be food and drink consumed. There may be a sore head along the way. Sunday is likely to be spend eating dust. The rest of the week will be spent on slightly less punitive damage control. And the meal plan goes something like this:

Butternut squash and tarragon soup

Chicken and mushroom pasta bake

Fish cake in a
bun(toasted sandwich thin) with salad (D’s regular night out)

Pork loin steaks with cauliflower cheese

As always, more meal planning fun over at Mrs M’s.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

In which we go to Birmingham and have dinner at Purnell's

Purnell’s is not a restaurant that I ever had particularly on my radar - chiefly because it is in Birmingham and I am not.  But, D, much to his disgust, not only had to work on his birthday this year but, what is more, had to do so in Birmingham. So we decided to make the best of an unfortunate set of circumstances (work may be dull but it is the means by which we get money to play) and hit the town.  Although not to paint it red because I am incapable of painting anything any colour but the palest shade of baby pink these days – I blame being in my fourth decade.  In fact, we confined our pre dinner drinking to a couple of sneaky halves in Brewdog.  I think I’ve mentioned that D has, in the last few years, developed a real interest in real ales and Brewdog is a favourite of both his and my brother (who, like Remmington Steele, liked it so much that he bought shares in the company).  Incidentally, the Birmingham branch is particularly fabulous – or whatever adjective is more appropriate to the carefully cultivated, industrial style grubbiness of the interior.

But Purnell’s.  We had the tasting menu, of course (here called “the Tour”) with the matching wine which pushed the price up into what I like to call “Eeep” territory.  Which is ok for birthdays.  And they do have a set 3 course lunch menu for £30 which looks very nice indeed.  For I would heartily recommend that, should you ever find yourself in Birmingham, you pay Purnell’s a visit.  The food was delicious, the wines thoughtfully chosen and interesting, the staff a delight, the atmosphere relaxed and unstilted.

Bread arrived at the table shortly after we did and throughout the course of the evening we demolished nearly an entire loaf of this pain de campagne, which came, as unprepossessing as you like, with whipped butter and a little pile of rock salt crystals.  While appearing plain when compared to the elaborately flavoured bakes that some places send out, it was crisp and light and utterly delicious – perfect for plate mopping purposes.  And, apparently, baked in house daily.  We were off to a good start.  A good start that continued when we were presented by an amuse of miniature baked potatoes and watercress mayonnaise.  The chef advised that we use our fingers.  We were more than happy to do so.
Bread!
Simplistic, almost rustic, presentation was not a constant.  Some of the courses were more elaborate: the “Remoulade 2012”, for example, came as three individual constituent parts with instructions as to how to eat them (I know that some people hate this kind of faffy eating but I generally find it amusing).  However, the stand out dish for both of us was the monkfish with red lentil dahl and coriander and coconut cream, which was back at the plainer end of the spectrum.  The combination of the peppery plump flakes of fish with the soft, yielding spice of the lentils was utterly delicious.  I believe that this dish won the fish course in an early series of Great British Menu and a recipe can be found on the BBC site here.  Expect to see it popping up in a menu plan soon.
Monkfish!
The only course that was slightly underwhelming was the cheese.  It was fine, just a little unexciting.  Perhaps we have cheese ennui?  How terrible, if so!  But the first of the two puddings, “Mint Choccy Chip” tasted like a Peppermint Aero as made by angels, and the second included the richest, sweetest, silkiest vanilla crème brulee that I can ever remember eating – served in an egg shell.  So I was perfectly willing to forgive and forget.
Mint choccy chip - complete with minty fog
 
Egg! 
I can’t imagine we will find ourselves in the vicinity of Purnell’s again in the near future which is a shame because the food and, indeed, the experience, was a pleasure from start to finish.  I shall content myself by attempting to recreate the masala spiced monkfish and staring intently at eggs in the hope that the power of wishful thinking can insert vanilla custard into the shells.  In the meantime should you, gentle reader, be celebrating a birthday, an anniversary or a Tuesday in Birmingham, I would highly commend it to you as a destination.

Purnell's
55 Cornwall Street
Birmingham
B3 2DH

0121 212 9799

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Weigh in Wednesday: 13th November 2013

Weeks 1-6: -14.5lbs
This week: -3lbs
Total loss: -17.5lbs

And this just in - Friday night fish and chips conducive to weight loss!

Early weigh in for me today and it may well be that I am slightly lighter at 7:45 am than I am at 6 pm but I'll take that on the chin next week and for now will just enjoy my result.

I had a slight wobble on Sunday evening - more of a minor tantrum really. I'm not sure why, for the most part I have been eating well and feeling happy and certainly not deprived. It passed fairly quickly with a dose of Studio Ghibli but I need to keep an eye on it - I do not want to risk a major blip between now and Christmas.

Monday, 11 November 2013

MPM: 11th November 2013

I was sitting writing up the plan (in my special meal plan fridge notebook, natch) yesterday morning when caught D looking at me with an amused twinkle. "You do realise," said he, "That the people who read your blog will probably fall over at the sight of a meal plan which actually involves cooking."

So, dearest readers, you have been duly warned. This week's meal plan is brought to you by the very heat of my oven and sweat of my brow (which, owing to an unfortunate medication side effect, can be very sweaty indeed.)


It's a quiet week this week, although some excitement tomorrow when we have two new Ikea units delivered and the recipe books currently piled up on the floor can be stacked on an actual shelf. And amidst all the nest building, we will mostly be eating:

Pasta pesto with courgette ribbons and peas

Spinach and red lentil Dahl with roast chicken, basmatic rice and naan

Moules frites

Spaghetti Carbonara

Oxtail slow cooked with Rioja and chorizo, mashed potatoes, broad beans tossed in garlic butter.

Look at that - almost worthy of a food blog! Head over to Mrs M's for more meal planning fun.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Weigh in Wednesday: 6th November 2013

Weeks 1-5: -14 lbs
This week: -0.5 lbs
Total loss: -14.5 lbs

After weeks of big losses, when I saw the number on the scales tonight I prepared myself for a wave of disappointment.  It never came.  Actually, I'm very, very pleased.  I feel now that those big losses have been consolidated if that makes a whit of sense?  I'm also conscious that a multi course tasting menu with supplementary cheese course and matching wine flight probably equates to a billionty one points so I've more than made up for last Wednesday's indulgence.

Onwards, onwards and downwards.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Classic Recipe Corner: Sage and onion stuffing

I’d love to preface this post with some beautiful shots of a freshly roasted chicken, perhaps some artfully strewn herb sprigs, a potato or two. But I can’t because, er, I forgot. Here, instead, is a view of Harewood House, taken while walking this Sunday. This was shortly before the start of the whingeing, the huffing up hills like The Little Engine That Could and the water bottle leaking all over my arse. It’s pretty though, bathed in the late autumn sunshine, and I love the fact that it is, literally, minutes outside of Leeds and yet almost convinces as a rural idyll.
image.jpeg
Sheep!
Anyway...

It is to my great shame that up until a few years ago the only sort of sage and onion stuffing to ever grace my Sunday table was made by Mr Paxo. Paxo stuffing has a lot to recommend it, not least the fact that it is unquestionably a taste and smell of childhood. OK, it looks a little bit like the contents of a Hoover bag in its natural state, but I considered it as quintissentially Sundayish as The Archers.

I can’t remember why I decided to make a fresh stuffing, on a complete whim, for Christmas dinner a couple of years ago. Maybe I was feeling particularly Domestic Goddess-ey that day.
Edited to add: the idea originally came from my brother, D2 and sister in law who are roast dinner experts of the first order.

Anyway, make it I did from a completely traditional Mrs Beeton recipe and it was so glorious that it has appeared regularly on the table ever since, most recently this last Sunday, and yet never reared its head on the blog.

I love a roast dinner and it is possible to have a heaped plateful for a (relatively) reasonable number of points. Roast potatoes for example. I use just a tablespoon of oil for two people, cooling the parboiled potatoes and then tossing them in the (also cold) oil before putting them in the oven. It’s a contentious way of doing it, but I find it gives excellently crispy results and means you can control (and limit) the amount of fat you are adding. Meanwhile the volume on the plate which we all crave from a proper Sunday lunch can easily be created by piles of veg – carrot and ginger mash is a particular favourite of mine, zero points apart from a scant knob of butter tossed through at the end to add richness.

At 4pps, the stuffing is one of the pointier aspects but well worth it. Still, you could halve the portion and still have a dollop of lovely, herby deliciousness. Then, you could have the rest of it smeared all over your cold cut sandwich the next day.

Ingredients

100g sliced white bread, ideally slightly stale (crusts removed)
4 x onions, peeled and halved
10 (roughly) largeish sage leaves
40g butter
1 medium egg yolk
Salt, pepper

Serves 4, 4 pro points per portion

You will need a little blitzer, a large saucepan, a bowl, a slotted spoon and a spoon for mixing.

Fill the pan with cold water, place in the onion halves and a generous pinch of salt. Bring the pan to the boil and then simmer for five minutes. This will take the raw tang out of the onions and leave them sweetly flavoursome for the stuffing.

Meanwhile, place the bread in the blitzer and whizz into fine crumbs. Transfer to the waiting bowl.

When the onions have had their required bath, remove to the blitzer using a slotted spoon. Put the sage leaves in the still simmering water for around 30 seconds – again, just to take the raw taste off. Transfer these to the blitzer with the onions and whizz into a greenly speckled, savoury paste.

In the same pan, over a gentle heat, put the butter on to melt.

Remove the pan from the heat and tip in the breadcrumbs, the onion paste, the egg yolk and more seasoning than you think you need and stir briskly to combine.

Bake alongside the joint – I use disposable foil trays. The top will brown but the inside will remain much more yielding than packet stuffing. Serve alongside roast chicken and all the trimmings.

Monday, 4 November 2013

MPM: 4th November 2013

Happy Monday everyone!


There is something of a dearth of actual cooking in the meal plan this week owing to a couple of cultural interludes, a takeaway craving and a visit from my in laws. Still, I am trying to get back into the habit of a meal planning post so will write it up, such as it is.

We had an amazing meal at Purnell’s last week which I can’t wait to share with you so will try and get that done this week – aside from anything else, indulgence in a very interesting wine flight has insured that a couple more brain cells have gone west so if I leave it too long you won’t get much beyond “Yum”. Which, to be fair, is a reasonable summary in the absence of any other.

Meanwhile, this week –

Monday: We had a roast chicken dinner last night so we will be having roast chicken and stuffing wraps this evening with spiced wedges and salad.

Tuesday: Cultural interlude #1 – no, not fireworks but an NT Live showing of Danny Boyle’s “Frankenstein”. Sadly the cinema is located in something of a cultural desert so we may end up at Nando’s beforehand. (Keep it quiet but I quite like Nando’s….)

Wednesday: D out, me – currently craving poached egg on toast. As it is post WI there may be something indulgent for afters.

Thursday: Cultural interlude #2 – Alan Bennett’s “People” at the Leeds Grand. Likelihood of rushed pre-theatre beans on toast: high.

Friday: Himself is craving a proper fish and chip supper and, after denying him last week I cannot in all conscience do so again. I will be eschewing all but a handful of chips and weighing the fish in an attempt to stay on track.

Saturday: Finally some cooking! I bought D a copy of “The Silver Spoon” for his birthday which is a compendium of classic Italian cookery. Tonight he is planning to whip up a Risotto Milanese – we’ve already purchased the bone marrow which is quivering away pinkly in the fridge. Possible some nice antipasti beforehand.

Sunday: Unknown as yet but out somewhere with FIL and SIL.

Head over to Mrs M’s for more meal planning fun.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

In which I try to motivate my future self

I was pondering the other week whether or not I should write a post for Future Me to read when (as inevitably happen) it all goes off the boil, the numbers on the scales start going in the wrong direction and I come on here and go something along the lines of: “It’s so HARD, why is it so HARD, I am going to eat nothing but DUST forever and still look like a TELETUBBIE.”

Because (as I think I commented on someone else’s blog the other day – and if it was yours I hope I didn’t sound like too much of a smug bitch because I promise you most heartily, that was not the intention) when it’s going well, it’s easy. I would assume this applies to any sort of eating plan, albeit for different reasons. For me, when I’m following WW properly – by which I mean when I’m actually being organised enough to plan and cook, I find I can eat well for my alloted points; my fruit and veg intake naturally rises which means I feel healthier overall and I’m lucky enough that my body tends to respond reasonably well and not cling on to the flab too desperately (and gosh I hope that sentence doesn’t come back to bite me in the arse!) My mood improves, my anxiety symptoms decline and even my dark circles look slightly less impressively bruise coloured. I don’t tend to feel deprived; my appetite naturally decreases and I derive greater pleasure from the treats that I do allow myself to have - so why, why, why would I ever do anything else?

Is it the planning and the tracking that becomes too arduous? Actually, I find planning and putting thought into my food means I eat a far greater variety of yummier dishes – look back on posts from a few months ago and I was generally subsisting on sandwiches and toast. Last night, I had a salmon fillet, smeared in mustard and wrapped in bacon with garlicky roasted potatoes and tenderstem broccoli. And I track on my iPhone which is always to hand do I don’t even have to flail around for a pen.

Future Me, for goodness sake, you have every single tool you need, every single motivation in the world and it’s NOT EVEN THAT HARD. Put DOWN the pizza slice and the gin bottle and remind yourself, in the words of La Cole that you are, indeed, worth it.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Reasons to be cheerful

Reason #1 - another 4lbs off at weigh in this week. That's a stone in 4 weeks. I'm quite shocked by it really, I think all I managed to say when I got on the scales was "Oh". It's an excellent start but there is plenty still to go and the rate of loss will likely slow down to a snail pace soon enough.

Reason #2 I passed my latest exam! Three down, six to go until I become the proud owner of a BA in Taxation Studies. Yes, that is a thing.

Reason #3 My brother's second baby is arriving today! My adorable nephew, little D, is going to have an even littler brother or sister. I am such a proud auntie!

So even though I have spent some of the week full of cold and grumps I am going into the weekend determined to be happy in the face of all my myriad blessings. Have a fabulous time whatever you are up to!

Monday, 21 October 2013

MPM: 21st October 2013




When in doubt, buy stationary. I recently invested in a meal planning pad to stick up on the fridge which fills my covetous little heart with great joy. The first page is looking pretty sparse though - two nights home alone where prick and ping is the order of the day, while on Saturday we are off to the York whisky festival and Sunday will subsequently find me curled in a ball vowing never to drink again.

Still, that leaves three meals to be written, very neatly, in the appropriate boxes for the world (me and D) to see. And said boxes say:

Pasta pesto with peas and roasted tenderstem broccoli followed by Bakewell pudding and cream

Roasted spiced duck legs with vegetables stir fried in five spice and soy

Sausages and mash with onion gravy

Hop over to Mrs M's for more meal planning fun.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Food for thought: compassion all round

Earnest Ross and I have been talking about compassion recently. Specifically, the idea of being compassionate towards oneself. It’s the kind of thing that sounds like it should be a no-brainer. But I’ve been shocked by the amount of resistance I’ve felt towards it.

“It feels,” I told him today, “That if I accept the need to be more compassionate to myself then I am giving myself permission to act or behave in a negative way. That I am excusing myself. It feels like weakness and failure.”

But, he countered, is showing compassion always an easy option? To be compassionate is not necessarily to excuse so much as to accept and not apply moral judgments. To be compassionate requires you to face difficult things head on. Nothing easy or weak about that.

Perhaps part of the resistance lies in the fact that we are all programmed to find fat distasteful. Just this week I saw this article on the Guardian website about NICE telling doctors that they should treat overweight people with respect. Exsqueeze me? They have to be told? Doctors, who I fondly imagine to be the most compassionate of people (with the possible exception of nuns), need to be actually told by a clinical institute that fat people should not be sneered at but offered realistic and practical and non judgemental advice? What hope is there for the rest of the society if our medical professionals need to have this spelled out to them?

I have been remarkably blessed in my dealings with doctors. The GPs I have seen in the last few years have been absolutely lovely and supportive and never made me feel as if every little niggle, from a cough to an ingrown toenail, was related to the fact that my BMI was over 30. But I understand that I am in a minority with this experience. Actually, I have been remarkably blessed full stop in that I have never encountered any major discrimination or bullying or unpleasantness related to my size. Perhaps that is one of the reasons that I am so much more critical of myself than anyone else could ever be.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

The sound of silence. And a weigh in.

So, from the lack of any update on this blog, you may be forgiven for thinking that after last week’s stellar result at the scales I proceeded to upend myself into a vat of chocolate Baileys (has anyone tried this yet? Report if so, I have very high hopes!) But, no, despite consuming slightly more wine than was good for me at York races on Friday, I have kept on keeping on. I have even been restrained in the face of cheese which, dearest Reader, is a victory in itself.

The scales’ verdict tonight? Another pound off making ten in three weeks. I am closing in on the one stone mark - once I'm there I think I'll really believe I am doing this!

I had all these high hopes that once the Annus Horribilus was over then things would all spring back to normal, but the truth is, it is taking a little time. And it was naïve to ever expect otherwise as both D and I are going through a period of transition. I’ve moved in to a new house and am still finding my feet and trying to get over feeling like a guest in someone else’s environment; he, meanwhile, is having to deal with his space being invaded by an individual with a propensity towards mess and clutter. We have two houses worth of furniture to amalgamate and sort through. Plus, I’ve had weird working patterns the last couple of weeks as I’ve been preparing for an exam. So all in all it is little wonder that we haven’t yet had the chance to get into a properly established routine. I have started to actually cook meals though, which is good, and there is fruit in the fruit bowl and milk in the fridge and I’m learning to lunge for the teapot rather than the corkscrew when six o clock comes round, so all the pieces are coming together. When you see a Meal Planning Monday post from me, it is then that you will know that I’m there.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Oh, frabjous day!

I toddled along to my weigh in last night past a large group of young women wearing police hats. Yes, it is apparently freshers' week here in Leeds. I have nothing against students apart from the obvious pangs of jealousy at their youth and good skin, but goodness they are very loud.

Anyway, to the scales. You may recall that this was a two week result - but also that my hopes were not overly high given my (relatively) packed social calendar. The gods of WW however were clearly in a benevolent mood and I clocked in a nine (yes, nine) pound loss. Get me!

D has promised me a bottle of fizz if I can shift another five this week but, to be honest, after a start like that - which I think is in part down to luck rather than judgement - I'll be happy with any slight downward movement. Onwards, comrades!

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Pimms o'clock

Winter may be fast approaching (today I am wearing a scarf in honour of this; still no coat though, I keep that until the temperature really starts to drop) but Saturday saw us comfortably installed in an upper room at the Leeds Living Room enjoying a Pimms tasting of all things.

I mention the seasons because for me, as for many other people I suspect, Pimms is the quintessential summer drink. Take the summer of 2000; I was in my third term of university, the object of study was the Bard himself, the sun seemed to shine every day and my college boasted the oldest bowling green in Europe. What else can you expect a load of English students to do but lie out on the grass, propped up copies of The Riverside Shakespeare and sup Pimms all day long – sometimes with a shot of gin to turbo it, and us, up a bit. Happy, happy days.

The prospect of a Pimms tasting session was, therefore, too good to resist, chill winds and autumn leaves notwithstanding. And what a session it was! I would say that it left me with a new found respect for the beloved liqueur – but it is perhaps more accurate to say it left me feeling slightly queasy on the way round IKEA the next morning. This was NOT one of those tastings where you feel short changed. The first drink was poured within five minutes and it didn’t really stop flowing for the next hour and a half.

Pimms was originally created back in the mid nineteenth century as a more palatable alternative to gin. Although gin based, it also contained ingredients such as borage and citrus – the exact recipe remains a closely guarded secret to this day. This gin based fruit cup is the Pimms no 1 which is still produced. Over the years five more variants were created, each based upon a different spirit. Most are no longer easily obtainable, although Pimms no 3, which is the brandy version, has been rebranded as Winter Pimms and occasionally surfaces at Christmas.

And so we drank. We drank Pimms with gin, lemonade and coriander – an unusual herb but one designed to pick up on a particular botanical of the gin. We drank a Pimms whisky sour both with and without ginger beer (absolutely delicious – destined to become my Christmas cocktail of choice). We drank Pimms with spiced rum, fresh ginger, lime and mint. And we finished with a Pimms Royale – Pimms with orange vodka, strawberry and basil mixed with a combination of ginger ale and lemonade. In between, we had tots of the individual spirits (so we could taste them in isolation you understand – purely scientific) and sampled a supermarket own brand fruit cup (verdict: lacking the depth and complexity of the original but perfectly serviceable when mixed with lemonade and fruit and one third of the price). There was cake as well.

All in all, a delightful way to spend a Saturday afternoon. The website for the Drinks Workshop, which offers classes in a variety of different spirits can be found here although I am not sure what locations are on offer outside of Leeds. Still, if you fancy coming to up here and spending a few hours getting tipsily educated and eating cake, this is highly recommended.

Friday, 4 October 2013

In which I am frightened of melting

After all that lovely support on my last post I was eager to come on here this week and post my weigh in result. HOWEVER. I missed my meeting! For those of you who don’t live in the frozen North, the weather has been woeful for the past few days so I decided to book a taxi rather than walk for half an hour in the rain. And then the taxi didn’t turn up on time and the man from the taxi office got quite affronted with me for pointing out that a) not turning up on time and b) not letting me know they were not going to turn up on time was pretty piss poor customer service.

My bathroom scales, usually pretty reliable, have me well down but I am going to take them with a pinch of salt and wait until next Wednesday for the official scores on the doors. In the meantime, remember how I said that I had lots going on in October? This week I’m out for a curry to welcome some new starters at work, a Pimms tasting and a game cookery demonstration. In between, I will mainly be eating dust…

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Sometimes there’s never a good time

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a dieter in search of a successful diet must commence said diet on a Monday. Preferably one that falls on the first of the month. And if there is a full moon at the same time, then so much the better.

So imagine my consternation when my friend texted me the other week to say that she was joining a WW meeting on a Wednesday evening and would I like to come along with her.

There were so many reasons to say no. For a start – Wednesday? That is soooo not the right day to start a diet. And the first meeting fell at the end of September – my new start was going to be October. And I was moving that week so meals would be up in the air. And, come to think of it, I had commitments throughout most weekends in October which would mean I’d never get a clear run at things and everyone knows you should always start when you’ve got a clear run so you can get some good losses under your belt before real life starts to kick in so perhaps I should hold off until November to get going.

Dear reader, I’m ashamed to say that all of these thoughts and more went through my head when I got that text.

But……..

I’m proud to say that I managed to push them all to one side and go along with her. And yes, this last week it has not always been easy to stay on plan. I’ve had some good days where I’ve managed to track accurately and some days where I haven’t, which has made me a little twitchy. I no doubt earned some activity points packing and humping around boxes which I have proceeded to consume in lovely, lovely post-move wine. And the thought of stepping on the scales tomorrow is making me a little bit nervous. But I reckon when the universe sends you a sign, even something as mundane as a new friend sending a text, you have to grab it and give it your best shot.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Slow cooker recipe corner: chicken cacciatore ("Hunter's stew")

I am moving back in with D this coming weekend and so looking forward to it. Glorious, glorious domesticity in all its lovely mundanity. In order to prepare, I’ve been spending the majority of the last few weekends there. D is still in charge of the kitchen at the moment which means I get cooked for which I enjoy very much – however, I suspect that will change and to be honest, I am looking forward to getting back into the routine of planning meals and cooking. I’ve been dreaming in recipes.

Anyway, Saturday night he dusted off the slow cooker and made a fabulous chicken stew that recently appeared on the Word of Mouth “Perfect” column (if you don’t read that, by the way, you really should – it’s very good). The list of ingredients is relatively short, but don’t be fooled – some sort of weird alchemy transforms these items into something much greater than the sum of their parts. We served with mashed potato and virtual box sets (we’re currently alternating between the final series of Dexter and season 3 of Game of Thrones – it’s a wonder that I have any fingernails left).

If you don't have a slow cooker I would suggest checking out the original recipe for appropriate oven temperatures and times. I would also suggest that you get one - they are extremely handy.

A word on portion size – I have reckoned on one thigh per person below, which I found more than sufficient. D went for two. Adjust points accordingly.

Ingredients

Tbsp olive oil
4 chicken thighs, skin on
Tbsp seasoned flour
2 heads of garlic, cut horizontally
Small bunch of rosemary
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 stick of celery, diced
125ml white wine
250ml chicken stock
100g tinned plum tomatoes in juice, roughly chopped
15g butter

Serves 4, 9 pro points per portion

Heat the oil in a large pan. While it warms up, dust the chicken thighs in seasoned flour. Place skin side down in the pan and cook for a couple of minutes on each side until golden brown.

Transfer to the slow cooker.
In the same pan, fry the garlic heads, rosemary, carrot and celery for a few minutes until slightly golden. Again, transfer to the slow cooker.

Pour the wine into the pan to deglaze, stirring briskly to ensure all the lovely, crusty, chickeny bits are swooped up and let it bubble off and reduce slightly before tipping over the chicken and the vegetables. Add the stock and the tomatoes to the slow cooker pot and then cook on low for six hours, at which point the chicken will be falling off the bone and the sauce will be a lovely dark brown.

Using a slotted spoon, remove the chicken and the vegetables from the pot and set aside. Pour the sauce into a pan (you could use the one from earlier if you haven’t yet washed it – I’m all for saving washing up) and heat it to a brisk boil. Allow to reduce by about a third. Adjust the seasoning and finish with the butter to give a nice gloss.

Return the chicken and veg to the sauce and warm through before serving.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Sam's Chop House, Leeds: romance and corned beef

It was the wedding anniversary that we didn't think we'd see. A second wedding anniversary is such a little thing that it only represents paper or cotton, depending on which side of the Atlantic you live.  Such a very little, throwaway thing.  But a big deal for us.

However, with a move forthcoming and a big, Michelin starred dinner coming up at the end of next month. not to mention the fact that we have had a year of supporting two households rather than one, we decided to go cheap and cheerful in terms of a meal out.  And when D pointed me in the direction of the Sam's Chop House menu I was genuinely excited by the decision.  This was the kind of unashamedly British food that I absolutely adore but it seemed a little clever, a little quirky.  Poached chicken breast with chicken liver scampi?  How amazing does that sound? 

So, why an air of disappointment pervading this blog post like an autumn fog?  Perhaps because Sam's, the day before our wedding anniversary, decided to change their USP. They phoned and left an upbeat voicemail message explaining that the restaurant had decided to "go in a different direction" and offering us the chance to cancel our booking.  But we, either lazy or optimistic in the face of PR speak, decided to stick with it.  Only to find a menu that yes, was still unashamedly British but also unashamedly a little bit dull.  I wasn't expecting fireworks for a cotton anniversary, but a bit of a sparkler might have been nice.  Sam's is not a restaurant to go to for flashing lights of any description.

Starters: ham hock scotch egg was competently done - I thought the spicing of the meat was good and the egg yolk retained a moist gleam, even if it wasn't fully runny. 
Scotch egg!
I ordered goats' cheese rarebit with beetroot served on a pikelet.  I've eaten pikelets before - they are small, three bite affairs.  This was not.  The rarebit itself was fine - could have done with being a bit goatier - the pikelet was a doughy behemoth.  I adore cheese on toast, but I was a little concerned as I chomped through that it was going to have an adverse effect on my main course capacity.
Cheese on toast!
I was right to be concerned.  We had both ordered Sam's famous corned beef hash as it was the most vaguely interesting thing on the main course menu. This was a beast of a portion.  We could have shared it and still have had it coming out of our ears.  The flavours itself were good - crispy, salty bacon, soft potatoes and shards of decent beef all topped off with poached egg and brown sauce - nothing to dislike.  But, oh so much food.  And D's egg was overcooked.  Which made him a little bit cross, especially since he was still mourning the lack of chicken liver scampi.
Corned beef hash!
So I wanted to like Sam's, I really did.  It was the restaurant to which we went to celebrate the anniversary that we never thought we'd see.  But it was just a bit of a yawn.  A change in direction down one of those very neat, anodyne little cul-de-sacs, where every lawn is manicured within an inch of its life.  And if you're going to do such simple, classic cuisine then for God's sake make sure that the poached eggs are still runny in the middle. 

Still, happy anniversary D.  I love you very much and am very proud and happy that we got here.

Sam's Chop House
8 South Parade
Leeds
LS1 5QX

0113 2042490