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.
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.
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.
Anyone who is responsible for cooking the evening meal knows what a mindfuck it is. It takes a lot of preparation – you have to remember to defrost, to check you have all the ingredients and that there will be enough food to go around, and if you have kids like mine, one of the fuckers will tell you at the last minute that they are going out.
Worse, if you’re a pushover like me you end up cooking an assortment of customized variations of the same meal to keep everyone happy. Add to that the issue of staying abreast of current dietary recommendations – which seem to change as quickly as Facebook privacy regulations – and it can make the responsibility an exhausting process.
I like to think I cook healthily and creatively but there are some food trends that not even I can contemplate. Take the green smoothie. As Generation Xer, hence brought up on bacon and eggs for breakfast, I am afraid that green sludge is that step too far for me. I maintain the cynicism of my toddler years when it comes to anything green, which is that it is not to be trusted.
Last weekend, I went on a girls weekend to celebrate my sister’s fortieth birthday, for which we hired a lovely apartment for two nights. As we planned to eat out in the evenings and self-cater for breakfast and lunch, our first stop on the weekend’s agenda was to the local supermarket for a communal shop for necessities.
In hindsight, four mums on a food shop had the potential to end the weekend prematurely. As each of us manages our own homes and have, understandably, our own ideas when it comes to food, our interpretation of what constitutes ‘healthy’ was surprisingly different. My sister and the other two mums are still in the young children zone of parenting and as such are used to checking the ingredients and small print on all packaging with a fine toothcomb, hence we spent half an hour in the green juice section. While each of them Googled which was the grossest healthiest juice, I waited patiently and prayed that the one with the odd kiwi or apple thrown in for good measure would be enough to pass their rigorous checks. Eventually, as it was my sister’s birthday, we let her choose the pond green juice, which contained something called Spirulina and smelled of poo.
If you believe everything you read, Spirulina is a blue-green alga and a super-food with loads of inspiring for health benefits, particularly for more senior folks like me because it can help lower our cholesterol, prevent cancer, increase weight loss and reduce blood pressure without even trying. Which means, I suppose, that if my health anxiety gets a say, I will end up eating something that tastes like shit for the rest of my life.
Because, when it comes to the taste of this superfood – look online, where there are more articles about how to make it taste good than articles about its value to our body’s microbiome – it really does taste of shit. I imagine that it might be edible in a Vindaloo or Jungle Curry, but the general recommendation is that the best way to take it is in powder form – I suggest, up your nose.
Anyway, the following morning, I put on a brave face as I peered into our communal fridge in spite of the hangover from hell, silently cursing whoever ate the last piece of cheese and secretly praying that KFC had dropped a food parcel or something vaguely unhealthy to quell nausea and an unsettled stomach from the foot long Kransky sausage with all the trimmings that we devoured like animals the evening before, when our dietary concerns were compromised by alcohol.
Surprisingly, Spirulina did not meet my need-for-immediate-comfort brief, nor had it quenched the thirsts of my housemates if the line of green around the sink was anything to go by.
Healthy eating is not as straightforward as it looks when you cohabit with other people and I know this because I live with a couple of die-hard, meat-and-two-veg men. I am continually having to compromise my idealism when it comes to nutrition, and although I had thought that I had changed the three-year-old mentality of the old man when it comes to food, the other day he asked me when I was going to cook something nice after I had presented him with a plate of fresh, pan-fried Barramundi and roasted sweet potatoes in a Balsamic glaze.
I realize that the fight about how much red meat we have in our diets, or indeed what we eat, is an embarrassing first world problem to have, yet I fear it is a battle I am losing at home. Although dieticians have proved again and again that red meat is the devil’s food, I know that my son and husband would die happily (and quickly) if I rotated spag bol, Chilli Con Carne, and Shepherd’s pie through the week, and as a natural carnivore, my own willpower disappears as soon as those red juices begin to call to me from the pan. It appears that I can only keep my cavewoman/canine impulses that see me drooling in the face of a rare steak in check, as long as I don’t have to cook it or watch someone eat it in front of me.
So, do I?
Give in, and continue to clog their arteries slowly for a quiet life?
Endure the looks of disappointment and criticism leveled at me that forced me to add secret ingredients of Spirulina and dog food to the Chilli last Thursday?
I’ve written a lot of posts about this topic in the past because let’s face it, girls, on a scale of stuff that still turns us on in middle age, (where sex with our husbands/partners is at one), food has to be at least a ten. The struggle is real. And to my horror, I recently discovered that there is sugar in fruit and wine – which is a bit rude, frankly – and a fact that has made rather a mockery of just about everything I have aspired to achieve over the past few years in my war on the muffin top.
The good news (this week) is that two glasses of red wine before bedtime is now good for us, according to the fat-busting scientists, which must mean that for those that are partial to a few more than two (due to mental health issues, say), that makes them virtually Roger Federer.
I gave up on traditional diets a long time ago, mainly because they don’t work, I can’t stick to them and they make me very dull and bad-tempered with a hunger only seen in Labradors and an irrational fixation on the breadbasket.
Fortunately, I am a moderation kind of girl, (Kettle Chips and cheese excluded – OBVS) and although I don’t deny myself any food groups really – except octopus because WTF and legs – I like to think that I choose wisely and healthily. I also try to balance my out my diet using a cutting-edge, self-developed point system that I stole from Weightwatchers designed for myself, that seems to work for me… sometimes – as in I don’t get the kind of hunger where all I can think about is eating other people’s leftovers in cafes and I can maintain focus on a sensible health target at this stage of my life – to maintain my drinking goals and weight at the same time.
Here are some of my tips:
If I have yogurt for brekkie, I won’t touch dairy for the rest of the day until my Snickers smoothie at bedtime.
If I blow out seriously on carbs, I limit myself to less than a bottle of wine that evening.
If I’ve starved myself with a steak and blue cheese salad for lunch, denied myself my morning tea toast and my afternoon snack of crackers and hummus, I allow myself an all-you-can-eat/all-you-can-drink week.
I only eat carbs when I’m hormonal, pre-menstrual, peri-menopausal, feeling fat, feeling unloved, feeling hungry, the kids hate me, or with wine.
You see – all pretty straightforward really. But let’s be honest, we all have those really shitty years when there’s been nothing on telly but sport for months, you’re fifty-two and still getting acne or your local restaurants decide to allow babies, and it’s hard to be virtuous all the time. Those days when all you want to do is crawl into bed with Pods on toast and an Amaretto on ice. And on those occasions – because remember, I said it’s about balance – I increase my exercise by searching out the furthest pub on Google maps and walking there AND BACK.
Very occasionally, I like to remind myself (and everyone who reads this blog), that I am not perfect and that we can’t all be good at everything. It has been a while since I posted one of my epic cooking fails, but this one is a real gem that provided me with the invaluable life lesson that more free time does not a good cook maketh.
You see, now that I’m working from home full-time and the kids are older – although sadly, not any less demanding – sometimes I get this longing to be a ‘fifties meets modern woman’, who can earn a decent crust at the same time as knocking up a batch of something yummy during her coffee break. I must reiterate that this window of opportunity has only come about since the kids grew up and I can callously refuse to enable their Millennial bleats for help. Which means that aside from my 24hr nagging service (which is reinforced by my ‘when are you leaving home’ ringtone), basically I ignore them. Oh, and the cleaning.
Anyway, three factors brought on this strange desire to make my own muesli cookies last week:
I am always hungry – a common complaint among those of us who work from home and find themselves within 24hr snacking distance from the kitchen. So when I discovered the recipe online, and the cookies looked kind of healthy, (because oats and fruit…) and I ignored the glaring fact that they are meals between meals with calories you don’t need, it seemed like a good idea.
I got sick of paying $5 for them in cafes.
They looked quick and easy, which meant I could slip them in between Facebook sessions.
I trust the TASTE online recipes implicitly, nevertheless, once a cheater always a cheater so as soon as I printed the recipe from the Internet I looked for shortcuts. I’m sure you can imagine my hilarity when I discovered that one of the four ingredients listed was ‘homemade muesli’, a requirement that catapulted me to Coles as fast as a two-for-one sale on Tena pads in search of the muesli-fail that looked as close to something I’d knocked up myself. And I found it, by paying a week’s rent for a European version – for which I’ve no doubt some poor migrant scaled the mountains of Switzerland for and was paid the minimum wage.
Another minor cheat was that I really couldn’t be arsed to weigh the butter (because then I’d have to wash up the scales) and at this stage in my Masterchef career, I think I know what 100g looks like. In hindsight, it was an interesting decision after flourless cake-gate last week, when somehow I forgot to add the butter completely – one of only four ingredients. Anyway, my generosity with the butter on this occasion was probably what contributed to the versatility of my cookies’, because as soon as they emerged from the oven I sensed they were special and came with a range of extra functions, meaning they could be used as a muesli breakfast cereal, drizzled over salad, used as a sweet version of dukkha (because be honest, no-one really likes the savoury version), drunk as a smoothie or added to houseplants as fertiliser.
That’s right, with the consistency of course sand, I needed a trowel to move them from the baking tray to my cake stand, so I can only assume that the egg and flour must have been having an RDO.
Perhaps I should have listened more closely to the sage advice of George Colombaris’ to one of the new guinea pigs on Masterchef this week,when he warned her not to go too far off piste in her cooking as she cried into her ice cream soup.
So weigh the fucking butter.
I’ve given you the recipe below and I’m one hundred percent confident that in the right hands, it will work.
Versatile Muesli Cookies
Calories: Who The Fuck Cares
3 Cups Supermarket Toasted Muesli (or 3 cups homemade if you’re ‘one of those‘)
100g Butter, melted and cooled
1 Egg lightly beaten
1/2 Cup Plain Flour
1/3 cup honey
Superglue (if necessary)
Pre-heat oven to 170 degrees
WEIGH butter, then whisk with honey and egg.
Combine muesli and flour together then add butter mixture. Leave to sit for 15 minutes. Roll spoonfuls of mixture into balls and place on lined baking trays.
Bake for ten minutes. Cool for 10 minutes before moving (very important)
(Warning: When all the ingredients are combined, the mixture does feel really gross in your hands – kind of like when you find something soft and sticky down the back of the sofa. But the more you compact and flatten these fuckers, the more likely you are to get something hat resembles a cookie.)
Like many people I suspect, whenever I’m under pressure to perform or create an impression, I fuck up badly.
Last weekend we were invited onto the boat of some of the old man’s work friends. For normal people, the idea of jet-setting around on a yacht in the clear, emerald-green waters of the Hawkesbury on what was forecast to be a beautiful Saturday night, with dinner in a stunning restaurant at the water’s edge afterwards, is a dream come true. I was naturally fearful.
Boating and skiing fall into the same category of “extreme sports” in my world, which is shaped by anxiety, and means that I see anything and everything as out to get me. For this reason, I only dip my toe into risky activities when I have to, even though there are elements of faking the life of the rich and famous that I could become rather accustomed to.
Unfortunately, work commitments meant that the old man and I couldn’t sail into the bay with the rest of our party that afternoon and so we were whisked onto our floating bedroom for the night just prior to appetisers and pre-dinner drinks. The setting and forecast couldn’t have been better as I tripped over a guide wire upon embarkation, which I managed to laugh off in spite of my insides doing a reverse dive with a half somersault and we spent a gloriously magical evening with extremely generous hosts and new friends.
One aspect of boating life that has always terrified me is the toilet arrangements. In fact, sod tweezers, food and music, top of my list of desert island must-haves would be a WC. ‘Pee off the side’, had been the old man’s helpful suggestion when I voiced my concerns before we left civilisation, which did little to sway my fear, but luckily we struck gold on this occasion when we found that our cabin was within spitting distance of the boat’s manual toilet. And in spite of the Titanic theme tune that refused to stop playing over and over again in my head, I relaxed after dinner and slept like a baby.
However, come the morning and after a night where I probably consumed more food than I would typically in a whole week, I had to go number twos.
Now some might find that situation awkward but I wasn’t concerned, because by now I was a pro at the process of filling and emptying the manual toilet. So it was with a new-found confidence that I slipped discreetly into the tiny cubicle while the rest of my new boating friends enjoyed their coffee in the morning sun, and careful not to over-use the paper, be efficient and quick, I was satisfied that no-one would ever know that I had dumped my load.
When I first pulled on the pump and nothing happened my anxiety meds kicked in reliably with their reassuring ‘it’ll be fine’ fervour, common in the first few seconds of one of my crises, even though the sight of the bulging culprit smirking evilly at me from the bottom of the bowl did little to assuage my sense of impending doom.
‘Breathe,’ I reminded myself as I tried to remain calm and began to pump furiously.
I pumped some more, aware that by now the Skipper must realize that we had a problem, but some guffaws from the cockpit reassured me that no-one knew, then I heard the engine go on and felt the boat begin to move, so I took full advantage of the noise and pumped with renewed vigour, silently praying that my nightmare hadn’t been detected.
But it was no use. The meanest-looking turd eventually went down with a helping hand, but that still left some persistent little critters floating around the surface, and finally I made the decision that breaking the toilet outweighed my shame and went and had a quiet word with the Skipper’s wife.
It was only when the old man told me that the whole boat had witnessed the product of my healthy bowel movements float past them over breakfast that it sunk in what a truly wonderful first impression I’d made with this new group of friends. There was no prize for the healthy buoyancy of my excrement, which the kayakers amongst our group were forced to dodge as they entered the water.
And I thought it was only me who considered “boating” such an extreme sport.
On a scale of “funny to the deepest shame”, the experience was more awkward than when my chicken fillet flew out of my bra and directly into the face of my best friend’s husband when ‘Dancing Queen” came on at a party once, and slightly less shameful than when I was interviewed by Sydney University and was asked what I thought NC would gain from her time there and I responded ‘a high tolerance to alcohol.’
I’ve learned a lot about those sneaky hidden calories with my latest healthy-eating plan, and while I can manage to restrain myself – most of the time – on home territory, (apart from when it comes to homemade banana bread, which tests me on every level), it can be a very different story, when I eat out.
A perfect example was Saturday night, when this fig and Gorgonzola starter, followed by Italian Bread and Butter Pudding were the latest nails in the coffin of my current healthy eating plan – crazy bitch behaviour, because I really only fell at the last hurdle, having gritted my teeth through my fish and salad main course while I watched my friends devour what was basically an overdose of cheese on a pizza base in front of me.
It’s easily done, and SHOULD be done now and then, just not every weekend, otherwise you become caught up in that vicious circle of losing weight during the week and piling it all back on (and more) at the weekend.
But self-discipline is really tricky when you eat out because you don’t want to be the party pooper on salad and then you have to watch your friends gorge on the yummy stuff as well as contend with the psychological warfare that tries to convince you that there’s nothing wrong with treating yourself now and again, even though you know that healthy eating has to be a permanent lifestyle change to work.
And this is where that knowledge/obsession with the hidden calories in food really comes in useful, because BEWARE, fellow foodies, there are ingredient faux amis out there, just waiting to help you fail.
I’m talking about you, boiled rice!
It’s fairly obvious that foods like pizza aren’t the best choice, but I’d always assumed that Asian food was a safer bet. Unfortunately, it all depends on the dish you choose, because when it comes to ingredients dressed up to sound healthy, Asian food has a ton of hidden wickedness.
For a start, forget any dish with rice in it, bread on the side, coconut milk in the sauce or if it has been deep-fried. A cup of boring, boiled rice has 250 calories, so you can imagine the additional calorie wastage when it’s fried – especially when those extra, precious calories could give you two glasses of wine, a light starter, or my personal favourite, a scoop of Green Tea ice cream at my local Japanese.
The safest bet if you like Indian food is to go with the vegetarian options or a Tandoori chicken and salad. A simple chicken or veggie stir-fry is the safest option with Thai.
So much of Asian food is deep-fried – which means goodbye to old friends such as spring rolls, money-bags and tempura. Even dumplings and Gyoza can be quite deceptive unless you can stick to four as your main course…which is obviously humanly impossible.
Vietnamese food, on the other hand, which is vegetable and herb based is a much healthier choice, although you still need to watch out for those sneaky little peanuts and sticky sauces.
Italian is obviously not the best, but if you can stick to one course, avoid the bread and order either a traditional meat or fish (unbreaded) dish or vegetarian dish such as a tomato-based pasta with the teeniest teaser of Parmesan on the top, it’s not so bad.
And thankfully, pub food is moving with the times and gone are the days when there is only a pie (my ultimate hangover food) on offer.
This is the pie they serve at our local, so you can see my problem.
These days, my healthy choice at the pub has to be more along the lines of a Caesar Salad (sob!) with grilled chicken (if I’ve got any chance of getting into a cocktail dress in May) – WITH DRESSING ON THE SIDE AND IGNORE THE CROUTONS… ONCE YOU’VE CHECKED THEY’RE OK, OBVIOUSLY – maybe a salmon and salad or a stuffed chicken dish.
I’ve even spotted Quinoa at our local, which must seriously piss off the Parmi Army.
I hate winter with a passion. In fact I hate winter more than sex.
Without wanting to sound too Monty Pythonesque, you have no idea how tough it was growing up in the UK climate, in the days before helicopter mums to drive us to school in their SUVs, or Uber at our disposal. In fact, I blame much of my current anxiety issues on the trials of surviving the UK winters.
We had ‘frost’, too.
Let me educate you southern hemisphere lucksters about ‘frost’. Jack Frost is a bitch to deal with in the morning when you’re already running late. I could never have coped with it myself as a mother. There’s that whole laborious process of scraping and pouring hot water on the windscreen – while keeping the engine running to avoid more frost forming – followed by that eery and potentially lethal drive to your destination, which is usually done blind due to the build-up of condensation on the inside of your window screen.
And that’s before you’ve even started your day.
I realize that perhaps it is the most embarrassing of first-world problems to moan about the Australian winter, when temperatures in Sydney only get as low as a finger-numbing eleven or twelve degrees in its depths, but it boils down to a question of acclimatisation. Twelve degrees with a chill breeze from the Harbour blowing right in your fucking face is probably akin to 3 degrees in the UK.
Whenever I’m asked if I’ll go back to the UK, my answer is a resounding ‘no,’ and I admit that my decision is based solely on the shallow reason of ‘climate’. Because although my family, my oldest friends, my heart and my history all still reside in Blighty, my body (and hence my mental well-being) like it here, in what is (save a few months) a beautifully temperate climate.
I’ve always despised the cold. At boarding school, groups of us girls would literally sit on the radiators while we listened to the radio and matron rant on and on about the risk of piles. I’d rather have piles than be cold, I remember thinking at the time… until I got piles when I was pregnant.
I truly believe I am one of those SAD people because I open up and blossom in the heat and my world becomes full of endless possibilities with the sun on my skin. Whereas my body shuts down in the winter. I’m not some stupid sun-worshipper, though – I slip, slop and slap all over, and the old man and I have become THAT middle-aged couple among the beautiful people on the beach, to reside permanently under our umbrella. Like a cat in front of the fire, I crave warmth at all times.
And I suffer from Cabin Fever, too, as winter drawers closer. With that first chill in the air, I can feel the symptoms of my body withdrawing from life begin to twitch, feel unsettled and become tetchy about my loss of freedom.
They would call me a ‘wuss’ in the UK if they knew how pathetic I’ve become. They build them tough over there and there is an endearing ‘we survived two wars’ approach to the harshness of the climate. When I visited at Easter, shoppers were drinking Champagne and eating Oysters in the streets around Chelsea Food Market, while I was trying to regain circulation in my fingers and toes. The Brits don’t understand the appeal of a warmer climate because they don’t know any different, and in fairness, there is nothing more beautiful than sitting in the garden of a British pub in the country on a sunny afternoon. The problem is, those blue-sky days are too few to count and when they do eventually turn up, no-one can cope.
So, the only great news about winter is ‘soup’.
Making and consuming vast quantities of soup gets me through these shorter, torturously grey days. I’m no cook, (as you know), but even I can knock up a decent soup, and what’s more, soup is not only a comforting tonic during the cooler evenings, but it’s healthy for all sorts of fascinating reasons: For starters, it’s a liquid, so you can eat lashings of it without feeling guilty or gaining weight because, being effectively a drink like water, it probably has no calories; you can also disguise all sorts of fugly, green veggie matter in soup, that you and the kids would probably never normally touch without gagging; and you can also make a week’s worth in one go, eliminating hours of brain-death family cooking time, too.
So as I leave Sydney for a week’s torture at the snow, (because the old man didn’t think that winter in the city was enough of an endurance test), here’s my winter gift to you – three wonderful soup recipes from Taste.com.au that I’ve tried, tested and successfully liquidized to near-perfection to get you through this most cursed of seasons.
Can someone tell me what I can eat these days, without increasing my risk of premature death from some heinous cancer, diabetes or heart disease?
Do you find yourself in a permanent state of confusion about what we can and can’t eat these days?
And I’m not talking about when you’re dieting. I’m talking generally. Day to day.
It’s hard enough for us mums to have to think about what to cook, let alone meet all of the latest rad health recommendations.
I’ll give you an example: I’ve spent most of my life pretending trying to avoid cholesterol (I made Brie an exception, OBVIOUSLY) due to a nasty and persistent little genetic mutation on my mother’s side of the family that causes premature death, only to discover last week that cholesterol is in fact our friend.
I could cry when I think of all the Eggs Benedict I denied myself.
That’s what the world’s coming to. One week we’re told to avoid red meat and replace it with shoals of oily fish; the next week fish is off the menu because of mercury poisoning and the nuclear bi-products of the Japanese Tsunami.
…who has gone completely bonkers against the grain (sorry!) and tells us we need to follow the Paleo diet and give up sugar, dairy, carbs and just about anything else that tastes vaguely nice or is comforting and go back to eating what the cavemen survived on…
…which, I think, was predominantly red meat. *hmmm*
Hang on a second… I thought you said red meat was bad for us because it’s hard for the body to digest and increases the risk of colon cancer?
Oh well, at least nuts are good for us… if you can stop at two.
And fruit is okay if you ignore the fructose…
But what about the huge cover-ups those naughty food companies have been accused of? Because apparently they’ve been filling ‘fat-free’ foods with hidden, naughty sugars, making us believe that those ‘yummy-for-diet-food‘, low-fat yoghurts were really low in calories?
And then there was Dr Atkins who led us down the garden path by saying that we could cut out all carbs without any harm, which, again, meant we had to eat tons of red meat…*headscratch*
Oh, and dairy is bad as well, according to nutritionists, although try telling that to my ancient dentist. I thought middle-aged woman were meant to increase their dairy consumption in menopause for the extra calcium, so their legs don’t suddenly implode halfway around the golf course?
And for all those Smuggidy-Smugs with their Soy milk-decaf-Caps who hold up the coffee queue each morning and who thought soy was as safe as Rolf Harris – WATCH YOUR SPERM COUNT, is all I’ll say!
Even vitamin supplements have been given a bad rap because although we should be able to source all our vitamins from our diet, I’m not sure how the fuck we can when we can’t eat anything.
And don’t get me started on the conundrums of 1) what the fuck is quinoa? and 2)because I’m too cool to buy a Thermomix, does that make me a really bad mother?
Is progress in the scientific understanding about what food does to our body REALLY improving our lives, or feeding our anxiety?
Our grandparents never worried about how many alcoholic units they consumed in a week, whereas I have a panic attack when I get close to the recommended allowance – that frankly only another glass will assuage.
If, like me, you binge on all the wrong foods over the weekend and then justify your gluttony by pretending to go healthy for the rest of the week, as penance, you might like this easy little fish dish I discovered in NC’s Women’s Weekly book, Fast Seafood (that I might have put in her stocking with an ulterior motive).
Just about the only thing I have going for my health these days is that I love fish, but unfortunately the boys in the family see it as ‘girl food’. So even though I could devour grilled Barramundi or poached salmon by the bucket-load every night of the week (and probably have a very dangerous mercury poisoning level to prove it), I have to dress fish up for the boys.
Thai food seems to be the only genre of food we can all agree on as a family, as long as it’s not over-spicy, because then Kurt (who has an intolerance to anything with chilli in it) starts hyperventilating and dousing himself with tap water.
Obviously, this recipe had to be super-easy-peasy to make for me to even contemplate and open the book, but it’s quick to put together too, so it makes a perfect mid-week meal when you’re knackered and want to get your head down in front of the tv for the evening’s dose of salivating over Tyson’s chest.
As you are aware, it’s extremely rare for me to try any recipe with more than four ingredients but since we’ve been living in the city and there are at least five Thai restaurants in our immediate locale (as well as obviously being Asian in a previous life), I feel much more relaxed about attempting to cook Thai food. It also helps having an Asian supermarket on nearly every street corner.
In terms of those sworn enemies of the middle-aged physique –UNNECESSARY CALORIES– you could probably replace the coconut cream with coconut milk and for the middle-aged fatties of the family, (like me and the old man), I replaced the rice with a simple Asian salad of tomato, cucumber, onion and coriander so I could save those extra calories for my bottle of wine.
1 tablespoon oil (not Olive oil like I used because I only discovered today that it is carcinogenic when heated)
1 medium brown onion, sliced thinly
4cm piece of fresh ginger, grated (I used the powdered version because I am a culinary heathen and can’t be assed to source and cut up fresh)
2 cloves garlic, crushed (from the jar, bee-atches)
140ml can coconut cream
½ cup fresh coriander leaves
1 lime cut into wedges
What To Do:
Toss fish in combined chilli, juice and salt. (I added extra juice)
Heat oil in a medium frying pan; cook onion, stirring until soft. Add ginger, garlic and curry paste; cook stirring, until fragrant.
Add coconut cream bring to boil. Reduce heat, simmer, uncovered until sauce thickens slightly. Add fish, cook, covered for about five minutes or until fish is just cooked through.
Sprinkle fish curry with coriander leaves. Serve with lime wedges, rice and green veg if desired.
Dried ginger and jar garlic save on chopping time and increase drinking time.
This dish would be absolutely orgasmic if you can afford fresh Barramundi, but in spite of being surrounded by ocean in Australia, unfortunately you require Gina Rinehart’s squillions to afford it these days so I used Aldi’s frozen Hoki (love you, Aldi), which worked out at about $1 per person – again, leaving more money for expensive wine.
Nb. I only put in half a chilli and extra coconut cream due to Kurt’s intolerance to ‘heat’, because as comical as it is to watch my son writhe around on the floor in agony, I didn’t want him off school the next day.
Nb. Surprisingly, no family members were poisoned in the making of this recipe, although the old man did have a tantrum when he realised there was no red meat and that I’d replaced my usual sweet and yummy Asian salad dressing with lime juice because… well frankly… I couldn’t be arsed to make it.
Yummy Asian Dressing for those Skinny Bee-atches out there!
Okay, so I know they look like something the dog deposited in retribution for not getting a walk, but energy balls taste infinitely better than they look.
I decided to go all Jamie Oliver yesterday and made some energy balls in an attempt to steer Kurt clear of energy drinks and plastic cereal and to give me that 11am lift, which is usually when I’m ready for my first nap of the day.
In case you haven’t heard of them, energy balls are little balls of mashed up, healthy goodness you eat as an alternative to Snickers bars and all the other comfort crap that tastes really good (but is really bad for you), provide you with very little real energy, make you listless and in need of lots of naps.
One of my bosses is this healthy-eating, veggie freak and although she never rams her dietary smugness down my throat, some of her wisdom is starting to rub off on me; especially as the kilos continue to mount for no fucking reason with the sly approach of menopause.
Would you believe I actually ordered a veggie Subway the other day when I was out with her?
Anyway, where I would normally shove a couple of Snickers, a few bags of chilli chips and several cans of Coke into the snack bag when we set off on a trip to back-of- beyondsville, she brings these neat little energy balls to keep her and the delivery guys going (that is until the boys head off to Maccas for lunch).
The balls contain all these super-weird-sounding, fancy-schmancy, healthy ingredients that I’m sure are just as fattening as unrefined ones at the rate I consume them – because let’s face it, healthy eating is not known to be filling – but if you want to give off that warm glow of superiority at morning tea, eating energy balls looks a lot better than stuffing a whole muffin into your gob in one go.
Apparently they only have 90 calories per ball, which in my world is about an apple and a half, but obviously the food orgasm is vastly superior.
They’re slippery little suckers to make and not that attractive, but you can pretty them up with some shredded coconut or Cacao (like I used – looks like hot chocolate powder but is a refined version, apparently).
I picked this particular recipe because these balls have chocolate chips and peanut butter as ingredients – I was worried my body might go into shock if I took this healthy eating thing too fast. And the other great thing about using Peanut Butter in just about any sweet recipe is watching the Princess eat it.
It goes without saying that the balls are super-easy to make or I wouldn’t have contemplated them, and they would make it into the ‘Dummy’s Guide To Energy Balls’, if such a thing existed.
1 cup of Quick Oats
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 tbs melted coconut oil
1 tbs chia seeds
2 tbs flax seed meal (sounds exotic but I found it in IGA)
3 tbs mini chocolate chips
pinch of salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
Raisins – small handful
Cacao or coconut to coat
In a large bowl mix together all ingredients until combined. Cover and refrigerate for about 30 mins. Then roll into balls. Place in an airtight container in the fridge for about a week.
Recipe provided by Stephanie on Eat-Drink-Love.com.
Be warned, as healthy as they sound, it’s impossible to stop at one.
It’s one of life’s great ironies that when you enter middle age and have more passion (as well as disposable income) to spend on REALLY AWESOME FOOD, your body suddenly says ‘NO.’
I LOVE FOOD and when I get stressed it’s the first thing I reach for to make me feel better. I wish I was one of those women that burnt off kilos with nervous energy but I’m not.
I have always made food a priority in my life but over the last couple of years even I’ve had to be more careful with what I put in my mouth, for both health and weight reasons.
Luckily, moving closer to the city has opened my eyes to a wealth of ALMOST healthy and comforting new foods, and as I sat munching my way through one of these this morning, I thought I’d share:
Smashed Avocado and crumbled feta on toast, with a splash of zingy lime and salt and pepper. I discovered this brekkie in a cute little café in Double Bay and although it’s obviously carby, it still feels fresh and healthy.
Thai Chicken Larb – We are surrounded by fantastic Thai restaurants and I love Thai food as much as the next food junkie – especially all those yummy coconut milk sauces. But these days I try to opt for something a little less unkind to the muffin top. What I love about a Larb is the flavor of the fresh lemongrass and coriander mixed with the red onion, chilli and chicken.
Spanish Baked Brie – they make this in Small Bar, the cafe NC works in at the end of our street and it is very naughty. They infuse each Brie with chilli and mixed herbs and it melts on the French bread and then straight into your gob. It’s perfect to soak up those first few wines on a Friday night.
Japanese Salmon and Tuna Sushimi – to die for, especially with Wasabi. I’ve only discovered Japanese food recently and what I love about it is that it feels so light, it convinces you that it can’t possibly be going straight to your hips. Stay away from the Gyoza, though.
Turkish Gozleme – THE BEST hangover food EVAR. So maybe this is not the most healthy option but it scores 10/10 in the comfort food department and is a huge hit with my whole family. The Gozleme queues at the markets are cruel but worth the wait. I love the vegetarian spinach and feta version but the rest of the family opt for the spicy meat version.
Dessert – as you know, an exciting and healthy dessert doesn’t exist and I was tempted to put down Churros and say WTF, because Churros actually means ‘comfort’ in Spanish *lying*. But the next best thing for a sugar fix is something NC knocks up when there’s absolutely no food in the house – which is often – and it’s a banana and Nutella toasted wrap; which is a secret recipe that has been passed down our family for generations (or since the sandwich toaster was invented).
Ahem! As an unofficial ambassador (as in VERY unofficial) for the Australian Heart Foundation, I have been reliably informed that some of you still find eating healthily (I quote) ‘boring’ and are naively putting your lives at risk.
To be honest, I used to think that I was too young and awesome to worry about eating healthily too, and I certainly didn’t worry about a minor thing like my own mortality. That is, until I was given a very valid reason for changing my lifestyle.
Heart disease became a personal and very real issue for me when my family discovered that we had inherited a condition called Familial Hypercholesterolaemia on my mother’s side, that led to a heinous trail of human destruction in our family.
The effects of heart disease can be devastating. Take it from someone who knows.
Hyperchol….what, I hear you ask?
Don’t worry, even I am a little sketchy on the science behind it. But what I do know about Hypercholesterolaemia is that it is a f*cking scary condition, which if left undiagnosed and untreated, can be a killer. It is one of the reasons some people have seriously high levels of the really bad cholesterol (LDLs) in their blood, which can lead to furring of the arteries, blood clots and premature heart attack.
Fortunately these days the condition is not a death sentence and there are treatments available. These may start with lifestyle changes such as a low cholesterol diet and exercise, or medication such as Statins may be prescribed.
But thirty years ago, very little was known about Hypercholesterolaemia and heart disease, which is why heart disease became particularly personal to me when it killed my mother, her brother and her sister before they reached the age of forty.
Heart disease is that kind of f*cking serious.
You might think that an unthinkable event such as the premature loss of a parent when you’re a teenager might actually stop you from stuffing your face with as many cream cakes as you can fit in your gob and smoking your lungs out. Unfortunately not. You see, I was young, hedonistic, had a real reason to be f*cked off with the world, and I was convinced I was going to die young anyway…..
As you know, I am still here.
My seminal moment regarding the state of my health, (and the realisation that I am not unfortunately a Cullen), kicked in the day that my first child was born, when I realised that I really wanted to see her grow up.
I realised that I wanted to live as long as I could.
By that time I had the diet side of things pretty much under control. I was eating healthily. Some of the wisdom of the army of specialists I saw must have infiltrated my conscience somewhere, because I can’t remember ever not drinking skimmed milk or not eating margarine instead of butter and I had always passed on cream and fatty meat.
But admittedly it took me longer to cut out the cigarettes – something I truly regret now when I look at my children. I can’t imagine that any of you are smokers anyway – filthy habit that it is – and just SO eighties!
Luckily, I’ve found out that it’s never too late to change your lifestyle. And the research that the Heart Foundation has carried out, backs this up.
A lot of you probably still eat too much ‘unhealthy’ food without realizing it, like I did. Which is why, when the Heart Foundation approached me to write this post about heart disease, I was super keen.
They’re clever, those people at the Heart Foundation. They invited me to share an evening with them to discuss heart disease and how they can best educate women to eat healthily. They obviously had no idea who they were dealing with when they invited me. I mean, how could they have possibly known that I would have at my disposal this perfect, god-awful, shocking family-history story to preach to you about, which was bound to appeal to your morbid fascination if nothing else?
To be honest, I would have written the piece without the informative cooking lesson and naughty glass of wine they plied me with to accompany it.
But here is the important stuff that your need to know – the six fundamental ways you can prevent heart disease and live longer:
Eat Healthily – Choose plant-based foods, wholegrain cereal foods, moderate amounts of lean unprocessed meat, oily fish and foods with low or reduced salt content
Be Physically Active – the Heart Foundation recommends that you try to include at least 30 minutes or more of moderate-intensity physical exercise, ideally each day of the week. A brisk walk with the dog does count.
Manage Your Blood Pressure – Have regular blood pressure checks. Did you know that every adult in Australia is entitled to a free medical at the age of 45 where your cholesterol and blood pressure will be checked?
Maintain A Healthy Body Weight – if you eat healthily and enjoy healthy eating, this won’t be a problem.
Maintain Your Psychological And Social Health – people who are more prone to depression, or are socially isolated or do not have quality social support are at greater risk of developing heart disease. Depression can be treated, so if you think you are at risk, speak to your health professional and seek help.
Heart disease is the number one killer of Australian women. It kills more than three times as many women as breast cancer and eating healthily is one of the ways you can prevent yourself from becoming another statistic.
But in case I was still sceptical, (as if, after a glass of wine!), the Heart Foundation also educated me in how to make some deliciously easy, healthy recipes too.
Did you know that fine slices of lean beef with a rich pesto and olive tapenade, crisp Vietnamese spring rolls with herbs and vegetables, succulent stuffed chicken breasts with spinach, mozzarella and roasted peppers and an orgasmic red wine fruit jelly are all recipes that were easy enough for EVEN me to create; and they’re healthy too?
So to encourage you to start eating healthily from today, here is my FREE (yes, I did say FREE) giveaway of three fabulously heart-healthy recipes shown to me by the Heart Foundation with my own stunningly professional photography thrown in.
Vietnamese Rice Paper Rolls
Rice paper wrappers
Cooked vermicelli noodles
Mint and coriander leaves
Snow pea sprouts
Heat some water in a pan. Dip one wrapper into the water for a second to soften. Lay the wrapper on the bench and start filling with your selected ingredients. Place the filling in the centre, leaving about 5cm of the wrapper uncovered on each side. Fold in the uncovered sides of the wrapper and tightly roll to enclose the filling.
Rolled Chicken Breast
1 Chicken breast per person
Choice of fillings –
Reduced fat ricotta.
Slice a long slice through the side of each chicken breast, not all the way through. Open the breast out and if need be slice a further pocket to allow for even rolling. Place filling down the middle of the breast. Lay a piece of foil on the bench followed by a piece of glad wrap over the top. Sprinkle some mixed spices (smoked paprika, basil and pepper) and the grated peel of a lime onto the glad wrap. Place breast with filling onto the spices to coat outside, then roll chicken breast up tightly, securing both ends of glad wrap tightly. Do the same with the foil, securing both ends tightly and cook in a pot of water, just under simmering point for approximately 20 minutes. Remove from water and allow to rest for 5-10 minutes. Remove chicken from foil and serve.
Red Wine Fruit Jelly
800ml Red Wine
3 Star Anise
1 Vanilla pod
1 Cinnamon stick
Pulp of 4 Passionfruit
1 Mango cubed
1 Punnet strawberries, raspberries and blueberries
3 Sheets of gelatin
Small individual jelly moulds or decorative glasses of your choice.
Soak gelatine in cold water until it is soft, squeeze off any excess liquid. Bring red wine, star anise, vanilla pod, cinnamon, honey and passionfruit to the boil in a small saucepan. Once boiled, strain. All mixture to sit for 1 hour. Then return liquid to the pot and bring to the boil. Remove from heat. Add gelatine to the pot and whisk into the mixture. Add mixed fruit to your moulds. Pour jelly liquid over the fruit. Place in the fridge to set.
I know that after reading this post you’re all going to change your lifestyle immediately and start eating healthily and exercising like Olympians, but just in case any of you think you might be having a heart attack BEFORE you get the chance to buy your new runners, and are too embarrassed that your symptoms might be a false alarm, it is my duty as an (unofficial) ambassador of the Heart Foundation to give you some tips about the warning signs of a heart attack. (And did I mention that this information is FREE too? Because we’re like that at the Heart Foundation).
Heart attack warning signs may include the following: pain, pressure, heaviness or tightness in one or more parts of the upper body (chest, neck, jaw, arm(s), shoulder(s) or back) in combination with other symptoms of nausea, shortness of breath, dizziness or a cold sweat. For more information, visit http://www.heartattackfacts.org.au.
My work here is done. Happy healthy eating and let me know how you go.
It’s not that I’m resistant to healthy eating, but one of the bonus aspects about not being able to cook, of course, is that you have a monumental excuse to replace meals with chips (crisps).
I admit that I have spent a large portion of my life just thinking about potato chips . I think about them a lot more than sex, if I’m honest. And then I act upon those impure thoughts.
More often than I should.
I think a lot of women can relate to the latent attraction of the potato chip. They are ‘comfort’ with a C. A good bag of chips can hit the G spot in seconds; (and that G is not for gluttony).
Here’s a little potato erotica just to remind you of what you’re missing, if you’re some loon on Atkins or a carb-free diet:
Sausage, beans and mash….potatognochi in melting butter, potato dauphinoise, hash browns and bacon ………yes, Yes, YES!
Cast your mind back to the seventies if you can, when the potential of space travel was a hot topic and everyone was getting all hyper about stuff that was BOUND tohappen in our immediate future; like the seemingly ridiculous possibility of being able to replace everyday meals with a simple pill. I remember guffawing with my own family as we watched the black and white ‘box’, soaking up this wonderful news, and fantasizing about the thought of never having to eat real vegetables again. And it did sort of happen, if you can call replacing meals with shakes ‘progressive’.
But I obviously don’t replace meals with chips for diet reasons; I replace healthy meals with chips because I am domestically intolerant.
And my chip cravings got seriously out of control this week. I experienced the sort of intense physical yearning that only an obscene amount of cheese Twisties can cure. And it didn’t actually stem from one of those atypical carb-fix triggers this time, like when I need to feel confident at work for example, or even want to celebrate finishing work. I can’t say it was even a ‘Friday Night Potential’ need, a sort of chaser to help me celebrate the weekend, or a morning after carb-cure, so effective at soaking up the alcohol of the previous night’s ‘potential’.
Because that’s the thing about chips, they’re just too f*cking versatile for their own good. They should be categorized as a ‘wonder’ food. Energizing, filling, depression-fighting, weight-gaining……. it still blows me away that the innocent potato can ‘give’ so much.
No, my chip hyperfocus this week began with the HSC Queen, during one of our usual banters about what food products we’d like to nominate into the ‘healthy food-disguised as crap’ food group. (Dark chocolate orange segments are already made an early entry). Anyway, she was assuring me that the combo of KFC hot chips, mash n’gravy (which she has an insidious passion for) qualifies as ‘healthy’ because this subtle mélange is actually ‘vegetable on vegetable’, which apparently, effectively makes it a salad.
Added to which, (as if I didn’t have enough ‘chip’ science to mull over), a friend of mine then went to one of those market research days for a well-known chip brand; where she was actually PAID to eat chips, like ALL DAY, in the guise of product testing. The research was for a particular brand of potato chip (which I obviously can’t name or I’d be forced to kill you), Red Rock Deli, and the company was trying to discover exactly where their product sits in the chip market demographic by celebrity chip association. For example, ‘Sea Salt’ flavour might be associated with Hugh Grant or Matt Damon, ‘Lime and Black pepper’ could be someone a bit more racy like Rihanna or Johnny Depp and Sweet Chili and Sour Cream might be an odd couple like Brangelina or Tom Cruise and Cher.
Which got me thinking about what my chip alter ego might be. So I took a little chip (sorry!) down memory lane and had a bit of a tear-jerking reminisce about all those special chips that had played a defining role in my life so far.
There was obviously Walkers and Smiths and Golden Wonder, and I even shed a tear or two for Smokey Bacon flavor and the bag rape of Salt and Vinegar (to a less distinguished shade of green which was a shocking event in British chip history), and I drew comparisons with the modern day, semi-pretentious chip equivalents, like Kettle and Red Rock.
It’s not actually as straightforward as you might think, picking your chip alter ego. You see, a lot of the modern brands have over-complicated chip styling which has destroyed the honesty of the common chip. New brands seem to be marketed less at the common ‘chip’ man, and more at the ‘dip’ man. Which made it quite difficult for me to distinguish between branding and flavor, even though I did realize that beauty is indeed skin deep.
What I did realise, however is that Chip therapy is a damned sight cheaper than real therapy, when I came to this shocking self-evaluation.
That I am more fantasist than realist. That I like living in a world where I might be perceived as something that I’m not. That I would love to project an element of je ne sais quoi (or ‘bollocks’ in layman’s terms), an element of danger, of mystique, even though I know that this is not my reality. That I’m an eternal romantic and see myself as the mysterious woman of perfume ads, charging through the streets of Paris, sheathed in a black cape or stunning, metallic designer dress, forever in search of someone or something…….
So I’m veering towards a sea-salt Kettle chip, with the slightest hint of matured Balsamic and Cheddar, as my chip alter ego.