Losing Weight: Who Knew Salmon Was So Calorific?

I was listening to a podcast with Clare Bowditch on Conversations this morning (about her book Your Own Kind Of Girl) and it made me question exactly why I’ve started another diet. Like her, I came to the conclusion a while ago that weight is unimportant (as long as it is within a healthy range and not affecting your health); that it’s what’s on the inside that counts; and that society needs to bloody well grow up and accept that most healthy women do not fit the skinny model stereotype promoted by magazines – hence the popularity of Celeste Barber.

Photo by Louis Hansel on Unsplash.com

In general, I manage to maintain my Reubenesque figure by compensating for my food and alcohol over-indulgences by working my butt off on walks and runs. However, the toll from Christmas this year has been grim and I’ve been sucked into a diet by the vanity of the old man who says he feels uncomfortable being overweight.

Imagine that?

Neither of us wants to get down to the sort of unrealistic weight that means that you start rocking in a corner when you think about a Magnum, but we’d like to lose the weight we’ve gained over the last two years – to avoid the slippery slope of unfair weight distribution that happens to so many people in middle age.

I blame our Christmas visitors for the last few kilos I’ve gained – skinny visitors who ate as much as us, exercised less, and still manage to remain thin. Also, any host knows how impossible it is to eat mindfully when you have guests in the house and you have to show off the enviable lifestyle of Australia (bushfires excluded). And in Sydney the food is as spectacular as the beaches. The day only starts after one of THE BEST BREAKFASTS in the world, followed by – as a result of our wonderfully diverse population – a veritable smorgasbord of international feasting to choose from over the rest of the day.

Worse, when you have guests (particularly at Christmas), any rules around drinking fly out the window. – so even though we weren’t officially on holiday, we were happy to use the rellies as an excuse for extra bevvies.

Hence, I find myself fitting a little too snugly into my size 14 clothes, and albeit that left to my own devices I would probably have continued to ignore the extra tire around my middle and hoped for the best once I get back into some sort of routine – When? – I am sadly married to a man obsessed with his weight.

So we’ve hooked up to an app called Easy diet diary which is basically a calorie counting tool that works like this: You put in your weight, height etc and tell it how much weight you want to lose and in how much time, and then it suggests a daily calorie intake to achieve your goal. Each day, you add in every morsel you eat, every drop of liquid you drink, and every kilometre you sweat – although I’m not counting calories burnt during exercise as that me permission to drink more.

It is unhealthily competitive and we are learning to be cunningly strategic – which is the only fun aspect of a diet – but it has given us something to talk about over the past few days i.e. like how f…ing hungry we are. And on a more serious note, we have started to think about what we put in my mouths, particularly when it comes to portion sizes. You can imagine my pain one morning when I had to put a large slice of watermelon back in the fridge because it meant I would have to forego a glass of wine that night.

And talking of wine, basically what feels like a mouthful of wine (100mls) equates to around 80cals, so on drinking days you really have to be careful about how many food calories you consume or switch to spirits which are generally kinder.

It’s amazing what you discover. I won’t bore you with the calorific content of every food faux-ami – i.e. foods we thought were healthy that are actually wickedly calorific – That’s right SALMON, I’m talking about you – but who knew that trail mix, coffee, chocolate and Cointreau were so bloody fattening?

Where the fun really comes in is seeing how much yoghurt or muesli you can squeeze into a quarter of a cup; or how many units of alcohol you can fit in without starving; and what you can eat with those precious six calories left at the end of the day – suffice it to say, I’m still trying to work out the value of a single M&M.

The experience has certainly been an education – one I won’t be repeating as soon as I get down to a svelte size 12 over the next week or so.

Mothers: Admit It, We Never Stop Worrying About Our Kids

Mothers, be careful with those little comments you drop into the conversation each time you see your adult kids (who have left home) and look like they haven’t eaten a square meal that month.

You know the type – How much fruit are you eating? ARE YOU EATING? You’re looking a bit pale, or How firm are your stools? The type that all of us mums just can’t help ourselves from asking.

Well, take my advice and shut the f..ck up, because those comments could come back to haunt you. Such is my fate since I foolishly peered into my son’s fridge and made an innocent comment about his beer diet.

‘Well, I was thinking…’ he replied the other night when he came around to ours for what looked like his first feed this month, (having obviously decided that this was the perfect window of opportunity for some long overdue Mum -manipulation), “that maybe you could deliver me a care package, once a week, for those difficult days leading up to pay day?’

‘What does a care package entail?’ I asked naively.

‘You know…a batch of Shepherd’s Pie, Bubble and Squeak – I’ll even eat your Lasagne if I have to. Something I can knock up easily myself…’ Ie. In his frying pan, which happens to be the only pan in his unit.

‘Perhaps you need to learn some money management,’ I replied wryly, fully aware of how he prioritises the half of his earnings that don’t go on rent.

‘Perhaps you need to remember that you were young once too,’ he reminded me with that twinkle in his eye that he knows makes me melt at the knees.

And he has got a point. I spent a considerable part of my twenties on the Marlboro and hot chip diet, and it’s not like I’ve got anything better to do in between my three jobs and nagging my husband (!). Of course I can sacrifice a few hours a week slaving away in the kitchen to make sure that my twenty-one year old little boy doesn’t waste away.

But just putting this out there – no one bought me care packages.

So, anyway, call me a “Sad-Fuck-Of-A-Helicopter-Parent, but three Shepherds Pies were dutifully delivered to the next suburb on Saturday afternoon, along with step-by-step instructions for how to heat them up. Of course, the old man refused to have any part of what he calls my “pathetic enabling”, although he did mention that if there were any leftovers, he’d have one instead of salmon on our next fish night.

‘Where are my care packages,’ NC grumbled in a text when she sniffed signs of sibling favouritism from the city.

And so, it appears that the old man was right about one thing and wrong about another. He was wrong when he told me that no one really likes my home cooking – as was the dead fox outside our bins all those years ago that I have been reminded about after every one of my cooking fails. But he has been right all of those millions of times when he has said that I will never stop worrying about our kids.

Whereas, he appears to be coping quite admirably.

If You Could Invite Any Eight People – Living Or Dead – To Dinner, Who Would They Be? And What Is On The Menu?

If you could invite any eight people - living or dead - to a dinner, who would they be? And what is on the menu?

Whenever I’m put on the spot to choose my favorite song, book or movie, I get flustered and find it impossible to narrow my choice down. It’s much easier to select a group of people to dine with – a lot to do, I imagine, with the improved conditions in my comfort zone whenever wine and good food are on offer.

I stole the idea for this post from an interview I read on The Squiz recently, because I love these types of games – especially now, as time hurtles forward, and I can appreciate the wealth of interesting people that have made an impact on the portfolio of my life.

Admittedly, narrowing the guests down to eight wasn’t easy, mainly because of my insistence on getting the balance right – to ensure that my guests would play nicely together at my fictional dining table – but also because I had to exclude family and friends – for obvious reasons.

Interestingly, as I finalized my selection, I realized how imperative for me it was to mix up the age range of the group, and it also became very clear how much I am influenced by people that touch my life in some way now, in the present, in this new, exciting phase of middle age. It is also noteworthy that I am drawn to people that don’t take life too seriously.

So, here’s my guest list, in no particular order:

Caitlin Moran – Little or no explanation required if you read my blog. Awesome writer, feminist and “ladette,” with a similarly devilish humor to my own. For this lady, I’d have to screw table etiquette and seat her at my side.

Benjamin Law – Australian writer, swimmer, activist and the person I hold responsible for my addiction to Twitter and Instagram. A thinker and a doer, he makes me laugh out loud, think deeper thoughts, and vow to do better.

Barack Obama – The imposter in me (when it comes to politics), would be honored to sit at the feet of this great man at my table with the dog. Sage, humorous, a man that exudes love and trust and who has proven to be an invaluable asset for women’s rights and discrimination, I hope that he would bring Michelle along with him.

Mick Jagger – Mick is there for his raw energy, stories, talent, and unapologetic maleness. He is my “older man” fantasy. I need someone at my table to flirt with, someone who has extracted every ounce of living out of life, with the kind of stories that make everyone’s toes curl.

Russell Brand – More raw maleness – there seems to be a bit of a pattern here. I am full of admiration for the way this man has turned his troubled past around to embrace a more spiritual, altruistic path in the public eye. The way his “different” mind works intrigues me. He reminds me of Kurt.

Graham Norton – He appeals to the undiscovered columnist in me. Secretly, I lap up gossip and gratuitous material about the decadent, torrid lives of celebrities. I have always liked Graham. He has always remained true to himself in what can’t have been an easy start for his career, and I admire the way he has leveraged his innate talent – his charisma – into a profession.

Clementine Ford – I’m Clementine’s fan-girl. I devour everything she writes and I am often moved by the power of her convictions, her bravery, and her transparency. We share the loss of our mothers at a young age, and I admire how she has used that loss to empower herself. I admire how unafraid she is to demonstrate her struggles and the emotional sides to her personality as well as her more well-known public persona, her radical side – a range that stretches from staunch feminist and activist to vulnerable partner, mother, and fellow anxiety sufferer.

JK Rowling – I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve only read parts of the Harry Potter series. Where the old man will only read books with dragons, I have never been able to get to grips with fantasy or sci-fi. NC read the series before she could walk, and Kurt wasn’t interested in them. But I’ve seen and read enough about this lady to know how much I would learn from her about self-belief, authenticity, writing, and humor.

And for my menu:

I’m will ignore the likelihood that there are more than a handful of vegetarians at my table. However, I would choose oysters for my starter as a nod to sustainability, a medium-rare tuna steak for the main – and creme caramel for dessert – a favorite since my childhood.

Tell me who I’ve missed?

Can I Suggest Eating Mindfully This Christmas Rather Than Dieting?

Let’s make a pact and enforce a community embargo against dieting this Christmas.

I won’t be dieting. In fact, I will be eating all of the pigs-in-blanket, swigging the whole jug of brandy custard, and scoffing every one of the purple Quality Street!

In Joanna Nell’s book, The Single Ladies Of Jacaranda Village, her doctor advises 80-something Peggy not to diet, but rather to ‘start eating mindfully.’ He elaborates: ‘I want you to think about every single thing you put into your mouth. I want you to taste it as you chew and listen to your body so you can work out when you’ve had enough.’

Easier said than done, I know – particularly at Christmas and when you’ve been raised by a war baby. And yet, the words of Peggy’s doctor really do make sense. He wants her to think more carefully about her relationship with food along with other adjustments to her lifestyle that will help her maintain her weight, rather than increase it.

No one should be miserable or deny themselves at Christmas, but it’s important to recognize when you’re full, make smart choices about what you eat, and exercise.

I’ve been trying to find that balance for a while. In calorie-speak, I have learned that when if I want a wine or two at night, I need to sacrifice bad carbs (such as potatoes or rice) with my dinner; I know that drinking water during the day fills me up and that chewing my food more slowly helps me feel more satisfied. I am also aware that the first mouthful of food is like the first sip of wine – it’s always the best!

I suppose that what I have been doing unconsciously for a while is eating more mindfully. The “eating healthily” part is easy for me – I love healthy food – although portion control, not so much. But I have also pushed myself to incorporate exercise into my routine each day. I don’t go on the scales anymore – why, when there are still women being murdered and Trump to depress me? – so instead, I gauge my weight by how my clothes fit.

Sadly, gauging your weight by how your clothes fit is becoming an increasingly difficult exercise due to the way that women’s sizing works.

The other day I tried on a bikini top in Bonds. I do not have a large bust, but because I have always carried some extra weight had a wide back (and didn’t want to spoil my day quite so early on), I attempted to be realistic and opted first for a size Large… moved swiftly onto the Extra-Large… and then, instead of beating myself up about it (and cutting up the Extra-Large into tiny pieces and shoving them down the front of the lovely sales assistant’s dress), I walked out of that shop with my head held high.

Generally, I wear a size 12-14 in tops, and yet I couldn’t squeeze my puppies into an Extra-Large. How can that make sense when the average size of women in Australia is a size 16?

So what do we do? How do we cater for the range of different shapes and sizes that women come in, without encouraging obesity? The only solution that I can see is education. 

I’m no scientist, but I’m always surprised by how little most people understand about the risks associated with processed food, portion control, sugar and the way our metabolism slows down with age. And that’s without taking into account the emotional eaters and drinkers among us or those of us in menopause.

I stopped self-flagellating over bad eating days a while ago. Like everyone, I have shit to deal with. Some days I feel on top of the world and others I want to never leave the house, and even though food is not my natural go-to substitute for happiness or self-medication – I’m wino! – I am guilty of major blow-outs like everyone else.

However, I’ve changed the way I handle them, which has nothing to do with the fact that I feel invisible anyway, or because these days I give zero fucks about pretty much most things, or even the emergence (finally) of some middle-aged wisdom. The alternative to getting depressed about something that is pretty irrelevant in my life right now – even if the magazines try to convince us otherwise – is to try to think calmly and positively for a solution to reverse the damage – such as half wine-half water, a few more salads, or some brisker walks. 

I’m already looking forward to those brisk walks this Christmas.

Have you got any other tips to share about eating mindfully? 

It Must Suck To Be A Vegetarian At Christmas

I never thought I’d say this, but for once I find myself in total agreement with my father’s view that political correctness has gone mad.

According to The Independent newspaper in the UK, a researcher has proposed that idioms such as “bringing home the bacon” and “flogging a dead horse” should be removed from the English language because the imagery they create is offensive and upsetting to vegans and vegetarians.

Veganism is on the increase, and at a time when some celebrate Veganuary and it’s just as easy to buy veggie burgers and sausages in supermarkets as the genuine dead animal, while I agree that an awareness of the sensitivities of others is important, where does it end?

The next step will be to stop insulting plant life as well, because surely, “as thin as a twig” has to be body shaming to the twig in the same way that the accusation of being “as red as a beetroot” is typically used as a derogatory observation.

It’s never easy to make a stand for your beliefs – particularly when it comes to food choices and intolerances – in the face of, (shall we say), old-fashioned principles. However, sometimes Karma has a funny way of evening the score. And one of those times took place during my recent holiday as my father reached into the fridge for a swig of orange juice one morning and grabbed at my carton of almond milk instead.

A smile may have crossed my lips as I watched him spit the offensive liquid over the kitchen floor after the barrage of insults inflicted on both NC and myself in relation to our dietary choices – hers vegetarian, and mine dairy-free.

For this is a man who prides himself on being a “war baby,” and hence, eats everything – a fact that was rammed down my throat as a child every time I refused to clear my plate of food – which was often because there is NOTHING (shudder) the man will not eat.

“Sell-by” and “best before” dates are ridiculed in his house. Indeed, the more moldy and unappealing a piece of food appears, the more gusto the man demonstrates in its consumption.

That was why I was careful to remind him about NC’s vegetarianism prior to our arrival – she only eats fish when she feels like it is pushed – a warning that was met by the usual muffled grumblings of disgust. And when I went on to inform him that I was currently dairy-free – for health reasons – I’m certain that his derogatory whoop of disgust traveled from the northern to the southern hemisphere with the speed of light.

If I’m honest, I knew that I was pushing my luck when I requested vegan cheese and almond milk – although anyone would think my request was that he smuggle a stash of heroin through Bali rather than be seen buying vegan cheese from Waitrose.

For, as I suspected, it is still not deemed fully socially acceptable in some circles of the UK to be vegetarian or lactose intolerant, which makes it tricky to eat out. Added to which, the British diet is influenced by the climate and is heavily laden with meat. But while the word tofu may still be met with some confusion, I did manage to find a decent coffee with rice-coconut milk as a substitute and we were also introduced to a fabulous veggo restaurant near Oxford Circus called Ethos. And trust me, there’s no danger of getting fat there either because they charge you by the weight of your plate.

I pity vegans, particularly at this time of the year.

A roast without meat, (or in Australia, shellfish and salads, but without the shellfish), is nothing to get excited about at Christmas lunch, and neither is Mum’s nut roast substitute that everyone knows is little more than reconstituted stuffing.

But, each to their own.

Poor NC remained admirably stoic as her Grandad ranted off a list of sustainable fish to her every mealtime while we stayed with him – a list he had learned by heart in an attempt to either understand or ridicule her beliefs – I’m not sure which. And as I watched him force-feed her prawns and mussels, he made me swear to consume every last morsel of vegan cheese from the fridge prior to my departure, just in case it contaminated the dead animals.

3 Reasons Not To Criticize Your Husband’s Cooking

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In my experience, men do not take criticism easily – whether it’s constructive or just plain mean – the latter being particularly relevant to the long marriage.

Which is why I have had to tread very carefully this week, while the old man had taken up the mantle of domestic slavery in our house, as I pull a six-day week of work. The deal in our house is that if I work outside of the home, he cooks – a domestic chore he despises. He is not Jamie Oliver, he has no confidence or intuition in the kitchen and when he gets in a panic, he has to be reminded constantly about what to do. I can tell that he is already buckling under the strain.

In hindsight, to criticize a man’s cooking is either a brave or incredibly stupid thing to do, for it ensures that:

1. It is unlikely to happen again.

2. The chances of finding a pubic hair in your food increase tenfold.

3. The next time he is in the kitchen, he won’t just use two-thirds of the saucepans, he will use EVERY frigging saucepan, every casserole dish, and utensil you own – even that fugly vintage Pyrex dish at the back of the cupboard that you inherited from his mother. 

However – disclaimer here – I should point out, that in spite of these risks, poking your nose in where it’s not wanted, may improve your chances of survival.

Last night, I came downstairs from my shower, starving, and in search of my dinner. As you can imagine, it was on the tip of my tongue to ask “what’s for dinner?” in that caveman grunt that most men have perfected, and yet I managed to control myself. Indeed, when I peered into the kitchen, I was heartened to see two beautiful salad accompaniments laid out on two plates on the bench top and my optimism grew. However, there was no sign of the salmon. 

So, with the diplomacy of Alan Jones, I pointed out to the old man the benefits to time management of cooking the protein whilst preparing the salads. My comment was met by an iciness more penetrative than any wind to blow through Westeros in all eight seasons of GOT, and the dog and I scuttled away from the kitchen pronto, to the sound of crashing pans in our ears.

I decided not to mention that lentils should be drained and rinsed before they go onto the salad, and ate what looked like frogspawn on my lettuce with gusto.

A Guest’s Place Is Not In The Kitchen

Entertaining is all well and good as long as your guests know their place…which is not in the kitchen.

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I’m not certain if the protocol (in terms of entertaining) has changed in the UK since we left thirteen years ago – a time in our life when our social life was constrained by the needs of young children, hence fulfilled by a monthly rotation of dinner parties with roughly the same people – but I quite liked the unwritten rules of ownership when it came to the distinction between guest and host. 

In those days, the onus on guests was to bring flowers, booze, and interesting conversation, and the responsibility of the host was to provide everything else. Admittedly, if you weren’t Donna Hay, that premise did add some pressure, but what kept you going as you marinated the Coq Au Vin in your tears, devilled your eggs, and began your relationship with Valium, was the knowledge that all your hard work would be recompensed by four of five reciprocal dinner invitations, where you could be the one stuck to your seat, getting lairy, and talking about stuff that only comes out of your mouth after a bottle of fortified wine.

Indeed, the only time you relaxed the rules was towards the end of the evening, when Mrs. Perfect came into the kitchen and offered to clear up, releasing you from your servitude to pop out to the back garden for a furtive joint.

Social etiquette is a little different in Australia. For a start, people offer to bring food with them. And when I say “food”,  I don’t mean that moldy piece of Cheddar that’s sat in the fridge since Christmas with a few Aldi olives. They bring plates of the type of gourmet food that wouldn’t look out of place on a Heston Blumenthal menu.

And while that generosity lifts the burden of the host to provide all three courses and canapes, it also adds more pressure to the quality of the food that you are serving.

The other differences are – and this may have something to do with the open-plan style of the homes here – there is more of a hands-on vibe, where guests mill around the kitchen offering assistance and trying to get involved, which makes it much harder to conceal what I like to call my natural cooking disasters.

And then there’s that new breed of men that like to cook and make your mother’s tried and tested home cooking recipes appear amateurish. Personally-speaking, there’s nothing more intimidating to me than a man who knows his way around a sous-vide and who brings his latest cooking appliance with him to knock up the appetizers. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that men are starting to take on their share of domesticity, but I’d prefer to see more of them voluntarily clean the toilets beforehand than show off their version of the “Snow Egg.”

And all this camaraderie in the kitchen means that you have to clean it properly, ahead of the event, because people will be in your kitchen. That caked potato on the roof of the microwave (since the time it exploded) and all those tiny scraps of food that inhabit the cutlery drawer (because your dishwasher is still going after twenty years), have to go. You even have to wipe down the door fronts – not exactly what you bargained for when you had that crazy idea of a relaxing lunch.

There’s A Sandwich Shortage In Australia

Far be it for me to take the spotlight away from Barnaby Joyce’s affair, however, Australia has a far bigger problem than a defunct political role model.

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It has a sandwich shortage.

 

When you drive through the state of NSW – that bit around Sydney and up to the Gold Coast – you will notice that the country is nothing like the way it is depicted in movies such as Mad Max ie. barren, soul-less, with kilometers of dirt, dust and cattle farms and serial killers that wait to hijack your combi the minute you step out of it for a pee. No, NSW is lush and green with beautiful beaches that must compete with some of the best in the world,

 

But long journeys are as boring AF, and what most of us tend to do when we’re bored is think about food.

 

In the UK, motorway cafes and petrol stations have remarketed themselves as fully stocked supermarkets that offer a variety of lunch options and snacks – they even sell wine. Whole aisles are dedicated to the sandwich, from the traditional egg and cress or chicken and mayo – my personal favorites – to the more exotic gourmet flavors handed down by their immigrant population. Even quinoa must have infiltrated the sandwich market at some level by now.

 

I bet that even Dean Moriarty, Jack Kerouac’s character in On The Road, found somewhere that made a decent sandwich, but in regional Australian, similar quests always seem to end in a hot pie with sauce (or “poie” as we pronounce it here) or a Maccas heart-attack fest. Mention a sandwich and the eyes of the locals glaze over – as though you just landed in one of North Korea’s practice missiles – which is kind of depressing when you think about the progress that has been made in diet and nutrition.

 

Far be it for me to knock the staple comfort food of my adopted country – I imagine that the steak pie has far more goodness in it than a super-sized Big Mac meal with a side of a chicken and cheeseburger and an Oreo sundae, which is Kurt’s lunch of choice after years of enforced healthy eating, but even with the dietary tweaks one makes on holiday, it is difficult to find anything healthy and tasty on the road.

 

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Admit it, you thought I was joking.

 

Sure, there are plenty of lollies, the sugar-fix of choice (if you can agree on whether to go sweet or sour) with six hours of barren landscape ahead of you, fights over playlists, bitching about the speed limit and which toilets to stop at. And there are plenty of (frankly) weird places to stop at in this vast country – Big Bananas, and cafes shaped like rocks where you sense that no one has ever heard of Netflix, (let alone dedicated their life to the sport of watching it), waxing or customer service, and where coffee is served via machines that all function slightly differently making you wish that IT was on the curriculum when you were at school – which all take on a heightened significance when you need to lift the tedium and pretense that there is any conversation left after twenty-five years of marriage.

 

We settled for a burger in the end. I couldn’t repeat the experience of last year when (finally) we found a café that was open and had a friendly staffer who had actually heard of the word “sandwich”, hadn’t run out of bread or only took cash. And it was only when I said the word “mayo” three times without a single glimmer of recognition of the abbreviated condiment, that all hope crumbled. When they (obviously) fertilized the egg, reared the bird and cooked it as we waited, my anxiety went into “abort mission” mode and the sandwich ended up in a bin down the street.

 

So we ended up at Maccas, again, and shared a portion of chips, one of those boring concessions to the aging process, where you allow yourself to stand on the edge of the pool of holiday-brazen-ness, but you only go in up to your waist. It’s a bitch getting old and realizing that you can’t ingest or imbibe whatever the fuck you want and that mental point system of calories in your head booms at you through a megaphone with “what the fuck are you thinking, you fat bitch?” every time you contemplate anything naughty but nice.

 

A full portion of chips is three glasses of wine to the muffin-top-challenged, so it’s a no-brainer, really.

Teaching Your Kids The Value Of Money, Hard Work And How Boring It Is To Adult

My father returned to Sydney for the Ashes and took the whole family out to dinner the other night – as in, he paid for all of us, naively telling us that he was going to BEFORE we had ordered from the menu.

 

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Like kids in a candy store

 

My kids aren’t used to a free-for-all mentality when it comes to restaurant menus – expensive off-piste specials included. With an accountant for a father, there are family rules when we eat out, and Kurt and NC have been strictly brought up to ignore appetizers, starters and cocktails and take a shortcut to the mains. Even steak – unless it’s contaminated by Mad Cow Disease (hence on special) – must be overlooked in favor of more sustainably financial choices, such as burgers, pasta or fish n’chips.

 

They understand that dessert will be an ice cream from the Seven-Eleven on the way home, if they’re lucky.

 

Which was why I couldn’t help feeling a little betrayed by the open mouths and first-day-of-the-Target-sales-look on both their faces when my father told them they could pick anything. Indeed, he might have been speaking a foreign language to them.

 

‘What?’ spluttered Kurt in disbelief, his eyes searching mine, imploring me to confirm this dream come true. ‘Even… a starter?’ At which point I had to kick him under the table.

 

NC is rather more mercenary and the minute the idea of oysters was bandied about, her hand went up – a fair-weather vegetarian, my daughter somehow managed to justify her inclusion in the fish starter via an emergency consultation with Google. It turns out that oysters are sustainable, do not have a nervous system or a face… apparently…hence they are fair game.

 

Anyone would think my kids had been brought up on the poverty line from the ill-disguised delight on their faces when a side order of bread suddenly appeared on the table – it was like a miracle had occurred, like Christmas after Christmas, as each of them regressed back to being kids in a candy store with a penny in their hands. And although I had worried about how Kurt would fare with the evening – eating out not being his favorite pastime –  I have never seen him adapt to a new situation as quickly.

 

And while I sat there pretending that cheese before dessert represents normal life in our household, I realized that my father’s generosity was a good lesson for my son – it was good for him to witness the pleasure to be gained from working hard. In his half-price Pierre Cardin trousers– two sizes too big, (but PC nonetheless), and one of Kurt’s first impulse buys from his hard-earned cash, he is learning the value of money quickly.

 

So I decided to ignore NC’s sneaky order of a Baileys at the end of the evening and the crass, all-you-can-eat-the-buffet-bar mentality of our family as a whole. Our behavior was not a sign of avarice, rather an appreciation and an extension of our kids education in the value of money – something that my son is slowly beginning to comprehend as he begins his working life, because impulsive, compulsive and with a worrying grasp of consequences, he has yet to have more than a cent left in his bank account  24 hours after payday, since he started to work.

 

Thank fuck, he is paid weekly.

 

This week, his father drags him into the next stage of how boring it is to be an adult money management when he starts making him pay for his own travel expenses, while I will adding a pair of strong walking shoes and a new bike to his birthday present list.

How To Show Restraint At The Inclusive Hotel Buffet Breakfast

fried-1789962_1920I’d never noticed before that skinny women only eat fruit at the hotel buffet breakfast, but since NC kindly (?) gave me my FitBit for Mothers Day, I’ve become much more conscious of the number of calories going into my body versus calories being burned.

 

Due to medical reasons pertaining to my mental health, I have to allocate a large percentage of my daily intake of calories to wine each day, so I need to watch carefully how much and what type of food I put into my mouth – especially with the added complications of middle-aged hormone fuckery. And possessing that level of control is not always easy on holiday where the ‘fuck it’ attitude kicks in the minute you step off the plane and all traces of accountability disappear.

 

The old man and I haven’t stayed in a hotel with inclusive breakfast for years (because…children), so this holiday has provided me with the biggest test on the food frontline since my last working lunch, when our boss used to provide enormous catered trays of sandwiches and cakes and I had to physically pinch the skin on my thighs to stop eating.

 

Since the early days of our marriage, the old man and I have maintained the same strategy when it comes to the hotel buffet breakfast – which is to eat as much as we can so we don’t have to pay for lunch. In hindsight, a strategy that rarely actually works.

 

It took me the first three days of this holiday to work out my buffet breakfast plan for the rest of the week, after a few false starts where all my self-coaching on the plane fell apart as soon as I approached the breakfast area and my natural mindset of Labrador set in. Most women will recognize that it is almost impossible to resist a line of FREE food that you haven’t had to either plan, cook or shop for – particularly one which offers a smorgasbord of food you normally deny yourself, the morning after that first night of holiday drinking – another of those traps you swear you won’t fall into until Happy Hour swings around at 4pm and the lure of half-price cocktails proves impossible to ignore.

 

I’m being hard on myself. I did show some self-control in my choice of fruit as my starter, (rather than the huge bowl of Coco Pops I would normally berate Kurt for), before I headed for the full, cholesterol breakfast, finished off by toast, no Nutella, and washed down with three cups of Earl Grey.

 

Only four mini chocolate croissants made their way back to our room.

 

I’m not sure why we live this lie each hotel holiday that the buffet breakfast will suffice until dinner, because inevitably the ‘FEED ME!’ belly grumbles always kick in around 1pm as those first wafts of lunch make their way around the pool.

 

But today I demonstrated REAL restraint. I accepted that after three hours of hard work lying on a sunbed, I have a right to feel a little peckish around lunchtime, and I refuse to beat myself up about it. I am aware that lifestyle changes – particularly in regard to diets – need to be permanent, rather than half-hearted efforts here and there. And so I became a responsible eater this morning – mature enough to look beyond the sausages and potato croquettes, to think about the bigger picture of my health and weight beyond this week of testing temptation. And frankly, the bacon and eggs were enough.

 

 

Food Goals When You Work From Home

One of the main benefits to working from home, aside from the greater job security than that currently offered by the FBI, is the 24hr on-site cafeteria. 

I have instigated Google’s food policy in our house. They don’t allow their employees to be further than 200 feet from food at any time – a strategy that ‘inspires innovative thinking’ they believe, as well as a greater appreciation for food, in my experience. Particularly now, as we enter winter, and I’m cold and beginning to miss the luxuries of the modern office, (and in particular, ducted heating), and have turned to food for comfort.

Without the usual office time-wasting distractions of forming scrums around the coffee machine, bitching in the toilets, sending funny emails about the boss, kicking the photocopier and social media, food has become much more significant in my new working environment – perhaps too significant.

And the best part is there is no judgment.

There’s none of that pressure to take in the grossest, sludgiest green smoothies for breakfast; no need to hide my Nachos under my sprout salad sprinkled with caterpillar semen for lunch, which I then used to top up with Maccas when I was ‘doing the mail’. No, you see I can eat what the fuck I want to in my own home, and if suits my very busy schedule to eat ten smaller (hmmm!) meals per day, I have earned that right.

Even so, I have begun to see the potential pitfalls in this new partnership. The fifteen-pound weight gain (on average) of Google employees over their first year of employment, has been termed the Google 15, hence I haven’t got close to the scales in months. But I ask you, with no-one to have hour-long chitchats in the toilets to discuss current events, (the size of Jon Hamm’s penis, for example), how exactly is a girl supposed to fill the gaps in her concentration?

It has been said that the lack of physical contact with the outside world can be a disadvantage to those who work from home – research that I suspect was reported by someone who has either never worked from home or who actually likes people  – and I now see how that sense of isolation could lead to an eating disorder for the lonely writer. Chocolate chip cookies have been my support through several, highly stressful hours to deadline.

I’m lucky that I have been able to learn from the best when it comes to my WFGs (work food goals), my progress in which he will assess in my annual review. Because there has to be some biological reason that my husband, who also works from home, has to run 7ks a day to maintain his current weight.

He works at the other end of our house – the end with heating, (an issue that is escalating and as such has been added to the next team meeting agenda). His office, which doubles as a nap-pod and reading room – in fact, any room name he can invent to avoid me – is even closer to the evil magnetism of the kitchen and I hear him and his furtive rustlings in the pantry; the tell-tale timeout beeps from the fridge door.

The waft of melting butter on crumpets is all it takes to pull me out of my steely focus on work and straight into the cookie jar, a consistency which is certain to score me a 5 at my review, I hope.

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When Your Kids Selfishly Decide To Become Vegetarian

For the third time in her short life, NC has decided to give up meat and become a pescatarian.

 

tuna-576938_1280She is an environmental vegetarian which is apparently the practice of vegetarianism or veganism based on the indications that animal production, particularly by intensive farming, is environmentally unsustainable. Industrialised agriculture contributes on a “massive scale” to global warming, air pollution, land degradation, energy use, deforestation, and biodiversity declines. It is estimated that the livestock sector (including poultry) contributes to about 18 percent of global GHG emissions expressed as 100-year CO2 equivalents. According to Wikipedia.

 

As an aspiring climate scientist, who Mr Trump and Mr Turnball should be highly fearful of, NC feels it’s time to make a personal stand.

 

Which, while all well and good, (and myself and the old man count ourselves as supportive parents), it was predictably hard to prevent the eye roll  when she informed us about it and the telepathic question might have passed between us as to who would buy the bacon this time – a surefire way to persuade our daughter to stop being so selfish making mealtimes hell on earth to plan for.

 

Unfortunately, she seems more rigid about her principles this time.

 

I respect and value everyone’s choices in this world as long as it doesn’t affect me too much. I’m happy to go to vegetarian restaurants with my veggo friends – perhaps made easier because I’m quite partial to veggies in general as well as having certain somewhat embarrassing issues with red meat (see this post) – but I refuse to pay an arm and a leg for a piece of wild salmon or get the old man to fish for fresh tuna for our “picky pesky”.

 

Because although she eats fish, she will only eat certain types of fish now, and tuna, the lazy/cheapskate cook’s answer to getting fish down your kids’ necks, is off the menu completely.

 

Such limitations have had ramifications for the House Bitch who can be somewhat of a prima donna and is freaking the fuck out because he plans the meals, does the food shopping and occasionally pretends to cook. And for a man who finds Spaghetti Bolognese a stretch of his culinary skills, food without meat is a real conundrum.

 

In fairness to NC, she has offered to cook more often now and has produced several interesting vegetarian meals over the past weeks, which included a spaghetti dish where the only other ingredient was wilted spinach. As you can imagine, the boys raved about it, rubbing their tummies with glee and satiation until the minute NC turned her back and they ran to the fridge in search of protein.

 

She seems to be fairing quite well on what is effectively a cheese and egg diet and I’ve only seen any sign of her principles cracking once, when we came together for our traditional kebab night on Thursday. The smell and sight of those juicy beef slices dripping from the edges of our pitta bread, while falafel crumbled pathetically from her own, produced a look on her face akin to that of most of the world when Trump won the presidency. Disappointment at how much political choice can truly suck.

The Curse Of The Middle-Aged Baby Belly: Can Women Have It All – Both Wine And Food?

A common thread of conversation among my middle-aged friends is “weight gain”. We usually begin to moan about how little we can eat these days somewhere between dessert and cheese and then wash away our concerns with wine. maternity-830683_1280

 

I have to admit that having never suffered from serious weight gain issues before – apart from when I first discovered pints of lager at university – I used to think that they were linked to poor self-control and that if you pretended to exercise and ate in moderation, it was possible to maintain your weight. But it turns out that there is some science behind the middle-aged tyre, something about protecting our bones from breaking – although which bones my layer of lard is shielding around my navel, I have yet to learn.

 

One of the biggest priorities when we were looking for our new home recently was that it should be walking distance to a local pool, because the crazy machinations of the way my brain works got used to that luxury at our old place. I’ve been swimming for a while now and I can definitely see the benefits, although up until now it was more about maintaining my mental health than trying to disperse unwanted fat. Sadly, it seems I may have to change my focus now.

 

My body has never conformed to what Dr Google says it should be doing at any given time, most recently proven when I went through one of the biggest stresses in life – moving house – and gained weight.

 

I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve reneged on the one deal I had with my body which was never to go up a dress size. Again. That might be because I’m more comfortable in myself, (although more likely to be because I love my food), but I now realise that I’ve been kidding myself for a while about my weight, aided by a combination of cheats such as changing clothing brands, choosing between wine and food , in other words, pretending that I can have it all. I also stopped weighing myself.

 

But those days are gone because my clothes have become so tight that even my support pants are struggling to hold me in and sadly, I look shocking in kaftans. I’m not vain, but a wibbly-wobbly tyre around what used to be my waist is not an attractive accessory, and typically all my extra weight has accumulated in the area between my breasts and pelvis so I look like I’m in the early stages of my second trimester. Why some of those fat deposits couldn’t have ended up on my wide, boney ass or in my lips is another of life’s unfair fuckeries.

 

I repeat, it’s not so much about the aesthetics, as proven by my recent descent into wearying pyjama bottoms as late into the day as possible (a benefit of working from home) and the fact that I didn’t complain or go back when a new, more economically-priced hairdresser gave me hi-vis, zebra highlights last week. My problem is that I’m very partial to retail therapy – particularly clothes – and my stomach is compromising that pleasure. Clothing manufacturers for young women do not incorporate the sort of elasticated, room-for- growth pouch you get in maternity clothes and I don’t know how I’m supposed to maintain my youth in slacks and smock dresses.

 

So what else can I do? Obviously I’m not going to become some aerobic psycho that takes up ‘boot camp’ and risk a premature heart attack or stroke and I fear that if I give up wine I might end up like those smokers who give up and then get lung cancer.

 

Calorie-counting doesn’t work either because my adding up becomes distinctly shady after the first thousand calories of Chardonnay.

 

And I do eat healthily most of the time. Although the kebab shop at the end of the road in our new neighbourhood was an unfortunate discovery.

 

Help!

 

 

Vintage Cooking: Could Devilled Eggs Really Be Making A Come Back?

Friends came around to dinner this weekend. Since we moved to the apartment we entertain less and to be honest I was feeling out of practice when it comes to cooking for the masses from our matchbox of kitchen. IMG_2840

 

When I researched what to cook on the Internet – keywords being “easy” and “quick” – I noticed a distinct return to the sort of food we used to dish up in the eighties, and it made me feel strangely melancholic because it was towards the end of that decade that I first began hosting dinner parties; around the time I first considered myself a grown up, I suppose. Needless to say, I’ve regressed since then. In those days we didn’t worry about carbs and calories and felt no shame about chucking a vat of Lasagna, Coq au Vin or Moussaka on the middle of the table.

 

I got away with a posh Mac and Cheese once, although I did gentrify it with some bacon, leeks and a sprinkling of paprika.

 

Reinventing Coq au Vin this weekend crossed my mind, but the old man poo-pooed it, so instead I opted for a new recipe, some slow-cooked lamb shanks, which turned out to be another cooking disaster to add to my extensive list. After three hours of cooking we needed a hammer and chisel to get the meat off the bone.

 

Fortunately they were good friends and The Princess has been in bone-heaven ever since and completely forgotten about when I forgot her sixth birthday.

 

One of the recipes I spotted on the Internet that appears to be making a comeback is “Devilled Eggs”, which made me realize just how far we’ve come with food over the past thirty years.

 

IMG_2842There are obviously a lot of eighties recipes that seriously prompt the bile to rush straight to the back of my throat – “Stuffed Marrow Rings”, anyone? – but I still can’t part with this Hamlyn cookbook from that period. I dip into it for old family favourites like Refrigerator Cake – which the kids always insist on for their birthdays – and bread and butter pudding. Most of the recipes are far more conducive to the cooler UK climate rather than the one we live in now – even though we persist with turkey and gravy on Christmas Day, because I believe in maintaining your culture even if it does mean filling your belly with hot, crispy roast potatoes in a sweltering thirty-five degree heat.

 

I’m no food snob – if anything I’m more against the newfound need for small portions and perfectionism in the kitchen that we’re continually indoctrinated with, and I remain a staunch fan of the simplicity of the egg – particularly now that scientists have undone the Fatwa for eating them, which means that after my twenty-year purge I’m able to make up for lost time on scramblies and omlettes – but as with stuffed tomatoes and stuffed peppers, stuffed eggs do reek slightly of grandma’s bedroom.

 

Perhaps current food trends like ‘deconstruction’, smashed food, foams and smears etc will go out of fashion in the same way stuffed tomatoes and eggs did and then we’ll start heralding back to the recipes of bygone years and make it a trend to go vintage. To be fair, there’s a soft place in my heart for the stuffed tomato, because it was the first recipe with more than two ingredients that I learned to cook in my home economics class in school.

 

These days, I pimp my Bread and Butter Pudding with raspberries and white chocolate to bring it up to millennium standards, although in truth it’s because the kids gag on sultanas. I shall be cooking Shepherds Pie at my next dinner party.