Cheat’s Cheesecake

Saturday night dessert action, best served with a juicy red and some Brookyln 99

Back in the days when we still cared what we thought about eachother, the Mr and I used to frequently take a Saturday Cookbook challenge and spend a bit of time mulling through my millions of cookbooks to pick a mildly tricky recipe to prepare for eachother for dinner. Awww.

It’s been seven years. We don’t really do that anymore.

This weekend though I found myself inspired by St Gizzi of Erskine with a chorizo meatball thing and decided that we would once more Make The Effort and do A Nice Dinner for which he would be in charge of dessert.

The morning went on, he read no books and he bought no extra ingredients at our German discount supermarket of choice when we went shopping. I wasn’t mad. I really wasn’t, because I made a storming dinner for myself as well as him, and we have a mortgage now which is too much hassle to get out of over a skipped apple tart and ice cream.
This doesn’t mean I missed the chance to smugly point out, after my bonza pasta efforts, that he hadn’t bothered to make any dessert and therefore I was winning at our relationship this weekend despite having a sore leg and a bit of a headache.
He looked at me. He looked at the telly. He looked at me again, then he went into the kitchen.
In less than 20 minutes time I was presented with what will go down in history as Jim’s Cheat Cheesecake. Sweet, rich and poshly presented in a little tumbler. It was bloody lovely. And he didn’t really think about it at all.

I hate him.

Cheat’s Cheesecake

Really quick, really simple, really lovely dessert.

Serves 2
250g quark (or other soft cheese)
4 stem ginger cookies
100g good milk chocolate
1 tbspn dark agave nectar
Tumblers or coffee cups to serve

Melt the chocolate over a bain marie. Smash up your biscuits into small pieces and put into the base of the tumblers. When the chocolate is melted, pour most of it into the tumblers (reserving about 2 good tsps) and mix with the broken biscuits then put the tumblers straight into the freezer.

Beat the quark with the agave until it is smooth then pour this into the tumblers and top with a splodge of the remaining chocolate. Put them back into the freezer for five minutes then serve to your girlfriend, taking careful effort to watch all of the smug drain right out of her.

variations- you could use any soft cheese for this; if you don’t have agave use icing sugar to sweeten; any crunchy biscuits would work for the base layer. 


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.

2018- The Dinner Resolutions


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:
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


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: 

Grow Your Own! A Winter’s Tale

Looking out at my garden this morning after our second proper frost in sunny Essex, I am (perhaps over dramatically) put in mind somewhat of tales of winters on the Somme.
There’s a lot of mud, you see.

My planning was a bit out this year in terms of maintenance and removal of edibles and pretties alike, and we seem to be paying for it now if only in aesthetic terms. There is very little going on in my veg patch as I put the winter cabbage seedlings out a bit too late for them to really get going and they have all died bar one skinny little plant who is soldering on but frankly not looking like he’s going to do a Steve Rogers any time soon.
I did remember to cut my rhubarb back, roughly shredding up the massive leaves he managed to grow to dig straight back into the rest of the patch for some nutrition so he’s but a sad, compost covered clump at the moment.  The two sections of late potatoes that went in with Christmas dinner expectations were ripped out again when it became clear we have a blight problem.

roasties from my homegrown pumpkins, delicious and organic!

The pumpkins were a massive success however, and their patch is now full of weeds resting empty until the spring.
My chard plants are finally slowing down, it’s too cold and too dark for them now I think but there is one small harvest left to be had before I give up on those until next year.
My 50p rescue sage plant is positively booming, and the rosemary and parsley pots are showing no signs of retreat but my mint transplant (out of the beds and into a huge pot) is flagging. I’m being polite by saying ‘flagging’. It is suffering and straggly and in need of euthanisation, STAT.
There is life from my late onion planting though, some of those are a good six inches clear of the topsoil now and we all know you can’t kill an onion so hooray! I also made a budget buy of beans from the garden centre in early October on the assurance that they were frost hardy down to about minus 4 and they are doing pretty well, not much shy of doubling in size since they went in the ground which is most pleasing. My first attempt at a home-made frame is holding up for them which is a matter of some pride after certain on lookers felt the need to comment on its lack of symmetry and troublingly low quantity of string ties. In your face, non believer!!!


Beans getting on well in the winter

This might sound like a lot but it is pretty sparse and scattered about, and since we took the budlejas back down to the ground the rest of the garden is looking very low, dull and muddy and I’m kind of glad I only get to see it in the daylight for two days a week or else I would find it endlessly depressing. But we must not depress, for it is Saturday and I’ve had more than six hours sleep so I’m full of beans and ready to inspire myself for next year! Starting on what to fill out those mud blocks with and I’m currently leaning towards some kind of mass rosemary planting and lots of osteospermum to fill out the ground. Project Feathers is also in need of advancement, as we have seriously reduced bird activity since taking out the rotten little plum tree over the summer and they really don’t seem to trust our new upright iron feeder holder thing. I have upgraded our seed supplies and added a jaunty green feeder (his name is Gerald, obvs) in the hope of attracting them back and that all needs a clean and some arrangement. Don’t forget to defrost your bird baths, fellow cold dwellers!

It was a cold start today for Gerald The Gentleman Grashopper

I shall be donning my gloves and three extra jumpers to get out this morning after another cup of coffee. Boring tidying and trimming out the dead tops of all the stuff I hope will survive under the soil for another winter because I forgot to dig it up like a good person last month. This leads to my inevitable research of how and what to cloche before I get scared of the masses of spider webs covering my cloche stash in shed and laughing it off for another year because screw it most of the pots did OK last winter.
I will also be humming some suitable battlefield soundtracks as I break out my recent delivery of Silent Roar and go once again into the breach against that ****er Moby Dick The Phantom Crapper. Let’s see how he likes coming across a little stack of lion poo in his toilet spots. There is something rather poetic about taking revenge on cats by filling their favourite poo spots with poo that they are frightened of. Bastards.

So see, there is actually quite a bit to do, and yeah it’s freezing but it’s dry and frozen solid cat turds are much less of a fuss to shift so I’m going to get to it so I can move on to phase two of the day- the dread Christmas shopping! Which isn’t too dread as I get to go to the garden centre, again, as the Older Male Silbling has expressed an interest in getting his own home-grow on next year and has requested a starter kit *insert sibling rivalry eyeroll here*

If you have a lush and lovely winter garden, good for you! If you have a frozen muddy mess like me, do not despair, put some seeds out for the robins and cuddle up with a good volume of Monty and we can work out together how to make it all better next time.

And remember, mud is better than weeds any day of the week!

The Skinny Thing- Flex Off!


*sweary rant warning*

So, after banging on about how I had the hang of smartpoints finally and Weight Watchers was no longer making me want to periodically hang myself, the buggers went and changed it all.

All legit plan followers- so those using the official app or attending group sessions- will have been introduced to Flex by now, the allegedly upgraded, easier plan with more wiggle room and a general steer towards ‘healthier’ choices. Allegedly.

I’m not a fan.

In the broadest of terms, the plan has made more food free but dropped how many points you can have a day. New freebies mostly make sense as they are low/no fat and either high protein or highish-fibrey-protein. Some potentially sugary veg like peas and sweetcorn are also now free to eat as much as you like but parsnips are still pointed (geddit?). From the various forums and buddies I have gained in Weight Watchers World, the most well received changes seem to be that eggs and chicken breast are now free. The re-grading of most legumes to no-points has also sparked a huge chickpea curiosity movement which can only be a good thing.

As before, I’m not a fan, for a number of reasons and I’ve found that I’m not alone in this from anecdotal social media rants to an organised petition to reinstate smartpoints immediately. A lot of bread and butter plan members are really pissed off, because they were getting on quite well before and now those bastards have taken all their points away, and I’m with them.  I’m used to having 30 points a day. Now, when my app goes on in the morning, I have 23. Just twenty three. Yes, yes I do have more weeklies to spread out but in psychological terms weekly points are damage control. My goal is 23 points a day, and I was hungry before on 30. Boo.
Many affiliated WW types and enthusiastic rich people scoff at this dip in points and suggest that we all just chow down on a couple of dozen chicken stirfrys a day and get over it. Well they can fuck off, because I’m not budgeted to put away fresh meat for two meals a day and if you say ‘eat more eggs’ I am going to punch you in your stupid face, as may many other IBS sufferers. Oooh plain white fish that’s free, and obviously handy to pack in a lunchbox to take to an office devoid of both safe fridges and Rick Stein. Do you know where this leaves me, friends? Beans. Bean salads to be precise. Bean salads devoid of dressing because I don’t have the points to spare on a splash of ranch any more. Five days a week. Guess how long it takes for that to get boring, not to mention gaseous? Yup, you’re there.

So I think surely they thought I could lose weight on the old smartpoints plan, so I can stick to that and it will work out, right? Meeeeeeeeh, not quite right. You see where some foods have also dropped in points to fit with the new total (utterly pointless marketing scam anyone?!?!?!), nothing really good has. So where I’m still eating roughly as before, I have totally lost my treat budget which actually went on life essentials like a dribble of cooking oil to fry with or a gin and slimline after a particularly stressful Wednesday at the day job. Oh, and the new handy rule that lets you pay forward up to 4 unused points per day into your weeklies is great, isn’t it?  Just in time for Christmas, so we can purposefully starve ourselves every day to stock up enough points for an extra sausage roll at the work’s party.  That always ends well.

Dieting is so much about psychology and thinking yourself into the options that will make you thinner, and when it is dark and cold and there is pumpkin-spiced everything around you it is hard to make good choices 100% of the time. OK so the weekly stash of extra points becomes a buffer bank for when you accidentally get smashed on Peroni watching the match on Saturday or grossly underestimate how much coconut oil goes into that curry take out, which is good. But what it doesn’t do is help on a hungry day when you are down to 3 points left for dinner and inevitably say to hell with it all and just eat what you want without pointing it because it’s just all too bloody depressing to see how far over goal you have gone.

So what’s good about Flex? There must be some stuff, right? Well ok all the free making of lentils and tofu and whatnot has made the plan much more friendly towards vegetarians and it is unarguably sensible that there should not be any kind of limit on how much lean chicken breast one tries to incorporate into a weight loss plan. But the change, people, THE CHANGE!!!!!!!!!!! Change is horrible, especially when you only use the WW app and not the old books and now have absolutely no access to what was working for you before and have no choice but to go on with this new egg-heavy lentil regime of doom. Then why have they done it?

Ask Madonna.

Reinvention is the key to remaining current, and this over complicated shake up has everyone talking about Weight Watchers and pulling their noses out of the Slimming World pages to check out all the new free omelette recipes. It is psychology again, focusing on the abundance of ‘free’ foods rather than the reduction in points allowance to make you think you can fulfill every fatty’s dream of eating loads and getting thinner. You can’t.

Maybe I like to moan, maybe I am too focused on the pitfalls of Flex and the frankly cynical marketing ploy of a Christmas party frock season release but in the short term I am calling BS on this particular WW rebirth. I’ve never believed that anyone at WW HQ gives more of a shit about my health than they do about my money, this is a multi million dollar business after all, but I really feel like this is a big set up for people to fail just in time to pile on some festive pounds then run screaming back to the program in January only to sing it’s praises again once they drop the five festive pounds that would have come off when the Quality Street ran out anyway.

I think this might be it for me and the double dubleyas. Myfitnesspal is still free and the faff of logging everything on there is not going to wind me up as much as being told to eat a sodding chicken breast for breakfast every day.


Easy Food Waste Wins


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.


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.
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:
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: