The Skinny Thing- Carry On With Christmas

festive fruity salads to keep the Christmas spirit alive- recipe from Seasons Eatings by Gizzi Erskine

Ah, yes, January 2nd. Your gym is ram packed. Your work clothes are suspiciously tight. There’s a special joining rate at Slimming World and Joe Bloody Wicks is EVERYWHERE!!!! It’s the perfect time to embark on a strict low sugar low fat high cardio mindful double whipped nonsense of a total lifestyle change! Isn’t it?

No. I don’t think it is. Because despite these inspiring factors above, it’s cold, it’s dark, you’re skint from Christmas and just settling into the pain of a pretty epic cheese and vodka hangover. The world is quite literally pitched against your mere survival, let alone the prospect of meaningful self improvement. For me, this is the absolutely worst time of year to go extreme with anything other than sale shopping or wardrobe clear outs. A load of forced ‘healthy’ changes can be both physically and emotionally shocking after the (usual) chill and snooze options of the festive season,  yet still we all announce and encourage each other in our lofty plans of deprivation in the name of the New Year. It is as though a flip of a calendar page has erased the previous three weeks/months/years of being mere mortals with day jobs and a taste for cocoa solids.
It’s hard to drop eight pounds in a month when the fridge is still full of stilton and your favourite jogging route is too icy to negotiate without a pack of huskies. It’s hard to swap stuffing balls for quinoa salads. It’s hard to get up at 5 for that pre work yoga class when you’ve been flat out cooking for your family, sorting out the recycling and playing with your kids for ten days straight. It’s hard to refuse a cut price mince pie when your commute is suddenly busy again and it took you an hour to get home only to go to a spin class instead of curling up to a netflix splurge and the last of the Quality Street. And the harder it is, the bigger the fail potential, and the deeper the pit than runs along side your waggon for you to tumble into. Because if you have a diet fail day in March, chances are that there isn’t 3/4 of a Christmas cake still on the sideboard for you to console yourself with.
We are such extreme beings, taking an effortless slide from ten days of late nights and strong drinks into an additive free high fibre dry vegan meltdown of purity that we so often fail to look for the successful middle ground where we can have what we want and not ruin ourselves at the same time. But if you must rush headlong into January with plans of mass calorie cutting, quitting smoking, running a sub half hour marathon and writing that children’s novel about the talking fireplace you’ve been thinking of for years, I have one piece of advice: Carry On With Christmas instead.

Sex Up Your Salads.
I spent a full four hours in my kitchen on new years day for the sum total of four salads and a collapsing and sad looking ginger cake for the official End Of Festivities dinner. But those salads, by Jovi they were amazing! Because they are special salads, seasonal salads with posh dressing and pomegranate and all that stuff which is a crapton more appetising than a stack of shredded iceberg and three tomatoes smeared with weight watchers vinaigrette. I have a leftovers lunch for work today, and even with over estimation on my portion sizes I’m pretty sure I haven’t gone over 500 calories on a stonking first desk-lunch of 2018. Research your salads, and make good ones for your diet, put some time and love into them, like you do at Christmas!
Get a bowl and mix shredded red cabbage and grated carrot, dress it with 2 parts light mayo, 1 part fat free greek yoghurt and 1 part white wine vinegar plus lots of pepper. Quick and delicious.
Shred up some brussels sprouts for a nutrient packed salad base that is much more satisfying than more bloody lettuce (Seasons Eatings by Gizzi Erskine has some great variations of these).
Take that leftover cheddar and toss it with celery, tomatoes, cucumber and carrots for a crunchy lunch treat rather than just melting it over a ton of toast and get more fibre and less refined carbs for your efforts while you’re at it.

Turkey Sandwiches!
img_6472Turkey breast is one of the leanest meat options available and high in energy boosting B vitamins, you don’t have to give it up after boxing day! If you can’t be doing with roasting a whole bird every week look for it minced in the shops and turn into meatballs or burgers with fewer calories and negligible fat content vs pork or red meat. Turkey is also a great canvas for taking on other flavours so get experimental with some anti oxidant rich chillis and garlic or fresh squeezed lemon juice and green herbs rather than sugary ketchup or mayo.

Go Nuts.
There’s always a bowl of nuts about over the yuletide, but come January we all seem to be back to shunning these little kernels of goodness because of the potential calorie count. Whilst I won’t advocate a year round diet of chocolate Brazils, there is plenty of room in any diet for some nutty goodness and they may even help your weightloss and fitness goals. Yes, nuts tend to be fatty but these are those famous ‘good fats’ that are satiating and nutritious and contain all manner of mood and immunity boosting components. Chuck some pistachios in that sexed up salad to enjoy extra magnesium, zinc and vitamin E. Grab a handful of almonds in the morning to make porridge less suicidal. Soak some hazelnuts overnight in apple juice and add them to that early morning green smoothie if you must. Nuts are good for you, and nuts are tasty, just watch your portions. Go nuts, but don’t go nuts if you know what I mean.

Pop Your Cork

A glass of champagne has about 95 calories (that’s less than an average banana). A pint of beer more like 180. A medium latte about 130. I’m not saying swap all other fluids for champers, but by all means keep the fizz in your life past New Year! A little treat does you good, it makes you feel special and is actually nowhere near as bad for you as you think, in moderation of course.

Spice It Up!
I must confess I don’t love traditional Christmas spices, but cinnamon is delicious and wonderfully good for you. It is a source of manganese and calcium and has been linked with improvements in blood sugar stability (to stop you craving the Cadbury’s). Its natural sweet flavour makes it a virtually calorie free sweetener for porridge or hot milk and mixed with chilli peppers and cocoa it makes a wonderful base for a rich bean chilli if you are joining the Veganuary hoards. If your newyearnewyou punishment of choice is to cut down on caffeine then cinnamon based teas make a great, warming substitute- I really like the Pukka teas Vanilla Chai which is weirdly more cinnamony than vanilla………

vanilla chai tea from Pukka teas

Get Social!
Less daylight, lower temperatures and the associated stress of the festive season can leave you open to all manners of seasonal affective mood issues and emotional burn out through the winter months. Being sad saps your motivation to be good and whilst a quiet night alone on your sofa is probably very appealing a little bit of company for a meal or two can be quite the mood booster too. We all get sick of our family or our inlaws or Karen from accounts sometimes but maybe if we weren’t so antisocial through the year then the Christmas extroversion might not be as painful by comparison.
Host a leftovers party. Take that box of Celebrations into the office so you don’t eat them all yourself (take all the Malteeser ones out first and keep for yourself, obviously).  Make some biscuits with all those walnuts that didn’t get eaten and take them round to Mick’s to catch up on the Eastenders special together. Pop in and see your Nan for tea, she might not have any more presents for you but odds on she’d love to see someone and she’s still got a bit of brandy somewhere…..

Get to bed!
Who had a couple of lie ins over the festive period? Ah, that snoozy heaven. And who sneaked off blissfully early to bed one night after a mince pie too far? Wonderful.
Being well rested isn’t just good for your eyebags- sleepy time allows your body to heal and your brain to chill out and process exactly what it was that Auntie Shirl meant about you being ‘the real Christmas cracker’ this year. Getting a full 8 hours a night has also been observed to yield greater fat loss results than those seen in dieters eating the same food but only catching 5-6 hours of zeds. Who doesn’t want to sleep for ages and wake up skinnier?

Sometimes the laziness and the excess are the best bits of Christmas but they really aren’t the aspects you should keep up all year, regardless of you weight loss goals. It doesn’t all have to be a shameful bump back to earth though and you can drag out that Yuletide spirit without buggering your skinny jeans goal completely until the days  start to get a little bit longer and that aerobics class and green smoothie bowl make you want to cry a little bit less.

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2018- The Dinner Resolutions

2018

Ah, hogmanay is upon us, and I feel this morning like 2018 may continue very much as 2017 is ending. Basically that means sore footed and snotty (you are dead to me Jon & Kerrie) whilst trying to devise ways to eat good dinners and keep the Mr away from anything with lemon in it.

Ah, it’s not all bad, it’s just early.

In review, I made quite a few ticks on my 2017 list and will infact be seeing out the year in one of my promised venues from last year, The Kovalam, which has become our celebration restaurant of choice. I didn’t make it to Lily Vanilli’s and the bloody Man Behind The bloody Curtain didn’t materialise for a number of booking conflicts but they will bump on to my renewal wish list at midnight. I kind of hope that this is all that thumps about as the year flips over this time.

Confession: New Year is not traditionally a happy time for me. Take a ticket and get in line if you fear this is some kind of attack on any NYE I have spent in your company. It has nothing to do with you- frankly I enjoy drinks and celebrations at any time of year but the actual entire New Year concept is often something of a gloomy weight for me. There’s a bunch of reasons for this, but the biggest is that the end of the year is a time to look back. To reflect. To add up all the little notes and failures and embarrassments and slights and underachievements that have dragged me another twelve months closer to the grave. Woe is me.
OK fine, not really, I don’t need a Samaritans intervention and I really don’t need to spend any more time agonising over my Nine Of The Best instapost. Time to look forwards.

I don’t want to be that bore who bangs on about wellness and feelings and all that but just for a moment let’s get bored about wellness and feelings. I’ve seen a lot of pleas this year to think of those who are alone at Christmas and think of those who might not like the holidays (disgraceful term) and this gets right on my festive tits, not because I don’t wish to think of these people but because I can’t believe people still need to be reminded to be nice to eachother and lay off the emotionally fragile once in a while!

What the AF has this got to do with a food blog? I will tell you. The world sucks. The world contains misogyny scandals and factory farming and everything dark and selfish within humanity that has allowed a demented gibbon to rise as leader of the free world. There isn’t much I can do about those things, and it is easy to become massively depressed about the state of the world, or massively depressed about the state of yourself. When you can’t wave a magic wand to change the world, you can take a peek inside yourself and make some changes there which nudge the world as a whole in a better direction and quite frankly cheer you the hell up.

I’m going to wager that you eat every day, I know I do, so I’m going to start there, and do my best to start looking at my dinners as a way to make a softer and possibly kinder world that isn’t quite so depressing.
I am absolutely not going vegan.
I am also not cooking tonight. It has caused me enough stress to calculate the perfect ‘casual’ new years day dinner for visiting parentals and a work weary Mr alike, if I had been planning a blow out NYE dinner too it may well have destroyed me. The pressure. The vegetarians. The wonky oven. Horrors. So screw it, I booked a table and everyone can have exactly what they want and if I hadn’t I would literally not be sitting here to type this now. I would probably be crying in the kitchen on my third Scotch. Herein is my first resolution for 2018 and it comes under Be Kind To Yourself. This is a bullshit self help slogan but I’m hijacking it. It means taking that long bath or that cheeky sick day. It means saying no when you need a rest and yes when you need a laugh. It means a slice of gingerbread latte cake and a pornstar martini but it also means a kale salad and a run around the block too. There is only one you, and you should look after you. Don’t feed yourself crap, in an emotional sense yes but in an actual one too. Give yourself a break. Masses of sugar, endless espressos and litres of high fructose corn syrup infused frankenfoods scarfed in a darkened room might sound great but they will make you feel shit. Just stop living off shit all the time. Get up, get green and get outside for a bit of fresh air. Then fine, eat the cake later but not the whole cake. Treat yourself. No really, think about that word, and treat yourself. Look at what is on your plate and think about what it is going to do to your innards. Your innards run your outards, you know. Be nice to both of them.

Next up, Be Kind To Others. Give to charity. Have some buddies over for a meal because it’s nice to have dinner cooked for you- especially if you are usually the host. Most people are much easier to please than you might think and they would love a chance to sample that funny trifle with ginger nuts and dream topping that your nan taught you how to make. Plus you can get rid of one of the eight Pannatones still in the cupboard from Christmas and you know they will bring some wine with them, so everyone wins.
Take your friend out for a long walk or a short stack of pancakes and talk to them. They might need it even if you don’t. Believe it or not just listening to the thought of others is a kind of therapy, it’s called Giving A Shit. It is important to give a shit about other people because it helps you give a shit about yourself. It is easy to focus on the success of others and the failures of yourself too. I do this constantly. I frequently tell my mates not to beat themselves up whilst mentally listing all of the reasons why I should die alone in a hovel whilst self flagellating with some dried brambles. When you care a bit about the pain in other people they become less Super Human and a bit more like you. And life is not all pain of course! You can share the funny and the triumphs too and even if your life hasn’t gone to shit it’s still cool to see someone else doing well. Hang out with other people, and be kind to them.
Give to your local foodbank because some people literally cannot afford to heat their home and eat in the same day. In a world where you can spend £300 on a gold leaf vintage brandy cocktail, this still happens. It is a disgrace. Help them out. Look up your local one here: https://www.trusselltrust.org/get-involved/ways-to-give/donate-food/
Take one of those tubs of Celebrations into work even if you do share an office with a bunch of pricks. Everyone likes Celebrations.
Stop buying cheap, mass farmed meat because those chickens die scared and filthy. Look for the welfare assertions. Ask about origin. Ask about people. Sorry, what? No, I don’t expect you to start cooking with organic hand reared fillet of Caucasian, but food is about farming too and the little creatures aren’t the only ones to suffer for your dinner. At the very least, move your coffee and chocolate to Fair Trade only. Ask where your avocados were grown and research living conditions there. Take a very hard look at where your nuts and spices come from and cut out palm oil out wherever you can because the origin is so hard to assert. Check out Farm Africa and send them a fiver. Be Kind To Others. I will try to.

Finally, Be Kind To Your Planet.
Seriously, you don’t have anywhere else to live, why the hell would you contribute to pollution or global warming or mass extinction?
Eat more plants, because we need plants. Sorry, what? Right now, masses of energy and effort goes into growing plants to feed animals to later kill those animals to make burgers, and we are running out of clean air and topsoil because of this. Google it if you want more info. Eat more plants, and grow more plants. Lay off the meat a couple of days a week. Petition against idiot councils hacking down trees to appease wankers who don’t like cleaning bird poo off their shiny cars. Walk to the shops once in a while. Grow your own potatoes and stop wasting the food you already have.
If nothing else, please buy a long life reusable water bottle. Recycle. Put a jumper on and turn the heating down a degree. Put a bug hotel in your garden and an aloe vera on your windowsill. Nature makes you feel better, it really does, and it needs some help. Be Kind To Your Planet.

So these are my dinner resolutions- less meat and more kindness. How dreadfully pious and self-congratulatory , right?
I am literally about to eat shortbread for breakfast then nip out to fill up my gas hog VW with hydrocarbons as an 18th birthday treat for the old tank. Then I’m going to get smashed and stuffed with curry tonight and probably feel like crap tomorrow which will make me grumpy and disrespectful to my mother. I am not perfect. You aren’t either. Maybe we can do better, maybe we can’t, but we can do kinder.

I wish you all the best in 2018, for you and your people and your planet. Happy New Year, up yer bum, etc.

The Green Tea Thing

GT

I’m on the challenge wagon again, and this time it’s Green Tea. Green tea is from the same plant as your standard black or white tea, just harvested at a different stage of growth, and it is widely held to contain a good amount of antioxidants and diuretic metabolism boosting properties. It is basically eastern magic in a mug and will make me a skinnier, happier, faster running guru of intestinal peace, allegedly. And it’s not as bad for you as coffee is.

I drink a lot of coffee. Too much coffee. I have been know to hurt people who suggest that I cut down on it because it’s mine and I like it and can’t you just LET ME HAVE THIS ONE THING!!!!!!!!!

OK so it isn’t the coffee that is bad, rather the caffeine. For quick reference- caffeine is a naturally occurring compound which directly acts on the central nervous system as a stimulant. Basically this means it wakes you up and gets you going with a jolt to your general alertness. It is a drug, and in excess can cause headaches, insomnia, stomach problems, muscle tremors and a rainbow of anxiety issues. In a sensible amount, as in maybe 2 cups of coffee a day, it isn’t a big deal, but it is still a drug. Green Tea contains roughly 1/3 as much caffeine as coffee does with the added bonus friendly chemical EGCG which is currently showing signs of anti viral, anti carcinogenic and cholesterol lowering behavior in medical research programmes. Bonus.

So in the name of self abuse of the highest foodie order, I’m going to try to dump my coffees for green tea because it might be really good for me and after my own recent rant on food waste I can’t really in good conscience ignore this open box of Knightsbridge tea bags on my desk any longer. Here Go.

Day 1:
Coffees drunk- 1 nespresso first thing, 1 instant in the office.
Green Teas- 2
I remember again why I dislike green tea so much, it just tastes of No. Sour, rotting old grass, bleaugh. The key to success today is going to be remembering to take the bag out promptly and not let it get too strong.

Day 2:
Coffees drunk- just the 0630 nespresso
Green Teas- 2
My brewing method is improving, by which I mostly mean shortening and I am reminded of previous green tea interludes when I became convinced that it was dehydrating. I laughed that off as anecdotal/a good excuse to stop before but must overshare with you today that I seem to be peeing very little. Any metabolism boosting properties were certainly not evident on my Wednesday night run.

Day 3:
Coffees drunk- 1 nespresso first thing
Green Teas- 3
I am desperately thirsty today. Still not much action in the pee department. Mild compulsion to kill at 2pm. According to the Livestrong guide these 3 green teas have equated to the caffeine I would have had from a single coffee, so perhaps this is some sort of withdrawal rage though I suspect it might be more to do with men being idiots.

Day 4:
Coffees drunk- Half the early nespresso because I got up late
Green Teas- 3
I cannot stop peeing and my mood has improved, though this is likely to be entirely Friday related.

Day 5:
Coffees drunk- 5. It’s Saturday and there’s no green tea in the house.
Doses of caffeine containing cold and flu medication taken: 4
Hours slept- roughly none.
Incidents of suspected heart palpitations: 3 (but Ben Barnes was on the telly so…..)

Day 6:
Coffees drunk- 2, both weird ginger spice variations with almond milk.
Moscow Mules used to soothe Snow Fear and isolation- too many.

Day 7:
Coffees Drunk- Half an early nespresso
Green Teas- 3. I already hate the taste much less than I did last week.

In Summary:
You know, as much as I love a cup o’ Joe, I think my obsession/addiction/over consumption issue is actually just hot drinks in general. I am something of a massively habitual creature, and an early coffee is something I enjoy pretty much every single day, usually in the company of the morning headlines and there is no acceptable substitution for this. Ever. However, once this initial caffeine fix is met I am actually quite happy to rock on through the day with all manner of warmed hydration fixes and I’m going to ditch my weekday workdesk coffees for good. I’m also going to put some limits on myself on the weekends too, when my worst caffeination damage occurs.

A week isn’t time enough to prove that the tea did it but I’ve lost just over a pound in weight this week without much real effort and managed to rid myself of a uncharacteristic acne outbreak.  I’ve also put my general fluid intake up by about 20% as I now don’t fear that mid afternoon cuppa will keep me awake all night. All good things, but the biggest player in my coffee dump decision came from a joyless night home alone over the weekend. Saturday kicked off with a back to back americano binge which then clashed in the afternoon with a full on attack of the Manflu. Having shit to do and places to be, I dosed myself up on cold and flu tablets and tried to soldier on. Each of the 4 doses taken added effectively another espresso on my intake. By the time I lay twitching in bed at 1am with a godawful stomach ache, staring at the ceiling and contemplating life, love and whether or not Dorian Grey would be able to share his selfies in a modern day interpretation, it occurred to me that actually caffeine is really not very nice for you.

So I lost a bit of weight and some spots, what else? I wont say I feel desperately more energetic or clean or any of that but with the exception of that skittery night of roughly 90 minutes rest at the weekend, I have slept better in the last week than I have for some time. More specifically I am getting to sleep a lot sooner, having retained the same bedtime, and consistent quality of sleep is something that impacts on many aspects of health and in particular successful weight loss. Also, sleep, hello! I like sleep! And I want to kill the Mr much less if I’m not awake to be disturbed when he starts snuffling and talking about saucepans in his dreams, which he actually does quite a lot. So there you go, Green Tea may also be proven in time to be a martial aid of sorts.

I still like coffee too, so that early nespresso is staying but other than that, it’s going to be mean and green all the way.

 

Some extra reading if you fancy it: https://www.menshealth.com/nutrition/the-face-off-coffee-vs-tea 

Easy Food Waste Wins

fresh-food-garbage-can-to-illustrate-waste-63217286

There’s been a lot of press grumble recently about the horrors of food waste in the UK, culminating this week in the East Of England Co-Op food stores announcing that they will now continue to sell dried and canned food past it’s best before date. This is a great move by the Co-op, for altruistic and PR reasons alike.

You may have heard the stats- more than 7 million tonnes of food waste is getting chucked in the bin every year in the UK and this has spawned all kinds of celebrity chef books and interweb offal recipes but why do we care? It’s only food, right?

Right. If you don’t despise the idea of paying to put stuff in the bin (weirdo) there is also the consideration to make that we are running out of landfill space. Your lovely government types also seem hellbent on removing every scrap of public service that they can get away with, and this includes your friendly neighbourhood binman. If I lived in a house roughly ten miles to the right of my own, my rubbish collections would be halved for austerity measures written by a bunch of suits who get a fully stocked free canteen every day. Any idea how much gets chucked out from there on a daily basis?
I digress.
Food waste is also potentially really shit for the environment- especially when you start pouring your out of date pint of semi skimmed down the sink or consider the extra CO2 miles involved in transporting all of your manky carrots and mouldy bacon to the local tip.

I could go on but I won’t, instead I’m going to chuck out a few ideas of how you can easily reduce the amount that you waste in your home without resorting to a biomass burner or bonebroth and gruel heavy diet. Make a change, man in the mirror, all that shiz. Here go.

Compost.

My compost bowl getting filled up!

As a gardening bore, compost availability is a direct indicator of my general quality of life. No, I don’t get out much actually, why do you ask???
On a serious note, if you have a garden then you have some call for compost and kitchen bits can really boost it by varying the nutrients and fibre availability from rotting down your garden waste alone. To be very clear, I am only talking about veg waste and eggs shells you do not want to put any meat, bones, dairy or bready produce into compost because it will go rancid and stink and attract rats and maggots and other such beauties. Any kind of raw or cooked fruit or veg, coffee grinds and some teabags* are fine compost fodder, eggs shells and the odd sheet of newspaper are also winning additions for your home made dirt. I’m not just talking about potato peelings and carrot tops here either. Forgot about that box of mushrooms in the back of the fridge for two weeks and now they look like they’re covered in ectoplasm?  Compost. Discarded lime wedges from your G&T? Compost. Peas, swede and cabbage left over from Sunday lunch plates (because there’s always room to finish the yorkshires)? COMPOST.
And don’t tell me compost is a pain. It isn’t. If you have 2 square feet spare in the back of the garden you can compost. Just buy a bin it won’t be more than £15 if you google shop and put it on some bare earth in the back and away you go (get one with a little hatch at the base).  Then keep a tasteful, over priced Compost Caddy handy for your trimmings or, if you are a Luddite like me you can just use a bowl and empty it out as you go. If it isn’t enough that you get to give a little bit back to your begonias next spring, you will also support worms and similar buggers in your garden and save yourself money on those horrid food waste bin liners.
Go extra- if you are a gardening fan save your cheese rinds, broken biscuits, cake scraps and apple cores for the bird table.

*check manufacturer info for these as some teabags contain plastics

Shop smart and shop late
I do the famed British ‘Big Shop’ once a week and by Wednesday I’m usually stopping in at our local convenience store of choice for top up items. Over the past six years of coupled bliss I have learned three many things from the Mr, including the unbridled joy of Vulture’s Corner- that little end section in the fridge aisle of yellow stickered wonders. Thanks to the often non-science used to calculate the BB4 date you will find all sorts of treats here with significant savings due to being within 24 hours of the fictional turn of the clock when all food turns to evil fairy dust. Not sure what to do for dinner? Look here first, and save yourself some money and the rest of us another couple of inches of landfill.
I feel it necessary to add that this tactic does not work if you buy stuff you don’t need or won’t use just becuase it has 80% off. Like 5 pints of milk for 30p when you live alone or three kilos of turkey mince that no one likes. Do however opt for anything that you can freeze but remember to do so as soon as you get home.
Go extra- stop buying stuff you don’t really like. Just stop. Life is too short to waste on quiona salads that never get finished. 

Go Flexitarian
I am honestly not one to push that V word on anyone, but there is mounting evidence out there that making a modest reduction in your consumption of animal produce has a significant impact on your own immediate health and that of the planet we all live on. I love meat and you can take my cheese from my cold dead hands but I stopped buying meat for weekday consumption about five months ago and I can’t say that we have suffered for it. In fact our weekly shopping bill has come down by about fifteen quid/ 25% for this and we very rarely find scary furry stuff in the fridge any more. It’s dead easy to let a broccoli rot away in the drawer when you have all that tasty chicken to put in a curry after all. By swapping out meat in most of our dinners we use a lot more long-life items like canned beans and lentils and never, ever miss our five-a-day veggie goal. This does not make us the vegan police, it has made us a bit better off though as most vegetables and pulses are cheaper than meaty options and last a lot longer.
Go extra- make an active choice to cut fresh meat from your Monday-Friday menu unless you have found a yellow sticker deal, then enjoy your Sunday roast all the more for it. 
Check Your Storage
It is amazingly easy to decrease the shelf life of your shopping with how you store your grub, and also easy to avoid. Take your veg out of the wee plastic bags before it goes in the fridge to keep air moving and avoid early slime spoilage. If you can’t keep your potatoes in the dark then at the very least avoid any direct sunlight on them and don’t keep bananas alongside your other fruit (unless you are trying to ripen them quickly).
Go extra- always keep strong tasting stuff in good quality sealed tupperware boxes in the fridge to avoid them tainting other foods. The worst offenders are onions, cooked eggs and strong spices. Chocolate is particularly susceptible to taking on bad tastes from the fridge too so make sure you eat it all at once or, if you do store it, keep it well sealed. 

Give It Away.
Give it away give it away now.
Ahem.
Remember that multi buy deal cereal thing you fell for only to discover that you actually hate museli? How about your home made hummus phase that died out before your chickpea stockpile was even slightly depleted? Get nine boxes of biscuits for Christmas when you’re starting a strict low carb regime on new years day?
Don’t chuck it. Please. Poverty is a shocking and consistent problem in the UK with a heart breaking number of families reliant on food banks and breakfast clubs to ensure that they hit three meals a day and while you might argue that this isn’t really your problem you can still be part of the solution. If you have in-date and hardy items in your cupboards that you are not going to eat then please,  please don’t throw them in the bin. Foodbanks provide essential aid to families who may well not be that far removed from your own and will accept that pack of pasta that you can’t eat on your Atkins plan with open armed glee. Many supermarkets have a foodbank collection point or you can look up your local one here: https://www.trusselltrust.org/get-help/find-a-foodbank/
Go extra- some food banks will also accept donations of cleaning items and toiletries if you can bare to part with that 1996 bottle of radox that you keep knocking off the end of the bath. 

 

a couple of additional links for the extra inspired:
http://www.wrap.org.uk/
https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/may/06/more-than-8-million-in-uk-struggle-to-put-food-on-table-survey-says
http://www.approvedfood.co.uk

The ACV Challenge- The Write Up.

vinegar read the first part here

I have to start with both a disclaimer and an apology on this challenge report, which is some weeks late now. In my defense, I extended the period to two weeks as basically I wasn’t sure that anything had had the chance to change in just seven days. In further explanation to my tardiness, basically: NaNoWriMo. My free keyboard time has been otherwise engaged recently.

But here we are and here I am and what was I doing again? A tablespoon of Apple Cider Vinegar in a glass of water, first thing every day with the hope of some relief of IBS symptoms and potential other health boons as per acres of Broscience and circumstantial bumf on that there internet.

What happened? The diary notes started painlessly enough:

Day One: My shot of vinegary water at 0620 hours this morning was, perhaps shockingly, not something that I would call a pleasant experience. One tablespoon of ACV in a tumbler of cold water, blasted back all in one go. I thought this wouldn’t be so bad what with my usual affinity for food and drink on the winkier end of the flavour scale. Not so, my friends, not so. It’s minging. The general unpleasantness clears quickly, however.
Some hours later at the day job I am receiving a little bit of noise from the stomach area and a borderline unpleasant and mildly stripped sensation in the mouth not unlike when one eats too much grapefruit. My coffee tastes like crap, but that might be a user error (I’m looking at you, kettle colleagues).
As starting reference points, I had a craptastic nights sleep last night so it is hard to imagine that my start of week selfie wont be vastly improved upon later in the week. I am clad in my little red Next frock which was very snug in the tummy first thing. All is normal.

I am going to add at this point that I’m not sharing those selfies with anyone, I look like crap at half six on a Monday morning and no end of vinegar drinks is going to fix that. You don’t need to know.

Day Three: After another astringent start to the day yesterday I was not looking forwards to my shot this morning and I thought I might lessen the pain by diluting my ACV in a bigger glass of water. This was a mistake, as it just resulted in more stinky harsh vinegar water to get through before I could hit the crumpets, and I must admit to discarding about a fifth of it into the sink when my gag reflexes threatened to kick in. This must be why some people advocate making some weird kind of tea with warm water and honey to mask the taste but I will not be taking this step because A) Adding sugar to the mix defeats the object of the taking the vinegar as a a tonic to an empty stomach and B) I don’t have time for that shit, I already get up early enough thanks.

I can’t say as the day by day account goes that there is much more to add to this. Drinking vinegar water is not palatable and hangs around for long enough to spoil your first coffee of this day. This should may be enough to put most people off the regime entirely. The one thing I do note is that on almost every day I took the acid test, my morning appetite seriously reduced. A quick scan back over my food diary shows that pre-lunch snacks just stopped. I ate breakfast before I left the house at 7ish every day and then didn’t think of anything else until my main day job break, some time between noon and 1-30.  Did I lose a ton of weight over these two weeks then? Er, no. From the looks of it my calorie intake stayed about the same but I don’t remember being particularly hungry on those afternoons. More likely, as a smartpoints counter, I just used up those snack points with my dinner instead so all in all, no real net effect there.

My bloat has buggered off though, in fact typing this now almost three weeks on, my day to day humdrum symptoms (nausea, pain, massive hard belly that plays like a snare drum etc) are completely gone. Before you reach for the bottle, I had a single and severe, erm, let’s call it ‘attack’ five days ago so I am certainly not touting it as a cure either.

Today, my little red Next dress fits just fine and my sexy jeans don’t hurt to sit in for more than half an hour BUT I am over a kilo up on the scales from my first day on this experiment. Huh. My summary on the whole thing? A solid Meh out of ten. All this observations could have happened on their own or because of something else and having given up the morning shots of sour glory I have not reverted to my previous discomforts. I’m not about to fix the Vinegar Drinkers banner to my battle steed just yet.

Apart from being an unpleasant start to the culinary day, chucking back constant lugs of acid can have proper undesired effects on one’s teeth, gullet and stomach over the long term though I am not against investing in some of the capsule form ACV products the next time I find myself in gastro-trouble and see if there is any helpful effect from that.

I’m sorry not to have a more conclusive, um, conclusion but basically I think that the way ahead is to keep the vinegar in the salad dressings, lay off the sliced white and remember to keep more gut friendly grub like kimchi, saurkraut and natural yoghurt on the menu even on the good days.

Well that was boring wasn’t it? As you were.

 

 

Hands Off My Gin!!!!!

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When did a G&T become so complicated?

The humble gin and tonic appears to have become this year’s pulled pork and I cannot pretend to be happy about it. It has to be expected these days to face a smugly recounted list of nineteen gins, twelve origin countries and seven potential tonic varieties when you pull up an artistically industrial chair in your local craft-bar of choice- afterall when paying a tenner for a double and mixer who doesn’t appreciate an over educated and self important barkeep openly judging your vote for Mediterranean Fever tree over a Schweppes Slimline?

Ahem.

It is another thing entirely to find yourself constantly bombarded with endless gqarnish gimmicks and badly thought out G&T side products. Sweets- aren’t these for kids? Ice pops- ok but with an 18 label. Cakes- acceptable at a push but it is a bit of a push. Lip balm- you’re just being bloody silly now. This is going too far and before long we shall be nipping to Boots to pick up some gin and tonic ‘flavoured’ eye drops along with our Unicorn coloured B12 supplements and salted caramel hair home hair dye kit. Has the time actually come where there is such thing as too much gin?

I remember in the mid nineties falling in love with a certain era- defining Britpop album, only to have it ruined for me when some crunchy-permed mouth breathers started belting out one of the more popular singles in the corridor between 4th lesson French and last lesson Maths. Horrors. Twenty years on that song has never been the same. In a similar way, my love for a G&T (something  of a Boomboom family birth right) is absolutely not something I need to share with a bunch of affectedly hip idiots in too-tight trousers living their life through irritating snapchat filters. This cannot happen again.  I will not suffer being forced to share my seat on the gin and tonic bandwaggon with the mixology equivalent of a Kings of Leon ‘fan’ who only knows the words to Sex on Fire.

Let us be clear, I am in no way opposed to a marginally tarted up G&T, firmly grounded in the proven and subtle science of complimentary aromatics and all that gastro chemistry guff. Some peppercorns, a wee sprig of thyme, a sliver of grapefruit zest, why the hell not? If it makes for a tasty consumption experience and a pretty Instagram post then go right ahead, I’ll try two. It makes sense to experiment, because gin is by no means a standard recipe when it comes to distilling and all sorts of ingredients (what Gin Twats will call ‘Botanicals’) can be added to the process with notable difference in the end products. I can’t tell you what is responsible for the nuances of flavour in a shot of Opihr vs a nice nip of Bathtub but I can tell that they are different and as such will benefit from being served with different mixers or garnishes. This is all good. What I cannot cope with is your common or garden chain restaurant of choice offering Summer G&T Specials or Gin Clubs that basically involve a single measure of Gordon’s poured over not enough ice and served with a sad scrape of citrus fruit and a half acre of non-descript greenery in a red wine glass.

Just don’t. Please.

If you are going to get on trend with all the cool kids then don’t just blunder in there and start chucking about the rosebuds and chilli peppers willy nilly like a bull in a juniper shop. The execution of a perfect G&T only requires the basics of a mid range gin, a reasonable quality tonic water, ice and a slice.

Here cometh the first rule of gin: LOTS OF ICE. Then a bit more ice. Seriously fill that glass up. Then sneak another bit on top.

You don’t need a mega expensive secret recipe export strength gin or a violet tinged, organic water carbonated with angel farts. Fever tree and schweppes make excellent tonic water. The co-op own brand one is also more than alright, though sadly only available by the bottle rather than in those handy single serving tins that wont go flat.

Here cometh the second rule of gin: mix it with fresh and fizzy tonic.

Big bottles go flat quickly unless you are pouring a large round, so shop wisely and recycle your containers like the responsible grown up that you are. You can actually end your gin craft here with a minimalist slice of lime if you want to and that is perfectly OK. G&T, done. If you are going to get into syrups and twists and garnishes then for Tanqueray’s sake get it right!

Here cometh the third rule of gin: Less is more.

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A 2016 Christmas special G&T from the older male sibling. The exception to prove the rule on over garnishing.

It is a cocktail, not a live art installation and more often than not a slice or a stem will do the job nicely.  Personally I believe you should draw the line at two additions for fear of ending up with a weird muddle of gin-ish flavours which is just a waste of Mother’s Ruin. Make those reasonable sized additions too, no-one needs to be stabbed in the eye with a six inch rosemary stalk whilst trying to avoid choking to death on stray cardamom pods.

A fine G&T is a fine thing indeed, nectar of the very Gods on a hot day or a cold night or a particularly stressful morning in airport security as I once experienced trying to leave Las Vegas. It is a simple but precise art, which can by all means be experimental but must never, ever be dumbed down to mass production ready-meal status and should never, ever be served from a tin (unless you are already three sheets to the wind at a festival or facing an unavoidable apocalypse within the next half hour). So just try, will you please? Put in a little bit of effort, learn a few tricks by all means but treat this cocktail with the respect and affection that it truly deserves. Or just stick to a bloody jack and coke and leave my gin the hell alone, you animal.

 

Those who wish to explore the art of a G&T would do well to start with The Gin Manual by Dave Bloom and check out @ginmonkeyUK on that there Twitter thing. 

Chlorination Chicken

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Before we go any further I must thank dozens of witty social media types who came up with this easily hijacked pun about the latest Brexit related horror that is the possibility of US chlorine washed chicken ending up on your Sunday roast plate in the UK. Well done you.

The table-top impact of Brexit has been doing the media rounds recently as our glorious leaders start to chat about that pesky EU divorce and the resulting impact on the import/export market in the UK. Cut to Liam Fox, half witted Trade Secretary who threw out a casual remark about the possibility of importing American chicken to our fair shores. Cut to someone pointing out that it is common practice across the pond to wash chicken carcasses in a chlorine solution to remove all those pesky food bugs that have accumulated over the sad, short and filthy life of a mass farmed yankee chicken. Cut to general outcry about why we don’t want any of that over here thank you very bloody much.

It’s a bit sad really, because in this blogger’s opinion yes, chlorine washed chicken is a vile and horrid idea but not for the reasons you might immediately think. For clarity, chlorine is an element, a halogen, atomic no 17. It is both complex and common stuff you know, found in plastics and mustard gas and, er, table salt. Yes, table salt. The kind you put on your chips. Before you get upset about chemicals in or on your dinner, it is important to understand them. Breathe in some nice elemental chlorine gas and you are likely to die in a really unpleasant fashion. Treat some water with it and you have yourself a nice, clean pool to swim in. React it in the right conditions with explosive alkaline-metal sodium and you can pair it with some limes and tequila to liven up a Saturday night. OK so the last one will give you a headache but its not the health disaster that various panic artists might have you believe. There is chlorine in your tap water and in your own stomach acid and although having your breaded nuggets pre dipped in thin bleach might not be very palatable in theory, it isn’t something one should really worry about too much.

So should we happily accept a US trade deal which will bring chlorine treated chicken to our supermarket shelves?

Hell no!!!!!!!!!!!

In a darkly comic echo of the circumstances that lead us to the Brexit vote itself, a lot of people are missing the point behind what they think they are angry about. Don’t ask if you should eat chlorine. Ask why it is that anyone would wash their chicken in chlorine in the first place, because I can assure that your average drumstick does not need to be protected from algal bloom.  I could direct you to many wordy and horrifying sources that will tell you all about intensive farming methods and chemical interventions in the UK, and they may well tug on your heart strings and curl your toes and push you further towards almond milk in your latte and Meat Free Monday.  The short follow up to this is that it is worse across the Atlantic. Widespread use of antibiotic poultry feed in America keeps their chickens arguably protected against disease and free to spend their average 47 days of life doing nothing but eat and grow fat. This is good news for the accountants as they get bigger birds and a smaller waste margin. It is also good news for those wonderful singled celled genetic freaks that are Drug Resistant Bacteria. These are all that is left once all that nice medicine has done its work on those chickens- superbugs that medicine can’t treat. If these superbugs get into the food chain, buffalo wing fans everywhere are in for a world of hurt. In the EU, we have some very tight regulations about what it is and isn’t OK to feed farm animals because no one wants an MRSA epidemic. In the states, they just bleach those superbugs away after slaughter. But is this a big deal really? The end result is surely the same and that is safe meat on your plate and no fear that a chicken jalfreezi today will lead to an untreatable case of gastroenteritis tomorrow.

Maybe.

Be in no doubt, the need for chlorinating chicken carcasses comes from filthy, filthy living conditions rife with ever evolving superbugs and seriously unhappy chickens. I remember being an emotionally charged vegetarian for some years and being told by my teenage bestie’s moron of a Godmother that I shouldn’t feel sad for chickens, because they don’t have brains. They do have brains, they do feel stress, don’t kid yourself that just because they don’t write dark suicidal poetry about it that any intensively farmed animal is just a happy bundle of awareness-free sandwich filling.

If, when we leave the EU, we agree to import US raised chicken produce we will have to drop current food safety and animal welfare regulations considerably- you can’t allow imports of foodstuffs not subject to the same governance of those we produce in the UK. We won’t stop the chlorination in the US, so we will have to allow it here and thus the door opens to dozens of shady, cruel and questionable practices that won’t stop at dirty chickens and hormone jacked cows. For a bit of context, it is currently acceptable in the EU to keep a caged hen as long as it has its own floor space equivalent to one sheet of A4 paper. That is the minimum accepted standard. If you give them an extra inch or so of communal space for a scratch and a peck this becomes an ‘enriched’environment for them. That is the bare minimum, and that is considered one of the higher poultry welfare standards found in the world. I don’t think you need to be a militant vegan to agree that this is not the way to treat a living being, even if it is only living for a few weeks until it goes in your oven. I’m not a militant vegan, and I’m not blind or squeamish to the fact that I eat dead things. I’m happy with eating dead things, because I’m picky about the dead things that I eat both for my own health and theirs before they become my dead dinner and I am not alone in this. Infact I’m pretty low intensity on my animal rights activism when it comes to it. I shop free range and use vegan cosmetics when I can and feel guilty about it when I can’t. The more I educate myself on these matters, the more I learn and the more it becomes clear that there are other options on all menus.

I believe and hope beyond hope that the chlorination chicken question will remain eternally rhetorical. We cannot go backwards. In all likelihood, we won’t ever see it here, but we will see increasing pressure on our farmers with reduced subsidies and resulting legislative pressure to make it easier for them to survive against cheaper and lower quality imports from whatever desperate trade agreements we have to cling to when we are done limping out of Brussels. Unless what?

Unless you, the consumer, you the voter and you the person with internet access and a a bank account start to act now because you actually have a huge amount of power in the process of both saving our responsible farmers and improving the existence of livestock in this country.

Ask how your meat is farmed. Ask what kind of hens the eggs in that bit of cake in your local cafe came from. Find out where your local farmers are, how they run their show and buy from them as directly as you can. If your preferred mass supermarket of choice cannot easily and willingly provide clear and evidenced information about the welfare standards on the farms they are in business with then don’t shop there. We vote with our money every single day and it can be politically much more effective than that tick in the box in the polling booth every couple of years (or months as it seems recently).  And while we’re talking about money, stop being so bloody tight. You can’t expect a grass fed, free range, wagu massaged organic rump steak to cost you  less than a bus fare to Mc Donalds.

By supporting farmers who go above the minimum welfare standards we set a precedent and justify a fair market price. If enough people refuse to buy eggs from caged hens, then the market will have to adjust and the politicians will have to encourage and, more importantly, support reform in production because the only way to really ensure better methods is to ensure that as many people as possible are making money out of it. If you buy quality, welfare farmed British meat then your shop will sell out of it, and it will buy in more from those farmers. I you refuse to buy meat that isn’t clearly free range, then it stays on the self, and the supermarkets have to account for that waste in their profits and think about how much they want to source.

Demand quality, demand higher welfare standards and be prepared to pay for it.

Seek out direct purchasing opportunities, support good producers and for heavens sake shout about it rather than crying over chlorinated dinner crises that only exist in the tabloids.

Or carry on with your 99p burgers and enjoy your canned roast chicken. It’s up to you.

canned chicken

Whole. Canned. Chicken. Horrors.

Some further reading on the subject here:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jul/25/chlorinated-chicken-trade-britain-us-food-standards-globalisation

https://www.ciwf.org.uk/media/5235306/The-life-of-Broiler-chickens.pdf

https://science.rspca.org.uk/sciencegroup/farmanimals/standards