Thursday, 31 March 2016

Smart Points review - one day in

Weight Watchers relaunched their points based counting system at the end of last year with Pro Points  (PP) evolving into Smart Points (SP).  Now I, personally, had a lot of success on Pro Points and found it relatively easy to balance everything within my allowance.  My initial impression is that this is going to be a lot harder to do on Smart Points.

For the uninitiated - every Weight Watchers member has a daily points allowance and an additional "bank" of points that can be drawn on throughout the week.  Both the daily and the weekly allowances decrease as you lose weight.  In addition, exercise earns you "Fit Points" which can be swapped for food once you've earned more than a set amount - which amount rises as you lose weight to make you work harder.  With me?

My daily points allowance on SP is about the same as on PP, my weekly bank has decreased by 7.  So, overall, fewer points.  I think I'm going to be needing those Fit Points, especially as most foods, with the exception of some lean proteins, have gone up.

I wasn't particularly organised today, and had to buy lunch from our on-site shop.  I chose fairly wisely - a sandwich that, at 370 calories would have come in at 9-10 PP and a small pot of low fat yoghurt.  The sandwich turned out to be 11 SP and the yoghurt a whopping 4 SP.  Ouch. Smoked salmon and scrambled eggs for supper came in relatively low though, so it balanced out.

It feels, though, that Weight Watchers really don't want me to consume anything containing any amount of sugar or fat.  I adore butter, and used to be able to get 7g for 1 PP, which was enough for decent coverage on a slice of toast.  The same amount is now 3 SP.  Any and all sweet treats have gone up - a two finger Kit Kat, for example, has gone from 3 PP to 5 SP a bar.  All of these increases, combined with the lower allowances, makes it feel a lot more restrictive and "diet-ey".

I've come in bang on my daily allowance today but more by luck than judgement - I need to spend the weekend doing some careful planning to allow me to stretch those Smart Points further.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Oh woe, oh woe, back to WW we go

So, thoroughly disenchanted with WW, especially after the change to Smart Points, I decided that I needed to find an alternative plan.  A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I was trying something but wanted to give it a fair shot before writing about it.

Cue hollow laugh.

The thing was, I was sick to the back teeth of counting.  I wanted to do something else and what I came up with was the 5:2 plan, which involves having two fast days a week and eating normally the rest of the time.  My reasoning was that, OK, the fast days would be thoroughly miserable and would involve some form of counting to ensure that I came in under 500 cals, but the rest of the time would be "normal" eating - exactly what I craved.

The fundamental problem was that it turns out I am RUBBISH at fast days.  I think I managed one properly - perhaps two - and hated them.  And I struggled with choosing the days.  It couldn't be the weekend.  It couldn't be on a Monday because that's tutorial day and I can't concentrate on seven hours of tax legislation on an empty stomach.  So that left Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.  But Tuesday and Thursday are the good exercise class days - Tuesday is Body Combat followed by Aqua Aerobics, and Thursday is Clubbercise and I was nervous about exercising on 500 calories. I messed around and, basically, didn't achieve anything.

So I'm accepting the inevitable and dragging myself back to WW.  I am going to give Smart Points a good go - my gym buddy A has lost a stone and a half in the last few weeks so it clearly works.  I have bought a Fitbit and linked it to my account so that I can rack up Fit Points which I will probably swap for food, accepting that this will mean a slower loss.

As far as I can gather, Smart Points is pushing people towards a high protein, low fat, low sugar diet.  Which sounds rather joyless but, as ever, I will be trying to bend it to my tastes as much as possible and report back here as to the results.  I'm not necessarily going to publish Smart Points on the recipes that I post though, because I really like the freedom of just sharing stuff that I like without having to write a "Sorry, this is so high in points..." precursor.  As ever, if you want the Smart Points then please just drop me an email.

D also wants to drop some weight and has decided to do a month of Dukan - which is also geared towards high protein and low fat, so the two should mesh fairly well, although I am far too greedy to give up carbs altogether, which is pretty much what he is intending to do.  Again, I'll let you know how that goes.  Once he is in "Cruise" phase, which allows some vegetables, I can see the spiraliser getting a LOT of use which will be interesting.

Wish me luck my loves.  For the fifty one billionth time.

Monday, 28 March 2016

TWTWTW: Easter 2016

The weather outside may be frightful (par for the course during a UK Bank Holiday weekend) but here, chez WWF, all is peaceful.  Apart from the feline member of the household who was bombing around just a minute ago - not sure what it is she is chasing.

So on Wednesday we took ourselves off to Whitby for a couple of nights.  The colour theme of the sojourn can pretty much be summed up by this picture:

Very Grey.  But hey, you don't go the seaside for sunshine.  You go for atmosphere.  You go to take random pictures of seagulls:

You go for FISH AND CHIPS:

That plateful of loveliness is brought to you courtesy of Trencher's which I heartily recommend to you if you find yourself in Whitby and don't fancy queuing outside the Magpie.  I really liked the fact that they offered a small portion which was perfectly Seren sized.  I can never manage all the chips in a standard - when D and I get takeaway I always push for two fish and one chips between us.

Ha, but check out what happened on the Friday that we were heading back to Leeds:

The Weather Gods can be right bastards sometimes.

In other Easter tidings, I made my first ever batch of hot cross buns:

Yes, not things of beauty, are they?  They tasted nice though - a denser, breadier texture than shop bought offerings.  My next attempt will up the spice content, but the basic recipe I used can be found here.

Some sad news cast the slightest of shadows over the long weekend; my parents' beautiful tabby cat, Minnie, has been diagnosed with a tumour and is only like to be with us for a few more weeks.  I got the chance to see her yesterday and she is still in very good health and spirits, eating well and quite happy, so it looks as if the rest of her time here will be peaceful and content, as, indeed, was her whole life.  She will be very much missed.  I wrote a bit about her here.  Minx has kindly agreed that this week, Minnie should provide the obligatory cat picture.

Friday, 18 March 2016

TWTWTW: vet, 80s, teriyaki

I've been quiet all week - full of cold and rather sulky.

Obligatory cute cat picture

Minx went to the vet this week for her yearly jabs and was an angel throughout. The vet commented that she was a "perfect" weight, a rarity in our household. She doesn't appear to be overly bothered by food and will graze from her bowls throughout the day as and when she remembers. A salutary lesson for us all.

I go back to the 80s

I am writing this before the week is truly over, prior to heading down to London for an 80s themed birthday party. I have packed fingerless gloves and blue eyeshadow and will probably need to be steaming before I set foot outside the hotel room. Being aged 0-9 in the 80s, I wasn't particularly au fait with the fashions so have spent some interesting sessions on Pinterest acquainting myself with what passed for style back in the day. I am hoping for proper retro buffet snacks - cheese and pineapple on sticks, Monster Munch...oooh, boil in the bag fish! Not really a buffet snack but I remember eating it a lot as a child - can you still get it?

I do not quite succeed at lamb teriyaki

There has been a dish on the Wagamamas menu for a while now of teriyaki lamb with wasabi and pea noodles of which I have always liked the idea. I tried to make something similar this week and although it was fine it didn't blow my socks off. Perhaps my mistake was, per this recipe, making the teriyaki sauce from component parts - perhaps it's one of those things that you just have to buy pre-made. If anyone has any teriyaki tips then please let me know - I am sure that this dish has potential but I need to have a bit of a rethink.

Have a good weekend dear readers (insert witty sign off here).

Sunday, 13 March 2016

That was the week that was

I want to get into the habit of doing the odd round up post. As I get older, I get increasingly forgetful - although it might be the effect of gin rather than years - and lots of lovely things get consumed and then never make it as far as the blog.

Plus it will give me an excuse to throw in Cute Cat Picture of the week:

My culinary horizons are expanded

Last night, if I had been wearing a hat I would have been forced to eat it. We went for dinner with friends and got the opportunity to sample some authentic, home cooked South African food. I, having looked up bobotie online, was not convinced. But it turns out to be divine! Somehow the richness of the meat and the complexity of the spices perfectly balances with the sweetness. I am really quite tempted to try and make it myself. I do not, however, intend to garnish it with banana (sorry, Les) - that was just one step too far from my palate.

Oh, also, peri peri chicken livers. You NEED these in your life, dear readers.

We order too much Thai food

In the hope of reviving my occasional "Cheap Eats in Leeds" series, D and I had dinner at Leeds institution Thai Aroy Dee. Unfortunately, I was tired and he was grumpy after a whole broken glasses saga, so we clearly ordered far too much food and came in over the £30 mark. Mind, we ended up taking an awful lot of it away to eat the following day. We intend to return and give it another go.

Giant Couscous is my new favourite thing

Served this week with lamb and haggis meatballs, roasted aubergine and a creamy aubergine purée - this little grain is an absolute revelation! It has made me think that I need to be a bit more creative with my staple carbs and mix up the standard pasta, rice and potatoes rotation.

Enjoy the rest of your Sunday lovelies...(insert witty sign off here).

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Cooking with Yorkshire rapeseed oil

The latest product that I've been lucky enough to try as part of my ongoing quest to be the BBC Good Food Show's most annoyingly enthusiastic blogger was some fabulously garlicky rapeseed oil. Yorkshire Rapeseed Oil is produced over in North Yorkshire not far from my old stomping ground of York and, to be honest, was an easy sell. D and I always tend to use rapeseed oil as our house standard not just because it is a local thang but also because we love the flavour - light, very slightly grassy, very slightly nutty, it is great on its own and perfect for cooking. Yorkshire Rapeseed Oil for the win.

I must admit that, in the past, I've thought the idea of flavoured oils slightly gimmicky but this garlic oil may well have started to convert me. The problem with garlic is that it is very, very easy to burn - adding a subtle garlic hit through oil instead is genius. I used it to roast tomatoes and aubergine earlier this week and was very pleased with the results.

Along with the oil itself, I received a book whose title I have shamelessly poached for this post which made for very interesting reading, not least because the number of cake and pudding recipes in there really emphasised the versatility of rapeseed oil. I do have a tendency to reach for butter when I'm baking but I'd definitely be up for using oil as an alternative. From a health point of view I've completely lost track of where we are in the whole good fat, bad fat, three bags full fat debate, I'm mainly interested in using the best tools for the job. If oil makes a good cake or a good scone then, fine, I'm on it.

Dipping my toe in these waters, I knocked up a batch of cheese and garlic oatcakes using the garlic oil. The results made me wonder why I ever buy oatcakes. Give them a go - maybe with different flavoured oils (my book tells me that Yorkshire Rapeseed oil also make herby oil, peppery oil and spicy oil - the tinkers) or different cheese or (sob!) no cheese.


120g oatmeal
25g mature cheddar, finely grated
Tbsp garlic rapeseed oil
Up to 50ml freshly boiled water

Makes 8-10 oatcakes

Top cook tip! Don't have any oatmeal to hand? Just do as I did and blitz any oats you have knocking around the cupboard (I used a 50:50 blend of jumbo rolled oats and steel pin cut oats).

Preheat the oven to 160 and line a baking sheet with parchment.

Place your oatmeal, or blitzed oats, into a large bowl with the finely grated cheddar, plenty of black pepper and a pinch of salt, and toss together lightly.

Pour in the oil and, preferably using your hand in a sort of claw shape, gradually combine with the dry ingredients. Add the water a drop at a time until the mixture comes together into a soft dough.

For shaping these babies, I found the easiest thing was to take a small piece of dough, form into a ball and press flat between my two palms. The result is somewhat more rustic than the picture in the book but it worked and was amusing to do.

Bake the oatcakes for 20 mins or so until firm and golden and beginning to brown at the edges. It's advisable to flip them halfway through cooking to ensure an even bake.

Scoff. Preferably with additional cheese.

Thank you, Yorkshire Rapeseed Oil!

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Top Notch Brunch Spot: Ox Club, Leeds

I mentioned Ox Club in passing a couple of weeks ago as a top notch brunch spot.  After visiting it for a second time this Sunday (D treated me as a Mother's Day gift from the cat) I decided it deserved a write up all of its very own.

Mainly, because the food was, again, absolutely gorgeous.  But also because I decided to be a proper blogger and take some "mood" shots of glasses of water and whatnot to set the scene.

D says that you can't just put your cutlery at a funny angle to your orange juice and call it "art".  I, respectfully, disagree (and think that he should have moved his hand further out of shot).  And here, I instagrammed the bejeezus out of a Bloody Mary:

Because a bit of Tilt Shift (not to mention a stiff vodka first thing in the morning) makes EVERYTHING BETTER.

But, to more important matters - just feast your eyes on this, the current menu (or, if you can't make that out, the website can be found here):

How is it possible not to want to eat every single thing on there?  Last time we went, we both had the Korean fried chicken and I very nearly ordered it again because it was such a paragon of brunch time yumminess.  I was strong though, and went for the Huevos Rancheros that popped up on the Specials' Board.  You'll see the picture is decidedly more functional since I wanted less art and more food in my face at that point:

Two perfectly cooked, fudgy-yolked eggs, a generous scoop of black beans and a salsa that had a generous hum of chilli and coriander all perched on top of a couple of very pretty, purple corn tortillas.  Lovely.

D was similarly appreciative of the steak and cheddar eggs, particularly the skill with which the steak was cooked to a perfect, blushing pink.  We also both commented on the well judged portion sizes - the last thing you want after brunch is to feel so full that you need to go back to bed for a nap.

What I especially like about Ox Club is that yes, you can have your Full English, but a lot of the other options are a wee bit different, offering a real departure point from other venues.  It remains to be seen how frequently the menu will change, but the inclusion of specials is a pleasing sign, suggesting that the kitchen has the potential to stay on its toes.

Worth bearing in mind is that the service, certainly on a Sunday morning, is very friendly and very chilled - this is a place to linger rather than expect to swoop in and out.  Save that for another day of the week and another restaurant.  One party decided not to stay, citing the lack of vegetarian options - and OK, if you don't want something sweet and there are no specials on, you'd be restricted to avocado toast - or toast with baked beans and house fries cobbled together from the "Extras" section (which I personally don't think is much of a restriction myself).  Again, just worth bearing in mind (although English breakfasts don't tend to be particularly veggie friendly wherever you go).

Amongst the rest of the clientele, though, one hour after opening, the place was full of people enjoying good coffee and excellent food.  It is definitely our new favourite place to brunch in Leeds and we're already considering going back for an evening service to see if the kitchen retains its high standards later in the day.  Hopefully, for your sake dear reader, it will be too dark on that occasion for any more photos...

Ox Club @ Headrow House
The Headrow

07470 359961 (NB: they currently don't take reservations for brunch)

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

The BBC Good Food Spring Show - more news!

The sun is shining today and there is definitely more than a touch of Spring in the air so I can officially start to get even more excited about the forthcoming Good Food show. And what could be more exciting than a whole host of amazing producers from the good county of Yorkshire trying to sell us all food.

Now confirmed as having stalls are:

York & Dulgent fudge - prizes for the clever reader who manages to guess a) where they are based and b) what they make. I love fudge and am intrigued by some of the flavours mentioned on the website.  Raspberry and prosecco are two of my favourite things and united in the medium of fudge - this I need to try.  I'm rather taken with the notion of limoncello fudge as well.

Amos and Tom's popcorn - now, oooooh! I do love popcorn and, as everybody knows, it is practically health food.  Even when it is sea salted caramel flavour...

Sloemotion - top marks for the punning name here. I believe that D and I have tried their sloe gin in the past to decided nods of approval but I hadn't appreciated that they do a range of other products, so will definitely be having a good sniff around their stall. Bramble whisky sounds very interesting indeed.

Patrick Macarons and Patisserie - an entirely new brand to me, but, Patrick, you had me at macaron.  And then you had me still further at "Forced rhubarb and ginger". I do like a macaron and they strike me as the kind of thing that one should never attempt to bake oneself but to leave safely in the hands of the experts. Like Patrick. It's my father in law's 70th birthday during the weekend of the show and I reckon a box of macarons would be a very classy way to mark the occasion.

Will bring you more news as I get it (that phrase makes me feel like a roving reporter!) and if you are planning to attend the show then let me know - I'll meet you by the macarons.

Monday, 7 March 2016

MPM: 7th March 2016

Morning meal planners! And how are we this fine Monday morning? Actually, I don't know if it is fine because I'm writing this on Saturday afternoon. There is a bit of a blue sky over North Leeds at the moment which is nice after yesterday's freak snow storms.

We're doing one final week of meals from the freezer and, taken together, it looks rather meaty so lots of lighter, veggie based lunches methinks. D is out one night and we're seeing friends next weekend, so only four meals on the planner at the moment and very nice they sound too:

Spaghetti Bolognese (sauce from freezer)
Lamb and haggis meatballs (yes, mince and Haggis from the freezer) with giant couscous and smoky aubergine purée
Venison sausages (from the freezer!) with mash and red onion gravy
Homemade pizza (base and sauce from...ALL TOGETHER NOW...the freezer!) with blue cheese, salami, walnuts and rosemary

What will be delighting and delecting your taste buds this week? More meal planning fun over at Mrs M's.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

To all the Mums

It is Mothers' Day this Sunday. Yes a gimmick, yes a cynical attempt from the card companies and florists to extract money, yes cheesy. But it's nice to stop and think about mothers and what they do from time to time. I know I'm guilty of not doing it enough.

I went for afternoon tea with my Mum on Thursday, at Harvey Nichols:

Which was lovely (albeit FILLING). What was even more lovely was the chance to spend some time together, just the two of us. We gossiped, pored over the Charlotte Tilbury counter in the HN beauty hall and generally idled away a couple of hours in very girlish and pleasing style.

Our relationship has not always been easy over the years - we're very alike which makes us very close but, equally, capable of hurting each other very much when things get fraught. She's a worrier and I know she constantly frets about not just me but all the family, which drains her and makes her tense. If I could wish her one thing this Mothers' Day it would be the chance to put all her worries into a big balloon and let them go for a little while.

Picture from
I would also remind her of how the next years are going to be AMAZING. She and my Dad are having adventures all over the world, she has two beautiful grandchildren whom we are all excited to watch grow (not to mention a beautiful if highly strung grand-cat) and her children are happy and healthy and secure so her job is done and done well.

So happy Mothers' Day Mum, I think about you and worry about you more than you know and am always, always wishing you lhos.

And to all Mums out there, doing a difficult and sometimes unrecognised job - have a good weekend and remember that raising the next generation is probably the most important work in the world. The future is literally in your hands. Kudos and - keep going. But remember to demand breakfast in bed on Sunday.