Thursday, 30 May 2013

Sunshine? On a bank holiday weekend?

You must forgive me if I'm a little quiet over the next few weeks - I have an exam coming up which necessitates a lot of wandering around shaking my fist at myself for thinking having a job which involves passing exams is a sensible idea. 

We had a lovely time at the weekend though, so let's focus on that for now.  Saturday and Sunday were properly sunny days of a kind that seldom exhibit themselves on a British bank holiday.  The fact that they have subsequently been replaced by grey skies and drizzle doesn't really detract. 

D and I have been trying to have quality time together - actually doing things rather than behaving like any normal married couple and sitting around watching the telly.  So we strapped on our walking boots and, er, went for a walk.  After nine months of lying around on the sofa weeping into my wineglass, the five and a half miles proved something of a struggle.  I really must start swimming regularly to build up some fitness.
East Witton in bloom - note blue sky
The very best kinds of walk involve at least one stop off in a pub, and the circular route from Jervaux Abbey via East Witton (see here) does just that.  And what a pub as well!  The Blue Lion in East Witton is an absolutely fabulous foodie destination.  We only stopped off for a light lunch but the full menu almost had me leaving an unseemly trail of drool from the bar out to our table.

Lunchtime platter at the Blue Lion
D went for the platter: pie, cheese, pate, a scotch egg and some very lurid piccalilli while I opted for a roast beef sandwich with some excellent chips.  Were it not for the fact that there were miles to go to get back to the car, caution might very well have been thrown to the wind though - I think I might need to go back for dinner.

Now, if you'll excuse me I need to stop having fun and go and learn more about tax.  But I promise to be back later in the week with a recipe for cake.  Hurrah!

The Blue Lion
East Witton  
North Yorkshire
01969 624273

Friday, 24 May 2013

Alfred Bar, Leeds - one day everybody there will know my name...

I think I may be ready to bestow the accolade of My Favourite Bar in Leeds.  And, the thing is, it’s not even in Leeds but is tucked away in a sedate Northern suburb called Meanwood.  Which suits me because the older I get the more I find that city centres are tiring, bustling things.  I was in London at the weekend and, much as I will always love it, hauling myself on and off the packed Tube and navigating the churning crowds of the West End quickly palled. 
Anyway, back to Meanwood, and to Alfred, which is the kind of neighbourhood bar that every neighbourhood should have.  For a start, both the d├ęcor and the bar staff are quirky and cool but not off puttingly so.  There is an excellent range of real ales from predominantly local breweries but also some decent wines served by the glass not to mention a selection of hot drinks to go with the delectable homemade cakes that repose under retro Perspex cloches on the bar counter.  God, I love cake. 

The only possible downside is, perversely, one of its selling points – the size.  It is bijou, in estate agent speak, intimate, cosy – perfect for hunkering down on a Sunday afternoon with a pint and a paper.  Which is fabulous until they decide to do a free, unticketed Brewdog tasting event* that attracts half of the population of Meanwood, then it can start to feel a little claustrophobic.  Which is frankly nothing that another drink won't fix...
D wears his Brewdog badges with pride!
Anyway, should you find yourself in the area do pop in.  Alfred is actually part of a little chain which you can check out here - nice bars all, incidentally.
*And yes, you may well ask why someone on a diet should find themselves at a beer tasting event on the night before a weigh in to which I say – free samples!  Of yummy beer!  Life is far too short to miss out on such golden opportunities and when the scales give me a proverbial frown today, I shall tell them so.

6 Stonegate Rd  
West Yorkshire
0113 278 0779

Monday, 20 May 2013

Girls' weekend

No words required!

Friday, 17 May 2013

Lipstick on a pig

I want to start this by saying: this is not intended to be a sad post, a "poor me" post, a post to make my loved ones concerned. It is just something preying on my mind at the moment that I want to get down before I forget or get distracted by a new form of sandwich filling or something.

I've come to realise (or maybe, more accurately, acknowledge) that there is a part of my brain that steadfastly believes that I do not deserve good things because I am overweight.

I mean, it is a small part. Logically, I know it is the silliest form of silliness. But don't we all have those little voices deep down? Those voices that say that we're not worthy of x because of y?

I can't imagine why it is. I've never set an awful lot of store by being beautiful - I'd rather be described as clever or funny or, even, nice. I don't aspire to a career where looks are important. But still, always the nagging feeling that being big makes me...less.

D said, in our counselling session this week, that he wanted me to take more pride in myself, that he thought it was important - not because he sets any store by high maintenance females but because he feels that I've lost a bit of myself. I always respond to this by retorting that I scaled back the lipstick and the styling and the sparkle because he has often said he prefers a simpler aesthetic. But that's only part of the story.

And when I thought about it more, that old phrase kept flashing into my mind - what's the point of putting lipstick on a pig. It shocked me a little bit. Because that is some very sad, negative thinking right there that I wasn't even conscious of.

Do you know what? Pigs are great. They are highly intelligent, friendly, loyal, playful animals. And if a pig wants to wear lipstick - MAC or Chanel for preference - then she damn well should and tell that little voice inside to pipe the eff down.

Because, aside from anything else, losing weight is an act of self love in the same way that piling it on is often a way of expressing some form of self pity. And this little piggy will never get to where she wants to be until she gets her head around that.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Recipe corner: I take enormous pride in my asparagus and goats' cheese tart

I had such a proud moment last weekend.  Well, two if you count the rather pathetic pride I took in going for a walk.  Let’s not shall we – just between us friends let’s pretend that I’m not so needy that I require praise for enacting the basic human function of putting one foot in front of another for a prescribed length of time.

Anyway, the other proud moment was – I made a tart!  With pastry and filling and everything!  From scratch!  And it was scrummy and didn’t have a soggy bottom and didn’t leak and it made a fantastic spring supper.

Now, this is notable for two reasons.  The first is that, as long time readers who have held on through the various ups and downs of the scales and my emotional stability respectively will know, my cooking mojo upped and went a little while ago and has proved a slippery little bugger ever since.  Hence my recent ode to sandwiches and the lack of many recipes on the blog this year.  So me getting back in the kitchen is always worthy of a mention these days.  But the second is that pastry is one of those things that I’ve never really tackled.  Like bread, pastry makes me furrow my brow in…not fear exactly, but certainly a little trepidation.  I think it’s because whenever you see someone on television make either bread or pastry they say something along the lines of “It’s nowhere near as hard as you think it is!” or “There’s no need to be scared!” which…I don’t know, it just sows the seed of doubt doesn’t it?  Plus the fact that my Mum makes the best quiche ever in the history of the world gives me some pretty high standards to which to aspire.  But, nevertheless, I had some asparagus in the fridge and a yen for an asparagus tart.
Look Ma!  I made pastry!
I knew that I wanted the pastry to be savoury and crumbly – perhaps flavoured with Parmesan for extra saltiness.  And I knew I wanted the asparagus to be softly suspended in a custard with just a hint of nutmeggy, peppery warmth so that the iron flavour of those beautiful green shoots would be predominant.  And I quite fancied a scattering of goats’ cheese on top – a young, fresh goats’ cheese that had a touch of lemon to it for some much needed acidity.  And so that is what I made.  Warm (not hot) from the oven, it was perfect with some crispy garlicky roast potatoes and a lightly dressed salad.  Cold, it made a most excellent lunch.

140g plain flour
85g butter, cubed
3-4 tbsp cold water
75g Parmesan, finely grated
Salt, pepper, whole nutmeg
Bunch of asparagus
4 eggs
140ml skimmed milk
125g soft goats’ cheese

Serves 6, 9 pro points per portion

OK, first pastry.  Deep breath.  The one thing I have gleaned from years of intensive foodie telly watching is that when you make pastry, everything needs to be cold.  So, I chilled in the fridge at every stage.  First – measure out the flour, the butter and two thirds of the Parmesan into a large bowl.  Put in the fridge, alongside a glass of water for half an hour.

Now you want to combine the fat and the flour.  I used the Kitchen Aid paddle for this but you could equally just rub it in with your fingers.  If you do, try to make sure you use just the finger tips.  When the mixture resembles dry sand, add the chilled water a tablespoon at a time.  Again, I did this in the mixer but you could equally use a spoon or a palate knife.  When it looks like it is thinking about coming together, use your hands to form it into a ball – if it is damp enough it should do this without effort but, equally, without feeling sticky.  I found it took exactly four tablespoons of water.  Wrap in cling film and return to the fridge. 

During the second chill, prepare your asparagus – snap off the woody ends and slice in half lengthwise.  If it is particularly thick you may consider blanching it for a minute or so just to take the edge off (blanche – plunge into boiling water, then remove and transfer immediately to a bowl of cold water, or run the cold tap over until cool to the touch).

Now – rolling the pastry out.  I used a Rachel Allen tip which is: instead of rolling out on a floured work surface, roll between two sheets of cling film.  This worked beautifully and means you don’t risk adding to much flour to the mix and upsetting the ratios in the pastry.  Transfer to a 20cm diameter tart dish.  Trim any overhanging ends and use the trimmings to ensure that there are no holes and that the crust is even all the way around.  Return to the fridge for a final half hour blast.  Preheat the oven to 180.

Using baking parchment and beans or rice to line, bake the case blind for 15 minutes then remove from the oven and bake for a further 10-15 minutes until pale gold.  Pause for a moment to congratulate yourself on your skill.

Beat the eggs briefly and then add the milk and whisk again until a little frothy.  Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. 

Sprinkle the remaining Parmesan on the base of the case, artfully arrange the asparagus and then pour over the egg mix – carefully to avoid overflow.  Finally, crumble the goats. cheese on top before returning to the oven for around 35 minutes until puffed and golden.  Allow to cool to just-slightly-warmer-than-room-temperature before serving.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

I take my pedometer for a walk

Oh, how I wished that I was one of those lucky souls who enjoyed exercising. 

I think I've had phases of tolerating it to the extent that I got into the routine of going along to things that were not entirely loathsome and then quite enjoyed the positive effect that it had on my physical and mental wellbeing.  But it is far, far easier to fall out of a routine than it is to get into one. 

It's safe to say that I am not in any sort of routine at the moment.  There is a gym a mere hop, skip and a jump away with a lovely pool and a whole array of exciting classes and I am struggling to motivate myself to get there.  D keeps telling me that I should walk the half hour straight line between my house and my office rather than jumping on a bus.  He is right of course.  But walking along a main road is terribly dull.  And, also, have I ever mentioned before the terrible problems I have with general balance and rightfootedness?  Part of the issue is my weight distribution; I am essentially a Weeble - an almost perfectly spherical thing perched precariously on two little legs.  I have to actually concentrate to resist the pull of gravity which would have me toppling forward at any given moment in time.

And part of the issue is very simply this - I am terribly, terribly lazy.  I would, in all seriousness, list napping as one of my favourite pastimes - especially while being lulled by the dulcet tones of an audiobook or something soothing from Radio 4.  D tells me that sleep doesn't really count as a hobby.  I beg to disagree.  I thought that when I hit my thirties I would finally grow out of my rather teenagerish sleep patterns, the ability to sleep until noon if left undisturbed.  It has not happened yet and, the thing is, now that I live alone, I sometimes have very little motivation to rise from my rather comfortable bed.

The good folk at Weight Watchers obviously have encountered people of my ilk before as a part of the WW programme is a thing called Activity Points - essentially, if you exert yourself you earn bonus points which can, in turn, be scoffed.  I've noticed a lot of people on the message boards laugh in the face of such gluttony - why, they say, would I go to the trouble of earning these points to then eat them?  Why, say I, would you not?  And Weight Watchers have gone one step further by inventing a pedometer that not only counts your steps but beeps every time you have shuffled far enough to earn one of these precious, precious points.  I've been toying with the idea of buying one for ages but finally cracked on Friday and have been walking round with it clipped to me ever since - consulting it every so often to see how far I've walked.  As motivaters go, it's surprisingly effective.

On Saturday, D and I took the pedometer out for a walk.  There was a Gu chocolate ganache pot with my name on it in the fridge and, as I trotted, slightly sweaty and grim faced a few paces behind him, my ear was constantly cocked for the sound of the beep that would get me one step closer to guilt free pudding.

Oh, and there were some pretty spring flowers as well...

Although I must admit that sometimes I stop to take a photograph not so much because I am overcome by the beauty of nature but that I need to catch a breath or two...shhhhhhhh.