Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Weightwatchers on the NHS?

I write a blog which is, very loosely, about trying to lose weight with Weight Watchers.  So a story in the news about GPs being advised to send obese patients to a local slimming club is, of course, going to attract my attention.  But having dipped my toe into the hornets nest (talk about your mixed metaphors...) of British journalism, I almost wish I’d stuck to my usual lunchtime routine of celebrity gossip and blogs about lipstick.

My oh my but people love to fatty bash, don’t they?  Some of the vitriol spewed out in the comments section of these articles is quite, quite remarkable.  “Just put the cake down, fatty” is, I think, almost a direct quote from someone on the Guardian website.  Wow.  If only someone had told me that years ago I would have been saved a lot of time and trouble.

It saddens me.  It saddens me to think that people whom I have never met are making judgements – that I am lazy and stupid and that I might not even deserve access to the free healthcare that is my right as a UK citizen and taxpayer.  It saddens me that instead of having an open dialogue about what can be done to help people solve the problem of their obesity, a swathe of the population just want to have a go.  It saddens me that it doesn’t even surprise me all that much.  Fat people are easy targets.  We are programmed to be repulsed by flesh – nearly every article in the UK press on this topic was accompanied by a stock picture of rolls of fat hanging over the top of a pair of elasticised trousers, as if that added any weight (pardon the pun) to the debate.

I have said it before but it bears repeating; the reasons that people are overweight are varied and complex and include, although are not limited to, lack of education, chronic poverty and debilitating mental health issues.  The majority of people who are overweight do not actively choose to be so.  They do not sit at home, mainlining cream cakes, smugly congratulating themselves on their lifestyle choices.  Many of us with weight issues will battle our entire lives, and may ultimately be unsuccessful.  Some of us may, at some point, just stop fighting because it is exhausting – it is exhausting to be constantly monitoring what you put in your mouth, to bargain with yourself for every indulgence.  Food issues, unlike other substance abuse issues (and yes, I think that I am using the phrase advisedly) can not be overcome by complete abstinence. 

Personally, I am unsure that referring patients to slimming clubs is the best answer – certainly it is not the only one – but if it helps even a small percentage of the obese population to learn about how to lose weight, then what harm?  Yes, I hear those of you in the corner screaming in outrage that your tax pounds are going on aiding the tubtubs (another lovely phrase picked up from The Guardian's comments section), but where do we draw the line?  Do we refuse treatment to those addicted to drugs and alcohol?  To the smokers?  What about the people who injure themselves running marathons, or break a leg skiing?  The plethora of injured people who flood into our A&E departments every Saturday night after a few too many?  Are we basically saying that unless your illness or injury is entirely genetic then sod the hell off?  No, we are not.  We help our own.  We help them even when we know that for many, it might be hopeless.  We continue to talk about alternative solutions.  We don’t give up on an entire sector of society because they have made the wrong choices, even if they make them again and again and again.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I am going to go and jump into a pool of full sugar Coca Cola.  I have a BMI of over 25 so that must be how I spend my evenings, right?

Monday, 26 May 2014

MPM: 26th May 2014

Greetings, and a very happy Bank Holiday to you all!  It is nearly noon and I am still in my pyjamas while the cat and I indulge in some quality duvet time.  

Meal planning this week - well, last night's tea has got bumped to tonight after a post cinema beer went on for rather longer than planned.  Then D is out for beer and burgers on Friday which means S will probably have some entirely random combination of M&S foodstuffs - the last time I was allowed free reign in the Food Hall I had cheesy chips and prawn dim sum for tea.  Meal wise, then, the rest of the week looks like this:

Corned beef with parsley sauce, braised cabbage, roast potatoes, carrot and spring onion mash

Broad bean salad, crispy bacon and griddled courgettes, lemon couscous


Chicken Achar - the other half of the batch I made the other week.  A really lovely, tasty curry recipe that I heartily recommend; we say up the lemon juice slightly to increase the sourness but otherwise, definitely a keeper.

Saltimbocca followed by limoncello tiramisu - D is cooking Italian on Saturday night which means I will probably be bidding a fond farewell to most of my weekly points budget...

And a Sunday roast - beef, we think, with all the appropriate trimmings.

More meal planning fun over at Mrs M's.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

(New) scales on Saturday

Previously on WWF: -48.3lbs
This week: -3lbs
Total loss: 51.3lbs

There was a nasty moment earlier this week when my faithful old scales finally gave up the ghost.  Too weak to even finish their final error message, they flashed up a feeble "err" before dying completely.  Farewell, old friends.

Of course, my immediate concern was that switching to a new pair of scales could cause a rupture in the space time continuum - or, at the very least, a blip in my weight loss.  New scales can be very sneaky.  So, I don't really know whether this week's loss is all "real" or whether it is down to the newbies sucking up a little bit and weighing me a tad lighter than the old faithfuls.  Whatever - I'm taking it.  I LOVE my new scales.  I also really like the fact they weigh to 0.1 of a pound.  Little things, people.

I must admit, I was hoping for a good result.  I had done all the right things WW wise - not only tracking every last swig of gin consumed at the tasting last Saturday (it was painful to look at that day's tracker), but also getting to the pool for four (count 'em) swims, netting me 20 activity points (of which I consumed 2).  I'm trying to edge my way back into exercise and swimming, for me, is by far the least painful way to do that.  I want to start a running programme as well, but for the next couple of weeks, I think I'm going to stick to ploughing up and down the pool while I build up the nerve to hit the treadmill.

Onwards and downwards - the halfway point is approaching and I can SMELL it.  

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Classic recipe corner: Perfect spaghetti carbonara

Every home cook should familiarise themselves with a carbonara recipe.  If you're anything like me, the ingredients are pretty much cupboard and fridge staples and it so quick and easy to do not to mention utterly delicious.

I'm (quite clearly) no Italian mama, and my understanding of Italian food is that recipes tend to vary from region to region in much the same way as they do in this country, so there is possibly no such thing as a completely authentic version - however, this one was taken from The Silver Spoon which I think is about as close to an Italian food bible as one is going to get.  You will note the complete lack of any bells and whistles - no mushrooms or onions and most definitely no cream.  To add cream to a carbonara is, in my humble opinion, just plain wrong - it makes it an entirely different thing.  I love the naked simplicity of this recipe - the rich saltiness of the bacon and cheese and the silky golden coating on the pasta with the faintest hum of garlic.  Utter bliss.

The only change that we make is to sub different types of bacon for the pancetta depending on what we have to hand.  Four rashers of back bacon will give you the same points count for more meat because of the lower fat content and is worth it if you want a good hit of bacon.  Because of the butter I don't really think the end result is compromised.

Admit it - it wouldn't be the WWFoodie without god awful food photography!


10g butter
50g pancetta
1 fat clove of garlic
175g spaghetti
1 medium egg
40g Parmesan cheese

Serves 2, 16 pro points per portion

One of the key things to remember with carbonara is to heat the plates up in advance.  Because you have to combine the pasta and sauce off the heat, it is already starting to cool down by the time you serve it.  Unless you want cold pasta, your plates need to be hot.  So put them in the oven at a low temperature now.

Put a large pan of salted water on to boil while you get everything else prepped.

Finely grate the Parmesan cheese.  Whisk the egg and add two thirds of the cheese to it along with a hearty grinding of black pepper.  Peel the garlic clove and then, using the flat of a knife blade, lightly bruise it.  Chop the bacon if you haven't take the lazy route and bought it pre cubed.

Once the water is up to the boil, tip in the spaghetti.  Heat the butter in a frying pan large enough to hold all the pasta once it is cooked.

As the butter melts, add the pancetta and the garlic clove and cook until the bacon is crispy.  It should take about the same amount of time as the pasta takes to cook - that is 8-10 minutes depending on brand.

When the pasta is cooked, reserve a mug full of the cooking water and then drain.  Fish the garlic clove out of the frying pan and throw the pasta straight in.  Over the heat stir well so that the pasta is completely coated in a light layer of butter and bacon fat.

Now - and this is important - you have to remove the pan completely from the heat.  Pour in the egg and cheese mixture and a splash of the cooking water and combine well.  I find tongs the best tool for this to ensure that you are lifting the pasta and it all gets well coated.  Add more cooking water as required - you want the spaghetti to have a very light, silky coating.

Serve in the warmed plates topped with a scrunch more black pepper and the remaining Parmesan cheese.  Sigh in contentment.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Mental health awareness week - my two penn'orth

Last week was Mental Health Awareness week, which completely passed me by. It was also British Sandwich week, which, to be honest, I am far more likely to have noticed since I love sandwiches (and don’t tend to keep on top of mental health issues). But I didn’t want it to go completely unremarked upon, especially since the theme this year was anxiety which is an issue with which, sadly, I have had some considerable dealings.

The first time I had a full on anxiety attack I thought that I was going to die. Does that sound melodramatic? It feels melodramatic writing it down like that. But, nevertheless. I became intensely aware of every single function in my body – my heart, pounding, my stomach, churning, I had to concentrate on the act of breathing because if I didn’t I thought I might just stop. I was on a train to York, a journey that I had made a hundred times, and on this occasion the ambient light and noise was almost unbearable. Every sense was heightened to an uncomfortable degree, every limb tingled and trembled. I remember sitting, rigid, eyes closed, and just counting to ten over and over and over again. I had the sense that at any moment I might lose the capacity to understand language but as long as I could count, could remember the sequence of numbers, I still retained basic comprehension and it was all I could think of to do, so I counted and I counted.

When I got home I couldn’t do anything except lie prone, counting and crying. D came and sat with me, but I couldn’t bear for him to talk because the thought that at any minute I wouldn’t be able to understand him was overwhelmingly frightening. I tried to sleep but was too edgy and the dark held too many unnamed terrors. The next day, a Saturday, I phoned NHS Direct and wept down the phone at the poor lady who told me to go to A&E where a nice doctor gave me some betablockers to try and ease the physical symptoms. To be honest, she could have given me Smarties – at that point I just needed the comfort of seeing a medical professional and receiving the tacit reassurance that I wasn’t about to keel over with an advanced case of Death.

The trouble with anxiety attacks is that once you’ve had one you live with the constant fear that it will happen again, although nothing since has ever compared to that first experience. As I have got more used to them I have found that I can recognise the symptoms fairly early and, for the most part, actually talk myself down before sheer blind panic takes hold. When it comes to anxiety issues, knowledge really is power.

Even now, having experienced it first hand, I am slightly doubtful about the ease with which the terms “depression” and “anxiety disorder” get used. Like my mother before me, I am a natural born worrier with a tendency to fret about little things – this is not an anxiety disorder. Having a stressful time at work and coming home and bursting into tears over a stiff g&t is not depression. Sometimes we need to recognise our normal emotional reactions for what they are – no more and no less.

That said, if anxiety is taking over, if the thought of getting out of bed is just too much to cope with (bed being a designated safe place) then help needs to be sought. The right doctor is a very important part of the solution, so I would always encourage people to make sure that they are comfortable with their GP – and if they are not, request another doctor. You need to be prepared to be honest and raw with them so a rapport is crucial. Equally, medications – the effects and side effects can vary massively from person to person so don’t be afraid to ask to try different ones after an appropriate bedding in period – I went through four or five before settling. Talking therapies can be a great help and are available, as far as I know, in most health authorities, although the waiting list can be significant. A lot of doctors will recommend CBT for anxiety issues, and it can be helpful, but again, a lot of it will be to do with your relationship with the practitioner – the first time I tried CBT it did nothing for me at all. As an alternative, Helen Kennerley’s book “Overcoming Anxiety” was recommended to me by several people, so might be worth checking out while you wait for a referral, or decide whether CBT is the right kind of treatment for you.

Finally, I thought I would mention in passing (it being pertinent to the blog) the now pretty well established link between obesity and mental health issues. The direction of causality does not seem to be confirmed – i.e. no one is sure whether being depressed make you fat or being fat makes you depressed or if the truth lies somewhere in the middle. In my experience it is very, very natural to want to self medicate with food and drink when you’re going through something like this; when Outside is just too big and scary then wine and Kettle Chips on the sofa are comforting and safe. But they’re false friends - I know from bitter experience that if I eat well and get regular exercise then I am less vulnerable to those anxiety demons. And I think there is some comfort to be found in the ritualistic side of planning meals and concentrating on nourishing your body in order to soothe the mind.

For more information – or rather, for information, since I don’t flatter myself that my own ramblings count for very much at all in this particular field, the mental health foundation website can be found here.  No one should ever have to suffer this alone when there are resources and people out there to help. 

MPM: 19th May 2014

Is this it?  Are we finally into summer?  It's so hard to tell in this country and one hates to get too excited lest it all go horribly wrong.  Let's just say as I sit here writing this the sun is pouring through the windows and I can see more than a patch of blue in the sky.  But not all of the meal plan for the week does is particularly summery - I think there is some bet hedging going on chez WWF!

After blowing most of my weekly points at a gin tasting on Saturday (totally worth it) I don't have a lot of wriggle room this week so will need to be careful.  I think most of the evening meals are pretty modest as a result.

Baked eggs with asparagus, anchovies and Parmesan - we continue to enjoy the British asparagus season and the combination of the lovely, ironey shoots with a creamy, salty egg should be lovely.

Rotisserie chicken with salad, homemade coleslaw and crusty bread - I love a good Waitrose rotisserie chicken for a quick and delicious supper, and I HAVEN'T solely put this on the menu to see if the cat likes roast chicken....

Leftover chicken biryani based on this recipe (although clearly subbing lamb for chicken...)

Sea bass with parsnip puree and caramelised garlic - a D masterpiece to start the weekend.

Corned beef and mustard sandwiches on rye with dill pickles and, with the other half of the piece of meat we remove from the freezer...

Corned beef, mashed potato, braised cabbage and parsley sauce (this sounds like good Sunday lunch fodder to me).

More meal planning fun over at Mrs M's.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Of scales, Italian food...and capricious cats

Firstly, weigh in results...

Previously on WWF: -46lbs
This week: -2.25lbs
Total loss: 48.25lbs

Yay!  Just over half of my gain kicked into touch.  Another really good week and I could be into Fresh Fat (TM...Love Cat, I think).

It feels like ages since I had a proper catch up with you all, so this will be a bitty post while I try and remember all that I wanted to say.

Firstly, Minx continues to prosper and has taken over her rightful place as Queen of the Household.  She is definitely a Mummy's girl but D continues a determined, treat ridden campaign to turn her.  What's that, you'd like a picture?  Happy to oblige!

Isn't she beautiful?  On a more serious note, taking in a rescue cat hadn't really featured on my radar at all before I started to research but it is a real pleasure to see her gradually come out of her shell and grow in confidence.  She still has plenty of skittish moments - and trying to get her into a box in order to take her to the vet for a check up this week was NOT fun.  But she is a very affectionate creature underneath the nervousness and it is lovely to watch that emerge.  

On a food front, what have we been up to recently?  Well, we went for a lovely dinner at Sara Danesin Medeo's supper club in York the other week.  For those of you who aren't Masterchef groupies, Sara was a finalist back in 2011 and now works full time as a chef, running a regular supper club from her house on a (I think) weekly basis.  The food was delicious and reasonably priced, and Sara herself was absolutely lovely.  Despite the fact that she must have heard the same questions every single bloody week, she was more than happy to chat about her time on Masterchef, which we found fascinating.  She runs cookery lessons out of her beautiful kitchen and D and I are quite tempted to go and learn about pasta making with her at some point.  We had such a lovely evening that we promptly re-booked the next day - we're taking my parents along at the beginning of December.  Highly recommended if you want somewhere special to eat in York (although she is currently booked up until November so you do need to get in there well in advance).

No more meals out planned for a while which is, of course, good news for the diet.  I have an exam coming up in six weeks so I really need to put my head down a bit - but once that is over and done with we're flying out to Barcelona for five days, so plenty to look forward to as I grind my teeth over Capital Gains computations.  I'm trying to avoid doing diet maths - whether I'm two pounds or ten pounds or a stone lighter by the time we go then that will be something to celebrate.  

So come on guys, fill me in - what's new with you?

Monday, 12 May 2014

MPM: 12th May 2014

Ah, Monday. You come around so ridiculously fast and are so unwelcome when you arrive. And yet, I woke this morning to beautiful sunshine streaming in through the gap in the curtains (one of the few advantages to a six o clock start; it has subsequently begun to cloud over) and a purring cat kneading my shoulder and it wasn’t such a bad old start to the week.

A break from pasta then, after last week’s carb loading exploits – which, may I say, I thoroughly enjoyed. I could never go Dukan. D ran the half marathon with a really impressive time yesterday, so it obviously paid off and we both agreed that all the dishes, most of the them old favourites that sometimes get forsaken in favour of the new and the different, were welcome additions to the menu. Both classic lasagne and mushroom risotto need to feature more regularly in the rotation being not only delicious but also delivering decent portion sizes for surprisingly few points thanks to a good volume of lovely zero point veggies.

And so, on to this week. D has requested our monthly fish and chip Friday, I’m out at my book club tomorrow and we’ll soup it up as usual on Wednesday so only four other meals to plan. At the moment, it’s looking a bit like this:

Asparagus and goats' cheese tart – with leftovers to take cold for lunch

Mustard pork chop with gnocchi and a side of asparagus (we’re eating as much as we can while the season lasts)

Chicken Achar and mushroom pilau

Veal and Parmesan burgers (Waitrose rather than home made) probably in buns with homemade spiced potato wedges and perhaps even some homemade coleslaw using some of the blanched cabbage currently taking up freezer space.

More meal planning fun over at Mrs M’s.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Scales on Saturday on Sunday

Previously on WWF: -50lbs
Last 3 weeks: +4lbs
Total loss: 46lbs

Ah well, three weeks worth of halo slippage and what can one expect?  Actually, I don't think a 4lb gain is too awful considering there were plenty of indulgent meals and sneaky g&ts and one Hotel Chocolat chocolate crispy nest (yum!)

Getting back to pointing after a hiatus is always difficult, but three days in and I'm gradually getting back into the swing.  I'm still in that slightly resentful stage whereby it seems like a chore rather than routine but that, too, will pass.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Stop the rot

Right, enough already.  Easter has come and gone and I am still not properly back on track.

No excuses, I've been a bit rubbish but it has to stop now.  I refuse to let myself go backwards.  I refuse to give up.  I may well have lost fifty pounds, but there are plenty more to go and I need to get over the complacency and get on with the business of weight watching.

I have gone and signed up at the gym / pool situatued in a hotel just across the road from my office.  It is pricey and small but it is convenient and that is the key at the moment. 

I have plenty of nice meals planned to look forward to over the next few weeks but, other than a gin tasting session that I'm attending on Saturday afternoon, not much by way of outings - which suits me fine for the time being.

There are eight weigh ins between now and when we fly out to Barcelona for a few days.  There is no reason why I couldn't have hit the four stone mark by that time - and hopefully be sailing down towards the next stone bracket.

This is a declaration of intent.

Wish me luck.

Monday, 5 May 2014

MPM: 5th May 2014 - a plethora of pasta

On Sunday, D is running the Leeds half marathon so I offered him carte blanche with regards to menu planning this week so that he could tailor his meals to meet, athletic needs.  You will notice that we have ended up with a menu groaning under the weight of a thousand carbs.  I.e. there is an awful lot of pasta.  Fortunately, I adore pasta and so am more than happy to eat it every night.

Tonight and tomorrow it's a lasagne - made in the classic British rather than Italian style, so relatively few layers but tending towards the slightly stodgy.  This to me is the very epitome of comfort food, being a dish that my Mum cooked often when I was growing up.  The meat sauce is in the slow cooker as we speak and is packed full of veggies and that will then be layered up with a nutmeg scented, cheesy Bechamel and pasta sheets.  I'll do a salad on the side as well.

Wednesday - soup night.  Nuff said.

Thursday - mushroom risotto - NOT pasta but very nearly.

Friday - Pan fried salmon fillets and pasta pesto with courgettes and peas

Saturday - Classic spaghetti carbonara - and I may make some pre-race garlic bread as well.  I think that should be a thing, don't you?

On Sunday we'll be ditching the carbs in favour of a post half-marathon barbecue - the current plan is a spatchcocked chicken marinated in lemon, garlic and olive oil and some pork belly and red pepper skewers with salad accompaniments.

More meal planning fun over at Mrs M's.

Friday, 2 May 2014

Classic recipe corner: A simple, mid-week kedgeree

Kedgeree is a dish that I seem to recall my Mum being very fond of when we were younger, although I think that I am right in saying that her version contained cream.  It's certainly very delicious indeed, and a welcome addition to our regular supper rotation.  It doesn't feel like the combination of smoked fish and curry should work but it really, really does.  When I decided to make this, research seemed to suggest as many different methods of making it as...well, there were lots.  This is a very, very simple version which just allows the lovely flavour combinations to shine through and is closely based on Felicity Cloake's "Perfect" recipe.  We initially made it, as she suggests and as the picture shows, with soft boiled eggs on top but decided in a later version to have one hard-ish boiled egg chopped through and then a poached topping where the yolk runs down and creates a little bit of a sauce which works really well.

16 pro points gives you a hefty portion size - even D, who tends to fine my portions a bit meagre - was quite happy with this.  But to reduce the points even further, you could get away with cutting down on the amount of rice.

This is terribly easy to cook but be warned, it uses a lot of different pans so have a handy husband standing by to wash up.


165g basmati rice
250g smoked haddock
30g butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 green chilli, deseeded and sliced thinly
2 crushed cardamom pods
1 tbsp curry powder
3 medium eggs
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
Small handful of chives, chopped
Small bunch of coriander, chopped
Lemon wedges to serve

Serves 2, 16 pro points per portion

You could soak the rice beforehand but I don't tend to find it makes a whit of difference.  In which case, cook the rice in salted water according to your usual method.  I use my mother in law's foolproof technique which is to use double the volume of water as to rice, bring to the boil and then cover and turn the heat down to the lowest setting and leave for five minutes.  Then turn off the heat altogether and leave covered for a further five minutes at which point all the water should be absorbed and you should have perfect rice.

In a second pan, place the fish (skin side up) cover with boiling water and then place over a low heat and cook for ten minutes.  Remove with a slotted spoon (you can discard the cooking water) and, when cool enough to handle, flake.

Hardish boil one of your eggs - Delia's six minute method is perfect.  Be sure to run it under cool water as soon as it comes out of the pan to ensure that it doesn't continue to cook.  Peel and chop.

You now have all the constituent parts of your kedgeree - the rice, fish and egg can be done in advance.  Now for cooking.  Put one third of the butter in a large pan and melt.  Put a pan of boiling water on the heat, complete with white wine vinegar, ready for the eggs.

Fry the onion gently until softened before adding the chilli and the spices.  Cook out for a couple of minutes, or until the curry powder has lost its "raw" smell, and then add the rice and stir well to ensure that it is all coated.  Then add the fish, the egg and the remaining butter, combine well, and check the seasoning.  Smoked haddock tends to be quite salty so you will need a judicious hand with the salt cellar, but kedgeree loves plenty of black pepper.

At about this point, you can put your eggs on to poach.  They will only need a couple of minutes, so while they are going for it, stir through the fresh herbs and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and dish up the rice and the fish into warmed plates.  Slide the perfectly poached egg onto the top before serving.