Thursday, 31 January 2013

That was the month that was

After the wonderful, thoughtful and supportive comments on last week’s post, it seems churlish to just post a sausage recipe and then disappear. Time appears to be slipping away from me at the moment and this last week has passed in the twinkling of an eye. So, as always, from the heart of my bottom thank you for all your kind words. Might I suggest a virtual group hug?

There is wisdom indeed out there in the blogosphere, and believe me, I am thinking carefully about what my next steps should be – both with regards to my own health and my relationship with D. For the former, I have an appointment to see lovely doctor again next week and, having done some gut spilling to both her and you, do feel better and more positive and want now to come up with some solid strategies. And as to the latter, D and I have both agreed that a period of more separated separation might well be in order (thank you for your honesty, Bren). We are spending a weekend together in the Lakes in a couple of weeks, but after that…

So, January 2013 Not a sterling start to the year in any way, shape or form but it’s over now and with its departure, so we edge ever closer to Spring.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Recipe corner - venison sausages braised in red wine

Well, I promised you a delicious sausage recipe...

Hang on.  I have to pause here to snicker about the phrase "delicious sausage".  God, I have a puerile sense of humour.

Now.  Bangers, mash and onion gravy is my favourite thing.  Specifically though: good sausages, buttery mash and D's patented red onion gravy.  I love, love, love it.  And when I have sausages to hand I don't tend to do much with them apart from that, or possibly - possibly a sandwich.  But I've seen some delicious sounding other recipes recently which has made me think I need to stretch my sausage wings...

....pause for another snicker....

....a bit further.  And, with a packet of venison sausages lurking in the freezer that I bought at the fabulous Kirkstall deli market last year, I did just that.

This is a Delia Smith recipe originally that I have tweaked a little to make it a tad more WW friendly.


5 pork and venison sausages, quartered
250ml red wine
250ml beef stock
1 dessertspoon olive oil
65g pancetta cubes
1 large clove garlic, peeled and crushed
Red onion, peeled and chopped
1 level dessertspoon juniper berries
1 level teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
175 g medium-sized, open-cap mushrooms
1 heaped teaspoon plain flour
1 rounded teaspoon mustard powder
25 g half fat butter, softened
1 rounded tablespoon redcurrant jelly
salt and freshly milled black pepper

Serves 3, 13 pro points per portion

Heat the oil in the casserole dish then, with the heat at medium, brown the sausage chunks
evenly all over.
Transfer these to a plate and, in the delicious sausagey oil, brown the diced bacon, adding the onion after a couple of minutes and then, when the bacon is brown and the onion translucent, add the garlic for the final minute or so of cooking.
Now lightly crush the juniper berries and tip them into the dish along with the browned sausages, the wine, half the stock and the herbs. Season lightly (remember the bacon and sausages will be salted so proceed with caution), bring it up to a gentle simmer and then cover, lower the heat and allow to bubble away quietly for half an hour.
After that, add the mushrooms and leave everything to cook gently without a cover for a further 20 minutes or so.  At this stage, I found that I had very little liquid left - if this is the case for you then add some more stock.  Keep the heat very low to prevent it from boiling to nothing. The mushrooms will reduce some water so don't add too much initially but keep an eye on it and top up as necessary.
To finish off, remove the sausages and vegetables to a warm serving dish, mix the flour and the mustard powder with the softened butter until you have a smooth paste and whisk this, a little
at a time, into the sauce until it thickens and becomes glossy  Now whisk through the redcurrant jelly and let everything bubble for a few more minutes, then take the casserole off the heat, whisk in the and return the sausages and the veg so it is ready to serve with a pile of creamy mash and some leafy green vegetables.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

I feel that I should make a confession

Snow angel

My attendance at WW meetings have been sporadic recently. I have tried several local ones and not found a leader I like or a time that fits in with my schedule which tends to fluctuate week on week depending on what is going on with work and training.

And another confession.

My weight loss has been…well. Not. And this is probably down to several facts. The sporadicness (not a real word, fact fans!) of my attendance at meetings and corresponding lack of doggedness in sticking to the eating plan day in day out. And also the undeniable truth that, since September, I have been using my old friends food and wine as a source of comfort far more than I should.

I know all of the things that I should be doing. I’ve written over and over again about the need to look after myself, to put myself first, to treat myself kindly, to see a healthy eating plan as a gift rather than an inconvenience.  I do believe it.  Likewise, I’ve written about the fact that I try hard not to locate my self esteem in my feelings about my appearance, that extra weight doesn’t make me a bad or a less worthwhile person.

But confession number three – I am not looking after myself properly. Well, not consistently, anyway. And confession number four – the physical evidence that this is so makes me feel incredibly miserable. I don’t have a full length mirror in my house. I don’t want one.

Weeping Woman
I had to go to see the doctor today. When I left York I transferred practices and the new one needed to do a medication review. The poor thing – she probably expected a relatively straightforward five minutes, what she got was the Incredible Weeping Woman. It all came pouring out; the fact that throughout all my problems with anxiety and depression I had relied too much on food which had resulted in a substantial weight gain, that although I hadn’t had a reoccurrence of the debilitating panic attacks during my recent separation, I was recoursing to the same behaviours, that my self esteem was low, that I was terrified of all the health issues attached to being overweight, that I was furious at myself for putting my health in jeopardy, that I was frightened that I couldn’t sort myself out on my own.

And she was lovely. And she gave me some tissues and asked sensible questions. She has offered me blood tests to check things like blood sugar (there is type 2 diabetes in my family) and cholesterol levels to set my mind at rest, and also to check my thyroid function – underactive thyroids can not only increase one’s propensity for weight gain but also contribute to feelings of depression. And we also have discussed the possibility of me going for counselling again. She agreed that the fact I have not had any panic attacks recently was a massively positive thing but suggested that maybe some sessions to discuss rethinking other negative behaviours might be really helpful and build on the work I had already done.

As I left she smiled and said, “Don’t worry, we’ll get you sorted out.” Which nearly made me cry again.

It is never easy to ask for help. God, it’s not easy to admit that you need it in the first place. I want to be able to fix my own problems – I feel that I have all the tools and therefore should be able to do it myself – but the fact is, I need a little bit of outside support. And I want to do it now, while I am still relatively young (“You’re only 32!” said lovely doctor – the "only" was much appreciated) and yet to encounter any serious health issues.

So anyway. They say confession is good for the soul and there you have it. Rest assured that I am going to keep on keeping on, and apologies if this has been of a sad mental dump – lovely sausage recipe to follow later this week to lift the mood, I promise!

Monday, 21 January 2013

Meal planning Monday - 21st January 2013

I am absolutely determined to stay on track this week despite feeling like I'm going through the mill a bit at the moment.  And the best way to stay on track is to plan, plan, plan and ensure that there are plenty of yummy things that I can look forward to.  I'm away next weekend down in London, so it is just the working week to think about.

Another thing I'm trying out this week is building two "fast" days into my plan.  The 5:2 plan has already been written about ad infinitum by far wiser peeps than me, but basically, there are potentially health and weight loss benefits to having two very low calorie (or, in my case, point) days a week.  I've decided to half my points on two days and spread those points out across the rest of the week - somewhat flying in the face of current WW guidance which has a use it or lose it policy for daily points - but we'll see how it goes.

So, the meal plan:

  • Monday is fast day number one and to make it easy for myself I've opted for a low calorie ready meal of orzo with prawns from the new City Kitchen range at Tesco, with a decent portion of side salad for bulk.

  • Tuesday - venison sausages braised in red wine probably with broccoli, spinach and a jacket potato

  • Wednesday is second fast day and I'm thinking poached egg on toast - light and nourishing.

  • Thursday, D is coming round and bringing dinner with him; I've been promised slow cooked coq au vin and I'll be providing a couple of side dishes.

  • Friday I'm going to indulge in some fish finger wraps - a dish that I'm sure Lauren has pioneered. 

As always, more meal plans over at Mrs M's.

Friday, 18 January 2013

In the midst of life

My grandmother died yesterday.  She suffered an aneurism shortly after Christmas and, although initially she seemed to be responding to treatment, her health took a rapid downturn late Wednesday night. 

I'm sorry, I don't mean to blight your weekend with sadness.  She was an old lady and had been very unhappy since we lost my grandfather back in 2008 - it is a comfort to think that they are now together.  Her life had not been a full one of late; she was obsessed with her own (sometimes real, sometimes perceived) ill health to a ridiculous degree - by the end it was her only interest.  For all that, and for all that I am glad that her final illness was relatively quick and painless and that the family, particularly my father and his brother, have been spared the pain of watching her slowly decline, it is still a shock. 

The only things I can think of to say at the moment are trite - but I'll say them anyway.  Life is precious - good health is precious and those of us lucky enough to have both should value them and never take them for granted.  If that means pulling our fingers out and committing to eating better, drinking less, exercising more (I hasten to add I think primarily of myself here) then we should be doing it not thinking about it or planning to do it one day in the future.  And love, that's precious too.  Give your loved ones an extra tight hug tonight and give thanks for their beautiful selves. 

Monday, 14 January 2013

Meal planning Monday - 14th January 2013

It's been a while since I threw myself into meal planning but if I'm serious about shifting some poundage this year then it really needs to get back on the agenda.

No particular order, but this week I'll mostly be eating:

• Pizza and salad

• Fish, chips and mushy peas (I have had SUCH a fish and chip craving recently - this is a Tesco Finest ready to bake version which will hopefully scratch that itch without racking up too many points).

• Slow cooked beef and chorizo chilli burritos (or enchiladas - I don't really know the difference. Chilli rolled up in tortilla wraps and then topped with salsa and cheese and baked is what we're aiming for here).

• Chicken, leek and mushroom poe. A poe is a "pie" topped with potato - like shepherds or cottage. D'you think the expression will catch on?

As always, more meal planning fun over at Mrs M's.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Recipe corner - Snowy rocky road: a chocolate treat for chilly days

Is it snowing where you are?  I feel a tad short changed here in Leeds - there was talk of snow and yet here we are, clear skies and not a flake to be seen.  Mind you, snow is one of those things that I think I like until I have to go out in it and then remember that I tend to be unsteady on my feet at the best of times and the addition of a layer of frozen water between my good self and solid ground is not a happy one.  And, also, it never stays picturesque for very long, does it?

Although talking of picturesque, I was recently going through some old photos as I transfer the contents of my phone onto my laptop, and I came across one I took a couple of years ago which is my favourite snow scene EVER.  Check it out (and then rap my knuckles for saying check it out - I can't carry off that kind of patois):

If that doesn't utterly thrill you...then you are far less geeky than I am and probably have a life which involves going out on a Saturday night as opposed to following the adventures of a nine hundred year old Time Lord.

Anyway, snowy Rocky, I know most people are probably currently wearing their January hair shirts and therefore won't be interesting in a recipe that falls under the category of "Indulgent Treat" but I am not drinking (polishes halo) which gives me more points to play with (especially at the weekend), so I am all for a bit of chocolatey goodness.  My Mum made me some of these to go in my New Year hamper and they are utterly lovely - and incredibly sweet, so a small piece goes a long way.  I believe the recipe originally came from Good Housekeeping magazine.


400g white chocolate
25g mini marshmallows
50g dried cranberries
40g pistachios
50g ginger nuts, crushed
55g desiccated coconut

Makes 20, 4 pro points per piece

In preparation for the goodness to come, line a rectangular tin of roughly 15cm by 20.5cm with cling film. 

Melt the white chocolate: break into small chunks and put into a microwave safe bowl, microwave on full power for a minute and give a vigorous stir.  If not fully melted, put back in the microwave for 10 second bursts, stirring after each, until you have a smooth, glossy mass.

Now all you have to do is incorporate the other ingredients, reserving some of the coconut to sprinkle on top.  Depending on taste, you could chop the nuts and dried fruit before stirring through. 

Pour into the prepared tin and smooth the service before sprinkling with the remaining coconut (and if you've got any edible glitter left over from Christmas, throw some of that on too!)  Freeze for about 15 minutes until solid and then cut into squares.  Eat, preferably while contemplating some gorgeous snowy vista.

I'm linking this and my recent soup recipe up to Mrs M's January recipe link party.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Recipe corner - D's frankly amazing mussel and saffron soup

So let us attempt to leave all the doom and gloom behind us and talk Nice Things to Eat.  And this, my friends, is one of my all time favourites.  It would probably be the course with which I would start my final meal on Earth – and I don’t generally hold with soup as a starter.  Even people who think they don’t like seafood love this soup.  In fact, just thinking about this soup (while writing the post) is making me slightly sad that I don’t have a bowlful for my tea.

As with most favourite dishes it comes with a little back story.  Although in this case, the story is pretty much – went on holiday, had this soup, came home and took to the kitchen to recreate.  But imagine, if you will, Paris in early November: crisp, clear days and star flecked nights, a young(ish) couple still in the heady days of early romance, a tiny bistro tucked away somewhere near Montmartre.  That’s what I think about when I eat this soup.  And I also think, gosh, I like mussels.

Incidentally, the powder you can see on top of the soup in the picture is dehydrated mussel powder.  Which is made by, er, dehydrating mussels in a low oven. D has dehydrated prawn powder in his kitchen cupboard as well.  He goes in for pretention.


1 kg mussels
2 pinches saffron
500ml white wine
50g butter
5 shallots, chopped finely
2 large garlic cloves
30g plain flour
200ml skimmed milk
200g half fat crème fraiche (ensure that this is at room temperature before adding)

Serves 6, 7 pro points per portion
First prepare your mussels – de-beard, discard damaged ones, give a quick rinse - you know the drill.

In a large pan, bring all but a 50ml shot glass of  the white wine to the boil and then tip in your mussels and cook briskly for around 5 minutes until all of them are open (any that aren’t open at the end of cooking should also be discarded).  To the extracted shot of wine, add the saffron and leave to infuse.

When the mussels are cooked (the point at which the majority of the shells have opened to reveal their plump treasures), drain over a large bowl.  D recommends muslin to ensure any grit is caught.  Put aside the delicious liquor and set about removing all the mussels from their shells.  Yes, a slightly tedious job but cook's prerogative – you get to nab a few at this stage.

Now rinse and wipe out your pan and put the butter on to melt while you blitz the shallots and garlic into a smooth puree.  Add this to the melted butter and cook for around five minutes, after which time add the flour and stir vigorously into a smooth paste. 

Ladleful by ladleful return the reserved mussel liquor to the pan, simmering for a minute or so when it has all been incorporated.  You can now add your golden shot of saffron infused wine, the milk and the crème fraiche.  Simmer gently, while whisking, until you have a fragrant, creamy soup base.  The mussels can now be returned to the pan to warm through while you, the cook, season to taste.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Banishing the shoulder chip

Why hello 2013, how nice of you to come.

One week in and already I am unconvinced that 2013 is set to be a vintage year. After spending most of the Christmas period in the bosom of my family I found myself almost looking forward to returning home for a period of quiet reflection and gentle pottering. Oh, and playing with my shiny new laptop (it is purple! Which makes me very happy). But it didn’t take long for that sneaky January malaise to creep in, and instead of being a lovely little haven of peace and quiet and twinkly fairy lights, my house became instead a Fortress of Self Pitying Solitude and Zero Personal Hygiene. Yup, even after four months, I am still not good at Being Separated (although apparently I am excellent at capitalising words). My digestive system did its usual end of December / beginning of January rebellion (every year, every year, I end up spending at least one day in bed with grumbling insides) probably exacerbated this time round by the lack of proper nutrients and, indeed, a regular eating schedule. And then, just as I was considering dragging my self into the shower so that the people at work wouldn’t mistake me for Stig of the Dump, I received some bad news about a close family member who has been hospitalised.


I hate self pity, I really do, and I seriously over indulged myself this last week or so. My end of December birthday didn’t help; I think I now qualify for the “mid” rather than “early” thirties bracket and that makes me want to sulk mightily – despite the fact that I got asked for ID buying a bottle of wine just a few weeks ago.

So, my first step towards dragging myself up by my bootstraps is going to be some Reasons to be Cheerful.

1) Four pound weight gain over the entire Christmas period – which started a good couple of weeks before Christmas Day itself and extended itself into the first few days of January. Not bad at all.

2) I have decided to become a dryathlete for the duration of January which means eschewing booze and raising money for Cancer Research in the process. And, to remind myself to stick to it, I treated myself to this gorgeous little teapot necklace from Etsy (I’ll be drinking tea instead of wine – you see? It’s symbolic AND cute). Etsy is a reason to be cheerful all by itself – love, love, love it.

3) I have pink butterfly push pins (Christmas present courtesy of D) and a Lol Cats calendar (courtesy of la mere) on my desk at work, both of which make me smile.

4) My deliciously cute little nephew, who was up just after Christmas, learned to say “Auntie” which was just adorable, as was the fact that he greeted all of his presents with the phrase “Oh wow”. And the best thing about nephews is that you get to enjoy all the cute bits and hand them back to their parents when they get noisy or smelly or both.

See, I feel better already! Now for some resolutions and Action Plans to ensure that the remainder of the month is an improvement on these first few days…