Monday, 31 December 2012


What has 2012 given me?  It’s been a bit of a mixed bag of a year. 

In January I joined weight watchers.  That was extremely short-lived albeit successful during that brief period.  January also gave me food poisoning and a fear of oysters which lasted for most of the rest of the year.

In February I waved goodbye to my sister and her children who moved to Australia, permanently.  A low point for me, a huge adventure and a potential for amazing lives for them.  February also found me getting very drunk in Quo Vadis with my friend Andrew and spotting Gary Barlow.  He’s very handsome...and very short.  I also visited friends in Broadstairs and wished momentarily that I could leave London for a better kind of life.

March saw me drunkenly kiss a friend’s flatmate.  That was a mistake.

April saw me head off to Australia for three weeks – good and bad times there but I was happy to find that I could understand why my sister needs to live in Melbourne even if she is so far away from the rest of us.  I also got to see Little Penguins parade out of the sea, over the beach and up to their sand-dune beds.  Pretty magical.  I was also able to visit my oldest friend and my godson who I haven’t seen for years and meet her (at that point) latest addition to her family.  I haven’t been lucky enough to meet her actual latest addition who was born a couple of months later.

In May, I did a lot of socialising.  I discovered Little Lamb on Shaftesbury Avenue for hot pot.  Go.  I worried about my finances.  I probably did that in every other month too.

June was a bad month.  It saw the worst depressive dip I have ever experienced.  I hunkered down, cancelled all my plans and did everything I could to keep my head above water and I got through it.  I was, however, lucky enough to meet two brand new babies for the first time in June, so even this terrible month had its moments.

I hate July.  It’s my birthday month.  I’ve never understood why people like their birthdays – I never have, even as a child.  At my age, all a birthday does is make me older and less likely to meet someone and have children before it’s too late.  I hate July.  Despite that, I went to Burgundy with my friend Andrew and it was great.  We saw the Tour de France fly past us in approximately 10 seconds, ate some terrible food (what is it with the French and their obsession with tinned vegetables?) and drank some pretty rough wine, but it was fun. 

August saw me crash a moped and injure myself and vow never to get on a bike ever again.

In September I went and drank alone in a crowded pub for the first time and found that I didn’t care what people thought of me.  In September I also realised that a particular friendship in my life was unhealthy and causing me unhappiness and huge amounts of stress.  I needed to limit it and I have. 

In October my mum visited twice.  My mum visiting is one of my most favourite things.  We did culture (Hedda Gabler at the Old Vic, Uncle Vanya, the bronzes at the Royal Academy) and did good food (Alyn Williams at the Westbury, Jose, Inside in Greenwich, dim sum).  In fact it was a good month for food as I also went to Duck & Waffle and Zoilo.  It was a fat month.

November saw me start Dukan in my desperation over how fat I had become.  I stuck it out for a mere three weeks...three horrible weeks.  I felt stressed, depressed and didn’t like myself very much. 

In December I gave up Dukan and accepted that I am going to see out 2012 significantly fatter than I saw it in.  I ceased caring about dieting for the rest of this year and ate and ate.  My parents left for a long visit to Australia and I had my first ever Christmas without my family around me.  The year has ended on a spectacular low where I feel unhappy and ill-at-ease in my previously much-loved flat since Ralphie brought a mouse into the sitting room and promptly lost it, but where I am at such a low ebb that I don’t want to see people at all.  I also discovered that some friends go above and beyond the call of duty and will literally pick you up when you are on your knees.  Those ones are definitely keepers. 

Overall, it hasn’t been the best year.  I’m not sure whether it’s been the worst either, but I don’t remember there being a lot of happiness in 2012.  Looking back at it, I feel empty.

And now we’re on the corner of 2013.  Ordinarily, I feel quite positive at New Year, feeling that the next year HAS to be better than the preceding year.  This year, I’m limiting my expectations.  I’m just going to hope that it isn't worse.  My resolutions:

  • Deal with the mouse phobia (I’m already On This and have some NLP lined up)
  • Be less self-destructive (I don’t have high hopes, but we can try...)
  • Lose enough weight to not have another Fat Summer
  • Stay at home more and learn to live alone contentedly
  • Take lunch to work at least twice a week
  • Look into evening courses – pottery? Wine?
  • De-clutter the flat (fewer hiding places for mice)
  • Paint stuff – doors, walls, windows
  • Once ready (i.e. thinner!) consider trying internet dating again 
  • Learn to meditate/relax (been on my list for years – I never manage this) 
  • Spend less.  New buying mantra: do I need it? Can I live without it?

And those, folks, are my aims for 2013.  No “get happy”.  Nobody is happy 100% of the time.  No “lose 5 stone” – the huge figure is too overwhelming.  Just little changes, many of which I know already I won’t make.  I haven’t painted those doors for 6 ½ years – it’s not likely to happen in 2013.  But we can hope, right?

Friday, 21 December 2012

Mad, sad or bad?

I've thought hard about whether I should publish this blog post. The answer? Probably not, but fuck it.

I should start by saying that I know I don't have the worst life. Not by a long shot. Terrible things happen to good people: children die, people get ill, legs get blown off, people lose all their money and sink into a rotten mess.

None of this has happened to me. I'm incredibly fortunate - many would consider me lucky. I own my own flat. I have a secure (I think!) job in a terrible job market. I have the most wonderful family. My friends are astonishing - I regularly wonder how the hell I've managed to meet them and keep them and have them care for me in the way that they do which, in the main, seems fairly unconditional...which is more than I expect from anyone and I fear is more than I can give. So yes, in many ways I'm lucky.

Yet on the flip side I suffer, and I mean SUFFER, from this horrible thing called depression. What the hell is depression? I think that most people think that depression is merely a bit of sadness – they'd possibly think that I'm just a bit down and blue…but that's not right. Unfortunately I think that most people don't understand depression at all. Lucky them, frankly.

Depression...mad, sad or bad? I'm inclined to think it's somewhere between the first two. My madness makes me sad. I become overwhelmed by this feeling of complete emptiness and loss of hope - it's physical, like the bottom of my stomach has fallen out and my heart literally aches. The world feels like a vile place, filled with happy people being happy who just make me so angry at everything. And the anger just makes me hate myself. It's so very destructive. I'm not bad though. I try hard not to be bad and, despite feeling like crap, I drag myself up and out to work every day. It's a matter of pride to me that I won’t let depression defeat me and ruin my professional life and leave me in a heap on the floor. I have a strangely strong and stubborn sense of self-preservation. In this sense, I am genuinely lucky – so far I’ve managed to beat that side of it. Others aren’t so lucky and can’t get up from the sofa and get themselves out and let themselves live. I hope that that doesn’t happen to me.

However, despite every concerted effort I make, the misery does filter through occasionally and, as a result, after being diagnosed nearly 5 years ago, last week I finally told my managing partner that I have depression. It's safe to say that he was pretty stunned. He had no idea and I'm kind of proud of that fact - that I have functioned for five years, never taking a single day off sick with my depression...I feel like I've done something pretty exceptional. He said that knowing it meant that he could make concessions where necessary - NO. That’s not what I want and that isn't why I told him. I told him only because I know that sometimes I retreat into myself, become hard to engage with and I know it affects others. Quiet is my way of getting through the day. I'm not especially unpleasant, I'm not shouty or demanding...I'm just quiet and unreceptive. And I felt that finally it needed to be explained.

When things are bad, which they are at the moment, I don't have any coping mechanisms. Everything becomes my personal Everest and I'm easily defeated. Tonight I received a letter which kind of floored me and has just reinforced how much my life disappoints me in every way. The flat, the job, the friends and family...they cease to mean anything because I'm just fundamentally unhappy. I don't really know what you do with that.

I wish I could make my depression go away but, try as I might - and I have - I can't. So instead I carry on and occasionally I'll be lucky enough to stumble across a book like Matthew Johnstone's “I Had a Black Dog" (buy it) which reminds me that I'm absolutely not alone in this and I'll suddenly feel quite normal again.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

A day in the life of a Dukan sufferer

I'm now nearly 3 weeks into Dukan. I've reintroduced alcohol although I'm not drinking every day by any means. I've stuck to the diet to the letter but I'm finding it incredibly hard and I've had many moments of misery.

Days when I can eat vegetables (PV days) are great - I can roast up some butternut squash and pretend it's carbs, I can get some flavour from tomatoes and spring onions and make stir fries full of crunchy vegetables. Pure protein (PP days) aren't so much fun. They start with yogurt, which I've learnt to love and am just damn grateful that it's not more meat. Lunch is where I struggle. I don't have any cooking or heating facilities at work so I just have a horrible pile of protein with nothing else - you wouldn't believe how unpleasant it can be to just eat a pile of ham or dry chicken breast stripped from the carcass with, at a push, a spoonful of plain yogurt or low fat cottage cheese to make it a little more palatable. There just isn't any way to make things taste nice on a PP day. I tried taking into work an oat bran wrap that I'd made the night before but it just wasn't nice; cold, soggy and a bit stale tasting. I want sauce like mayo or pesto or something creamy and lovely to have with the crappy dry protein. Even a tomato sauce would be good but I can't have that on a PP day. I can't have nice sauce ever. It kills me.

I had a bit of a meltdown yesterday. I lost a lot of weight in the first 6 days on Attack but, since then, I'd lost absolutely nothing. I went up and down around the weight I'd achieved at the end of Attack stage which, annoyingly, was bang on X stone (nooooooo, I'm not telling you how much I weigh!!) All I wanted was to lose a pound or half a pound to take me into a new stone bracket, to a smaller number. But the scales have defied and frustrated me and I've lost a lot of motivation and generally just feel hugely demoralised. Oh - except I got home from a night out last night, from eating many delicious skewers from Bincho Yakitori, drinking plenty of wine and sake and weighed myself...HELLO NEW STONE BRACKET!! Go figure.

So I'm thinking about ditching the PP days and making every day a PV day. In theory this should slow down my weight loss but I'm not losing any weight anyway, so why not try it? I think I'd find it easier and less stressful. And surely if I'm still eating protein and vegetables with virtually no fat and no carbs, that should work, shouldn't it? I'm desperate to lose weight and I am, at last, willing to do it and do it for the long haul, but I'm not sure it should make me quite this miserable. No other diet has made me this miserable.

Anyway, here's a day in the life of a happier Dukaner: a PV day.

Breakfast of scrambled Burford Brown eggs with fried mushrooms - so delicious and NOT MEAT! And not yogurt! An excellent change from the norm.

Lunch of an oat bran Dukan pancake with fried mushrooms and prosciutto.

To make one pancake, whisk together 2 tbsp oat bran, 1 tbsp wheat bran, 1 egg, a splash of skimmed milk and a pinch of salt. Heat up a very non-stick frying pan and wipe with a little oil and pour in the pancake. Reduce the heat so it's medium to low - these pancakes have to be cooked slowly so that they're cooked through and don't fall apart when you try to turn them. You may need a good 3-4 minutes before you can turn it and then let it cook for a couple of minutes on that side before serving.

These pancakes are genuinely delicious. They're great with eggs on or topped with some quark and ham and made into a wrap. Today's was the best though, spread with a touch of quark and topped with mushrooms and prosciutto. I had a very happy face after this.

Incidentally, you have to eat oat bran every day on Dukan to help keep you...ahem...regular. These pancakes are awesome and my favourite way of getting the oat bran into me. Trust me on this and make them.

Dinner was an Asian meatbally broth - this recipe was found by @supergolden on the BBC Food website (linky) but I adapted it a bit for a hungry Dukaner who didn't have all the right ingredients.


250g minced beef
2 spring onions, sliced finely
A good chunk of ginger, grated
2/3 of a red chilli, chopped finely
Very finely sliced coriander stalks
1/2 teaspoon of cornflour
A shake of sesame oil
Salt and pepper

Mix these ingredients together and form into bite size balls. Wipe a hot non-stick frying pan with oil and brown the meatballs.

1 beef stock cube
1 chicken stock cube
500 ml boiling water
1 star anise
Chunk of ginger, sliced
Juice of half a lime
Green beans or other green vegetable
1/2 red chilli, sliced
2 spring onions, sliced on a slant
A shake of sesame oil

Make up the stock (I didn't have any fresh so decided to make a mixture of chicken and beef) and simmer with the star anise and ginger for a few minutes. Pop in the browned meatballs and simmer for 5 minutes. Add your green vegetable - I used some halved green beans - and the lime juice and simmer for another 5 minutes, adding the red chilli 30 seconds before the end. Stir in the shake of sesame oil and serve with the spring onions sprinkled over and some coriander leaves if you have them (I didn't) and a wedge of lime if it's really salty. DO NOT ADD SALT. Stock cubes are salty sods and you definitely won't need any extra unless you have some weird deficiency.

Pudding: another oat bran pancake (I didn't have any oat bran yesterday) made as above, but replacing the pinch of salt with a tsp of granulated sweetener. Top with lemon juice and granulated sweetener.

So it's been a good day. I feel healthy and happier than I have in a while on this diet. I think I just need to plan, plan, plan and make sure that I don't just resort to chunks of protein on their own. It gets tired very very quickly. Can I do this until I've lost my 5 stone?? That's the big question.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

The One Where I Cured Some Fish

Did I mention that I'm on dukan?  That pretty much all I can eat is lean meat, fish, eggs and low/zero fat dairy?  That I can eat these foods in unlimited quantities?
Did I mention how butt-clenchingly expensive it is????
The thing with dukan is that you naturally gravitate towards meat and poultry because it feels like they will be the most substantial and filling things and you also feel like you get a bit more value for money.  The problem with eating meat all the time is that it makes you feel a bit sluggish and heavy because everything you're putting into your body is heavy and substantial.  Psychologically you crave lighter things like vegetables, eggs and fish.
I like to have smoked salmon or smoked mackerel at lunchtimes because it just feels a bit more...correct.  To me, eating a huge lump of meat at lunchtime is like eating a curry at lunchtime - a bit weird and wrong.  The problem is that fish is expensive.  There isn't really such a thing as cheap fish in the sense of battery vs free range in the land of the chicken; it's just all expensive (unless it's crabsticks) and when I found myself woofing down a £4 pack of smoked salmon in just shy of 90 seconds (I have three siblings, if you didn't eat fast, you didn't eat... [name the American sitcom I nicked that from]) I realised that something had to give.
Quite by chance, @NatanyaAbrahams was talking on twitter about curing salmon and it occurred to me that maybe this was something I could do.  I scooted on over to Ocado and found that their wild Alaskan salmon was half price!  "It's fate!" I thought and popped a couple of large pieces in my basket along with an array of curing ingredients.
Now, what would ordinarily happen at this point is that my order would be delivered on the Friday evening with everything but the salmon.  I'm just not one of life's lucky people...but luck struck and my salmon arrived all orange and pretty on Friday night and I set about curing it.
I was already a little practised at this because, as well as not being one if life's lucky people, I'm also not one of life's serene and patient people. I want INSTANT gratification, therefore I'd bought a couple of regular tiny Tesco salmon fillets on the Thursday which I had started curing that night.

For the dry spice rub (for 2 small fillets):
A good handful or so of Maldon sea salt
1 tsp toasted coriander seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 a star anise
1/2 tsp white peppercorns
Crush all the spices up into a powder and mix with the salt.
For the beetroot marinade (for around 800g of salmon fillets):
200g sea salt
2 raw beetroot, grated
A pack of dill, chopped
A slosh of gin
Mix all the ingredients together.
Lay the salmon fillets skin side down on a large piece of cling film and coat each fillet with just under half if the mixture, pressing down hard.
Turn one upside down onto the other so that the flesh sides are together with the marinade/rub in the middle. Try to match the thick end of one piece with the thin end of the other piece.
Pat any remaining mixture around the sides of the fillets.
Wrap the fillets up tightly in lots of cling film and place the parcel in a tray with another tray on top of the salmon weighted down with tins.
Pop it in the fridge and forget about it for a bit.  Do the washing up and revel in the murderiness of the water...mwahahahahahahaha
A day later, take the trays out of the fridge, turn the parcel over (pouring away any liquid that may have leaked out), reapply the weighted tin and pop it back in the fridge for another day when you'll give it another turn.
In total, you should let the salmon cure for at least 3 days - my beetroot had 3, the spice rubbed one had 4.
After the 3 days, take the salmon out of the wrap and brush off all if the marinade/rub, washing it if necessary.
The salmon should be ready to eat. Cut very thin slices on the diagonal and eat with a squeeze of lemon over it to cut through a bit of the saltiness. It's interesting how different in texture the two types of salmon were. The cheaper small salmon in the dry rub is far denser than the beetroot, which is softer and wetter and a bit scarier (raw fish still creeps me out a bit.  Yeah, I know.  Leave me alone.)  I prefer the cheap stuff, but then that's me all over.
Now. Confession time. I actually don't like the beetroot cured one all that much - it tastes muddy and unpleasant to me but I'm not the greatest fan of beetroot at the best of times whereas most people seem to love it.  This may seem spectacularly blonde (because it is) but I kind of just thought that the salmon would go purple and pretty without actually tasting of beetroot (and dill - I HATE dill; how did I forget that?!) which is why I made it.  The moral of this story: the salmon will actually taste of the things that you put on it.  Duh.
Despite not adoring the salmon that I made, I loved doing it and I think it's simply a matter of getting my marinade right and adding flavours that I like.  Next time I'm going to try salt, fresh coriander, garlic, ginger and chilli which is more up my street.  If you have any suggestions for marinades, bring them on. 
I've decided that curing salmon is going to be My Thing.  Spectacularly easy but really quite impressive.  Again, that's me all over.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Who can? DUKAN!!

I've neglected this for a while, mainly because I've been busy eating as much as physically possible in preparation for my latest foray into the world of FatFranGetsFin.   On my list of things to be certain to eat Pre-Diet were:
- toad-in-the-hole;
- pasta with crumbled sausages and cream;
- dim sum (fail - had to get a new telly delivered so made the garlickiest, butteriest poussins instead);
- sausage sandwiches;
- instant noodle sandwiches;
- tasting menu at Alyn Williams at the Westbury;
- buttered toast;
- chocolate pudding with cream;
- roast potatoes;
- mashed potatoes;
- buttery rice;
- more buttered toast;
- salt and pepper squid.

It was pretty amazing but it had the effect of increasing my (already sizeable) heft by around 10lbs in just shy of 4 weeks.   Which is quite a lot.   It also meant that I started the New Diet being approximately a stone heavier than ever previously recorded.  Go me! 

And the new diet?   Dukan.   That's right everyone - despite all my waxing lyrical about how I disapprove of any diets that cut out entire food groups and that it's far better to be able to eat everything in moderation (yada yada yada) I'm embracing the French fad and am cutting out carbs, fat, alcohol and, let's face it, fun.

Dukan is divided into 4 stages, the first of which (Attack) is a short, sharp kick up the arse in an effort to shock the system and get a big weight loss fast.  It is pure protein.  It's also bloody difficult and lasts between 2 and 6 days...I had to do it for the full 6. "What's so hard about eating lots of meat?" you might ask...well yes, but what on earth are you going to eat for breakfast?  And what for lunch when you have no cooking or heating facilities at work?   What will you have with your evening steak?  Remember, this is pure protein.  No vegetables allowed.  Fat free dairy is permitted and where I once hated yogurt, it has become my lifesaver.  It is, after all, not meat.

It's been very hard. Breakfast has largely consisted of fat free fruit yogurts with oatbran muffins (you have to eat a little oatbran every day to keep you pooing).  Look at my cinnamon muffins! They're actually really pretty good, satisfy a sweet craving and it takes minutes to knock up a batch.

Lunch is a killer for me. Cold meat, cold fish, cold eggs.  I may have mentioned this before, but I do not like cold food.  It's wet, boring and, well, COLD.  I tried making a chicken and quark quiche (no pastry, obviously) but rendered it in edible with excessive use of tarragon.  That lunch ended up in the bin, as have several others.  I'm convinced that this diet partly works because it makes you hate food a bit.  As an aside, don't ever put chicken into a quiche - it doesn't taste of anything.  Bland, bland, bland.  My first Dukan lunch was prawns in Dukan mayonnaise - possibly the most heinous thing I have ever eaten in my life: 

Appetising?  No.  For the love of God, never make Dukan mayonnaise, it's filth. 
Leftovers for lunch have worked a little bit better, as has dinner. I made a delicious spicy meatloaf (below) which I had with a plain yogurt dip, steak and eggs and I've had a pretty tasty chicken soup with shirataki noodles. These noodles are weird and bouncy but they're a lifesaver for bulking things out a bit and making you feel that you're having a carb. Downside is that, like meat and fish, they're very expensive but, I think, worth it.  Here's the meatloaf:

I know it looks disgusting, but it was awesome - meaty, spicy, oniony and when served with yogurt it rocked my world a bit.  It's actually impossible to make meatloaf look pretty so I didn't even try.
A strange side-effect of meat, meat meat is that I've found myself desperately craving sweet things. There are lots of recipes for sweet things in the Dukan recipe book but most require gelatine and I have no idea how to use it plus, for me, a sweet craving requires instant satisfaction - there's little point having a pre-prepared pudding in the fridge because there is a high chance that I just won't want it and it will go off.  The very wonderful @RishaEats has been a mine of Dukan-based information and inspiration and suggested freezing yogurts which is INSPIRED.  New favourite thing.  I've also turned into a toddler and have embraced sweetened milk to satisfy the craving.
So.  I made it through the 6 days.  It was very difficult, it was pretty miserable at (lunch)times, but I did it.  And I am 10 1/2 pounds lighter at the end of it which is, frankly, brilliant.  There is absolutely no doubt that this diet works.  It requires iron will but I've got that for the first time in years.  Rather than go straight onto Dukan, I settled back, read about it, took in as much information as I could, PLANNED and ate myself silly to the point where I was ready to change.  And it's worked.  And I'm happy.
And my reward?  I can now eat vegetables again every other day.

HELLO CABBAGE!!!!  Hello Stage 2!  Let's Cruise...

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Migraines and tomato sauce...only one of these is good

In my life I've had only a handful of migraines. They usually start in the middle of the night and a couple of times I've had an "aura"; for me, this is a sort of visual fizziness. Not quite fireworks, but more a display of sparkles...a little like the thing you get when all the blood has rushed out of your head and you're about to faint. It sounds pretty, right? In reality, it's stressful because I don't know how long it will last and I can't make it stop. Eyes open, it's there. Closed eyes, it's there. I can't turn on the light because that makes me want to vomit. I become EXTREMELY sensitive to light and become a bit "Hollywood swooning diva".

After the migraine itself has ended, I feel like my head has been consumed by a fog which is expanding in my skull, threatening to burst it open. I'm overwhelmed with exhaustion and nausea and have to lie very still in a darkened room for as long as possible.

Last Sunday I had a migraine in the middle of the night. I woke on Monday feeling like death so swapped my day working from home and did what I could from the sofa in my dark sitting room. Tuesday morning came and I knew I wasn't going to make it in again...another day working from the sofa in a dark room. By Wednesday morning I was bored so I dragged myself up and onto a bus as I couldn't manage the 12 minute walk to the station - by this point, I was feeling very pathetic and getting quite worried - the after effects have never lasted so long before. Thursday, I still felt utterly appalling but made it out for a client dinner where I had a couple of glasses of wine. Error. I didn't sleep a wink. Friday I just wanted to die. The nausea was so bad I couldn't face lunch (I KNOW! Can you believe such a thing?!)  All week I was looking ahead to the quiet weekend that I had planned, a chance to rest up and get better...except that went belly up because of these little blighters:

Check it - it's a maggoty thing. It's actually the larvae of the pantry/larder moth and is plainly revolting. So instead of my relaxing, quiet weekend, I had to do an uber-cleanup whilst desperately needing my bed.  This was a highly stressful exercise involving much ladder-climbing, many binbags, lots of soapy water, chemical  pest spray and plenty of squealing and shaking from me every time I came across the maggots...which was a lot.  

Roll on this Monday morning and, after a slightly strange night which was riddled with insomnia, I got up feeling exhausted but otherwise ok. At about 2:30pm another full on migraine struck. I literally crawled under my desk to get away from the lights, moaned, groaned, donned sunglasses (useless) and somehow managed to get home where I fell asleep for hours. And now it's the early hours of Tuesday morning, I'm crying from fatigue and nausea and just feeling so under the weather for what is becoming a prolonged period of time. I'm feeling VERY sorry for myself.

Anyway. I'm moaning and it's really dull. And this is *sort of* a food blog. So, back to food! In a brief moment of not feeling bad over the weekend, I made some incredible polpette from Russell Norman's Polpo cookbook and a fresh tomato sauce. I shan't recount the polpette recipe for obvious reasons (I don't think he would appreciate it and you should buy the book - it's very lovely) but they were the pork and fennel ones. So pork mince, fennel seeds and the other usual suspects in a meatball. Delicious. They made me smile inside.

All mine though was the sauce. As you may know, I vehemently do NOT like tomatoes...or so I thought. I now think that I just I don't like tinned tomatoes*. They're strong and acidic and don't actually taste of tomatoes. So, to the sauce!


A pack of cherry vine tomatoes, cut into quarters
One small red onion, finely chopped
1 fat clove of garlic, crushed
A pinch of dried chilli - not too much, you just want a teeny bit of background heat
Black pepper
Olive oil

Over a lowish heat, heat up a decent slug of olive oil with the onion and garlic. I always heat the oil up with the garlic in it because the garlic is less likely to burn and you don't want to burn it because burnt garlic is pretty ming. Add the chilli flakes, a good bit of salt (around 1/4 tsp minimum) and lots of black pepper. Stir for a few minutes until everything is soft. I highly recommend that you don't take this opportunity to take out the maggoty binbags. Chances are you'll burn everything and have to start again...which isn't irritating AT ALL.

Once the onions are soft, add the tomatoes to the pan, another slug of oil, heat until bubbling and then pop the lid on and cook for 15 minutes stirring occasionally so that it doesn't stick.

After 15 minutes, it should be all soft and the tomatoes should have broken down. Let it cool a little and then blitz it with a stick bender until smooth. Check for seasoning - it should be delicious and sweet and pretty darn perfect.

Russell Norman suggests that you part-cook your meatballs in the oven and then poach them in the sauce. Given that these were the best meatballs I've ever made, I now recommend this too. Mine had 15 mins at 200 in the oven, turning every 5 minutes and then 10 minutes of poaching in the sauce with the lid on.

I drained my pasta, reserving a bit of the cooking water and then tossed the pasta, pasta water, meatballs and sauce together. The result was utterly delicious and strangely light because the meatballs were made with pork rather than the traditional beef, and the sauce was so much lighter and sweeter for being made with gorgeous fresh cherry tomatoes.

This is the sauce on the pasta:

but you can't really see it, so here it is sans spag:

Undoubtedly, this tomato sauce is far more expensive to produce than one made with tinned tomatoes...but I will eat and enjoy this one, which makes it totally worthwhile in my books.

I shall be making a batch of these for the freezer so that on under-the-weather days, I can just pull a portion out and have a pretty healthy meal. *Happy piggy face.*

*actually still hate sun dried tomatoes, sun blush tomatoes, those freaky massive beef ones which are sort of fluffy and make me gag, not keen on tomato puré get the picture.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Bib bib bibimbappety bap

So I'm doing pretty well on my "diet" at the moment. The aim was to work to 1400 calories a day which I did really well at for 2 weeks, then I had one bad week where I just couldn't really be bothered and I was doing a bit of comfort eating after my bike crash* and I put a little bit of weight back on. Then I heard about the 5:2 fasting diet.

To say I was sceptical about 5:2 is a bit of an understatement - how can fasting for two days a week be good for you? Except it's not total fasting; you get to eat 500 calories if you're a girl, 600 if you are lucky enough to be a boy. So I decided to watch the Horizon documentary "Eat Fast and Live Longer" by Dr Michael Mosley (it's on YouTube) and see what it was all about. I came away feeling excited and totally convinced that (a) it is manageable and (b) that it's actually good for you. Seriously, the documentary is pretty compelling. Watch it.

Around the same time, the lovely @souchefnic launched her fabulous website: I can't stop drooling over it. For me, the thing that it's best at is providing hard-to-buy Asian ingredients which rock up a day or two later wrapped in beautiful tissue paper. Heaven.

I love Asian food more than any other cuisine. I love that it's spicy and salty and comforting and that it can be incredibly low in fat. It's the perfect cuisine when you're dieting. So, the first thing that I bought from was this beautiful dolsot stone bowl. It's pretty - it has naturally sparkly bits in the stone, see?

The purpose of this heavy beast? BIBIMBAP. Bibimbap is a Korean rice dish and goes a little bit like this...


1 portion of cooked basmati rice (around 60g);
Spinach: a couple of decent handfuls cooked down, water squeezed out and then mixed with a little sesame oil and a few sesame seeds;
1 carrot: sliced into sticks, stir fried for a couple of minutes and then tossed in soy sauce;
1 courgette: cooked in the same way as the carrot;
1/3 of a cucumber, chopped into sticks, salted for about 20 minutes and rinsed and patted dry;
1 tbsp toasted pine nuts;
1 tbsp red pepper paste (available here from **);
1 whole egg;
Sesame oil.

While you are preparing the vegetables, put the cold stone bowl into a cold oven, turn it on to 200c and heat up. You can leave it in the oven for another 20 minutes or so to get really really hot. Never ever put the cold bowl into a hot oven, it will probably crack and then you will cry.

Once hot, remove the bowl from the oven (with oven gloves - stay safe kids) and throw in a teaspoon or two of sesame oil. Swill it around to coat the bowl and put in your cooked rice. The idea here is that the rice should get a crispy crust but it didn't really work for me. I asked Nic how to do it and she says that you should put it on a direct flame and let it sizzle away for 5 mins and that makes for a better crust.

Place all your veggies in pretty piles around the edge of the rice along with a good dollop of the pepper paste and then crack an egg into the middle.

When you get to the table (or to the sofa with your tray if you're me) grab your chopsticks and mix the whole lot together and eat!

It's so tasty. Spicy, crunchy, delicious. If I'm honest, the only thing that it was missing is a bit of meat. Sorry vegetarians. Next time I'll add a bit of beef or chicken to the mix. Incidentally, you can use ANY vegetables you like. You really should put a rehydrated shiitake mushroom in there too, but I didn't have any at the time. I do now. Once you've eaten it! Wash the bowl in hot water with no soap so that you're effectively "seasoning" the bowl more and more each time you use it.

This isn't a 5:2 fasting day meal but it's a damn fine pretty healthy meal for one of the feed days. I urge you to try it.

Next time: kimchi.

* remember how I said in my last blog post that I was going to buy a scooter and my life was going to improve enormously? Well I went on a training course, found it utterly terrifying and then crashed the bike into a bollard, flinging myself into the middle of the road rendering me battered, bruised and unable to walk for a couple of days. I've recovered now but I shan't be getting a bike. I've got an iPad instead. *safety first face*

** I promise you that Nic isn't paying me! I just bloody love her website.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Positively back on the wagon

It's been 2 months since my last blog post and life couldn't be more different.  I’m in an annoyingly good mood most of the time.  I saw my doctor yesterday and I was bouncing off the walls – he looked positively surpirsed...but delighted.  As am I.  I’m in a good place for a number of reasons.  Work is going really well and I have some lovely new colleagues, my kitten adores me, I'm learning to ride a scooter at the weekend and I’ve finally, FINALLY climbed back on the diet wagon.

OK, it’s early days – day 6 to be exact – but I’m feeling really good about it.  I’ve decided to try something new.  Well – two things.  Firstly, smaller plates.  This is going remarkably well; I have already reduced my evening portion of carbs by 50% and by trying to eat a bit more slowly, I'm still feeling satisfied.  Secondly, I’m calorie counting rather than trying to adhere to a strict diet plan.  I’m not being religious about it.  I’m allowed around 1,400 calories a day – some days I’ve gone way under, on one I went a bit over, but I’m not going to worry about it too much.  When I see how I eat within 1,400 calories, I figure that I must have been consuming a minimum of 3,000 (probably more) every day, so anything has to be better than that.

I’m going to try and get my head around this being a long haul thing.  No quick fix.  I’m not going to be a size 12 in 3 months.  In fact, I’ll never be a size 12 – my boobs and hips and arse simply won’t allow it.  

So the “diet” is as follows:-
  • ALWAYS eat breakfast.  Currently I’m eating Rude Health’s Morning Glory Porridge and it’s brilliant – delicious and it fills me for ages.
  • Stop buying lunch in the City.  Everything is horrible, mayonnaise filled, overly bready.  The last couple of days I’ve had a Food Doctor pot – they’re fairly horrid, but I like the idea of easy bulgur wheat salady things.  And I am also teaching myself this: I DON’T HAVE TO LOVE EVERY MEAL TO THE POINT OF ORGASM.  I really don’t.  Sometimes I should just eat for fuel, whilst remembering that dinner will be delicious.
  • Dinner: quick and easy, protein and carbs and veggies.  I’m firmly against cutting out any food groups.  It makes me miserable.

So here are a couple of things that I’ve made this week.  Both have made me happy.  They both serve one.

Smoky squid with giant couscous

150-200g squid bodies
Smoked paprika
Oil (something flavourless, ideally)
60g giant couscous
½ chicken stock cube (I like the maggi ones)
1 banana shallot, diced very finely,
Tomatoes, around 3-4 smallish ones, probably 8 cherry, chopped small
½ large can of mixed beans or chickpeas
Lemon juice
Smoked salt and pepper

  1.  Open out the squid bodies so that they are flat and score diagonally both ways to make little diamonds.  It’s best to use a blunt knife for this so it doesn’t slice all the way through the squid.  Drizzle over a little oil and then coat the squid in smoked paprika.  I went a bit wild and used A LOT – I’d go a little lighter if I were you.  Leave it to marinate for as long as you can.
  2. Put the couscous in a small saucepan with a tiny bit of oil and fry for a few minutes so that some of the grains go golden and it smells a bit toasty.  Add 120ml of chicken stock, reduce to a gentle simmer and cook with a lid on for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Keep an eye on it – when I did it yesterday it had absorbed most of the stock after 7 minutes so I added a little more water.
  3. While the couscous is cooking, very very gently fry off the shallots, again in a tiny bit of oil.  When they’ve softened, add the tomatoes and cook down for just a minute or two, add some smoked salt and black pepper and the mixed beans and leave to one side.
  4. When the couscous is nearly ready, heat up the griddle until it is smoking and throw on the squid bodies.  These should take a matter of minutes – probably around 3.  Turn them a few times as they’re likely to curl up a little bit. 
  5. Stir the tomato and bean mixture into the couscous (which should have absorbed all of the stock), add a squeeze of lemon.
  6. Serve the couscous with the squid on top with a wedge of lemon.  And a big glass of something crisp and refreshing (I had diet coke.  SHOOT ME NOW.)

Incidentally, I made this with steak in place of the squid last alive, it was delicious.

Za’atar chicken with crunchy quinoa salad

I first had za’atar when I was in Israel over a decade ago.  In most restaurants we’d be given a basket of bread and, instead of the usual dish of oil and balsamic vinegar, we were presented with two dipping bowls; the first contained oil and the second za’atar.  Za’atar is a spice blend which usually contains sumac, oregano, thyme, sesame seeds and salt.  It tastes lemony and fresh and it’s delicious.  I’ve never found it that easy to get hold of and was very lucky when the gorgeous @miss_jordi gave me a bag to take home (although I had The Fear that I was going to get stopped by the police, it looked like a big baggy of weed) but it’s now readily available at this absolutely brilliant new website run by @souschefnic - (I warn you, this website is dangerous – I want everything.  I limited myself to a bibimbap bowl today but I have an extensive wishlist!)

1 chicken breast
Olive oil
60g quinoa
½ chicken stock cube
2 medium tomatoes, chopped small
A handful of sugar snap peas, each sliced into around 5 pieces
Lemon juice
Salt and pepper

  1. Butterfly out the chicken breast, coat with a little bit of oil and pat over a generous amount of za’atar.  Leave to marinate for a little while. 
  2. Wash the quinoa and put it in a pan with 120ml of cold water.  Bring to the boil, crumble in the chicken stock cube, stir and then simmer gently with a lid on for 20 minutes.
  3. When there’s about 5 minutes cooking time left for the quinoa, griddle the chicken on a seriously hot griddle pan, turning every minute or so.  It won’t take long because it’s so thin, but check that there’s no pink in the fattest bit of the fillet before serving.
  4. Stir the tomatoes and sugar snap peas into the quinoa with a good squeeze of lemon juice and lots of black pepper. 
  5. Serve!  The crunch of the peas works really well in this.  Plus they taste so much better when they’re raw.

I’ve rediscovered my love of chicken breasts through this recipe.  I always think they’re dry and boring...and often they are.  You HAVE to cook them like this – make them thin and griddle them fast and they stay so tender and moist.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Salad and thanks

Well, I got through it and I am a hell of a lot better than I was a few weeks ago. I hunkered down, avoided alcohol (it's a depressant, innit?) and friends (generally not depressants) and stayed at home with Ralphie. We watched a lot of TV and did some snuggling, I did a lot of knitting - she did her best to eat as much wool as possible - and I tried to cook myself some healthy meals and get some early nights.
And slowly, it worked. Each day I got a little better until now, I'm almost back to my normal. I'm still a little bit flat, but I'm much more myself.
People have been unexpectedly kind. Lots and lots of people have asked after me, which I greatly appreciate. My friends have been incredibly supportive and, thankfully, didn’t take offence when I told them that I didn’t want to see them for a while. Shout-outs here particularly go to @misswhiplash, @miss_jordi, @vhatyoutalking, @ginandcrumpets and, last but certainly not least, @janiestamford who, either through the medium of text or, more recently, in the flesh, have all been brilliant.

So during my hibernation, I have embraced knitting for babies and salad.    It transpires that it's leaves that I'm not wild about but apparently salad doesn’t have to be about leaves! Who knew?! Here are a couple that I made:

I really need to expand my repertoire.

So. That’s that, for now. I managed and dealt with it and I’m a lot better than I was. It will happen again – it always does – but hopefully I’ll get a bit of respite for a while. And while I have my respite, I'm going to do my best to enjoy myself and be as happy as I can be.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Black Dog

My Black Dog has descended.  He’s something that I fight every day of my life but, perhaps twice a year, he moves himself in and I can’t, for love nor money, get rid of him. 

The world becomes a very scary and unpleasant place when he’s here.  I find myself sitting in silence and staring into space for hours on end.  When I’m not doing that, chances are I’m crying.  The sort of crying that physically hurts and feels like it will never stop.  My stomach becomes this tight ball of anxiety and anger...the anger is the worst part for me. 

I hate anything and everything – including you, probably.  I grew up in a family where anger was never expressed and it’s something that I now fear because it is such an unfamiliar emotion and I’m scared of the consequences of it bubbling over and showing its face.  I see everything as a personal slight.  Friends who are out and about having fun clearly don’t care about me at dare they get on with their lives when I’m on my knees?  Everything makes me angry.

I know that I’m not being rational – clearly I’m being insane and unreasonable and unpleasant.  I know all of that.  I become this vile, bitter person.  So very bitter.

I am alienating everyone right now, including the person I probably care about most in the world.  I’m just being so bloody horrible to him and he inexplicably sticks around despite the fact that I’ve done this to him several times now. 

I’m not sure of the purpose of this post.  It’s not one that I’m sending to facebook or twitter, so it’s not one that I’m really putting out there to be read.  I think it’s probably just my way of explaining to my friends that might stumble across it, why I’m disappearing for a while and why I’m cancelling the things that we’re supposed to be doing together.  It’s my way of apologising for being like this.  Believe me, I don’t enjoy it.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

I'm a cheat...AND a chicken

I'm a cheat and a fraud. 

My current twitter profile picture (I think the cool kidz are calling this an "avatar") is of me at my friend's wedding nearly 4 years ago.  I don't see the point in being modest about this...I looked HOT.  I had lost 3 stone, I could wear a flippy silk dress, I HAD A WAIST.  I had a boyfriend too - granted, he was a thoroughly crap one that told me that I was still too fat, but I could pretend to myself for a bit that he liked me and that made me like myself a bit more (yes, I really am that shallow.)

I see this avatar more than a dozen times a day. Sometimes I let myself click into it and I do a happy sigh because of my tiny waist (it's teeny!) and my small(er) boobs that fitted into pretty chocolate brown, spotty bras.  The picture makes me happy but I really do feel like a massive fraud, because it's just not me any more.  People who "do" twitter will know that it has an unintended secondary function as a free dating site and that the opportunity to flirt with total strangers is one that is regularly taken up.  I've had countless direct (i.e. private) messages from guys who, if they knew what I really look like, simply wouldn't have bothered.  And I feel bad about it because the picture is a big fat lie.  (For the avoidance of doubt, I've never dated anyone from twitter.  NEVER.  So don't judge me, yeah?) 

Anyway, part of the reason I've put Hot Pic on twitter is to counteract the misery which has been induced by the result of my recent enforced work photo session.  I'd been in Australia for three weeks and arrived back at the office to find 3 new members of staff (this is about 40% of our entire staff), one of which informed me that I was having my photo taken for the firm's website the following day.  Dude.  Not the best way to get on my good side.  This resulted in a total sense of humour failure on my part.  3 weeks in Australia had made me even fatter - yes, it's actually possible! WHO KNEW???!  A 24-hour flight had left me shattered with puffy eyes and dark circles, crappy skin, bent double through back pain...I'd completely lost my smiles.   

Now, I'm pretty good at Faking It.  I do this a lot of the time, for example, doing my best to shelve my sadness when I'm around others.  I failed to Fake It on photoshoot day.  I was grumpy, embarrassed by my heft and chins (plural), angry that a proactive new colleague (I would just like to say at this point, he's lovely) was inflicting Fat Website Photo on me. After the pictures were taken, I legged it to the loo and cried for ten minutes.  Not minor sniffles - full on sobbing.  I was devastated (again - yes, I really am this shallow.)  I never let people take my's a self-preservation thing.  I can kid myself that whilst it's clear that I am fat, it's not that bad, and then I see a photograph and it hits me like a punch in my stomach and I see what other people are seeing and it's both genuinely devastating and surprisingly shocking every time.  I won't look at my firm's website at all now, I just can't bear it.  I'm mortified and embarrassed that clients that I've never met now know what a slob they deal with every day.

I keep telling myself that I'm really going to start dieting.  I've started eating porridge in the morning (Rude Health's Morning Glory is AMAZING, try it) and I'm trying to take sandwiches in for lunch.  I went so far as to buy these ridiculous things called Slim Sticks which I suspect are utter bullsh*t and certainly taste bloody terrible.  I keep finding that I diet brilliantly for a day and then the next I'm just rubbish. 

ANYWAY.  Last weekend I made Hainan chicken.  It's healthy and amazing and I've been asked for the recipe by several people, so I said I'd blog it.


For the chicken bit
Medium chicken - get a good one, you're going to poach it and make a stock soup
A big knob of ginger, sliced - don't bother peeling it
The green ends of a bunch of spring onions, the bits that you'd ordinarily throw out
A banana shallot or a few regular ones, peeled and cut into chunks
1/2 tsp of whole black peppercorns
2 star anise
Fish sauce 

For the rice bit
Basmatic rice - I had about 300 mls (see point 6 below) - this makes loads.
A clove or two of garlic
(A little vegetable oil...maybe - see below)

For the finished dish
Cucumber, sliced
Spring onions, sliced
Coriander, chopped
Sesame oil
Light soy sauce
HOT chilli sauce.  You could make this, I couldn't be bothered so bought some from the local shop.

(I forgot to take this before I'd put the chicken in the pan...)

Untruss your chicken and cut off the extra bits of fat around the neck hole.  DO NOT THROW THESE AWAY.  Stuff the chicken cavity with the spring onion greens and the ginger slices.  Put the chicken into an enormous lidded pan, cover with cold water, add the peppercorns, star anise, shallots and a huge shake of fish sauce.

Bring the chicken to the boil, skimming off the manky white stuff and put the lid on  It should like a bit like this:

Cook it at a very gentle simmer for about 45 minutes.  I thought it would take longer than this, but mine was falling apart and blood free at this point so I whisked it out of the water, popped it on a plate, extracted the stuff from the cavity and put that back in the stock and covered the chicken with foil to keep it a bit warm.

This next bit is boring.  Taste the stock - it's a bit watery and boring, yes?  You need to reduce it like crazy.  Take the lid off and boil it furiously.  This takes FOREVER.  I think I watched a whole episode of The House of Eliott while I was reducing my stock.  (I love The House of Eliott.  I'm so old.)  Keep tasting it so that you don't turn it off too soon; I know, it's really tempting because this bit is soooooooo dull, but it's worth it in the end, I promise. Oh, and keep adding more fish sauce.  It tastes good!

Once your stock almost tastes like something you could drink (you're going to drink it later), start on your rice.  Remember that chicken fat that you saved from earlier?  You need to render that down in a smallish saucepan.  If you haven't got enough fat or can't be bothered to do this, just use a little bit of vegetable oil.  Try to avoid eating the crispy chicken skin.  I TOTALLY avoided eating the crispy chicken skin.*

Measure out your rice in a jug (there is a reason for this, honest).  I think mine was came up to the 300ml mark.  Pour the rice into a sieve and rinse it thoroughly to remove the starch.  

Crush the garlic cloves into the chicken fat, cook for a few seconds and then throw in the rice.  Fry this off for a few minutes and then add 600 ml of the now-tasty chicken stock. This is why you measured the rice in the jug - you need double the volume of liquid to rice. It should bubble furiously then turn the heat down as low as it can go, put the lid on and let it cook for 20 minutes.  DO NOT TOUCH THE LID.

After 20 minutes and another 1/3 of an episode of The House of Elliot (I'm obsessed) have a look at the rice.  DO NOT REMOVE THE LID.  I hope to god that you have a glass lid otherwise you're going to be a bit screwed at this stage.  Assuming that you have a glass lid, tip the rice to the side LEAVING THE LID ON to see if there's any liquid remaining. There was in mine so I cooked it for another 4 minutes and crossed my fingers.  If there's no liquid, turn off the heat, LEAVE THE LID ON and let it sit there for 10 minutes, becoming delightfully fluffy in its own steam.

Chop up your vegetables - thin slices of spring onion, half slices of peeled cucumber, chopped coriander.  Carve up your chicken - it should still be a bit warm but it doesn't need to be, nor should be, hot.  Drizzle it with a tiny bit of sesame oil and a little soy sauce. Take the lid off the rice and fluff it up with a fork.  Taste it - it's AMAZING.  

Serve it as you see fit.  I shaped my rice in a bowl (because I'm a git) and sliced up a whole chicken breast.  Pour yourself a cup of the soup to drink too because it's pretty delicious.  

Basically, you've got the hot rice, warm chicken, cool crisp vegetables and drops of hot hot chilli sauce on top with the refreshing soup to drink alongside.  Look, see?  

This is pretty close to my food heaven which is strange as it's actually pretty healthy.  I didn't get to this size by liking healthy food.  However, as much as I love it, it's a little time consuming.  It's not something you can cook when you get home from work - it's definitely a weekend recipe.  My main problem during the week is that I'm always so tired and I just don't have the energy to cook anything spectacular after work...which is when I turn to the takeaway.

So.  I challenge YOU, my readership of 3, to send me your super-speedy, low-effort, inexpensive, salmon-and-tinned-tomato-free recipes that I can prepare in minutes in the evening.  (Oh, and since I ate weever fish at the weekend, I've gone off fish a little bit unless it's mackerel or cod-type-fishes.  Or shellfish.  Or squid.  Meaty fish now freaks me out, so none of that thanks.)

And seriously, make this.  It's a goodun.

* I ate the crispy chicken skin.